Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
That familiar phrase—and all its variations—is credited to George Santayana, a European philosopher writing in the early twentieth century. However, it should not surprise us that the sentiment behind his words reaches back much further into history.
In particular, it seems to be what the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote his first epistle to the believers in Corinth.
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.
Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:1-13)
As John MacArthur explains in his sermon on that passage (titled “Learning from Bad Examples”), Paul is “warning [Christians] about the possibility of falling from a place of blessing.” Specifically, the apostle points back to Israel and their repeated failures to live up to their covenant with God. In spite of the rich blessing, provision, and protection of the Lord, time after time, Israel wandered into spiritual adultery and corruption. Recounting both God’s goodness and His swift judgment, Paul pleads with his readers not to succumb to similar temptations.
In “Learning from Bad Examples,” John extends that same warning to the modern church. He emphasizes verse 12 in particular—“Let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall”—urging believers to guard themselves from disaster. Like Paul, he points to past spiritual shipwrecks in hopes that others won’t be similarly dashed upon the same deadly shores.
Other than the disciples, no people in history had a more intimate acquaintance with the power and presence of God than the Israelites during the Exodus. If they could so swiftly surrender to spiritual infidelity, what makes us think we aren’t similarly at risk?
“Learning from Bad Examples” is the kind of sermon believers need to listen to over and over, keeping it—and the warning it delivers—at the forefront of our minds.
Click here to watch or listen to “Learning from Bad Examples.”