“Do Not Desire Evil” (1 Corinthians 10:6)
Listen to the Sermon:
1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil 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 rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.1 Corinthians 10:1-13, ESV
Today is January 12th. So, being a little shy of two weeks into the new year, I expect most of you, if you started a Bible reading plan, are hopefully still with it. If not, there is still time to start one or still time to get back on the wagon, just as soon as you’ve fallen off. As you are reading, again because it’s January very early in the year, if you have a Bible reading plan like the Harvest Bible reading plan, it starts in the Old Testament. From the very beginning, I’m told that’s a very good place to start.
If you are doing one of these plans, then you’re reading in the Old Testament. You might be asking the question that everyone asks when they read the Old Testament, what on earth am I supposed to do with this?
We read these Old Testament stories and they are not as straight forward as the New Testament. We have been in 1 Corinthians for a while now and Paul is very straight forward and direct. He tells us exactly what he wants us to know, what to believe and what to do.
When you come to the Old Testament, it’s not quite that simple. We understand that much of the Old Testament was written in an anticipatory way, or in a way that was preparatory for the coming of Christ. So, when we come to the passages that are very direct, some of these things are talking about elements that Christ has already fulfilled. Therefore, we don’t observe and do these things in the same way that they did in the Old Testament.
So, what are we supposed to do with the Old Testament? Bible interpreters tell us there are two things that you are looking for as you are trying to understand what is going on in the Bible. This is true for the whole Bible, but it’s especially true for the Old Testament. You are looking for precepts and examples.
Precepts is a word we don’t use very often, it’s essentially some kind of idea or teaching. Whether that comes from the sharing of wisdom or through a very direct commandment. These precepts, these ideas, these doctrines are taught in the Bible.
Not only are there precepts, but also examples. The Bible isn’t just an information manual to fill our heads. We have all of these stories that are given to us to give us examples of what it looks like when the people of God, throughout history, have either believed or disbelieved, obeyed or disobeyed, listened to or ignored the precepts of God.
So, as we come to our passage, Paul is doing this. He is teaching us how to do this as we approach the Old Testament. He’s pointing back to examples from the Old Testament in order to pull from them precepts. He’s appealing to the Old Testament, saying in the Old Testament there are precepts and examples that fit together to form a complex fabric of teaching about a particular topic we are going to look at today.
Look with me at verse six, Paul is telling us exactly the point that he wants us to glean from the Old Testament,
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 1 Corinthians 10:6, ESV
Now, Paul is pointing back to the Old Testament he does have specific examples in mind, as he talks about here, and he has some specific precepts that he has in mind. The question that we have to ask as we are wrestling through what to do when we read the Old Testament; what exactly is Paul pointing to here and how did he get to where he gets to draw this point out of the Old Testament?
This morning we are going to do something a bit different than we usually do as we study through these sermon series. We have been in 1 Corinthians for a while and normally when we are in the New Testament text and the New Testament points back to an Old Testament text, we will usually go back to that text, make a couple observations from the story that we have identified that the New Testament writer is talking about. Then we take those observations from the Old Testament and continue trucking our way back through our New Testament text.
This morning we are going to slow down on that process by studying the Old Testament’s teaching, particularly that Paul is trying to pull out here in verse six alone. He’s got some other things to say in verses seven through ten, but in verse six he is appealing to something in particular that would do well for us to study.
Namely, that there are precepts and examples against desiring evil. Also, we want to study not just what not to do, but also to see the way that the Old Testament itself bears witness to the gospel hope of Jesus Christ.
Our big idea is this, Christ saves us, not only from our sinful behavior, but also from our sinful desires.
Three points this morning.
1. The Old Testament gives examples against desiring evil.
2. The Old Testament gives precepts against desiring evil.
3. The Old Testament cultivates a desire for Christ.
1. The Old Testament Gives Examples Against Desiring Evil
Look again with me at 1 Corinthians 10:6, we are going to look here to see where we should go, what Paul is appealing to in the Old Testament.
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 1 Corinthians 10:6, ESV
What then are “these things” that he is talking about? Paul is talking about what he has just mentioned in verses one through five. He’s talking about specifically, God’s deliverance out of Egypt. They were protected under the cloud and through the Red Sea when God parted it. Then Paul is talking about the wilderness wanderings of Israel. When they where under Moses and lead through the wilderness and fed with spiritual food and given spiritual water to drink from the rock that was Christ. It’s very clear that Paul has in view the Exodus and wilderness wanderings.
