These notes are based on the NASB text.
10:1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;
Paul briefly outlined God’s blessings upon Israel as he sought to help the Corinthians understand how the Israelites abused their freedom and sinned against God. Notice the blessings of God upon Israel:
[A] “our fathers were all under the cloud” – This is a reference to the beneficent and protective guidance of God over the Jews in the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night (see Exodus 13:21-22 and Psalm 105:39).
[B] “and all passed through the sea” – This is a reference to the deliverance of God’s people from Pharaoh’s pursuing army (see Exodus 14:19 and Psalm 106:6-12).
10:2 and all were baptized into [identified with] Moses in the cloud and in the sea [the cloud was above them and the sea surrounded them on both sides and in that sense they were baptized];
Through the experience of passing through the Red Sea, the Israelites “were baptized into Moses” or identified with Moses. The Red Sea marked their passage into a new land and a new life under a new leader. The Corinthian believers had identified with Christ at their baptism. They identified with Christ and made a commitment to his leadership when they were buried in the waters of baptism and raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).
10:3 and all ate the same spiritual food;
[C] “spiritual food” – God miraculously provided for the needs of his people by supplying them with manna (which in Hebrew means “what is it?”) each morning and the flesh of quail each evening (see Exodus 16:11-15 and Psalm 105:40).
10:4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.
[D] “spiritual drink” – God provided for the needs of his people by supplying them with water in the wilderness. The need for water became apparent just three days journey into the wilderness. God however, provided water for His people in a miraculous way at the bitter springs of Marah (Exodus 15:22-27) and at Elim (Exodus 15:27). God miraculously provided water from a rock at Horeb (Exodus 17:1-7), at Kadesh (Numbers 20:8-11), and from a well at Beer (Numbers 21:16).
Paul said that the people drank from “a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” Brian Harbour comments, “Since Moses turned to the rock for water at both the beginning (Ex. 17:6) and end (Num. 20:11) of the journey, tradition asserted that the rock followed the people through the wilderness” (Bible Book Study Commentary, page 71).
10:5 Nevertheless, with most of them [A.T. Robertson writes, “A mournful understatement, for only two (Caleb and Joshua) actually reached the promised land.”] God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness [as a result of their disobedience and years of wandering in the desert -see Numbers 14:30-32].
10:6 Now these things happened as examples (an awful warning) for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved.
Paul warned the Corinthians not to engage in the things that brought God’s punishment upon Israel. To do so would bring God’s punishment upon them as well. Notice the five incidents recorded by Paul.
[A] The Israelites craved evil things. They were “longers after evil things,” a term which refers to “unlawful carnal passion and desire, the coveting of things forbidden, corrupt and inordinate desires and affections” (Mid-America Theological Journal, Spring 1983). The Corinthians were certainly not strangers to this temptation in the immoral atmosphere of Corinth.
10:7 And do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.”
[B] The Israelites became idolaters. The most vivid example is found in Exodus 32. The Israelites participated in an idolatrous orgy while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments from God. Paul addressed the issue of idolatry and things sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10.
10:8 Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.
[C] The Israelites acted immorally. They committed fornication. An example of their immorality is found in Numbers 25:1-9, the account of the Israelites playing the harlot with the daughters of Moab. The Corinthians were not unfamiliar with the matter of immorality. They had tolerated it in their own church according to 1 Corinthians 5.
10:9 Nor let us try [to over-try and go too far in putting to the test] the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents.
[D] The Israelites tried or tempted God. They pressed the limits God had set. The account to which Paul refers is found in Numbers 21:4-9. The faithless and persistent grumbling of the people that they had no food brought the judgment of God in the form of fiery serpents.
10:10 Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer [the agent which carried out the divine sentence upon the grumbling Israelites].
[E] The Israelites grumbled against God. The word “grumble” means, “to speak privately and in a low voice, to mutter, to utter secret and sullen discontent, to express indignant complaint” (Mid-America Journal of Theology, Spring 1983). The Israelites constantly grumbled against both God and Moses (see Numbers 16 and 21:7) in the wilderness.
10:11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
It is possible to learn good lessons from bad examples. Paul urged the Corinthians to profit from Israel’s mistakes. If they failed to do so they too, would suffer the consequences of abusing their freedom in Christ.
