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Although the imagery here is completely different, Paul is actually continuing the theme of the previous short passage (9:23-27). The entire section, from 9:1 through to 10:13 is like an extended diversion from the topic of eating food sacrificed to idols (as we shall see tomorrow). The message of 9:23 – 10:13 is that we need to work hard at being faithful to Jesus, and not take salvation for granted. Just as athletes need to keep training to stay viable in the competition, so the Israelites needed to keep their attention fixed on the Lord, and so do we now.
In this passage, Paul uses the scriptural example of the ancient Israelites to show that one can experience all God’s spiritual blessings, and yet fail to please him. All the stories he alludes to can be found in the books of Exodus and Numbers. Like the Corinthians, who were baptized into Christ and who share in the communion marked by bread and wine, the Israelite fathers were also baptized, though into Moses through the sea and in the cloud, and they shared spiritual food, manna and water, given miraculously by the Lord. But although they were part of God’s holy people, the Israelites failed numerous times: they worshipped idols, they committed sexual immorality, they put God to the test, and they grumbled. Therefore, almost the entire generation of Israelites died in the desert before they reached the promised land. Don’t be like that, Paul warns.
[Just a quick word of explanation: the Greek word peirasmos can be translated accurately as both ‘tempt’ and ‘test’. I prefer ‘test’ here because that word is broader and covers a larger range of situations which might lead me to fall.]
The one who thinks she is standing better watch out she doesn’t fall. Tests come. The tests the Corinthians (and we) experience are no more difficult than the tests which the Israelites faced: opportunities to give greater honor to things other than God; temptations to sin sexually; fear of not having enough to eat and drink; situations that lead to grumbling. These kinds of tests are common to all humanity, including you and me. We always want stuff that isn’t necessarily good for us. The good news is that God is faithful. Whatever tests may come upon us, he will make sure they are not beyond our ability to remain faithful to him, and he will make, along with the test, an escape from the test so that we are able to endure it.
What test are you facing today, this week, this year? What is it that you desire which might be against God’s will? What do you feel like grumbling about? No matter what is the trouble you are facing right now, the good news is that God is faithful. We may not be, but he is. We just have to put ourselves into his hands and trust him for the rest. But we have to make the commitment to put ourselves into his hands. Be aware of those tests, and be careful not to fall.
Prayer: God, this life is hard. There are so many things that would distract me from following you. There are things that I want, there are things that I grumble about. Help me to trust you at all times, to always turn back to you when the tests come. Thank you that you are faithful, even when I am not, and that you provide a way for me to turn back to you.