PAULíS WARNING TO THE CORINTHIANS
Do you believe a child of God can so sin as to be eternally lost? If that were not the case, why is the Bible filled with warnings about falling away or apostatizing? I am fully aware that the King James Version of the Bible never uses the word "apostasy," although most other versions do. For example, the English Standard Version uses the word "apostasy" (Jer. 2:19) and "apostate" (Mic. 2:4). What did the author of Hebrews have in mind when he told his readers: "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (Heb. 3:12)? The word "departing" is the translation of the Greek apostenai which comes into English in the word "apostatize." Paul used the same Greek word when he wrote: "Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of demons" (1 Tim. 4:1). If there were no danger of departing from the living God or from the faith or if departing does not really matter, why did the author of Hebrews and the Apostle Paul warn about departing? No serious Bible student can reasonably deny the many warnings in the Bible. Are those warnings purely hypothetical?
The Christians at Corinth came from a pagan background. They had been drunkards, adulterers, idolaters, sexual perverts and such like (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Paul knew the danger of their returning to their former life. He pled with them: "Wherefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10: 12). The verb "take heed" means to beware. The tense of the verb demanded that the Corinthians beware continually. The word "fall" shows the possibility of returning to their former life of sin and standing condemned before the throne of God. Paul appealed to the Old Testament to show that children of God can fall from grace. I invite you to examine with me "Paul's Warning to the Corinthians."
Paul concluded 1 Corinthians 9 by insisting that he - a child of God and an apostle - could be a "castaway." He told the Corinthians: "Do you not know that they who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain. And everyone who strives for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one who beats the air. But I keep my body under me, and bring it into subjection: lest by any means, when I had preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
The word "castaway" shows conclusively that a child of God can fall from grace. The word literally means that one has been tried and found wanting. The word is usually translated "reprobate," for example, 2 Corinthians 13:5, 6, 7. Most modern versions render the word "disqualified." W. E. Vine says the word "signifies not standing the test, rejected" (volume 1, p. 65).
Paul next turns to incidents in the Old Testament to show that a child of God can apostatize. "Moreover, brethren, I would not that you should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ" (1 Cor. 10:1-4). All students of the Old Testament are familiar with the story of the Israelites' deliverance from Egyptian bondage. God had provided supernaturally for their welfare and their entrance in the land of promise. The people of God had to know they could not have left Egypt, survived in the wilderness for forty years and inherited the promised land without God's supernatural guidance. The great miracles they witnessed should have proved conclusively that God was miraculously providing for their needs. How could people so blessed ever doubt God's goodness?
Please take note of Paul's comment on the behavior of the Israelites. "But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness" (1 Cor. 10:5). We do not know exactly how many people actually left Egypt. Many scholars think the numbers may have exceeded 2,000,000 people, including the children. How many of the adults who left Egypt actually entered Canaan? Except for two faithful men of God - Joshua and Caleb - the adults who left Egypt died in the wilderness. Why did they perish in the wilderness? Was it because God could not protect them in that great and terrible wilderness? It was because of their grievous sins. They did not just die in the wilderness; they were "overthrown." In their excellent book, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondevan, 1998), Cleon Rogers, Jr. and Cleon Rogers III comment on the Greek word rendered "overthrown": It means "to lay low, as if by a hurricane, to strike down, to annihilate" (p. 370).
Why did the Holy Spirit think it was important to remind the Corinthians of these incidents from the history of God's people? "Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted" (1 Cor. 10:6). These Old Testament stories were not written just to fill up space or to entertain the Corinthians. They were examples or patterns to keep the Corinthians from falling into the sins that destroyed so many people in ancient Israel.
If you have any doubt about the behavior of the Israelites, please listen to Paul. "Neither be idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, They sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play" (1 Cor. 10:7). How in the world could people who had witnessed the great miracles God had performed turn to idols? The Israelites were not depending on miracle stories that had been handed down from generation to generation. They had witnessed the great plagues God had sent on the Egyptians but not on the Israelites. They were there when he opened up the Red Sea and allowed them to pass through on dry ground. They could not have forgotten how he supernaturally provided meat and water for them in the wilderness. So how could intelligent people become idolaters?
The book of Exodus tells of the delay of Moses to come down from the mount where he had gone to receive the Ten Commandments. The people demanded of Aaron: "Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses,... we do not know what has become of him. And Aaron said, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them to me. And all of the people broke off the earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. And he received them at their hands, and fashioned it with an engraving tool, after he had made it into a molten calf: and they said, These are your gods, 0 Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt. And Aaron saw it, and built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, Tomorrow is a feast unto the Lord. And they rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play" (Ex. 32:1-6).
I wish we could say that this was the last time the Israelites behaved so foolishly. But through the centuries, they often worshipped idols. Idolatry was one of the major concerns of the great Israelite prophets. The prophet Jeremiah asked: "Has a nation changed her gods, which are yet no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be astonished, 0 you heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be very desolate, says the Lord. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:11-13). Ezekiel strongly condemned the behavior of the Israelites because "they worshipped the sun toward the east" (Ezek. 8: 16). Jezebel, Ahab's infamous wife, introduced Baal worship into the nation. Manasseh actually built altars to Baal "and worshipped all the host of heaven and served them. And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, In Jerusalem will I put my name. And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger" (2 Kings 21:3-6). As you can readily understand, idolatry did not disappear from Israel after the time of Moses. The prophets battled as long as the nation existed.