If we look at what comes after verse six, Paul is talking about a lot of other stories that also have to do with the wilderness wanderings. The view that Paul has is from the examples all the way to the end of Deuteronomy. That cut off point is important, because what Paul is saying is we are talking about the deliverance out of Egypt where the people of God started strong. All of them received these benefits, but then in verse five we learn,
5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 1 Corinthians 10:5, ESV
What Paul is saying is that though many came out of Egypt, and even though all these Israelites who came out of Egypt were protected and provided for by God, the vast majority didn’t make it from Deuteronomy to the book of Joshua. That is they didn’t cross over the Jordan river and enter into Canaan, the Promised Land. They didn’t make it.
So, Paul is warning us to worry about ourselves by looking at these Old Testament examples. These were given to us as examples, a pattern to follow or in this case a pattern not to follow. So that, as Paul says, “we may not desire evil.” Paul says that’s something to watch out for. Many of you are often concerned about behavior, and we should be, but Paul says there’s actually more to it. We need to not just worry about out behavior externally. We need to take head of our desires.
All of these are written that we might not desire evil. It wasn’t just that the fruits of their behavior disqualified them, but that the roots went all the way down into their desires and that was the problem.
So, what story is Paul talking about in verse six? The English translation is a little bit smoothed over in a way that masks what Paul is talking about. Paul repeats the word desires twice in verse six. Let me give you a very literal translation of verse six, “So that we might not be desirers of evil, just as those also desired.”
The point here is that Paul is talking about desires in a way that tips us off to where he is going. By talking about the word desire twice, Paul is referring to a specific story that is the Old Testament story about desires. It’s in Numbers chapter eleven, the word desire shows up twice in the same verse twice. Once in verse four at the beginning of the story, then again in verse thirty-four. In both verses the word desire shows up twice, just like Paul has it here. So, we see then that Paul is pointing back to that passage.
Additionally, we should note that in Numbers eleven, we know that this is the story about sinful desires because the place where this story happens, by the end of it is going to be renamed. Look at Numbers 11:34,
Therefore the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had the craving. Numbers 11:34, ESV
Kibroth-hattaavah means, “the graves of desire”. The idea here is that this is the place about sinful desires in the Old Testament. So much so that it is named “the graves of desire”. Just as Massah was the place of testing and Meribah was the place of quarreling, this is the place of desire.
What is happening in this passage? In Numbers chapter ten, the people of Israel have been at Mount Sinai since they received the Ten Commandments in Exodus chapter twenty. They have been there all of this time. In chapter ten, they finally disembark and move again. Right away, in verses one through three we see that the people start complaining. Let’s read verse four, where we see the word desire twice, and jump right into that passage.
4 Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 6 But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. 8 The people went about and gathered it and ground it in handmills or beat it in mortars and boiled it in pots and made cakes of it. And the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. 9 When the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell with it.
Numbers 11:4-9, ESV
Let’s stop there. In verse four, Moses is saying that they desired a desire. What this story is telling us about is that apparently, even though God was faithful to provide food for the Israelites in the wilderness Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:3-4, that this wasn’t just food, it was spiritual food. They ate this food God was providing for them, specifically Christ was providing for them because Christ was offering himself for them in this food, yet they were sick of it.
This was all they ate and because they were tired of it they desired something more. So, they thought back through their memories and remembered the glory days. The thought back to their time in Egypt, the land where they were enslaved, the place from where God had just rescued them. They are thinking longingly if they could only go back and have a good Egyptian meal once again.
Are they crazy? Yes, they are; but why are they crazy? It’s because they desired a desire. They had this sinful desire in their hearts. You may ask, what is the big deal? Why is it a problem for them to want something more than the manna that God had promised them?
What we read in this example is that in verse ten this was rebellious enough that the Lord’s anger blazed hot against them. In verses ten through fifteen this was frustrating enough that Moses cried out in despair asking to die because of their desires. In sixteen through thirty this is burdensome enough that the Lord provided Moses help to shepherd the people by taking his Spirit and putting it upon seventy elders who could help with the daunting task of shepherding such a rebellious people.
In verses thirty-one through thirty-five we read that this is sinful enough that the Lord struck down the people with a great plague. Let me read you Numbers 11:31-34.
