The word of the day is “type.” Sometimes temptation surprises us with a sudden and unexpected assault. At other times, temptation comes upon us so gradually that we hardly notice it at first. In the beginning, the enticement to sin carries us along gently as a hint of desire. But then that passion propels us along more swiftly until we find ourselves in the raging currents of craving.
In today’s reading of 1 Corinthians 10:5-12, Paul warns the Corinthians against the complacency of spiritual pride. They should be watchful lest they get carried away in grievous sins such as lust, idolatry, sexual morality, or complaint against the Almighty. He writes, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (OSB vs. 12). Today we will study Paul’s concern for the prideful smugness of his flock in Corinth. The apostle will assert that the events of the Old Testament were written to instruct believers in the present. Therefore they apply not only to Paul’s time and ours as well.
The Complacency of Those Who Claim Superior Knowledge
Paul is concerned that the claim of “superior spiritual knowledge” has made his flock heedless of the danger of falling into sin. Apparently, at least some believers in Corinth think that they do not have to worry about temptations. But Paul reaches back to the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness to warn them against false confidence.
God’s Favor of the Israelites in the Desert
The Chosen People had been saved from the Pharaoh’s army by a kind of “baptism” as they passed through the Red Sea to dry land. In the wilderness, they were continually “under the cloud” of God’s protection and guidance. Moreover, the Lord fed them with “spiritual food,” that is, the miraculous bread of the manna from heaven. And they drank the “spiritual drink” from the “Rock” that Moses struck to provide water for the thirsty people. Paul notes that this “Rock” foreshadowed Christ (Mark 12:10), who would give those who came to Him “living water” (John 4: 10; 7:37).
God’s Favor of the Corinthians
Likewise, the Corinthians had been baptized, and they lived “under the cloud” of the grace of Christ. And they were partakers of the “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink” of the Holy Communion (1 Cor. 10:3-4). Yet Paul warns that despite the blessings of the Almighty, the Chosen People yield to the temptations of the most heinous sins: idolatry (vs. 7), sexual morality (Numbers 25:1-6), tempting God (Exodus 17:1-7; Number 21:4-9), and complaining against God (Number 14:26-38). For these transgressions, God destroyed them. They died in the wilderness even though God had favored them as His own people (OSB 1 Cor: 10:5).
God’s Favor is No Reason to Be Complacent
The lesson is clear. The Corinthians should beware lest they take the blessings of Christ for granted. They should fear that they would perish in the wilderness of their sins just as the Israelites had fallen in the desert.
Paul’s reference to the historical events that happened to the Israelites in the wilderness is an excellent example of his use of the Old Testament for instruction. His teaching in this passage exemplifies his interpretation of the events of the Hebrew scriptures. They are to be used as “examples” for believers in Christ, the fulfillment of scripture.
The word for “example” is better translated as “type.” The Greek word means the events that happened to the Chosen People foreshadow the future (Strong’s #4179). More than examples, they are models of the ways of God. They disclose the patterns of God’s actions that happened in the past but are happening in the present time. In the case of our reading, they typify the fall from grace that occurs when believers lust after evil things” (vs. 6).
The Scriptures Written for our Instruction and Admonition
Accordingly, Paul says that the things written in the past are for “our admonition upon whom the ends of the ages have come (vs. 11). In other words, the events of the Old Testament are prototypes of what God is doing to fulfill his promises in this end time. They serve “for admonition,” that is, they call attention to a warning (Strong’s #3559). Therefore, they serve as red flags of caution for those who believe that their superior faith in God’s grace, their relationship to Jesus Christ, and their knowledge given by the Holy Spirit makes them immune from temptation and God’s judgment.