Paul begins 1 Corinthians 10 drawing out four parts of the Exodus story: the cloud, the sea, spiritual food, and spiritual drink. God’s presence was made known to his people by the cloud. The sea is what was the means of deliverance when the Egyptian army came charging after the Hebrews. The food was the manna and the drink was the miraculous water that sprang forth from the rock. These are signs of God’s provision in freeing his people from bondage and leading them to the promised land. But we are then reminded, that nevertheless God was not pleased with them.
These four parts parallel the presence we have in God’s Holy Spirit and the sacraments of the church in the New Testament, baptism and communion. In drawing these parallels Paul is framing the church as a new people of the Exodus. But his warning is also clear. Just because you are God’s people and recipients of his presence and partakers of the sacraments, don’t presume that all you do pleases God. Corinth was a church that we know of its faults from previous chapters. They are defrauding their fellow believers, using their freedom in Christ to return to sin (like returning to slavery in Egypt), and exercising their rights in a way that causes others to stumble. Paul wants them to know, and to learn this lesson from history, that like the people of the Exodus, the blessings of God did not give a blanket approval of all that was going on. If you come to church, take communion, and are baptized, that does not mean God is satisfied. God wants us to press on and, like we read in 1 Corinthians 9, we discipline ourselves pursuing a goal. Paul wants his church to learn from their forebears and not repeat the mistakes that lead to them missing out on further blessings.