31 Then a wind from the LORD sprang up, and it brought quail from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, around the camp, and about two cubits above the ground. 32 And the people rose all that day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail. Those who gathered least gathered ten homers. And they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. 33 While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck down the people with a very great plague. 34 Therefore the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had the craving. Numbers 11:31-34, ESV
This is a terrifying thing. The sinful desires of the people of Israel caused them to be struck down by a plague. So many of them were struck down that this place was known as nothing other than the graves of desirous people who were buried because of their sin. Paul is pointing back at this saying this is an example for us that we might not desire evil.
This isn’t the first place that this word desire appears in the Old Testament. It’s not even the most famous place for where the word desire appears in the Old Testament. This is the story of sinful desire in the Old Testament. Except that the first story is the original sin. You see that word, Kibroth-hattaavah, remember Kibroth is graves and hattaavah means desire, this shows up in the story of the original sin in Genesis 3:6.
Paul is looking back at all of the Old Testament, both in examples as well as precepts, to think about desires. In Genesis 3:6,
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Genesis 3:6, ESV
The word delight in this verse is hattaavah. The word for desired in this passage is a different word, it’s the word coveted.
There again, in the original sin we see the role desire plays. It’s the desire of the eyes. This is what John writes about in 1 John 2:16. He talks about the desires of the eyes. It isn’t just that we need to fill our bellies. The problem is that our eyes are roaming hungerly through the earth because we crave something more.
Something more desirable, something more than we need. That’s happening in Numbers chapter eleven and Genesis chapter three. Remember the Moses wrote both of these stories. He’s writing these stories to show, look, you are seeing the same thing in the original sin, has happened here in numbers chapter eleven.
In both cases God had provided abundant food, abundant in the Garden of Eden and in the manna that appeared every day. In both cases God’s people sinned because they wanted more than what God gave them. In both cases their sin brings swift and severe judgement. They are two different stories told in the same way to reflect their similarity.
Paul is pointing back to this and saying these things are examples for us. Listen to these Old Testament stories because they tell you and warn you that you need to watch out for your desires. These are written so that you may not desire evil. But God graciously doesn’t just give us examples. The examples should be enough to learn what God thinks about sinful desires. God also give us precepts. In fact, God gives us an explicit commandment against this.
The Old Testament Gives Precepts Against Desiring Evil
Here let’s turn to Deuteronomy chapter five. Here we are looking at the Ten Commandments. In the Ten Commandments, this word hattaavah, for desire, shows up again in Deuteronomy 5:21,
21 “‘And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’ Deuteronomy 5:21, ESV
It’s not only that you must not take your neighbor’s wife, that’s the second commandment and you shouldn’t, but you also may not covet her. It’s not only that you cannot take your neighbor’s possessions, that’s the eight commandment you shall not steal, but it’s also that you may not desire what your neighbor has.
Remember that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the same Moses who wrote Genesis 3:6, also wrote Numbers chapter eleven, and also wrote Deuteronomy chapter five. The same Moses is using this same word, desire, to give us not only examples in the story of the original sin, the story of Israel’s sinful craving in the wilderness, but also in explicit precept, “you shall not desire”. To give us an explicit account in the Old Testament to tell us that we should not desire evil. That is what Paul is pointing back to.
Heidelberg Catechism, question 113 really gets at the nature of what the tenth commandment is doing in this light.
Q. What does the tenth commandment require of us?
A. That not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any of God’s commandments should ever arise in our heart. Rather, with all our heart we should always hate all sin and delight in all righteousness.
Heidelberg Catechism, Question 113
The issue here is that we were born in sin. Because of that original sin, we inherited the same sin that Adam and Eve committed in the garden. Because we have this original sin, this sin that dwells in us, it’s always desiring things. It’s always lusting after things, specifically not just things that we need to maintain our body and our lives and things like that.
Our sin is desiring wrong things. Our sin is desiring things that God has told us not to do. What the scriptures are telling us is the sinful desires are not simply a path towards sin, they are not simply things that influence us toward sin, but that the desires themselves are truly and properly sin. These are sin.
Certainly, we can make our sin worse by acting on the evil that we desire. But what the Old Testament teaches us is that if we desire evil, we have already sinned. This is the curse of original sin. It goes so deep that none of us have any hope of redemption outside of what God gives us in Jesus Christ.
Paul is wrestling with this idea in Romans chapter seven. He’s thinking about the command to covet. He’s saying there is no way for me to control that, “wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of sin and death.” I need to deliverance from this.
Well then, what is that deliverance? How can we possibly change our desires? The Old Testament bears witness to it, Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:6 point back to these stories and these commands and says these are written so that you may not desire evil.
