Because of the catastrophe that took place in Eden, human beings are alienated from God, who is the source of life. Because we joined the rebellion of the fallen angels, the authority to rule humanity was transferred to Satan and the demons. Satan, the leader of the fallen angels, became the god of this world. Because of the fall of man, we have a fallen nature, a sin nature. Because of all this, we are headed to death, not life; to Hell, not Heaven.
Our greatest need is to be reconciled to God; to be rescued from Satan and the demons, sin and the sin nature, death and Hell. However, it is absolutely impossible for us to do this ourselves. No amount of human effort, good deeds, law-keeping, rituals and ceremonies can ever be enough.
But what we are completely helpless to do, God is more than able to accomplish! The Son of God left Heaven and became a human being. He was born into the royal family of the Chosen People. Yeshua the Messiah became our greatest rabbi. He did many great miracles, demonstrating He was sent by God. He lived a sinless life. Then, He allowed Himself to be put to death. But death could not hold this perfect Man, and the Father raised His Son from the dead. The Son ascended to Heaven, to the right hand of God the Father, where He is now.
Those who know these truths and transfer their loyalties to the Three-In-One God are reconciled to God. They are removed from the control of Satan and the demons. They are given the Spirit of God. They are given a new nature. They may experience the first death – physical death – but they will not experience the second death. They will live forever.
This is the Gospel. This is the Good News. This is the greatest message of all. This is the most important truth there is. Knowing this truth and then being faithful to live according to this truth meets our greatest need.
Paul felt responsible to live according to this message and bring this message to everyone. He felt an obligation to everyone, like the obligation of a slave to his master. Therefore he gave up seeking his own personal interests in order to serve others by proclaiming the Good News to them. To proclaim the Good News to others in the best way possible, Paul adapted himself to those he was trying to reach. He looked for areas of commonality, shared interests that would help him direct people to Messiah.
Paul lived for the Gospel and devoted Himself to proclaiming the Good News. He worked hard at this. He encourages Messiah’s followers in Corinth to do the same. He compares living for the Gospel and proclaiming the Good News to a race. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. In most competitions, one person wins the race and gets the prize. Living for the Lord, living for the Gospel is like running in a race, but this race is different because we are not competing against others. We are competing against ourselves. All who work hard living for the Lord and proclaiming the Good News can win the prize.
How? By going into strict training. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. The ancient Greeks valued excellence in athletics. They had games, like the Olympics, to honor those who competed in the games and won. To win and be honored, those who competed in the games went into strict training before the games took place. They trained hard for their events.
The winner of an event received a crown made of leaves or flowers. Because it was made of perishable material, it didn’t last. However, followers of Messiah who work hard at living for the Lord and living for the Gospel, will receive a crown that will last forever. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. The Rabbi is giving us a contrast between receiving honor that does not last versus receiving honor that lasts forever. He is trying to motivate us to go into strict training so we can receive a crown that will last forever. Like athletes who compete in the games, Messianic Jews and Christians need to go into strict training – not physical training for the body, but living-for-the-Lord training, proclaiming-the-Gospel training, resisting-sin training.
Extending the analogy of athletic competition, Paul compares himself to a runner who runs with purpose. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly. A runner who wants to win his event runs with purpose. He runs with direction. He runs toward the finish line. Someone who is running aimlessly will not win. Paul was not like the one who ran here and then ran there. No, the Rabbi knew what was important. He lived with purpose. Paul wanted a purpose-driven life of living for the Lord and proclaiming the Good News. He knew that kind of life would result in eternal life for him and other great rewards.
Again extending the analogy of athletic competition, Paul compares himself to a boxer. I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. When a boxer is fighting, he does not want to beat the air. He does not want to punch and miss his opponent. He wants to punch and hit his opponent, and not the air. Paul compares himself to a boxer who punches with purpose, to a boxer who is landing his punches – but his opponent is not another boxer. His opponent is himself. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. Paul does not want to be a hypocrite who preaches to others, then lives in a way that is inconsistent with his preaching, and disqualifies himself from receiving his reward. He is concerned that if he loses self-control, sins and crosses moral and spiritual boundaries that should not be crossed, he will lose his reward.
