In chapter 9, Paul warned the Corinthians to be careful that they not be disqualified from the prize. The main point there was that they should stop being self-centered. Their self-centered way of thinking, in particular, their insistence on their rights at the expense of their weaker (in faith) brothers was putting them in danger of losing their reward for serving Christ and his kingdom.
And Paul had told them that he was willing to give up everything, even his rights, in order to make sure that he would not lose his prize.
Paul then expands on this idea in chapter 10. He talks of the Israelites who God had brought out of Egypt, and he compares their experience in the desert to the Christian experience. They were all baptized by water, dying to their old life and becoming the people of God. They all took part of the bread that came down from heaven (a picture that Christ uses of himself in John 6:33-35). And they also drank of the living water (a symbol of the Holy Spirit — see John 4 and 7:37-39) from the Rock which Paul also says was symbolic of Christ.
But did they receive the prize of the promised land? No, they were disqualified and their bodies were “scattered across the desert.”
How were they disqualified?
Some were idolaters. And part of that was indulging themselves in “pagan revelry.” In other words, they were partying hard in celebration of this “god” they had made (referring to the golden calf in Exodus 32), which perhaps also included sexual sin.
Whether they committed sexual sin or not at that time, they definitely committed it in Numbers 25, and many perished as a result.
Still others tested the Lord by grumbling against him and failing to put their trust in him. They showed this in the desert when they complained about a lack of food and water (Numbers 21:4-9) and also when they refused to enter the promised land because they feared the inhabitants that were there (Numbers 14).
And Paul writes,
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. (11)
In other words, all these things were pictures for us. Pictures of what? They were pictures to show you that you may have been baptized, taken communion, and been filled with God’s Holy Spirit but you can still lose out on the prize. And mostly you lose it by focusing on temporal things, the pleasures of this life as well as the trials we go through life.
By focusing on the pleasures of this life we lose focus on what’s really important: God and his kingdom. By focusing on the trials and hardships of life, we often start to lose faith and drop out of the race.
So Paul warns us,
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (12)
Let us not lose our prize by focusing on the temporary pleasures of this life. Namely, let us not lose our prize by being so love with the things of this world that we lose our love for God and for our brothers and sisters. And let us not lose our prize by losing faith due to the trials we suffer through.
Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1)
How about you? Are you in danger of being disqualified for the prize?