Today we end a three week series on Christian Liberty:
Week One: How do use my freedom to love my Christian neighbor? It was a call to give up your rights for your neighbor
Week Two: How do I use my freedom to Love unbelievers? It was a call to give up your rights for the lost
Today: How do I use my freedom to love Christ? It’s a call to give up your rights for a glory greater than yourself.
1 Corinthians 9:24-10:6
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
10 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
Make no mistake, this is a chapter on glory. It begins with reference to the cloud that led Israel in the desert. The cloud is a symbol of glory.
God descends on Sinai in a cloud (Ex. 19:9).
A cloud covers the tent of meeting and it says His glory filled the tabernacle (Ex. 40:35).
When the ark was brought to Solomon’s temple a cloud appears…for the glory of God filled the temple (2 Chron. 5:14).
When Jesus was transfigured, when His glory shown forth past his physical appearance, it says that a bright cloud covered them (Matt. 17:5).
So this chapter begins with a reference to glory…they were all under the cloud and this chapter ends with a reference to glory. whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
1. The Reality: All Have Experienced His Glory
1 Corinthians 10:1-4
10 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
I don’t know about you but sometimes I read the Old Testament stories like the parting of the Sea or Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal, and I get a little jealous.
I long to experience that type of glory. And then I read this passage (v. 4 says, they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.) and am reminded that what they experienced…Jesus…, I experience, and actually I experience it in a greater way than they did.
According to Colossians 1:19, in Jesus you have the fullness of God dwelling. Moses saw God’s backside, not his fullness. Isaiah saw God dimly through smoke, not his fullness. Solomon was shielded from God’s fullness by the cloud. So often we are on this spiritual search for glory when it’s right in front of us.
There are no more shadows but the light of Jesus. There are no more clouds, but clarity in the face of Jesus. 2 Cor. 4:6 – For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
The next time you get jealous of Old Testament encounters with God listen to the words of Jesus: many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it; and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:16-17).
To long for those Old Testament encounters is to go backwards! Two easy examples of how we experience the greater glory:
A. The Cloud and Sea that Israel experienced is equivalent to water Baptism we experience.
The splitting of the sea wasn’t so that the people could get into a new land. Often times we think only that…He split the sea so they could walk to the other side. God’s plans are always bigger than our plans. The sea wasn’t just their deliverance, go ahead get across…escape, it was the destruction of their enemies. Pharaoh and his army went into the sea and were destroyed. The people are now finally free for their enemy has been destroyed.
Here in 1 Cor. 10 Paul says that this happened and was written down as an example, as a picture, for us…it’s a picture of Baptism. What has Jesus done for those who call on His name? He has drowned the sin that clung to you. He has destroyed Satan who has pursued you into the waters.
We read the story of the red sea and think…wow to be there, to experience the glory of that moment. You were there. You did experience it to an even greater degree. Which is harder, to separate a sea or to separate you from your sins? Which is the greater miracle? To fight and overcome Pharaoh…a human ruler? Or to slay that ancient foe Satan, the prince of the power of darkness?
B. The Food and Drink Israel experienced is equivalent to Communion that we experienced last week.
Later in v. 16 Paul will connect this with communion by saying: the cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
Jesus himself says in John 4 that He is the true water drink and never thirst again. In John 6 he says that He is the true bread, manna, sent from heaven, eat and never hunger again.
Again, Paul says that manna in the wilderness and water from the rock happened and was written down as an example, as a picture, for us…it’s a picture of communion, the Lord’s Supper.
Can you imagine the miracle of manna from heaven and water from a rock? Those are incredible miracles, but they’re not the most incredible miracles. The shadow of that miracle has come to light in Jesus.
You experience that miracle every time you take communion! It’s a reminder of the miracle of the cross. For which is harder. To tap a rock and get water or to tap a heart and cause living water to flow from it? Which is the greater miracle? To give you bread that provides for physical nourishment for a day or to give Jesus whose work on the Cross provides spiritual nourishment for all eternity? The greater miracle is the cross. The greater glory is the cross.
If you have experienced baptism and communion then you have experienced glory. Don’t long for the lesser glories, be satisfied with the fullness of God that dwells in Jesus Christ.
But Paul doesn’t end there. There’s a danger we must be aware of.
2. The Danger: Most Become Immune to Glory
ALL the people of Israel experienced God’s glory, they ALL were impressed with that glory, yet MOST of them got tired of that glory and traded it in for something less…because we become immune to glory. We experience this all the time.
The new phone we just HAD to have becomes obsolete within a year. The phone hasn’t changed. It still performs the same functions as before. The features are all the same. What changed? Our desire for something new.
That apartment we dreamed about and prayed for and was just perfect and were so grateful for, we get accustomed to. It becomes normal and routine and if we’re not careful, we even begin complaining about.
