Learning from History

by Joseph Franks

Paul runs to win. With great commitment he labors to preach the Gospel, win souls, make disciples, establish churches, and bring glory to Jesus Christ. In addition, Paul seeks to adorn the Gospel ministry with personal holiness. While leaving behind the Pharisaical legalism that bound him so, he refuses to abandon the unalterable standard of holiness given him by the Lord. Paul longs to be a consecrated Christian, and he expects his fellow disciples to do the same.

Therefore, in an effort to promote personal holiness, Paul points his Gentile readers to to his own walk with Christ:

1 Corinthians 9:24–26     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. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Paul then points his Gentile readers to their Hebrew forefathers:

1 Corinthians 10:1-5     For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.

Then Paul draws his conclusion:

1 Corinthians 10:6-14     Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

Friends, holiness is not easy; it takes incredible focus, effort, and great discipline.

  • Spiritual discipline — word,prayer, and worship — is required.
  • Personal disciple — starving sin and feeding holiness — is required.
  • Brotherly discipline — submitting oneself to fathers and brothers — is also expected.

Success in sanctification does not just happen. One must live intentionally in order to make progress in holiness. Are we living a disciplined life?

In addition. holiness is rare; history shows us innumerable examples of disappointing or disqualified believers. Millions of Israelites followed God out of Egypt. A large throng worshiped him about his holy mountain. It was a mega-church that drank the supernatural water provided by God. But note Paul’s words, “with most of them God was not pleased.” Much, if not most, of Israel engaged in unrighteous eating, drinking, grumbling, and playing. And twenty-three thousand received discipline from the hand of the Lord.

Finally, holiness is required; God changes not and neither does his righteous expectations. Paul referenced Jews while he speaks to Gentiles. Therefore, since Hebrew history is instructive, he expects his Corinthian readers to learn from history. Paul expects his readers — then and now — to do the following:

  • Let us not be overconfident in our ability to stand.
  • Let us not be undone by whatever temptation we encounter — ours is not overly difficult.
  • Let us not be distant from our Helper — God is faithful and available.
  • Let us not quit in the fight against temptation; we must endure!
  • Let us not be complacent in the midst of temptation; we must seek an escape!
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