1 Corinthians 10:1-11:1 – Living to the Glory of God
By Grayson Holbert
You wanna know what’s the absolute worst? Watching a movie or TV show and having no idea what’s going on. Allow me to explain: When I got home for Christmas break, my brother invited me into his room to watch the finale of the new Star Wars TV Show: The Mandalorian. I had watched the first season of the show a little while ago but hadn’t made as much progress on the newest season. As a result, I only had a general idea of the plotline heading into the finale, and it showed. I knew I was missing out on some really good stuff that only a true fan of Mandalorian, like my brother, would understand.
I think it would be fair to say that we all know the feeling of being out of the loop, whether it be an inside joke, a pop culture reference, an essay due at midnight, or a Monday morning deadline at work. Sometimes the consequences of being out of the loop are minimal, sometimes they are more serious. I bring up this story because it’s easy to feel out of the loop when you read 1 Corinthians 10. Paul quotes Old Testament history, expecting it to be common knowledge for the reader. If we don’t know the backstory, we might miss the point of the passage while trying to play catch-up. Lucky for us, we have a written history of everything Paul references in the Old Testament that we can look back on, so we can watch every episode before the finale starts. With that being said, I encourage you to go and read Exodus 32 before looking at 1 Corinthians 10, but for time’s sake, I will summarize it here.
At the beginning of Exodus, God calls a man by the name of Moses to deliver God’s people, the Israelites, out of their slavery in Egypt. Once the people are delivered from Egypt, they begin their journey towards the promised land (an allotment of land that God had promised to the descendants of Abraham, the father of Israel). As the Israelites wander through the wilderness, Moses gets called by God to go atop Mt. Sinai and receive a new law on behalf of Israel. While he is receiving the law, the people become impatient and act out in rebellion. Under the leadership of Moses’ brother Aaron, the Israelites sin against the Lord. The people created a golden calf and began to worship it saying, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” The next morning the people of Israel offered burnt offerings in front of the idols and believed they were having a feast to the glory of the Lord. However, this was not the way the Lord had commanded them to worship. The wrath of the Lord was great towards the Israelites, but God relented from destroying the people on behalf of the covenant He had made with Abraham. The Israelites had fallen to the sin of idolatry, giving their worship to something other than God. Throughout 1 Corinthians 10, Paul will encourage the church to abstain from idolatry and endure temptation, teaching them how to live to the glory of God.
Read 1 Corinthians 10:1-11:1 together
- What does this passage say about God, who He is, and what He does? (Father, Son, and Spirit)
- What does this passage teach me about me?
- What comfort/promise/challenge can I take away from this passage?
- How will I respond or live differently because of what I’ve read?
Passage Specific Questions
- Why wasn’t God pleased with the Israelites?
- What do we learn about temptation from this passage? How do we go about resisting this temptation?
- What are some practical steps we can take to live life to the glory of God?
10:1-6 – Paul opens the chapter by drawing our attention to the story of the Israelites in Exodus 32. On the surface, it seemed as though Israel was doing a pretty good job following the commands of God. However, push comes to shove as they wander through the wilderness and we are shown that the Israelites were only interested in serving God while things were going their way. Even though the Israelites were right where God wanted them, they were still vulnerable to temptation. God had provided miracle upon miracle for the people of Israel to be where they were, free from slavery about to inherit their own land, yet their human nature pushed them towards rebellion against God. God wasn’t displeased with Israel because they were tempted, he was displeased because they gave into temptation.
To understand the full weight of the decision that the Israelites made that day, we must understand the biblical perspective of human nature. In Romans 6:16, Paul begs the question, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” Israel fell into idolatry because they were slaves of their own passions. They did not have faith in the plan that God had for them, and as a result, did not present themselves as slaves to obedience. As was the fate of Israel, there will come a time when push comes to shove and we will be forced to act. We will make decisions in accordance with whom we serve. At the end of this section, Paul reminds the church to learn from Israel’s mistakes. Do not desire evil as Israel did, but instead present yourselves as slaves to obedience, which will lead to life (Romans 6:22).
10:7-12 – Paul mentions three areas of temptation that Israel fell into and paid the price for. The first one I would like to address is putting Christ to the test. The passage that Paul references comes from Numbers 21 when “the people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.’ Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.”
