As I’m working, studying, preparing, it’s very hard to focus on the small verses because today I’m preoccupied with the macro-view. The entire finished puzzle is obscuring the individual pieces. And that’s ok. But here’s where I am:
Last week, 1 Corinthians, chapter 10 began a historical account of Israel during the Exodus. That was strange, random, but we talked about why (a reminder as well as a warning) and that’s probably right, but now I think there’s another reason.
Earlier in this letter, Paul had been walking us through a way of life where we can subject our wants, desires, rights, our selves, in the service of another. That we should either eat or not eat idol-sacrificed meat, either accept or not accept payment for our ministry work. We have these rights, but the story doesn’t end with what we have, it’s only the beginning. What will we do with these rights of ours? And sometimes, what we are called to do is to not exercise them.
And that is overwhelming to even consider. The point is no longer to win, and we love to win. It’s not to be right, and we get so much of our value from our right-ness. It’s not to get anything. Seminal 80’s band Depeche Mode sings, “The grabbing hands grab all they can. All for themselves, after all. It’s a competitive world.” What are we grabbing?? What are we competing for??? In a culture that measures our worth in status, money, and power, how does a 2,000 year-old letter play that asks us to give those things away willingly? Not well. It’s not hard to see why the Scriptures are more and more marginalized, even inside the church. The theology of the prosperity gospel has so much more in common with the American Dream than the Sermon on the Mount and almost nothing in common with chapters 8 & 9 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
If our worth isn’t measured in wins and losses, or net worth, or square feet, then how is it measured? How do I prove myself?
Paul answers that with a history. He acknowledges our fragile insecurities and desperate need to win with stories of clouds, seas, and communion. Whaaat?
The big ask is that we put ourselves second or third or last on purpose. It’s a trust fall, right? What if we do that, what if we lose, give up our right, release our white-knuckled grip on image-making and control? What if we stop running and everyone passes us, and Paul was wrong???? What if there isn’t enough, if we aren’t enough, and we are stripped bare and empty? What if we close our eyes, fall backwards and there’s no one to catch us?
Faith is not simply faith in anything. If I put my faith in my bunny, there’s a great chance she won’t come through in crisis. It matters absolutely in what (or Whom) we put that faith. So as Paul details manna, water, provision, rescue and salvation, he’s making the argument for faith in Jesus Christ. To follow Paul’s utterly terrifying counter-cultural invitation, there has to be someOne trustworthy to catch us. Is there?
So, yes, Paul, through the Exodus, reminds us to stay awake to the blessings and privileges crackling all around, warns us of the obstacles that we refuse to give up, AND also continues to frame all of human history as a series of glorious illustrations of God’s faithfulness. Our eyes are closed, we’re only waiting for the courage to fall into His arms and start living.