How can we change our desires? We can’t control these things. We can manage our behavior. It’s one thing to avoid taking forbidden food, it’s one thing to avoid stealing our neighbor’s possessions, it’s one thing to avoid coveting someone else’s wife. How do we get rid of the desires? Especially the desires that arise without any conscious choice on our part?
The Old Testament Cultivates a Desire for Christ
As we read the Old Testament, what the New Testament tells us is that there is this witness, not only about what we need, but about what God promises to provide for our salvation. The Old Testament doesn’t as clearly tell us about the person and work of Jesus Christ as the New Testament does. Of course, we need the revelation of the New Testament.
Yet already in the Old Testament we are told how our desires should work. This same for desire appears also in another place in the Old Testament, Isaiah 26:9,
My soul yearns for you in the night;
my spirit within me earnestly seeks you.
For when your judgments are in the earth,
the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.
We are called for our souls to desire not just God, but also his judgements in the earth. This is one of the few positive uses of this word desire. It shows us that our desires are not evil in and of themselves, our desires are evil when we desire evil. God created us as desiring creatures so that we could desire God in the way that he wants us to.
How then do we deal with these desires? Thomas Chalmers in his sermon, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection” says that there are two ways to eliminate our desires for evil. The first is that we try to preach to ourselves about if we gave into those desires. It would be morally wrong, it would have terrible consequences, it would ultimately be unsatisfying.
Those arguments are true, but in the moment these arguments are not enough. You may be familiar with the illustration of a jockey, a short, thin man. Imagine that kind of a man riding on the back of an elephant. If you imagine the jockey and think about reason and doctrine, that’s all good. This jockey is trying to move the elephant, which has the strength of our desires in our souls. As effective and clever as that jockey might be to steer the elephant, if that elephant gets spooked or see something it wants, do you know how effective that jockey is going to be to talk the elephant off the edge? Not very. The elephant is going to do what the elephant wants to do.
As much as you talk to yourself about how bad this sin is, you’re probably wondering why is it not getting any better? It’s because these doctrines can’t go deep enough unless our desires are changed by them.
So, what we need to do is not just push away and try to get rid of old desires, what we need to do is replace those desires. We need to learn, as the Old Testament teaches us, to yearn for God, to desire God. The more that we desire God, the more that we cultivate a craving, not for sin, but for Christ by gazing upon his glory and his grace. That new love for a much better, much more worthy object of our love and affection, begins to uproot the old loves of our hearts and to transform our hearts to desire God and not our sin.
When we talk about this desire for Christ we are talking about faith; living, active, saving faith. What do we mean when we talk about faith? When we talk about faith we are saying and acknowledging I am a sinner. I am left in this sin that even if I can manage my behavior, asides from the cracks in the strength of my armor, inside of me there is this whirling cesspool of sin. Who will deliver me from this body of sin and death?
I need something only God can provide to me, and he has, the Lord Jesus Christ. The person and the work of God’s son who came into this world before and desired one thing only; to obey his Father in heaven. As he perfectly obeyed that love and obedience to the Father lead him to the cross where he was cursed and condemned for my sin.
As I turn from my own sinfulness and look to Jesus Christ, I’m believing him and trusting in him, receiving and resting upon him for salvation. That’s what saving faith is. Because I want him and the only way then that we grow in grace is if we turn from our sins and look to Christ as we grow in desire for him.
The Old Testament teaches that, the New Testament expands on it, we have examples against desiring, precepts against desiring evil, and a cultivation in the scriptures of a desire for Christ.
What then should we do with this? How do we grow in the grace of desiring Christ? I have three applications as we consider what the Bible testifies to, what Paul is pointing back to from 1 Corinthians chapter ten.
1. Guard your heart.
Keep your heart with all vigilance for from it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23, ESV
Brothers and sisters, I think we can get fairly lazy with what is going on in our hearts. If our culture has any morality; there’s a lot of culture that pushes against the idea of any sort of morality, the only morality is what you want to do in any given moment. For the various parts of our culture that says there has to be some rules, the prevailing sentiment is that you are moral if you look but don’t touch.
So, we can desire or justify a lot of the roots of internal desire as long as we stop short of producing the fruits of external behavior. But the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:6, what we see in Numbers eleven, Genesis three, and Deuteronomy five, has a prevailing message; do not desire evil. You’ve got to guard you heart.
So, ask yourself, do you desire evil? Paul says these are written so that you may not desire evil, but do you? To answer that question you have to ask, what are my desires? What do I want?
