Summary: Even the most spiritual -- or perhaps more so the most spiritual -- are in danger of stepping on landmines.
Nine-year-old Nooruddin was pushing his cart and selling vegetables in the streets of Kabul, not too far from his grandfather’s house. Suddenly there was a blast–as he puts it “a dreadful bang of explosion”.
Nooruddin was knocked to the ground and he felt this intense pain in his legs – except as he looked more closely his right leg was gone.
Every year about 15,000 people are killed or wounded by landmines. Many of them are children and women. And many, if not most, of the landmine incidents occur after a war.
For instance, Afghanistan is the most densely mined country in the world right now. But those mines are not from the current conflict. They’re left over from previous wars.
The stories the same around the world – Angola, Cambodia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mozambique, the former Yugoslavia. The wars are over but the landmine danger remains.
The same is also true in our walk with Christ.
The battle has been won. Christ was raised from the dead – sin and death defeated. But there are still leftover landmines buried in the ground, waiting to destroy the unsuspecting pedestrian.
Thus we have the apostolic warnings – including those found in 1 Corinthians 10. Look at the first 6 verses. “I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, what happened to our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. God guided all of them by sending a cloud that moved along ahead of them, and he brought them all safely through the waters of the sea on dry ground. As followers of Moses, they were all baptized in the cloud and the sea.”
This is, of course, the Exodus. Remember that the Israelites were led through the Red Sea and they were directed through a special cloud. This experience, Paul is saying, is equivalent to that of our baptism. Verse 3, “And all of them ate the same miraculous food, and all of them drank the same miraculous water. For they all drank from the miraculous rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ.
Again, Paul is drawing on the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness. Just as Christians eat the bread and drink the cup so did the Israelites experience Christ in the wilderness as spiritual food and drink.
Verse 5, “Yet after all this, God was not pleased with most of them, and he destroyed them in the wilderness. These events happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did.”
In other words, even though these early believers had all of the miracles and mysteries, they ended up stepping on landmines and blowing themselves to bits anyway.
St John Chrysostom puts it this way: “Why does Paul say these things? He was pointing out that just as the Israelites got no benefit from the great gift which they enjoyed, so the Corinthian Christians would get nothing out of baptism or holy communion unless they went on and manifest a life worthy of that grace...”
Remember the context here. Paul is speaking to the church in Corinth – a church which saw itself as being totally together because some of the people had some exotic and esoteric spiritual experiences.
That’s how they defined Christian success, by the intensity of their spiritual experiences. Yet, Paul goes on to draw a parallel between them and the sins of the Israelites – the sins which ultimately led to the destruction of a whole generation – the generation which had to live out their days in the wilderness.
And by listing these sins Paul is warning his readers that they could just as easily step on the same landmines.
Verse 6 – “These events happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did or worship idols as some of them did.”
Idolatry. In spite of the very direct and miraculous intervention of God the Israelites set up a golden calf as an object of worship. Even after being instructed to avoid such a landmine.
Verse 7, “For the Scriptures say, ‘The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged themselves in pagan revelry.’ And we must not engage in sexual immorality as some of them did, causing 23,000 of them to die in one day.”
This is probably a reference to the incident in Numbers 25 where the Israelite men hooked up with a bunch of Moabite women. And the women talked them into sacrificing to the Moabite gods.
Sexual immorality is rarely a free standing sin. It always seems to create other more complicated issues – lying, deception, financial problems, and in this case more idolatry.
God responded by sending a plague which wiped out 23,000 or 24,000 of these fine, baptized and communed believers.