Identified with Bad Things

Studies in First Corinthians

by Bob Burridge ©2017

Lesson 24: 1 Corinthians 10:14-33 (ESV)

Identified with Bad Things

Few of us like to stand out as odd. When people go places they usually try to blend in, at least to the point where they feel comfortable. There’s that old saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” In his book Nice Guys Finish Seventh, Ralph Keyes explains that the original saying was less streamlined. It came as advice of Ambrose of Milan to Augustine of Hippo back in 387 AD. Ambrose told him, “If you are at Rome, live after the Roman fashion; if you are elsewhere, live as they do there.”

This was a helpful thing when it came to Roman foods, men with shaved faces, short hair, and togas, or ladies wearing the latest dress designs. It’s even a good thing to learn the local language and expressions.

Today it might mean taking off your shoes in an oriental restaurant, or wearing something appropriate to a wedding or funeral. It can mean conforming to acceptable clothes for work or dress codes for school.

We all have our personal limits. Some have a hard time feeling comfortable in bare feet, or wearing a coat and tie. Once we’ve gotten used to different customs like that they start to feel normal.

There are some popular things we shouldn’t copy from those around us. There are offensive expressions, clothing styles, and practices that violate God’s moral limits. There are customs in every culture that conflict with God’s ways.

In our studies of 1 Corinthians 9 we read Paul’s advice to “… become all things to all people … .” But there were limits even in what he said in that chapter.

We live in a world filled with diversity. We’re surrounded by all sorts of beliefs, superstitions, and standards for morality and law. Tragically the one diversity that’s often condemned is when a person believes that there is real truth and a moral standard that applies to everybody. As long as we’re willing to believe that other teachings are equally as true as the Bible we’re accepted and our religion is welcomed into the mix. Of course we can’t go along with that. It’s as irrational as it is bigoted against Christians. It can’t be true that God is both infinite and finite at the same time, or that God condemns sins while at the same time excuses the same actions. How can Jesus be both the only way, truth, and life, and just one of many Saviors?

The challenge is to know how we can blend in to show God’s love to the world without being taken in by its ungodly ways and values, and without giving others the impression that we can bend our convictions.

In God’s providence he puts his people in this morally diverse world. It’s in this darkness that we are called to shine as lights. It’s to a world where corruption eats away at it’s good flavor that we’re called to be salt. It’s where temptations and pressures to succeed try to get us to abandon God’s ways.

The answers that seem the easiest aren’t always the best ones. We know we shouldn’t just become part of the lostness and confusion of the world. It’s also not right to isolate ourselves and avoid contact with the darkness around us. So what principles does God give us to help us know where to draw the lines?

This is the hard issue Paul is dealing with in these middle chapters of 1 Corinthians. In chapter 10:1-13 Paul warned that the believers shouldn’t be like Israel. After the Exodus many of them complained, rebelled against God, and made an idol to worship. But in all temptations, God provides his good means as a way for us to escape.

In this next section of chapter 10 he expands on that warning …

14. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
15. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.

Paul was deeply concerned for his troubled friends in Corinth. Rather than cutting off the church that was caught up in sin and questioning his calling, he wrote long letters to them, prayed for them, sent trusted friends to them, and came there himself when God gave him the opportunity. He calls them his “beloved.”

He saw the danger they were in, and told them to run from the things that robbed God of his glory. Back in 6:18 he warned them to flee from Immorality. Here he says the same thing about idolatry. These things are dangerous and shouldn’t be flirted with. Things that displease the Lord are things God’s children should not be around.

Paul respected the brotherhood he shared with the Corinthian believers in the Lord. He knew that the Holy Spirit in their redeemed hearts would incline them toward true wisdom, to be sensible. It was time for them to grow up in Christ and show the life God had started in them by grace. He was also willing for them to judge what he was writing by comparing it with the teaching of Scripture.

He made a comparison he hoped would help them:

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.

One of the problems Paul had to deal with in the church there had to do with the Lord’s Supper. In the next chapter he goes into detail about his concerns. But here he uses that sacrament to teach a lesson.

