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Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as cited below).

1 Corinthians 10:14-22

14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel:[a] are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s perspective on congregations paying their church ministers, which he said is obligatory for the spiritual guidance they provide.

1 Corinthians 10 is about idolatry.

Some of what Paul says here appears to contradict what he wrote in Romans about stronger and weaker Christians. Stronger Christians should make sure they do not offend weaker Christians, particularly in matters of food and drink, lest the stronger drive the weaker away from the Church. That would be an act deeply displeasing to God, because those people would be driven away from the salvation that Christ brings us.

Today’s reading contradicts that as Paul says that no Christian should be eating meat sacrificed to idols, stronger believers included.

Therefore, it is useful to add context and a bit of background to the situation the Corinthians were in. Theirs was a highly idolatrous society and the Christians in Corinth thought they could dip in and out of it and still be faithful to Christ. Not so, says Paul.

John MacArthur explains Paul’s reasoning (emphases mine below):

the Corinthian society was totally overwrought with demons, manifesting themselves behind these different idols; and idolatry was a part of everything, I mean everything. There couldn’t be any kind of public occasion or anything else that wasn’t connected with idols. That was their entire society just multiple gods; and everything they did practically within the social framework of the Corinthian society had idols in it.

And so the mature Christians, the Corinthian Christians, you know, who were the smug confident ones who had been around a while, they were saying this: “Hey, look. We’re in the society; we’re mature; we’ve been well-taught, apostle Paul’s taught us; we’ve studied under him for 18 months. We know our way around. Look, we’ve got to be a part of our society. We can go to the festivals, the social occasions, the ceremonies, and we can attend the celebrations of our society. We can get involved in all of those things; and we really don’t have to fear, because we’re so confident, we’re so mature that that stuff just doesn’t really bother us. And if we have to eat idol meat, meat offered to idols, that’s really no problem; we’re able to resist the temptation. And even if there is an orgy there, why, we’ll just sit in the corner and discuss theology. We’re not going to really get involved, and we’ll be strong enough to handle it.” And so everywhere these mature, smug, confident Corinthians went, they were exposing themselves to the whole gamut of idolatry that was around them and trying to stay separated. But could they?

“Look at Israel,” – Paul says – “look at them, hardly out of Egypt. And out in the desert there weren’t even any idols around; but the first opportunity they had, the first time their leader was gone, they reverted back to Egyptian idolatry.” And here were the Corinthians not like Israel in the wilderness, but living in the middle of idolatry. And if the Corinthians continually expose themselves to idolatry, they were constantly being a part of it. Believe me, it would creep right in.

Is Paul not overstating his case by talking about ‘demons’ in this context? No.

MacArthur says that there are several references to demons and idolatry in the Old Testament:

When you go out and do what the rest of the world does, when you participate in the rest of the world’s activities, you are communing with demons. That’s Paul’s whole point here. It’s demonic. Because Satan is the prince of this world, and because he rules in this world by the use of his demons, his demons move around and impersonate all the religious systems of the world. His demons fill and maintain all of the evil systems of this world. No matter what you get into, you’re communing with them, and you can’t avoid it. It’s a serious thing.

In Psalm 96:5, the Greek translation of that verse is this: “All the gods of the heathen are demons” – that’s the Septuagint, the Greek – “All the gods of the nations” – or – “All the God’s of the heathen are demons.” If they worship a false god, a demon will impersonate it. Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalm 106:37 say the same thing, “They sacrifice to demons.” So, they’re fellowshipping with demons.

So, here you have a Christian. He’s over here, and he’s communing with the Lord, and he’s got the cup and the bread. Then he turns around and goes to an idol feast. And as soon as he enters that idol feast and participates, he becomes a communer with demons. A communer with demons.

This can be extended to other worldly things and activities, too. MacArthur has a bit in one of his sermons about sexual temptation in this context:

You say, “Well, I’m a Christian, I can handle it. I can go here and do that, and go here and do that.” You know, young people, it’s amazing. Young people always thing they’re in control of everything. “Well, you know, I can go out and park and, you know, I can handle it. I’m a Christian. We just get so far, and then we just start quoting Bible verses, you know. Yeah, we got a little program worked out, you know.” Yeah, sure. Or, listen, “It’s no problem for me. I can handle the girls in the office, no problem. I can have lunch with them and dinner with them; it doesn’t bother me a bit.” Mm-hmm, famous last words.

“Oh, yeah,” pastor says. “Oh, counseling women, no problem at all. No, none at all.” I just heard of a pastor who lost his pulpit because there were multiple dozens of women who had had sexual relations with him in counseling, I mean multiple dozens, folks. You can handle it? You better not push your freedom too far. Many Christians today have been rendered useless because they couldn’t handle sex. They’re out of the race to win people to Christ – shelved.