Idolatry almost inevitably leads to gross sexual immorality. Paul pled with the Corinthians: "Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand" (1 Cor. 10:8). We preachers sometimes misuse the word "fornication." It means all forms of sexual immorality - not just premarital sex. There is no doubt it includes premarital sex (1 Cor. 7:1-2), but it means more than that. Our Lord used the word where we would normally use the word "adultery" (Mt. 19:9). Paul employed the word of the man who was sleeping with his father's wife (1 Cor. 5:1). We would use the word "incest" in modern times.
When Moses returned from Mount Sinai, he was very angry because of the sins of the Israelite people. They had made and were worshipping a golden calf. Moses said to the people: "You have sinned a great sin" (Ex. 32:30). As Moses and Joshua came down from the mount and approached the place where the Israelites were camped, Joshua said to Moses: "There is noise of war in the camp." Moses corrected Joshua. "It is not the voice of them who shout for mastery, neither is it the cry of them who cry for being overcome: but noise of them that sing do I hear." There was lascivious dancing in the camp (Ex. 32:17-19). Twenty-three thousand Israelites died before the Lord because of their sexual misconduct.
Paul urged the Corinthians: "Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents" (1 Cor. 10:9). How could people in the days of Moses tempt Christ who came into the world about 1,200 years later? Some modern versions use the word "Lord" rather than "Christ." The New American Standard Bible reads: "Neither let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents." The word "Lord" seems to fit the context better than the word "Christ." The book of Numbers records the incident Paul is describing. "And they (the Israelites) journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spoke against God, and against Moses, Why have you brought us up out of the land of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any water: and our soul loathes this white bread. And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, and many people of Israel died" (Num. 21:4-6).
In his conversation with Nicodemus, the Jewish ruler who came to Jesus by night, our Lord spoke of the serpent Moses made of brass to save the Jews from poisonous serpents in the wilderness. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3: 14-17).
Paul next exhorted the Corinthians: "Neither murmur, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed by the destroyer" (1 Cor. 10:10). More than one time the Israelites murmured against God and against Moses. On one occasion, "all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would (to) God that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would (to) God we had died in the wilderness! And wherefore has the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? Were it not better for us to return to Egypt" (Num. 14:2-3). On another occasion, three men from the tribe of Reuben - Korah, Dathan and Abiram - murmured against Moses and Aaron. Those three rebels accused God's appointed leaders - Moses and Aaron - of taking too much on themselves. They claimed to be just as holy as Moses and Aaron (Num. 16:1-2). God's anger was kindled against the three rebels. "And it came to pass, as he (the Lord) made an end to speaking all these words, that the ground under them split apart... and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men who appertained unto Korah, and all their goods.... And there came a fire out from the Lord, and consumed the two hundred fifty men who offered incense" (Num 16:31-32,35). You can understand why Paul would write: They "were destroyed by the destroyer."
The Apostle John tells us that "the Jews murmured at him (the Lord), because he had said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. And they (the Jews) said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it that he says, I came down from heaven?" ... Jesus responded: "Murmur not among yourselves. No man can come to me, except the Father who has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:41-43). The Apostle Paul admonished the Philippians: Do all things without murmurings and disputings: that you may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom you shine as lights in the world" (Phil. 2: 14-15). The Apostle Peter used the Greek word usually translated "murmurings," but the King James Version renders the word "grudging." The English Standard Version translates it "grumbling" (1 Pet. 4:9).
Paul has already explained why he appealed to these disheartening stories in the Old Testament. "Now these things were our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things and they also lusted" (1 Cor. 10:6). He further explains: "Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world have come" (1 Cor. 10:11). The expression, "upon whom the ends of the world have come," refers to the fact that the Christian era is the fulfillment and culmination of all the preceding ages. New Testament Christianity is the goal of all of God's previous dealings with the human family.
Paul urged the Corinthian Christians: "Wherefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12). I have already listed some of the Holy Spirit's warnings about falling. For example, the author of Hebrews says very plainly: "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (Heb. 3:12). The word "departing" in this verse means to apostatize. Paul told Timothy: "Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of demons" (1 Tim. 4:1).
Did some of the early Christians actually fall away? In his letter to the Galatians, Paul expresses deep concern about the false teachers who were persuading some of the Galatian Christians to return to the Law of Moses. To the modern mind, that may not seem all that serious. But to the Apostle Paul it was a sign of apostasy. Please listen. "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if you be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify to every man who is circumcised, that he is debtor to do the whole law. Christ has become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; you are fallen from grace" (Gal. 5: 1-4).
The expression, "you are fallen from grace," shows the seriousness of disobeying the law of God. The late Dr. A. T. Robertson was a Calvinist and one of the leading Greek scholars in the world. In his outstanding set of books, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman, 1931), Dr. Robertson commented on the term, "you are fallen from grace": '''You did fall out of grace.... You left the sphere of grace and took your stand in the sphere of law' as your hope of salvation" (volume 4, p. 309).
1 Corinthians 10 was not written specifically to refute the doctrine of once in grace, always in grace - although it does in a powerful way. It was written that we might not fall into the pattern of sins that destroyed some many of the Israelite people. We know we can be faithful with God's help (1 Cor. 10:13).
The International Gospel Hour
P.O. Box 118
Fayetteville, TN 37334