10:12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
Here we have a solemn warning from the Apostle Paul. The word “Therefore” points back to the previous verses where Paul wrote of Israel’s costly mistakes. Upon reading Paul’s account of Israel’s mistakes it is easy to point a finger at Israel or to think that we would never behave in such a reprehensible manner. It is easy to think, “How could they do such a thing?” or, “I would never do such a thing!” To think such thoughts is dangerous, presumptuous, and prideful. Thus Paul offers a wise word of warning to “him who thinks he stands.” That word of warning is simply stated, “take heed [that is, be continually watchful] lest [you] fall.” It is dangerous for any believer to think that he has come to a point in his Christian walk where he is free from the potential to yield to temptation and so sin against God. The warning to “take heed” reminds us that we are vulnerable, regardless of how spiritually mature we might consider ourselves. The writer of Proverbs adds his wisdom by writing, “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Proverbs 16:18).
10:13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape [“an exit,” as through a newly discovered mountain pass” -M.J. Berquist] also, that you may be able to endure it.
Paul offered an encouraging word to every person who has ever felt the overwhelming pressure of temptation. The word “temptation” in this context can mean either [A] a direct temptation or enticement to sin (which God never does as per James 1:13) or [B] a putting to the test. In either case, any temptation that an individual faces is “such as is common to man.” In other words, any temptation that we face is one that has been faced by others throughout history. No temptation is unique in the sense that others have not faced it at one time or in some form. In addition, God, who is faithful, will not allow us to be tempted to the point that we cannot either successfully endure or successfully escape temptation.
10:14 Therefore [for this very reason], my beloved [Paul was their spiritual father and loved them], flee from [continually and as a matter of habit escape from, shrink back from, stand fearfully aloof from] idolatry.
Paul used the word “flee” for the second time in his letter. The first time he used it in reference to immorality, “Flee immorality” (see 6:18). In this case he used it in reference to idolatry. Paul urged those who were “dining in an idol’s temple” (see 8:10) to “flee from idolatry” lest they become ensnared or drawn into it in some way (see also 10:12). When it comes to issues that have the potential to ensnare a believer (as in the case of immorality or idolatry), the believer should be careful lest his sense of maturity expose him to the danger of falling into sin. Warren Wiersbe comments, “The believer who thinks he can stand, may fall; but the believer who flees will be able to stand.”
10:15 I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say.
Paul’s concern was that his readers not try to see how closely they could associate with idolatry without being contaminated, but how far they could flee from it. Paul wanted for his readers to think wisely about his instruction.
10:16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ [“A reference to the church as the body of Christ and the fellowship among believers.” -Rienecker/Rogers]?
10:17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.
The believer’s participation in the Lord’s Supper identifies him with Christ. Individuals partake of one bread thus showing that they are part of one body.
10:18 Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar?
In the sacrificial system of Israel, both the priests and worshippers ate parts of the sacrifices. Those who shared in the sacrifices also shared in the spiritual benefits of those sacrifices.
10:19 What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?
Paul reaffirmed what he stated in 1 Corinthians 8:4, “we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world,” that is, that idols are not real, they do not exist, they are without substance.
10:20 No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons.
But while idols are not real, demons are, and demons stand behind idolatry and idol worship. Paul did not want for the Corinthian believers to “become sharers in demons” (to be identified with demons) by their involvement (however indirect) in meals in an idol’s temple.
10:21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
Christians who have identified themselves with the Lord and participate in communion at His table have no business identifying themselves with demons by participating in meals involving meat sacrificed to idols. Participating in the Lord’s Supper identifies one with Christ. Participating in meals at pagan temples identifies one with idolatry and demons.
M.J. Berquist comments, “In this passage Paul graphically points up for all of us the danger of grieving and betraying our Lord by our association with pleasures and pursuits that at first glance may seem innocent enough, but that, ultimately, may actually identify us with the enemies of Christ…One of the grave dangers confronting Christianity today is that the marks of Christian distinctiveness may become gradually obliterated” (Studies in First Corinthians, page 78).
10:22 Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we?