That new job we prayed about and were so excited about, the one we arrived early at the first few weeks after time it just becomes harder and harder to get out of bed and go to.
When my dad was going through his divorce he told me, You know I loved your mom and I never stopped loving her, but I didn’t stay in touch with the wonder of my wife. I didn’t say I love you every day, I didn’t kiss her like I meant it every day, I didn’t look in her eyes each day and remind myself what I had…I just took for granted what I had.
That’s normal. We all become immune to the good things around us. That’s no different when it comes to God and His glory.
How can you get rescued from slavery by ten miracles and then the splitting of the Red Sea only to trade that God in for a statue made from their own jewelry?
How can you receive manna from heaven that will keep you from starving and not be content, not be grateful, but instead long for meat and begin to grumble about your situation? They’re free, they’re in the desert and God is providing water and food through a miracle and it’s not enough! They because immune to the manna and wanted something new, something different.
Paul reminds us of this and he tells us that their story might be our story…it’s a warning, it’s a wake up call. Be careful, YOU can become immune to Glory. YOU can forget God. YOU can experience Him and not be satisfied with Him. Here’s the language Paul uses as a warning:
What is he saying? He’s giving a warning to two types of people:
For the unbeliever he says – At some level you have experienced His glory.
You don’t have to be a Christian to feel the power and presence of the Holy Spirit as people around you sing and worship Christ. You don’t have to be a Christian to witness a miracle or be the recipient of a miracle. Ten leapers were healed by Jesus, only one returned to worship. You can experience His glory but still miss out on a relationship with Him. Many of those who fell or were destroyed or were disqualified or were overthrown in the wilderness experienced the glory of God, were with the people of faith, but they were not a person of faith.
An experience doesn’t mean salvation.
Paul reminds us in Romans that not all Israel is Israel. In other words, not everyone who left Egypt had faith. Some were there because their family was going…so I’m going too. Some of you are here this morning for that very reason. You’re not following Christ, you’re following your family. Some were there because it was better than Egypt. Who wants to be a slave? I don’t really care about Yahweh, what has he done for us for the past 400 years, but I’ll take freedom over slavery! Some of you are here this morning for that very reason…it’s better than staying a home and doing nothing. Or perhaps you think, if I become a Christian things will be easy, all my problems will go away. It’s not really Christ you’re running to, it’s your problems you’re running from.
Some were there because that was their identity: I’m Jewish, not Egyptian. Theirs was a cultural faith. They participated in the ceremonies and holidays and recited their prayers, they “honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him.” Some of you are here this morning for that very reason, Cultural Christianity. It’s what I did in my home country so it’s what I do here. These are the traditions I was raised with so I just continue them into adulthood, but perhaps it’s never really been a matter of the heart…you’ve never internalized your faith, had a heart change, picked up your cross and followed after Jesus. You’re following after Christianity, but not Christ.
Just because you come to church doesn’t mean you are the church…just because you were baptized doesn’t mean that you sins really were washed away. Just because you take communion doesn’t mean you commune with Christ. We are saved by grace through faith and if you’ve not made a faith commitment then you’ve participated in his glory but not his fellowship.
But that can change today. Don’t be disqualified. Make that choice today to love Jesus, to follow Jesus, to forsake your way of living and surrender to His plan for your life. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is lord, believe in your heart that Jesus, the Son of God, has been resurrected and promises new life to you…and you will be saved!
But Paul doesn’t just speak to unbelievers… let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. Some who fell in the wilderness really did have faith but they traded the glory of God for a lesser glory.
You can experience His glory, have a true relationship with Him, and still back slide…You’re not immune to failure. You’re not above being lured and enticed by the glories of this world. There’s a great danger that we will lose our first love. How does that happen? Take notice of how it happened to Israel:
This is reference to Exodus 32. Listen to their revealed hearts: Exodus 32:1 – When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down…
There is great danger for us to become immune to His glory in the waiting. There are seasons when God calls us to wait, for some of us it may be a really long season..Moses waited 40 years (until he was 80) before he was given the power to do the job he knew he was called to do at the age of 40. Be patient in the waiting. Take heed in the waiting, lest you fall!
May we never call the provisions of God worthless! God’s provisions are enough because Christ is enough.
Maybe you’re not in the waiting. Maybe God has come through and answered your prayer or provided for you or given you direction, but you’re not satisfied with the answer. There’s a danger here. We blind ourselves to glory when we refuse the gifts God has given us. Trust Him, believe that He is good. Know that He is far wiser than you are. Take heed when God gives you something other than what you wanted, lest you fall!
Now we come to the heart of the matter. For Paul these three chapters on Christian liberty that we have been in for the past three weeks are building to this moment. We all see His glory but remind yourself that you can witness Glory and miss God…THEREFORE
3. The Call: We All Must Fight for Glory
In this long discourse on glory we’ve almost forgotten that the conversation started because of a questions about eating meat sacrificed to idols. Can we eat it or can we not eat it.