Before ripping the Israelites apart, or dismissing them as a bunch of worthless heathens, I encourage you to place yourself in their shoes. It was not an easy task following Moses into the wilderness for anyone involved. You didn’t need a college degree to be skeptical about how a man like Moses was going to lead your entire people group across the desert. You didn’t need to be a homebody to feel tired of trekking through the wilderness for years on end. Some of these Israelites had known nothing other than this wandering through the wilderness for their whole lives. If any Israelites had a reason to doubt God’s plan for them it was these Israelites. The Israelites were in a land that was not theirs, sometimes finding themselves without a place to lay their head, or without a meal to eat. However, these circumstances didn’t give Israel a free pass to forsake the God who had brought them out of slavery in Egypt. God did not free Israel from being slaves in Egypt just so they could make themselves slaves to sin in the wilderness. He freed them to take them to the promised land, and ultimately make a name for Himself.
There are two things we need to take away from these verses. The first is that your circumstances never provide an excuse for sinful behavior. The second is that we serve a just God. As a result, there will always be consequences or punishment for our sinful behavior. Praise God that we have a savior in Jesus Christ who has taken all the punishment we deserve, and given us eternal life instead.
10:13-14 – In the gospel of John, we are told that the devil is the father of lies, seeking to steal, kill and destroy. In this section, Paul lays out the truth about temptation, so we are not deceived by the schemes of the devil. Knowing the truth about temptation allows us to take steps to endure it. After mentioning all the areas that Israel fell short, Paul gives the church encouragement on how they can endure temptation where Israel failed to do so. He starts by telling us that every form of temptation we experience is common to man. This means that whatever temptation you battle daily, others are going through the same thing. The reason that Paul takes the time to tell us that others struggle with the same things that we do isn’t just to be comforted by this knowledge. He reminds us so that we can come together and bear one another’s burdens.
The next truth Paul reveals is that God will not put us through a test that we cannot endure. I want us to pause and take a moment to consider what this statement tells about the nature of God. Paul writes that God ‘will not let you be tempted’ or ‘will not allow you to be tempted’ beyond your ability. If God has prevented us from experiencing certain trials, we know that he has ‘allowed’ us to go through every trial that we will ever experience. He is sovereign, and he has orchestrated everything that we are going through. In other words, these trials have a purpose. In other letters to the church, we are told that these temporary trials are established to prepare us for the weight of glory that we will experience in heaven, and produce in us endurance so we may be lacking in nothing, able to withstand more trials during our time on earth.
The final charge Paul gives is that we still must endure temptation. God does not offer an escape where we are free from experiencing temptation. The escape that we are being offered is the ability to endure the temptation that we experience. However, God is the only one who can provide this escape. Church, do not try battle temptation on your own. God has placed you in the midst of every trial that you experience; God will give you the ability to endure these trials.
The main take away from these verses is that God is faithful. The Scripture is littered with examples of people who have reaped eternal benefits of relying on the Lord, as well as examples of entire nations crumbling when they are overthrown by the temporary allurements of sinful behavior. God calls us to trust that every trial he allows has a purpose, to trust in Him to lead us out of temptation in our trials, and to focus on Him to endure the temporary suffering that will lead to life. Therefore, my beloved, flee from sin.
10:15-22 – After speaking to temptation and idolatry as a whole in the first half of the passage, Paul moves on to address a more specific question: should the church eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols? Paul begins to answer this question by drawing an analogy that the church can understand. When we eat the Lord’s supper (communion), we are proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, think about watching communion from an outsider’s perspective. It looks like a group of people are just gathering to eat. This is why we take the time to explain the purpose of the Lord’s supper when it is taken. It’s another chance to remind ourselves of the gospel and share it with others. In the same way that the Lord’s supper holds purpose for us, eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols holds a purpose for the pagans. This is why Paul urges the church to refrain from eating the sacrificed meat.
The last verse of this passage speaks to the jealous nature of the Lord. Let me be abundantly clear – this jealousy is not sinful behavior from God. Jealousy becomes a sin when you desire or covet something that does not belong to you. The church of Jesus Christ belongs to Jesus Christ. That’s us! We belong to Christ; we are his bride. It is perfectly righteous for a husband to be jealous of his wife’s love. As the bride of Christ, we must refrain from having a religious ‘affair’. We must remain above reproach and give no reason to let others think we are being unfaithful. This is why Paul says that we’re better off refraining from the meat sacrificed to idols. We must not hand ourselves (the church), which Christ bought at a high price, to a stranger for the night. We must always see ourselves as the bride of Christ. At the end of 1 Corinthians 9, Paul’s action of ‘becoming all things to all people’ is quickly justified by the purpose of his mission: ‘that by all means we might save some.’ No one is saved by the promotion of sinful behavior, and we should not ever compromise our commitment to Christ in an effort to save others for Christ.