I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave. The Rabbi does not mean that he literally punches himself. Paul means that he knows what he should do and what he shouldn’t do, and is committed to exerting great effort to keep himself under control, so that he stays within God-ordained moral and spiritual boundaries, so that he stays pure, so that he lives in a way that is consistent with the Good News. He wants to take radical action to avoid sin.
We don’t want to live in a way that is inconsistent with the truth. We don’t want to be hypocrites who believe and say one thing and do another. We don’t want to live in a way that is aimless. We want purpose-driven, holy lives, lives that live for the Lord and proclaim the Gospel.
We want to be like Paul. We don’t want to be like most of the people who were saved from slavery in Egypt and experienced great miracles, but failed because they crossed moral and spiritual boundaries. The Rabbi wants us to learn from them and not repeat their mistakes. For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Messiah. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
Our ancestors were all under the cloud. This is the cloud that appeared when they left Egypt and continued to appear during their time in the wilderness. Clouds are made of water. The people who left Egypt were all under this water. They all passed through the sea, and the sea, like the cloud, was made of water. The water of the cloud and the water of the sea are like the water of baptism. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. Moses was a great, God-ordained leader. This baptism united them to Moses, who became their leader.
They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Messiah. They ate miraculous food every day, the manna, and drank miraculous water that came from a rock. Twice water came from a rock – the first time was early in their wandering in the wilderness and the second was some time later. The same rock seemed to accompany our ancestors throughout their wandering in the wilderness.
The Jewish people were saved out of Egypt. They all experienced a kind of baptism. They all were united to a great leader. They all ate miracle bread and drank miracle water. What great spiritual advantages! But in spite of these advantages, most of the people set their hearts on evil things, and sinned and died in the wilderness. We are to learn from their mistakes because our situation and our temptations are similar. We want to learn from their mistakes so we don’t fail like they did.
They were saved from slavery in Egypt. We have been saved with an even greater salvation from the things that enslave us, like Satan and his dark kingdom, and sin and the sin nature.
They were baptized under the cloud and by the sea. They had a new beginning as a free nation. They were united to Moses, their great leader. We have a greater baptism. We too have a new beginning. We are new creatures with a new nature. We are baptized by water and the Spirit, who unites us to the Father and the Son and to each other. The Lord Yeshua becomes our great leader.
They ate miracle food and drank miracle water. We eat spiritual food – the bread that reminds us of Messiah and His life and His death and His resurrection. We are reminded that Messiah is alive and is full of divine life and strength, and we can, moment by moment, receive divine life and energy from our living Lord. We drink spiritual drink – the wine that reminds us of Messiah’s blood that was spilled to atone for us and bring us into the New Covenant; the wine that is a reminder that we can receive joy, a joy that does not depend on our circumstances, from the Lord.
They had a rock that seemed to follow them. We have Messiah, the Rock of our salvation, who follows us to a much greater degree. He is with us everywhere we go, providing for all of our needs.
Our situation is similar to the situation of the generation that left Egypt. And our temptations are similar to their temptations. The majority of them yielded to temptation, sinned, and died in the wilderness, never reaching the Promised Land. We want to learn from their mistakes and reach our goal. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. The Jewish people are the Chosen People. We are the Witness People (You are My witnesses). And we are the Example People. God designed our nation to be a light to the other nations. When we did well and our light was shining, the Lord blessed us, and the other nations would see what was happening and want our blessings. They would be attracted to our God, who is the true and living God who alone can save fallen human beings. However, when we did not do well, and our light dimmed and God punished us, the other nations would see what was happening and not want our punishments; and they would fear offending the God of Israel like we had – which also taught them truths about the one true and living God.
The lessons of the Example People have been written down for the whole world to learn from – especially the followers of Messiah – which means that the followers of Messiah should know the Torah and the Prophets and the Writings. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. And what are some of the evil things that the majority of the people who left Egypt set their hearts on, which resulted in them failing in the wilderness?
Idolatry: Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” Some of them worshiped the golden calf. And crossing that spiritual boundary resulted in judgment and death. Messiah’s followers must not be involved in idolatry. Idolatry was a real danger for the Corinthians; and idolatry is a real danger for us today – not the idolatry of worshiping idols, but the idolatry of placing other things before God, like money or worldly success.