Here are some questions that we have talked about in some of the leadership development stuff we have done. Where does my mind go when it wanders? You answer that question. What worries keep us up at night? What would I gladly make sacrifices for? What makes us angry? What criticism would crush us? Not all of these are my questions, I’m sort of crowd sourcing these from the leadership development classes last year.
These questions give us a window into our desires. If you know what is happening in your heart, what you really want, then you can see where you need to guard your heart.
2. Repent from evil desires. This is important because we often define sin in terms of behavior. We think we are fine as long as we look but don’t touch. God is very clear that we must not even desire evil and that to desire evil is in itself truly and properly sin. We have clear precepts. We have a commandment, in the tenth commandment. We have several clear examples, in Eve’s original sin to the Israelites craving in the wilderness.
If desiring evil is itself sin, then what this means is that we have got to repent, even when we aren’t making a conscious choice to desire the things that we desire. When we see evil and when we sense evil in our hearts, we need to repent.
This is one of the most important principles, practical principles, for how we go about fighting sin. The earlier we repent, the less our sin has a chance to fester and grow and spiral out of control. If you know that sin is a cancer, then give yourself regularly screenings to catch it early before it progresses to far. Yes, God can heal even the late staged sinner, but there are consequences when you let your sin spiral that far.
If your sin is a debt before God, and it is we pray that God would forgive us our debts, then keep short accounts with God. Then your debts won’t spiral, accumulate and compound out of control. Yes, God can forgive the deepest debts of sin. There is no one who has sinned so grievously that if that person does not truly repent, they will find forgiveness with Jesus Christ.
There are consequences to living like this. Whenever you see and sense these evil desires arising in your heart, repent from them. Listen to this, don’t take another step, don’t say another word, don’t think another thought, don’t make any more progress on whatever you were doing, stop and confess your sin to the Lord. Ask him to forgive you for the sake of Jesus Christ who died for you and ask God to create a clean heart in you.
Children, your parents have probably taught you stop, drop and roll. The same sort of thing happens with repentance. If you sin, stop, drop, and confess. Repent wherever you see of sense these desires, so they don’t continue to fester, and the roots move into the fruits of external behavior.
3. Cultivate a craving for Christ.
8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. 1 Peter 1:8-12, ESV
Remember these are the desires of the eyes. Eve had a delight of the eyes which is why she endured this craving and partook of the forbidden fruit. We are not allowed by sight to see Jesus, yet Peter tells us that it is possible by the grace of God to love Jesus, to believe in him, to rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, even without seeing him. That’s what it means to live by faith. How do we do this? In verse ten Peter goes on to say is that the Old Testament tells us how to cultivate this joy in Jesus.
Just as the prophets searched the word of God, asked God to help them understand what they were seeing or reading, so also should we. We who know the suffering that Jesus endured, we who know the subsequent glories to which Jesus Christ was resurrected. We need to be deep in the word. Again, if you haven’t started that Bible reading plan, it’s a great time to do it.
We need to be in the word to study and learn about Jesus as we study from the Old Testament all the way into the New Testament revelation of Christ. We see the way that God is revealing and showing us Jesus. The more that we see Jesus in the scriptures by faith, through the work of the Holy Spirit, the more we desire him.
In verse 1 Peter 1:12, that word for desire is the same word that we see in 1 Corinthians 10:6. These are things that Old Testament believers wanted to see, these are things that angels desire to look into. The Old Testament gives us a pattern, don’t desire evil. It gives us a pattern, do desire Christ.
The Old Testament and the New Testament holds out to us Jesus so that we might grow as we look into these things by faith through the Spirit. Therefore, may the Spirit of Christ, speaking through the scriptures of the Old Testament and New Testament break out bonds to worldly desires by capturing and enflaming our desire for Christ, not for sin.
Father, we are helpless when it comes to our desires. We cannot accomplish anything in terms of rooting out those deep-seated areas where we desire evil. In the Old Testament Paul says that there is an abundant example that stands for us and should lead us away from sin and toward Christ. Lord, we pray that you would give us the Holy Spirit to teach us to recognize what the Old Testament teaches and what the New Testament reinforces and magnifies and unfolds in light of the full revelation of Jesus Christ. Would you give us an insight into your scriptures from beginning to end as all of them together in the true spirit of prophecy testify to Jesus Christ. We pray this in his name, asking that we might desire him more fully all the days of our lives. Amen.