There is a section in Paul’s writing, (1 Cor.9:24 – 10:13) where he likens the life of a Christian to a wilderness journey, based on the example of the children of Israel in their travels from Egypt to the Promised Land. Twice in this passage he emphasises this, by saying, “These things were our examples,” and “These things were written for our admonition.” (10:6,11)
In this article, and the one to follow, it will be instructive to look at the parallel, to ascertain how the practical outworking of the Christian life can be better understood in terms of this “Wilderness Journey.”
“Know you not that those who run in a race run all, but only one obtains the prize? Even so run, that you may obtain. And every man who strives in the games is temperate in all things. Now they all do it to receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. I therefore run, as not uncertainly; I fight, but not shadow boxing. I buffet my body, lest in the final outcome, after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified (from receiving the prize.)”
This is Paul’s introduction to the wilderness section. Two analogies are presented. The race focuses on obtaining a prize; the fight focuses on dealing with temptations and satanic interference along the way. Both exercises require “temperance”, “self-control,” and a “single eye” on what the Christian life is all about. Those who enter “discipleship training” cannot sit back in reclining seats aboard the jumbo jet, expecting to be taken, comfortably and effortlessly, to the Promised land.
Before going any further, a word of caution is necessary, lest anyone should misinterpret the dynamics of this situation. To be “translated out of darkness into the glorious light of the Son of God,” is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, not based upon human achievement, but based upon the finished work of Jesus at Calvary, on behalf of all mankind. None of us can do anything to obtain such redemption. All we can do is to live a life of deep thankfulness that our eyes have been opened to such abundant love, and listen to the voice of the Son of God in our travels through life. (I write this as an additional comment to my last Wellspring, where the point was not fully emphasised.)
But Paul is painting a different picture here. He is speaking, not to the world, but to those who have already been redeemed, whose eyes have been opened. He is speaking about the Lord’s expectation for all His sons and daughters in their daily lives, and their travels to the Promised Land. Jesus referred to this Land as “the Kingdom ofGod.” He made it clear by many parables that a sorting out process is occurring all the time, depending on our response to His directions. Furthermore, He holds out the possibility of receiving “prizes” at the end of the day. These relate to the possibility of serving with Him in the outworking of the manifest Kingdom, when resurrection is reached. We are warned by Paul to build gold, silver, and precious stones upon the foundation stone of our faith, rather than corruptible elements like wood, hay, and straw.
But Paul also adds a personal note, and it comes as a dire warning to us all. He says that his “flesh”, his old adamicnature, is a continual problem along the way, and continually needs to be “kept under”. To ignore this advice could lead to being disqualified for the very prize he sought. No one can lose his “new life in Christ” because it is not a “prize” but a grace gift. But “disqualification” is possible, and may be seen as the parallel to the burning up of all wood, hay, and straw that we foolishly build.
“I would not, brethren, have you ignorant, how that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate of the same spiritual meat, and all drank of the same spiritual drink, for they drank of the spiritual Rock that followed, and that Rock was Christ.” (10:1-4)
A great mixed multitude of possibly one and a half million souls left Egypt. They were, as a company, redeemed from Egyptian bondage. Notice how Paul emphasises this, in his continual use of the word “all.” The baptism is a picture of this redemption, in the same way that N.T. baptism is a symbolic representation of new life in Christ. We use water for baptism. Paul spoke of the “cloud” and the “sea” for symbols, and none of them got wet!!! But the symbolism is clear enough.
He then goes on to state that the material welfare of the redeemed company was catered for by God Himself throughout their journey. Food and drink were provided along the way, and Paul makes it clear that they were sustained by none other than Christ Himself. This is now true for all travellers to the Kingdom. We are sustained by the Son of God throughout our life’s journey. Our spiritual food and spiritual drink come entirely from Him. He is “the water of life“, and He is also the “living bread”. It is the responsibility of the Lord Himself to watch over, and provide for the sustenance of His people.
“Howbeit, with most of them God was not well pleased.” (verse 5)
Paul spoke about the possibility of disqualification, and now presents evidence from the past. He said that only one wins the race, so here we find from history that only Joshua and Caleb of that generation were allowed to live and enter the Promised Land. And why? Because the children of Israel had complained to the Lord on ten occasions, culminating in the rumpus when the spies returned. It was the last straw. Moses interceded on their behalf, and the Lord pardoned them, but they were disqualified for entry into the Land. They were “pardoned” but “precluded.” The same is true for today. All are “pardoned” by His grace, but some, perhaps many, will be “precluded” from sharing in the Kingdom government of this world in a coming day. Paul then proceeds to explain in more detail why this can happen.
“Now these things were our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be idolaters, as were some of them, as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.’ Neither let us commit fornication as some of them committed, and 23,000 fell in one day. Neither let us over-tempt the Lord as some of them tempted, and perished by the serpents. Neither murmur, as some of them murmured, and perished by the destroyer.” (10:6-10)
Five separate situations are presented for our attention. They are LUST, IDOLATRY, FORNICATION, TEMPTING AND MURMURING. Some may argue that these factors are now vastly out of date, and do not apply to present-day society, seeing that the Exodus was about 3,500 years ago. But Paul was writing to Christians who lived 1,500 years after the event, and he felt that the parallel was still applicable to them, so why not to us today? If on first reading, a certain degree of anachronism may appear, it would be worth while examining the five factors more carefully to see whether there is a lesson for today.
In order to keep these articles brief, we shall reserve this examination for the next issue of the Wellspring, to be sent out tomorrow.