Four Sinful Behaviors (1 Corinthians 9:6–10)

The Daily Word for 1 Corinthians 9:6-10 will begin after the following book review blurb.


Gabe Lyons, The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America (New York: Doubleday, 2010). $19.99, 240 pages.

American Christians live in a transitional age. Christian America is dead. American society is increasingly pluralistic, postmodern, and post-Christian. How should American Christians respond to this new cultural reality?

To read my complete review of The Next Christians, go here. If you’d like to subscribe to receive my book reviews via email, go here. The subscription will go live when you respond to the confirmation email.


Four Sinful Behaviors (1 Corinthians 9:6–10)

In 1 Corinthians 9:6–10, Paul writes:

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things 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 got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did — and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did — and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did — and were killed by the destroying angel.

Paul refers to four sinful behaviors in this passage: idolatry, sexual immorality, testing the Lord, and grumbling. Let’s take a closer look at each one.

First, idolatry, which is religion without truth: 1 Corinthians 8:1–11:1 examines the practice of eating food sacrificed to idols. Paul agrees with the Corinthians that idols are objectively unreal and that idol-food is therefore objectively insignificant. Whereas the Corinthians go on to eat idol-food at religious feasts in pagan temples, Paul absolutely prohibits the practice (10:14–22), although he allows eating idol-food at dinner parties in private homes on a case-by-case basis (10:23–11:1). Why the distinction? Because eating idol-food at religious feasts in pagan temples involves the eater in a web of religious practices that are based on lies. Paul cites the example of Israelites worshiping the golden calf instead of God as proof (Exodus 32:6). Aaron told a theological lie—“These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (32:4)—thus misleading Israel about the identity of their liberating God. His lie shaped Israel’s unethical behavior: “The people…indulge[d] in pagan revelry.” A religion that begins with bad theology ends with bad ethics.

Second, sexual immorality, which is pleasure without fidelity: The phrase, “commit sexual immorality,” translate the Greek word porneuomen, which is cognate to the Greek word for prostitute. In the ancient world, idolatry and sexual immorality are often, though not always, closely linked. Some prostitutes plied their trade at pagan temples, sexual intercourse being part of the religious ritual. This connection between idolatry and sexual immorality lies in the background of the Old Testament example Paul cites (Numbers 25:1–9). For Paul, the prohibition of sexual immorality extends beyond idolatry, however, to sex outside the confines of marriage (compare 1 Corinthians 6:12–20 and 7:1–7). God intends sexual pleasure to be experienced by a couple who vow to remain faithful to one another throughout life.

Third, testing the Lord, which is questioning God’s good intention for us: Paul refers to the Old Testament example of the Israelites complaining about the lack of water at Rephidim (Exodus 17:1–7). There, the Israelites ask a rhetorical question—“Is the Lord among us or not?”—whose answer they presume to be, “No!” But God has just led them through the Red Sea (Exodus 14–15) and given them food (Exodus 16), so the answer to their question is obviously, “Yes!” The Israelites have plenty of evidence about God’s intention for them. As constant skeptics, however, they continually ask for more.

Fourth, grumbling, which is questioning the truth of God’s revelation: Paul refers to the Old Testament example of the rebellion of Korah (Numbers 16). Korah and his followers doubted the truth of God’s command that Aaron and his descendents alone serve as priests before God. They wanted to serve as priests. God settled the matter by judging between Korah and Aaron in Aaron’s favor. Despite this evidence, “the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron” (16:41). The sin of the people is presumption against God, even in the face of contrary evidence.

Israelites committed each of these sins on its journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. In our journey from slavery to salvation, we should be careful to avoid committing these sins ourselves. If God judged them, Paul reasons, why should we expect a different outcome for similar behavior?

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