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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 10:22 Are we trying to provoke the Lord

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, March 21, 2023

22 Are we trying to provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than he is, are we?

This is Paul’s own answer to asking whether someone who can drink the cup of the Lord can also go and drink the cup of demons. Wouldn’t that only provoke the Lord to jealousy, rage, fury, and an upraised hand about to strike the offending sinner? And why would anyone ever want to provoke God to jealousy, wrath, or anger? He is the Creator; he is the Almighty. To provoke him is only to invite the most horrible punishment, for the things of this world can cause death, but only God himself can inflict a punishment worse than death.

So there is no reason to want to provoke Almighty God to anger, but sinful man does it constantly and continuously with his sins. This is what the Corinthians were doing, and Paul is trying to show them this, and we will return to that point below.

God has expressed his judgment, his condemning power, at various times. This is primarily punishment for sin, but sometimes it is also to preserve his people and to bring a swift end to certain terrible sins. These include his judgment:

1, On Satan and the demons after their rebellion in heaven, as punishment for their sin and because they did not keep their position (Jude 1:6). “For God did not spare angels when they sinned but handed them over to chains of darkness by casting them into hell, to be kept under guard for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4).”

2, On Adam and Eve after their first rebellion, when they brought death and suffering to mankind and on the whole creation (Genesis 3:16,18-19). (But Adam and Eve repented and were saved).

3, On the whole world once by water in the flood (Genesis 7:23) because they were so wicked that the Lord actually grieved that he had made man (Genesis 6:7).

4, Since the fall, God punishes individuals or groups in order to expose their sins and even to bring an end to certain sins (as with Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 18:20) and to be “an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7). While God also allows trouble and even suffering and death to come to his own people, this is not a punishment, but a testing, always accompanied by the gospel to lead them to repentance (Isaiah 30:15; Jeremiah 31:19).

5, God also punishes enemies of his people in order to preserve the church (Isaiah 37:36; 2 Kings 19:35). This is illustrated again and again in the prophets with signs such as the upraised hand of God, about to strike:

  □ When his people reject his word—
      his hand is upraised (Isaiah 5:24-25).
  □ When enemies oppress his people—
      his hand is upraised (Isaiah 9:12)
  □ When false teachers mislead his people—
      his hand is upraised (Isaiah 9:17)
  □ When those who oppose him suffer in life but not yet in eternity—
      his hand is still upraised (Isaiah 9:21)
  □ When leaders fail their people with injustice
      and think no consequences will follow them—
      his hand is still upraised (Isaiah 10:4).

6, On the Last Day, God will send the wicked angels, the devil, and all unbelievers to hell. “Whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son (John 3:18).

We see that in all these cases, the punishment is upon unbelievers. With our first parents, they were brought back to the Lord through repentance, but their punishment came to all people and to all of the creation (Romans 8:19-22). This is the world into which the Creator himself, Christ Jesus, entered in order to repair what was ruined and “build it as it used to be” (Amos 9:11).

Having remembered the power of God and the thorough destruction that awaits those who oppose him and reject him, we return to Paul’s point in bringing all of this up to the Corinthians. Don’t they remember who God is? Do they really think that they are in some way, in any way, stronger than he is? Could they possibly be physically stronger? Mentally stronger? Morally stronger? These things are impossible. As Paul has already said: “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Who will instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

Or might the Corinthians be mocking such concepts, that God would have jealousy or rage, that God could possibly become angry, or (and this is the point): that God could possibly have any opinion, one way or another, about my own personal sins? To question that is nothing less than begging God to strike with his full wrath. It is to challenge authority. Dad, you wouldn’t really spank me for this, would you? Teacher, you wouldn’t really give me a detention for this, would you? Officer, you wouldn’t really give me a ticket for this, would you? Government, you wouldn’t really imprison me or put me to death for this, would you?

But illustrations from the Fourth Commandment only pale in comparison with illustrations from the First. What is so surprising and humbling is that God, the God who punishes and destroys, would also have mercy on me, a sinner.

Luther summarized the Ten Commandments with words from Exodus 20:5-6. These words are really attached to the First Commandment in the text of Exodus, but they serve as a perfect answer to this important question: “What does God say about all these commandments?”

He says, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

  What does this mean?

God threatens to punish all who transgress these commandments. Therefore we should fear his anger and not disobey what he commands. But he promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore we should love and trust in him and gladly obey what he commands.

But it is not our obedience that justifies us in God’s sight. Luther was writing to Christians, especially Christian families teaching their own children. He was not writing a handbook on how to get to heaven for unbelievers. For believer and unbeliever alike, the message is the same, summarized by our Lord Jesus Christ: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Therefore put your trust in our Lord Jesus Christ, and follow wherever he leads.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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