10:23-11:1 – This section asks us to shift our perspective. When thinking about our actions we should not ask if something is ‘allowed’. Instead, we should ask ourselves, does this build up the kingdom of God? In the case of the Corinthians, even though they have every right to eat what the Lord has deemed clean, they should surrender these rights if doing so will build up their neighbor. Paul is trying to get to the heart of the issue – we need to prioritize our neighbor’s spiritual well-being over our material desires.
As the passage continues, Paul tells the Corinthians not to question where meat came from before it is eaten. Do not create a problem where there isn’t one. Remember, the problem for the Corinthians isn’t the meat itself, it is the heart of idolatry associated with it. In other words, don’t try to make the material object the problem. The real problem is the spiritual consciousness of those around us. For example: For the Israelites in Exodus 32, the gold used to make an idol wasn’t the problem. The problem was their desire to make an idol. They attributed worship to something that didn’t deserve it. For the Corinthians, the meat itself wasn’t the problem. The problem was the desire of the pagans to worship and sacrifice to a false idol.
The takeaway of this section is that whatever we do, we should do it to the glory of God. We should leverage every decision we have for the sake of the gospel. Why? Because Jesus Christ—who left his place in heaven, endured every temptation, and defeated death on the cross—did it for us. We only have the capacity to love others because he first loved us. Paul leads the charge and asks us to follow his example and ‘be imitators of me as I am of Christ’, for he knows that only by the power and example of Christ is he able to endure temptation and leverage his life for the glory of God.
The Main Point
Paul encourages us not to fall into the temptation that the Israelites fell into, but rather to make a practice of things that are not only lawful but beneficial. We were not freed from our bondage to sin only to return to it. We were freed from our bondage to be servants of Christ. Our new duty as Christ’s servant is to become all things to all people, not for our own gain, but for the sake of the gospel.
In this passage, the Lord is calling us to have an eternal mindset. We must realize that the glory of the Lord usually doesn’t come to our benefit temporarily. To live your life to the glory of God is to give up your own benefit for the sake of others. We were not freed to live according to our own wants, but to bring glory to the one who saved us.
A Few Relevant Scriptures
- Exodus 32 – Israel commits idolatry by worshipping golden calves.
- Numbers 21 – Israel questions Moses’ authority and God’s plan. As a result, God sends serpents to bite the people and kill them.
- Acts 15:19-20, 27-29 – Apostles send word to the believers in Antioch concerning meat sacrificed to Idols and sexual immorality.
- Romans 14:14-15:7 – Paul encourages the church to walk in love for their brothers. He tells them not to let their actions be a ‘stumbling block’ for fellow believers. He says that we can do this by following the example of Christ in order to glorify God.
- 1 Corinthians 9:19-27 – Paul becomes all things to all people for the purpose of their potential salvation. He encourages us to ‘run the race’ of the Christian life with discipline.
- James 1:1-15 – Encouragement to count trials as a joy. James explains the nature of temptation and the purpose of trials.
- 1 Peter 5:8-11 – Peter explains the nature of the devil and the temporary nature of suffering.
- Romans 6:12-23 – Paul explains that without Christ, we are slaves to our desires which bring forth death. However, Christ has set us free from these desires and made us slaves to God which brings forth life.
- Philippians 2:1-11 – Christ’s example of humility that Paul encourages us to imitate.
 Genesis 15:18 – “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates”
 Exodus 24:1-2
 Exodus 32:4
 Exodus 32:13
 Hebrews 10:12-14 – But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
 John 8:44, John 10:10
 Galatians 6:2
 2 Corinthians 4:17, James 1:2
 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 – For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
 Ephesians 5:22-23, 2 Corinthians 11:2, John 3:29
 1 Corinthians 9:22
 John 3:13, 6:33
 Hebrews 2:14
 1 John 4:19
 Romans 6:16-18
 1 Corinthians 9:22-23
 Isaiah 43:7