Sexual immorality: We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did – and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. This refers to the incident recorded in Numbers 25, when the Israeli men engaged in sexual relations with Moabite and Midianite women. Crossing this moral boundary resulted in judgment and death. Sexual immorality was a huge temptation for Messiah’s followers in Corinth, and it is a huge temptation for us today. Sexual immorality is wrong. It displeases God and harms those who engage in it. It leads to failure and judgment, even death.
Testing Messiah: We should not test Messiah, as some of them did – and were killed by snakes. Instead of being grateful for what they did have, and being supportive of Moses, their leader, some of the people tested God by criticizing God and Moses, and complaining about not having bread or enough water. They complained about being sick of the manna. Their ingratitude, complaints and criticisms resulted in divine punishment. The Lord sent snakes to bite them and many died. Ingratitude and criticism of their leaders was a problem in Corinth. Instead of being thankful for all of the leaders and supporting all of them, many of the people in Corinth were complaining about their leaders and opposing them – even some of the great leaders like Paul. That needed to stop. For us today, we need to be thankful for the leaders God has given us, and try to support them as much as possible and be careful with our criticisms. And we need to express gratitude to God if our needs are being met, and not complain about the things we don’t have.
Grumbling: And do not grumble, as some of them did – and were killed by the destroying angel. Paul is probably referring to the grumbling that took place at Kadesh, recorded in Numbers 14, when 10 of the 12 spies discouraged the people by telling them that the land was good, but the inhabitants were too strong for them to conquer. Almost everyone grumbled against Moses and Aaron, wanted to kill them, find a new leader and return to Egypt. The Lord sent a plague and killed the 10 spies.
Messiah’s followers in Corinth needed to have faith and to know that the Lord was greater than all who opposed them. They needed to trust the Lord in spite of all opposition and trust their leaders – like Paul. And we need to do the same.
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. All the various ages that came before have reached their culmination in our age. We live in a very special period of time. Immanuel has arrived! The Son of God taught us the greatest truths. The Messiah saved us with a great salvation from the things we need saving from the most – Satan and the demons, sin and the sin nature, death and Hell. The Father and the Son are able to live in us in a greater way, by means of their Spirit. We can receive a new nature. We, on whom the culmination of the ages has come, have the advantage of having the most revelation. We have the advantage of being able to look back and see the mistakes of the previous ages, like the pre-Flood world and the age after the Flood. We can see the mistakes of the empires of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans; and most important of all, we have the great advantage of being able to learn from the mistakes of the Chosen People, which are recorded for us in divinely inspired history.
Those who ignore the warnings of history are doomed to make the same mistakes. The Lord does not want that to happen to us. The generation of Jewish people who were saved from slavery in Egypt had a kind of baptism. They had a new beginning as freed people. They had a great leader. They ate spiritual food and drank spiritual drink. God was close to them. He led them in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. The people who were saved from Egypt thought that all was well with them, that they were close to God and would enter the Promised Land. Yet, many of them failed and died in the wilderness and never reached the Promised Land. Let’s learn from their mistakes. Let’s not set our hearts on evil things. Let’s not assume we are doing well if we are not! So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!
It’s dangerous to think that we are different from most of that generation, who were tempted and failed. People are people; race doesn’t matter; the age in which one lives doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Israel in the wilderness, Messiah’s followers in Corinth, or Christians and Messianic Jews today. We all share the same weaknesses; we all share the same temptations. No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. God is aware of human weaknesses. He knows our areas of temptation. He knows each one of us. He knows our limitations. He knows how much we can handle. If we were camels, He knows the last straw that would break our backs. The Lord’s representative lets us know that God is faithful. He won’t allow that last straw to be placed on our backs. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. So, if you’re facing challenging situations, if you’re going through difficult circumstances, if you’re getting close to setting your heart on evil things, if you’re experiencing temptations, you need to know that the Lord is aware of you and your situation and knows how much you can handle. He is committed to helping you through your challenge, your trial, your temptation. He has a way out for you. He has a way for you to be able to endure. You need to have faith that with His grace, with the resources He has, you can make it through your temptation and come out purer, holier, wiser, stronger and better than before.
Don’t give in. Don’t yield to the things that tempt you. Maintain your self-control. Stay within those moral and spiritual boundaries. Have a purpose-driven life. Work hard at living for the Lord. Work hard at living for the Gospel. Be holy, be courageous and proclaim the Good News to a world that is perishing.