Religious But Not Pleasing to God
The Corinthian church, like God's Old Testament people, thought that they were all right with God because they did some religious things. Paul needed to shake them from their self-indulgent fantasy by reminding them of the exodus from Egypt, the powerful act of God which is the Bible's prime example of His sovereignty in salvation (Exodus 13:17-22).
As they trooped out of slavery God physically led them by the cloud of His presence in the day and a pillar of fire at night (Exodus 13:22). God divided the water of the Red Sea so that they could cross over the river bed. He provided them with manna to eat and produced water from a rock. They were God's people but they did not trust Him. They grumbled and complained (Numbers 14:2). Yes, they worshipped, offered sacrifices, had priests to intercede for them with God; but they had rebellious hearts and most of them perished under God's judgement before reaching the Promised Land.
Paul uses the exodus narrative to show the church that God was not pleased with their faithless religion. The cloud and Red Sea symbolised baptism; Moses was God's deliverer symbolising Christ; the water that flowed from the rock at Rephidim was like the living water Christ would offer; the spiritual food of manna and quail was like a daily communion. So, in New Testament terms, they followed Christ, received His life and had a daily communion. But God was angry with them; He could not trust them to continue into His Promised Land (Numbers 14:22-23). So everybody over twenty years of age (except Joshua and Caleb) died through disease which God sent (Numbers 14:29-30).
It is easy to play at faith but hard to endure faithfully to the end (Matthew 24:13). Churches are full of actors; but God does not applaud. Like Corinth, we need a reality check. The Lord is not impressed by religious fervour if we are grumbling and disobedient (1 Samuel 15:22). He wants our willing trust and not our mechanical worship. The lesson in these verses should be clear: just being part of a worshipping community, doing religious things, does not mean that God is pleased. Let us stop acting and start trusting where we cannot see, serving where there is no reward, sacrificing until what we cherish is gone, and praising when we can see no reason for confidence – because we love the Lord and are confident of His mercy and grace.
© Dr Paul Adams