God desires our sole allegiance. Don’t try to see how close you can get to the edge. Remember that you are not stronger than God.
10:23 All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.
To the Christian who enjoys freedom in Christ…
[A] “All things are lawful” – “A Christian is free to do anything that in itself is not sinful” (M.J. Berquist). Liberty however, must be governed by love.
[B] “but not all things are profitable” – Not all things are helpful, beneficial, advantageous, or useful.
[C] “but not all things edify” – Not all things result in spiritual growth for either the participant or those who observe the behavior of the participant.
10:24 Let no one seek his own good, but [as a matter of habit] that of his neighbor.
This is love in action. This is the responsible expression of Christian freedom. See Galatians 6:2 and Philippians 2:3-4. The believer must always take into consideration the impact his behavior will have upon others, in this case, upon those who are weaker. Our freedom in Christ is not a freedom to harm other believers.
10:25 Eat anything that is sold in the meat market, without asking questions for conscience’ sake;
10:26 For the earth is the Lord’s and all it contains [see Psalm 24:1].
Paul applied the principle of Christian liberty to the matter of meat sacrificed to idols. It was allowable for a believer to purchase such meat at the market place without asking questions; after all, everything belongs to God. It was permissible for a believer to consume such meat in the privacy of his own home. In such a setting there was no danger of causing another believer to stumble. See 1 Timothy 4:3-4.\
10:27 If one of the unbelievers invites you, and you wish to go, eat anything that is set before you, without asking questions for conscience’ sake.
In the case of a believer sharing a meal with an unbeliever, it was permissible to eat what the host served if nothing was said about the source or significance of the food being offered.
10:28 But if anyone should say to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake;
If however, someone pointed out the source and significance of the food set before the believer, it would be best to not eat the meat. This was the best course of action in regard to a weaker Christian (“and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your conscience, but the other man’s”) and for the sake of maintaining a distinctive witness before unbelievers.
10:29 I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience?
10:30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?
Wiersbe writes, “Paul anticipated the objections. ‘Why should I not enjoy food for which I give thanks? Why should my liberty be curtailed because of another person’s weak conscience?'” Paul answered these questions in the following verses.
10:31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all [as a matter of habit] to the glory of God.
[A] The Christian has a responsibility to glorify God in all things. God cannot be glorified when a stronger Christian offends or causes a weaker Christian to stumble. The Christian must put the interests of God’s kingdom above his own personal interests. His interests must be kept in proper perspective by God’s interests.
10:32 Give no offense [cause to stumble] either to [unbelieving] Jews or to [unbelieving] Greeks or to the church of God [a reference to the weak believers of chapter 8];
10:33 just as I also please all men in all things (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19-23], not seeking my own profit [blessing or benefit], but the profit of the many, that they may be saved.
[B] The Christian has a responsibility to witness to and win the lost. He must not do anything that might keep a lost person from coming to Christ or cause a fellow believer to stumble in his Christian walk.
It is possible to learn good lessons from bad examples.
Paul used the history of Israel to teach his readers a good lesson. He referred to the manner in which the Israelites abused their freedom in an effort to help the Corinthians understand the dangers of abusing their freedom in Christ.
Be humble or you’ll stumble.
Proverbs 16:18 cautions, “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling.” Paul warned the Corinthians that they were in the greatest danger of falling when they felt smug and snug in their spirituality. Just as Israel was not exempt from falling, neither were the Corinthians exempt from the danger of falling.
God has made provision for us to live victoriously.
God has made provision for the believer to escape temptation and endure trials. We should not grow discouraged when we are tempted and tried, thinking that we alone have experienced such pressure. Paul assures us that others have, are, and will experience the same pressures. The important thing is to look for and take the way of escape that God makes possible in every such situation.
Be careful lest you identify yourself with the wrong things.
Paul warned the Corinthians that they were erasing the distinctive line of demarcation between themselves and unbelievers by partaking of the Lord’s Supper and flirting with idolatry. Christians should give their uncompromising loyalty to Christ alone.
We should consider the impact of our behavior upon others.
Not everything that is lawful for the Christian to do is profitable or edifying. The believer must not do anything that might cause other believers to stumble or might confuse lost people and keep them from responding to the claims of the Gospel.