Just as a mixed multitude went from Egypt with Moses, professing thus definite association with all that he stood for in God’s plans, so does a mixed multitude exist in the sphere of Christian profession. Many men and women claim a definite link with the Person of our Lord Jesus, and with all that He represents in the purposes of God. Outwardly, the Israelites, by their baptism and by their accepting divine provision in the manna and the water from the rock, seemed to be truly on God’s side. Many, however, were false professors, seeking the tangible advantages of God’s salvation, knowing nothing of true repentance, of a vital spiritual experience, or of a definite turning to God from idols. When the testing times came, the seemingly unified ranks were scattered in many directions. How authentic a description of much of the Christian witness in recent times!
Just below the surface, in many hearts in Israel’s theocratic state, there was an unbridled yearning for evil things, for fleshly orgies linked with idol worship, and for illicit sexual practices. There was, behind all the facade of religious observance, an audacious perseverance in wickedness and a spirit of deep discontent towards God’s dealings and direction. In time the evil revealed itself, and judgment fell.
Some Christians follow those who inserted the Old Testament chapter headings in certain Bibles, by reserving all the blessings for the Church and attributing all the punishments to Israel. But Paul does not. He is not complacent. The warnings concerning divine retribution in other eras of God’s dealings with professing multitudes apply equally to us who live during the last age-span. The Lord grants grace to the humble, to them who by patient continuance in well doing prove the reality of their elementary experience of conversion. But those who proudly express self-confidence and unshakeable stability, while leading mediocre existences, are courting disaster. “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall”, Prov. 16. 18.
Membership of the strictest and most exclusive group of professing believers gives as little guarantee as if linked with the most influential multitudinous religious body. All are in the sphere of profession, where men and women claim to be true Christians. Paul, writing to Timothy, quotes the two inscriptions on either side of the seal in God’s firm foundation. “The Lord knoweth them that are his”, and “Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity”, are important truths. Sometimes backsliders, living in gross sin, cling to the tattered memory of an experience. This is highly dangerous. The outstanding proof of reality is day-today fellowship with Christ and an accompanying godly life of worship and witness. In any circumstance, these are better fruits than dates. It is not so much a question of what happened ten years ago as what is happening today.
What comfort is found in verse 13 for the true Joshuas and Calebs, who, in all humility, desire to press on for the glory of God. The faithfulness of the Lord, who fully understands our weaknesses, will not allow the pressure of the testing utterly to demolish His own children. There will be a way out. The enduring of the trial will be possible, and will lead to an even greater appreciation of the splendour of the true God. Fleeing idolatry of all kinds will be the subsequent desire.
To the perplexed Corinthians, living in an atmosphere of idol worship, where demonic influence and filth were everywhere evident, Paul traces
the Pathway of Sanctification
The believer’s profession of faith in Christ leads him to take the cup of blessing and to break the bread. He thus aligns himself, in the communion of the blood of Christ and of the body of Christ, with all that is pure and clean and holy. Not only during the actual breaking of bread, but throughout his daily living, is every phase of his existence sustained by the provision on the table of the Lord. True believers cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. There is no common ground. There must be a clear-cut line of demarcation in thought-life and in practice, producing holiness and separation from sin.
What of today? If we analyse the structure of present-day civilisation, and endeavour to identify the inspiring sources, we shall discover many more of demonic origin than of celestial. The twentieth-century Christian finds himself in an atmosphere as fetid and as detrimental to spiritual sanity as was the world of Paul. To live for Christ in the midst of all this will necessitate absolute loyalty to the demands of the Lord’s table.
From verse 23, the apostle continues his counsels on
Christian Behaviour and its Influence
already developed in chapter 8. How we must unceasingly thank the Lord for the deliverance granted to Paul from the petty restrictions governing the religions of his day. Freedom to eat whatever was sold in the meat market was based on accepting the food as the abundant provision of the Lord. This change from current religious material regulations eventually allowed Christianity to exert its tremendous spiritual force in many civilisations across the world and across the centuries.
But, in spite of this hard-won freedom, food, that in the mind of an immature Christian was unclean because it had been offered to idols, was to be refused. Patience and consideration must be shown towards the immature Christian in view of his eventual development and deliverance from bondage. The criterion is expressed in the simple question, “Is my behaviour in this matter to the glory of God and for the spiritual well-being of my brother?” “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God”, v. 31. Let no man seek his own, but every one another’s well-being, v. 24. This surely is true evidence of the Spirit-filled life, as in Romans 8. 4, “that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit”. This is loving God and loving one’s neighbour.
Christian responsibility is universal. Not only must one’s conduct not stumble believers, namely the church of God, but nothing must be done to Jews or Gentiles that would eventually lead them away from an interest in the things of God. Having in view the salvation of these precious souls, we shall be willing to go the second mile with them, often at great disadvantage to ourselves, not to please them in a spineless way, but to work for their ultimate blessing, v.33.