MacArthur discusses our society today, comparing it with that of the Corinthians:

Look at the morality of our day. The morality of the church has changed dramatically, and the reason it’s changed so dramatically is because we have been slowly brainwashed. Like fifty years ago, the morality of Christianity was much tighter, much more rigid, much more confined to the Scripture. And now, little by little, the morality of even “Christianity” begins to dissipate; and the reason is because we’re in a society that is destroying all morality, that is wiping out all morality, and consequently we find ourselves buying the bag. Just subliminally it approaches our minds, and before we know it we’ve got a watered down morality. And some of the things we would do, some of the places we would go wouldn’t even have been conceived of by Christians fifty years ago. The reason is we have slowly been brainwashed by the media.

Paul is, in a sense, saying to the Corinthians, “You can’t set yourself up as somebody who thinks he stands without potentially falling; and especially you’ll never be able to just waltz around your whole with idolatry and not have it affect you. You’re going to come up with a syncretism. You’re going to come up with a wedding between idolatry and true worship.”

Now verse 7, “Neither be idolaters, as were some of them,” notes that not all Israel worshipped at the golden calf; some of them did. It was an individual thing. Again, in dealing with Israel in the wilderness, remember everything that occurred was an individual thing. And so in Corinth the same thing was true.

Look at chapter 5, verse 11. Some Corinthian Christians were idolatrous. They had already made this wedding of Christianity to idol worship. Verse 11: “I’ve written unto you not to company if any man that is called a brother.” Now he’s talking about Christians. “Anybody called a brother” – or at least called himself a Christian – “be a fornicator,” – sexually evil – “a covetous, or an” – what? – “idolater, don’t have anything to do with him.” But apparently within the congregation of the Corinthian believers, there were some worshipping idols. You see, by fooling around with that, they couldn’t keep separated.

It slowly creeps in. It insidiously comes in. You can’t continue to expose yourself to that and not have it affect your theology and find a place there. The line gets blurred, folks. It just gets blurred he said. And idolatry suddenly creeps in when freedom is abused by getting too close to the contact.

Those are the reasons why Paul says to flee from idolatry (verse 14).

He leaves it to the Corinthians to judge for themselves the truth of that statement (verse 15).

Then he discusses Holy Communion. He asks whether taking the bread and the cup are not participation in the body and the blood of Christ (verse 16). Furthermore, do we not commune with each other when we participate in that holy sacrament together (verse 17)?

Paul is saying that Holy Communion is a solemn occasion, one that cannot be defiled with participation in idolatry later on in the day.

MacArthur explains the significance of Holy Communion:

One of the words, eucharisteō, from which you get the Eucharist, means to give thanks. It is to thank God for that cup. And so, the cup of blessing, that is the one the Lord blessed and set apart, is the one that we bless and thank God for.

Now, what is it? What is this cup? Verse 16 again, “Is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?” Now, when you drink the cup at the Lord’s Table – listen to this – you are communing with the blood of Christ. Now, we have to understand something, because this is very, very misunderstood. What does this mean? What does it mean to commune? It’s more than a symbol.

We say, “Well, this is a symbol of his blood.”

Well, listen to this. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the symbol of the blood of Christ? Is that what it says? No. It’s more than the symbol. It is the communion; it is the, if you will, in the Greek, participation, or it is the sharing. It’s an actual involvement that’s taking place when we take that cup. There is a spiritual reality going on there, far more than just a symbol.

For example, if you see a picture of somebody you love who has died, it isn’t just a picture. As soon as you look at the picture, the whole of that person is actualized in your mind. Right? All of a sudden, everything about that person is alive to you. I look at pictures of people that have gone on, and I have instant memories. My mind is flooded with reality. They are actualized. And communion is the same thing.

To partake of the elements actualizes Christ’s death; it makes it vivid; it makes it real; it intensifies my sensitivities to the reality of Christ dying for me. You see? It isn’t just a symbol; it is a symbol that is activated by the Spirit of God to make Christ’s death a living reality to me. That’s the idea of communion

Now, let’s go a step further, verse 16, “The bread” – or literally the loaf, to correspond more with cup – “The loaf which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”

Now, our Lord said of the bread, that last night, “This is My body, given for you.” Now body – now, I want to say something, too, that may be new to you – “body” in Hebrew thought refers to the totality of earthy life, earthiness, humanness. For example, the word for earth is adamah. The word for man is adam. It’s a form of adamah, because man was taken from the dirt. He is earthy. “And God took the dirt and formed a body.” Adam from adamah.

And that is the point that connects man to the ground, to the earth, to earthiness. We are human, and that is the significance of the body. When a Hebrew thought of the body, he thought of earthiness; he thought of man’s connection to the ground, to his humanness.

Now, note; when we commune with the bread, it is the body of Christ. This is not primarily a reference to the cross. Stick with me on it. It is not primarily a reference to the cross. By the bread we remember and commune with our Lord’s incarnation, His human life, his humanness. We remember that which makes Him a sympathetic High Priest, as well as a bleeding, dying Savior.

The communion, then, relates us to the living Christ who came and suffered and thought it not something to hold onto, to be equal with God, but found Himself in the fashion of a man, humbled Himself, and so forth. And He did it in order that He might become a sympathetic High Priest in all points, tempted like as – what? – we are. The bread reminds us of His life. The bread reminds us of His body, reminds us of His humanness.

