Summary: If we do not heed to Paul's warnings by alluding to the poor examples set by Israel and straighten our path, we are walking on very thin ice.
Opening illustration: Commercial aircraft carry two flight-data recorders called “black boxes.” One logs the performance and condition of the aircraft in flight, and the other records the conversation of the crew with air-traffic controllers on the ground. These boxes are insulated to protect against extreme temperatures and are fitted with underwater locator beacons that emit sounds to the surface. After an airplane crash, these boxes are retrieved and the data carefully analyzed to determine the cause of the crash. Air safety experts want to learn from past mistakes, among other things, so they won’t be repeated. If the secular world takes so much care in these matters, how more should we? As Christians, we too should look at mistakes from the past and learn from them.
Paul, for example, alluded to some of the mistakes the Israelites made in their journey from Egypt to Canaan. He wrote that because God was not pleased with them, many died in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:5). Paul went on to explain that “these things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age” (v.11 NLT).
Let us turn to 1 Corinthians and learn through some of the examples set by our forefathers.
Introduction: The blessings and privileges that believers have in Christ are bountiful, to say the least. Scripture declares, in fact, that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3), indeed, we are complete in Him (Colossians 2:10). The outworking of these blessings mean a number of wonderful things in a Christian’s life. However, with our privileges come two more vital concepts: ‘strength’ (ability) and ‘accountability’ (responsibility).
Though we do have liberty in Christ, and though God has given us all things freely to enjoy, and though we do have and can joy many things such as marriage, children, homes, recreation, and other forms of pleasure, such must never become our prime focus or goal.
By disqualification we must understand that the apostle was not concerned that he (or we) might lose his (our) salvation. His personal concern and the issues here are: (i) abusing privileges, (ii) exercising responsibilities, (iii) glorifying the Lord, (iv) failing or becoming disqualified in his work as an apostle so that he could not finish the race, and (v) the loss of rewards. This is a real threat for each of us as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, as it was for the Corinthians and even for the Apostle Paul.
How to learn through examples?
1. Awareness of the CIRCUMSTANCE of our Forefathers (vs. 1-5)
The expression “I do not want you to be unaware (or ignorant)” is the Apostle’s plea and what God wants us to grasp regarding the teaching and application of Israel’s history to our corporate and individual lives. I hope we do not miss an obvious general application here. This serves to emphasize that God does not want us to be living in a state of ignorance of the truth of Scripture because biblical truth is fundamental to spiritual health and running a good race. Because of our own sinfulness and because of the many deceptions of Satan, being ignorant or forgetting God’s truth is downright dangerous. God wants us to daily learn from and respond to the truth of Word of God. Hebrews 3:7 says, “Today if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts as in the provocation …”
The expression “Under the cloud,” according to the context and the Greek word used here, this signifies “under” not simply in the sense of location, but under in the sense of protection; it was like being under the shelter of the Almighty.
So, (i) today, believers in Christ have the promise of God’s guidance and direction by the Scriptures and by the Spirit of God. Likewise, (ii) being in Christ, all believers are hidden and protected in God, their Savior (Colossians 3:3). In Him believers are super-conquerors (Romans 8:32-32). In Him they are accepted and have access in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6).
The expression “Passed through” is best viewed as there was nothing the Israelites could do in their power to be saved. They faced the Red Sea in front of them, had the armies of Pharaoh behind them, and the wilderness on either side. Yet God worked supernaturally: He parted the Red Sea, delivered Israel and destroyed Pharaoh’s armies. When it was all over they stood on the other side, delivered from the bondage of Egypt by the power and grace of God.
So today, men without Christ stand helpless, the bond slaves of sin and facing certain death. Yet, God has worked supernaturally through the person and work of His Son to provide a once-and-for-all salvation, a complete and perfect deliverance from the penalty and power of sin. As believers in Jesus Christ, Christians are a delivered people, a people who have passed out of death into life (see also Deuteronomy 6:23; 1:30f).