I believe it to truly be the teaching of Scripture that those who genuinely know Christ and are in a saving relationship with God because of the benefits of the atoning sacrifice are secure for eternity. Not all agree on this point. The troubling aspect of eternal security teachings in the minds of some folks is that they see this as allowing for totally licentious living. It would seem to be saying that if there is no potential loss of salvation that can come from living however horribly you might choose, why even be motivated to live a righteous life at all?
Today’s passage is not one that directly ties into that theological debate, but there are corresponding elements. The broader context of chapters 8-10 is that of having a high standard of living so as to not impact a weaker brother, while also having a positive witness before the world. Yes, there are freedoms. But those freedoms do not allow you to take advantage of them without regard for consequences – in your own life and the lives of others. Privilege and freedom can lead to sin and God’s displeasure.
In chapter 9, Paul used his own story of giving up his rights in the service of others as a positive illustration about how to live for Christ within the Christian community at a high level. Constantly, the thought process should be away from self, directed rather in regard toward others. There is no way that the Corinthians should be living with the idea that they are now securely on the winning team with all its blessings (and they were very blessed and enriched in every way, see chapter 1, verses 5-7), and therefore they can freely live in any flesh-serving way they desired.
Now in chapter 10, Paul gives a negative example of the consequences of the abuse of liberties and God’s grace. Think about the blessings of the Israelite nation as they were rescued from their bondage in Egypt. They had incredible, life-altering experiences. The nation was led by the cloud by day and the fire by night. The waters of the Red Sea stood up like a wall as they passed through on dry ground. Food dropped out of the sky and water from a rock followed them wherever they went. Here is how Paul wrote about it …
1 Corinthians 10:1 – 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. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
Wow, anyone who had all these experiences was really blessed and surely so special to God that no harm could ever befall them, no matter what they did. Yet it says that God was NOT pleased with most of them, as most of them died in the wilderness wanderings (Yes, most for sure – all but two people named Caleb and Joshua – including the passing of Moses). Actions do count. Living rightly is a value to God. And the story of the nation’s history should serve as a lesson for these enriched Corinthians …
10:6 – Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7 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.” [from Exodus 32:6] 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.
Paul probably preached a sermon series to the Corinthians entitled something like “We Got Issues: We are the Exodus Generation; the Exodus Generation is Us!” Both generations did similar things, like immorality and idol involvements, complaining to God and living without regard for the reality of their identity with God – His chosen people as a nation / His chosen people as the church. Again, learn from this, says Paul …
10:11 – These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation [or “testing”] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. 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 check your footing. Are you living faithfully? Are you honoring God and serving others, or are you honoring yourself by insisting upon exercising your freedoms and liberties? If it is the latter, you might fall and face dire consequences, up to and including the loss of life.
Living in the age of the completed work of Christ and the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit is a wonderful thing. Paul calls this current era “the culmination of the ages.” We have so much; we know the whole story of Scripture, even what is yet to come. But in this flesh, temptations and testings are real. The enemy who brings them to us, just as his did to the first family, is also real. But none of this is beyond us. Our resources are sufficient. Deferring to others by serving them rather than exercising our own liberties has the effect of also best serving ourselves and helping our own footing be more pure and secure.