Summary: How temptation comes and how to withstand it.
Have you ever been in this situation? Parents do this a lot; teachers, coaches also revert to it. Someone wants to tell you a story. As you are listening, you start to grow uncomfortable as you realize there is a moral to the story which is about to be applied to you. Paul is telling such a story to the Corinthians.
Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.
The ways that the Hebrews succumbed to sin serve as warnings for Christians. Note, the concern for the saints is that they not “desire” evil. Paul is addressing an attitude that draws Christians to sin, not merely stumbling over blocks along the path. The Corinth believers are abusing their supposed freedom in Christ to indulge in sinful behavior. Why? Because they had fun!
The examples of sins that Paul gives correspond with the sins of the Corinthians. There are four of them: idolatry, sexual immorality, testing their boundaries, and grumbling. Consider idolatry. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”
Here is the story Paul is referring to:
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” 6 And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play (Exodus 32:1-6).
What makes Paul concerned that the Corinth saints would abandon God and set up their idol to worship? There is no record of them keeping idols in their homes and where they met for worship. No one spoke of turning away from God or from Christ.
Perhaps not, but this is in effect what some of them are doing by attending the temple banquets. They are sitting before pagan idols and participating in religious rituals through the temple meals. It is not by accident that Paul quoted the second half of 32:6 which speaks of the Hebrews sitting down to eat and drink. He could have chosen the first half, which reads, they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. Presenting sacrifices to the calf is blatant idol worship. Nevertheless, holding a feast was also part of the religious worship, and that is precisely what the Corinth saints are doing. Thus, they are to take warning that they have already slipped into idolatry regardless of their motive and perspective.
The second sin is sexual immorality: 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. Paul is referring to an infamous event recorded in Numbers 25. Here is what the people did: While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel (25:1-3). Through prostitution Moab seduced the Hebrews to commit idolatry. You may want to read the complete story about the punishment that fell upon the people through both plague and execution.
Are the Corinth believers guilty of such sin? Most likely some of them are. In chapter six, Paul is obliged to admonish them for having physical relations with prostitutes. Did they go down to the “Red Light” district of town to find these prostitutes? No, they went to the pagan temples, especially those dedicated to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. In those temples, the sexual act was a religious ritual. It appears that food was not all that enticed some of the Corinth believers to the temples.