God gave Himself to us as a human being in order that He might suffer what we suffer, in order that He might hurt where we hurt, in order that He might be tempted where we’re tempted, in order that He might succor us, in order that He might be our faithful, sympathetic, and Great High Priest

There is an actual communion that occurs. Let me show you what I mean. There is confusion about that, and there are different views of how that works. The word koinōnia there, communion in verse 16, is the word to participate. The verb means to share, or to partake of, or to participate, or to be a partner in. The noun koinōnia means participation, partnership, fellowship, communion.

As a Christian, we literally participate in Christ. First Corinthians 1:9 says we participate with the Son; 2 Corinthians 13, we participate with the Spirit; Philippians 2:1, we participate in the ministry; 2 Corinthians 8:4, we participate in the Gospel; Philippians 3, we participate in suffering. We are fellowshipping all the time with Christ, sharing Him, His Spirit, His ministry, His Gospel, His sufferings. And when we come to the Table, we participate in His death. We are sharing the benefits of His death. That’s what it means. We are sharing in the meaning of His death, the purpose of it, the point of it.

So, it’s more than just remembering; it’s sharing, fellowshipping, participating, partaking, communing. It’s like that picture I mentioned. We come to that, and you look at the cup, and you look at the bread, and they aren’t just a cup and bread. They aren’t even just symbols. All of a sudden, Christ is alive. All of a sudden, you are sensitized. And the reality of Christ is actualized in your mind, and you see His cross, and you see your union with Him, and you see His body, and you see it given in your behalf. And you see the fact that He lived, and He suffered, and He’s a sympathetic high priest. All of that is actualized

Everybody who comes to the Lord’s Table … not only enters into communion with Christ, but He enters into communion with everybody else who’s also at the Lord’s Table. Do you see what he’s saying? We all come to that one bread; we all partake of that one bread, so we all constitute one body. Communion then means we are actually communing with Christ and actually communing with everybody else who’s there.

Paul reminds the Corinthians of the way the Israelites worshipped together with regard to their sacrifices (verse 18).

MacArthur says:

Israel was involved in sacrificing. They were involved with each other, and they were involved with God. So, what is he saying then? Participation in religious ri[te]s has deep, spiritual meaning. It implies a real union between the worshippers and the one being worshipped. That’s what he’s saying. So, you can’t do this with idols without having that reality take place.

Israel brought sacrifices, a portion of which were consumed by the priests, a portion of which were burned on the altar. The rest were divided between the priest and the worshipping Jew. And there was a communion between the Jew, the priest, and God as they partook of the altar. Now, that’s Paul’s point. Worship is identification, communion with whoever’s being worshipped.

So, if you’re going to be like Israel, in verse 18, communion with the altar for the Jews meant fellowship with God and everybody else at the altar. Communion with Christ at the Lord’s Supper, for the Christian, means fellowship with Christ and everybody else at His Table.

Paul asks the question some of the Corinthians were asking: was an idol nothing at all (verse 19)? If not, then what was the problem?

Matthew Henry explains:

By following the principle on which they would argue it to be lawful, namely, that an idol was nothing. Many of them were nothing at all, none of them had any divinity in them. What was sacrificed to idols was nothing, no way changed from what it was before, but was every whit as fit for food, considered in itself. They indeed seem to argue that, because an idol was nothing, what was offered was no sacrifice, but common and ordinary food, of which they might therefore eat with as little scruple. Now the apostle allows that the food was not changed as to its nature, was as fit to be eaten as common food, where it was set before any who knew not of its having been offered to an idol.

However, Paul answers their question by saying that pagans were making sacrifices to false gods — demons — and not to God (verse 20). Therefore, Paul told the Corinthians they could not participate with demons.

Henry sums the verse up as follows:

Doing it is a token of your having fellowship with the demons to whom they are offered. I would not have you be in communion with devils.

Paul tells the Corinthians that they cannot worship at the Lord’s Table and worship demons (verse 21). The two are completely incompatible.

Paul ends by asking the Corinthians if they wish to provoke God to jealousy and if they think they are stronger than He (verse 22). God will not put up with rivals. And if we fall into His wrath, we will be the losers in that contest.

The Bible has numerous references to God’s ‘jealousy’. MacArthur lists them:

Do you want to make the Lord jealous? And in Deuteronomy 32:21 he said, “They have stirred me to jealousy with what is a no-god. They have provoked me with their idols.” If you want to stir God to jealousy, then you better be stronger than He is or you won’t be able to handle Him, because He deals very strongly with idolatry. All you got to do is read the Bible about that. You just read Deuteronomy 7, Deuteronomy 16, Deuteronomy 17, Jeremiah 25, Jeremiah 44; just read Revelation chapter 14, chapter 21, chapter 22. There are inferences in all of those places about the vengeance of God against idols and idol worshippers. The only way you’ll ever want to provoke God to jealousy is if you’re stronger than He is. It’s offensive to the Lord. He judges idol worshippers, and you won’t escape; no one ever has. It’s a dangerous place to be.

Paul concludes his thoughts on idolatry by telling the Corinthians to focus on doing everything for God’s glory. More on that next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 10:23-33

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