And Paul wants us to know that the issue of meat is an issue of glory…anything that will distract me from Glory should be shunned.
Here is what’s taking place: Meat was expensive and because of that many didn’t eat meat. But every now and then the temples would have celebrations and in those celebrations, if you happened to be invited you were sure to be able to eat meat. Well, who would pass that up? It’s like saying to a guitar lover, I have a free Taylor guitar, would you like to have it? Or it’s like saying to a photography lover, I have a free Nikon D5, would you like to have it?
Of course I want to go to the temple and eat meat…who wouldn’t. But here’s the problem. When you go to the temple for the free meat, certain things take place at that temple. There’s all kinds of sexual promiscuity that will take place there. There’s idol worship that takes place there and I\some used to worship that idol and some felt the power and control that the demon had over them (because there really was a demon behind that idol). And they think: Now I can go and eat the meat and just not participate in the sexual activities. And I can go and eat the meat and just not participate in the actual idol worship. I’m strong enough to do that. I have the freedom to do that. It’s lawful for me to eat the meat…I just won’t do that other stuff.
And to that Paul says, take heed lest you fall! To that Paul says, “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. To that Paul says, this is my paraphrase of v. 31: Be a glory seeker!
Corinthians Christians, what are you more passionate about, meat or Jesus? If you go to that temple will it distract you from glory? Oh of course not, I’ve seen the glory of God how can I turn to worthless idols? Well Israel saw the glory of God and turned to worthless idols. Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought. The meat won’t distract you from the glory of God, but going there might. And anything that will distract me from Glory should be shunned.
Now this seems a bit out of context for some of us, not all of us. Some of our brothers and sisters from Africa have most likely wrestled with this idol and demon issue. Some of our brothers and sisters from China wrestled with these issues..I think of the recent tomb sweeping festival. These are real issues that still go on today. But maybe you’re from a culture that doesn’t get that…oh, but it’s still relevant to you. Because everyday you have neutral choices to make. The question, should I go visit a prostitute today, that’s an easy one….ummm….No! But Should I watch this movie (will it give me impure thoughts)? Should I go to this party (will I be tempted to do things I shouldn’t)? Should I read this novel (will it feed me – in a dangerous way for me – a worldview that is contrary to Kingdom Culture)? Should I take the subway during rush hour (Will it encourage lust or anger)?
Did you notice, for Israel, it wasn’t the big things that ripped their heart away. It wasn’t as if some other God was having a showdown with Yahweh.
Here’s the truth: small things lead to big things.
Small actions lead to big actions.
Small choices have large consequences.
And as we think about these neutral things we often ask: How much is permitted? Where’s the line? How much can I do? How much can I get away with?
It’s the small decisions that will blind you to true glory. Paul knows this. If you’re asking, what can I get away with, what’s the boundary line, how far can I carry this before it becomes a sin, then you’re asking the wrong question and it reveals more about your heart than you realize.
So God gives us better questions to ask:
Is it helpful?
v. 23. “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful.
Ask yourself: Does it open your eyes to the beauty of Christ? Is it helpful in allowing you to enjoy His presence?
Ask Yourself: It is stealing my devotion to Christ? No man can serve two masters…Is this thing dividing my loyalty? It’s not a question I can answer for you because I don’t know your heart. I don’t know what that neutral action is doing to your heart…But you do…if you self reflect.
Does it Build Up?
v. 23. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.
And there are two groups in Paul’s mind: If you eat meat will it help Christians see the beauty of Christ? If you eat meat will it help Non-Christians see the beauty of Christ? This is really a question of: Does it reveal more of His glory not just to myself but to others?
To abstain from meat for the sake of another is still a glory issue! We want God to be glorified in their life.
If God’s glory is your aim, then you look to maximize that glory. To spread that glory, not horde it up for yourself. God is too big for me only…He’s the God of the world and the focus of God and His glory must be larger than myself.
Do you know what Paul is saying? I fight for glory…I fight against thinking of myself…I want God to be made known to others.
Are you actions this week shining glory into the lives of others or is it doing the exact opposite? Are you actions saying, God’s not great, God’s not glorious?
You saw the testimony of Martha earlier. Afterwards Martha messaged me: There is so much that God has done in my life, when I left I felt like I didn’t even say much…just 5% of what He has done. But God reminded me that He always takes the little and multiplies it.
This is my prayer for all of us this week. He takes the little things, the insignificant things, the neutral things this week and multiplies it. And I pray that He specifically does that through our upcoming Good Friday and Easter services. May your small actions this week compel people to those services, may the gospel be clearly preached, and may lives be forever changed!