Lent 3 • I Corinthians 10:1–13 • March 3, 2013
By David Wollenberg
In our text the Apostle Paul is addressing the issue of how we live as brothers and sisters in Christ in this evil age. His concern is with those (both in Corinth and in our own day and places) who claim to “possess knowledge.” “This ‘knowledge,’” he says, “puffs up, but love builds up.” And then he continues, “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God” (1 Cor 8:1–3).
He has already talked about several issues of concern, and will discuss others, but here, for now, the apostle wants us to think about the grace of God. He calls his readers to remember what the “wise” can so easily forget, the fact that God’s grace and gifts put us (and all who believe) into a personal and responsible relationship with him. God’s grace and gifts, revealed in Jesus’s death and resurrection, do not shield us from sin, or keep us from sinning, and nor do they insure that we will not be judged.
Ancient Israel is a reminder of this truth—and here Paul makes a masterful, Spirit-led move: God’s people of the New Testament cannot ignore the example of his dealing with our ancestors in the faith, ancient Israel. Israel experienced the same fullness of God’s grace in action, that Christians have experienced in our baptism, as they passed through the Red Sea. And they too were fed with a spiritual (supernatural) supper given by the Lord; theirs was manna and water designed to sustain them physically and spiritually in the wilderness while ours is the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. What great and marvelous gifts they are.
And still they fell, still they sinned, and still they provoked the judgment of God because they thought that they knew better than he. “This knowledge puffs up,” and leads us into sin. “But love builds up,” (8:2) and leads us into service. It strengthens the church which is as fractured in our day as was the church of Corinth in Paul’s day. Love causes us to reach out to “all who have gone astray,” as we prayed in today’s collect, “and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of (his) word” (collect for Lent 3).
From Israel’s history the new Israel of the church can learn: “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (10:12). Not that we, as Christians, should live in fear or terror; we know that our faithful God remains protectively in charge of our lives. St. Paul writes: “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” (10:12, 13).
But the warning stands; we live in a world of sin where we daily confront idolaters, sexual immorality, grumblers, and even those who abuse the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. We dare not allow ourselves to be affected by these temptations.
For that we have Jesus whose suffering, death, and resurrection have redeemed us from death and destruction. For that we have his Spirit who leads us into all the truth. For that we have one another, the body of Christ into which we have been called, with whom we celebrate God’s love, where we eat and drink the Savior’s body and blood: the cup of blessing and the bread that we break to which Paul directs our attention in the verses that follow our text. So, once again, it is all about Jesus and his love. What better emphasis could there be for Lent 3? To him be the glory.