The cup of wine brings God’s promised blessing when it’s received rightly. When we drink it we are participating together in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. All the shedding of blood in the Temple sacrifices that were made for thousands of years by the Jews looked forward to the death of the true Lamb of God.

It’s always been our Lord’s shed blood that paid for sin. The sacrifices of the old covenant were a promise that the Messiah would fulfill what they stood for. Hebrews 10:4 says, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” It was their trust in God’s promise of a Deliverer, Jesus Christ, not the animal blood that represented his.

The bread we break in the Lord’s Supper is our participating together in the body of Christ. There is one bread, broken and shared, just as there is one body of Christ. In partaking we’re saying that we are all are joined as members of Christ’s church. The word here is “one bread” not “one loaf” as some translate it. The unleavened bread wasn’t baked in puffy loaves like those we’re used to. They were more like flat cakes.

The meaning is that just as we all partake of one consecrated bread at the Lord’s Supper, we testify that together we partake of the one Christ by trusting God’s promise of grace through faith.

This union is ours by the covenant promises of God. This is why we often refer to the Lord’s Supper as a supper of communion. The word “participation” here is “koinonia” (κοινωνία) which means fellowship, being in union together. As God’s covenant people our unity is demonstrated in the Lord’s Supper. It’s a unity as one church, in this one God, in his one covenant, in that one salvation.

The Lord’s Supper is sometimes also called the Eucharist, a Greek word that means giving thanks. We have but one to whom we humbly and thankfully owe our eternal salvation and the spiritual life that sustains us.

Those united in Christ can’t also have communion with what opposes God.

The two attitudes are incompatible.

18. Consider the people of Israel: 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?

He wanted them to consider what happened in the nation of people who were called Israel. The term “people of Israel” is literally “the Israel according to flesh” (τὸν ᾿Ισραὴλ κατὰ σάρκα). He wasn’t particularly talking about those who were truly redeemed within Israel. He meant the entire outward physical nation of the covenant people. Because of their sin at Sinai, those who identified themselves with both the God of Moses and the idol they made showed that their devotion to the True God was only outward. They were an offense and were struck down by God’s judgment.

They all shared in the altar of the offerings that represented God’s Promise. Those united in that True God have no business also partaking of pagan rituals. There’s no place for being identified with another god or another set of beliefs.

Paul didn’t mean that idols or the things sacrificed really belonged to another actual god. There’s no God but one, so the idols are just empty superstitions. By being identified with them, worshippers allied themselves with Satan’s false religion. That steps over the boundary entirely. Our liberty in Christ doesn’t go there.

God gives us moral principles to direct the freedom we have within God’s boundaries.

23. “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.
24. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

Paul said the same thing in 6:12 comparing the eating of meat and sexual activity. The principle applies to all issues.
There are absolute moral boundaries set by God. Within those boundaries we need to use moral judgment so that we don’t abuse our freedom. We are free to do what God has redeemed us and called us to do. All material things themselves are within the boundaries of God’s moral law. But they aren’t all good if we use them in a way that confuses God’s truth or harms someone unjustly.

Our own comforts and pleasures are the standards by which the world tests what’s good and acceptable. But the redeemed child of God has a higher standard. God’s revealed word draws the boundaries. He also needs to consider how his actions affect his neighbor’s spiritual well-being.

25. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.
26. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.”
27. If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.
28. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience–
29. I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?
30. If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
31. So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Though the meat may have been handled by, venerated by, or used in worship by a pagan, it’s still just meat — nothing more. The food in itself isn’t tainted by what others superstitiously think about it.

Paul quotes the familiar verse from Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.”

If you go to the home of an unbeliever you don’t have to investigate where the food came from. You should eat it without any fear in your conscience.

But the situation changes if someone brings up that it had been blessed by or identified with an idol in which they trust. It becomes a test of your faithfulness to the Lord. You are free to eat it in and of itself, but it may not be wise in this case to do so. If they consider the food to have been identified with idol worship, you have to consider the message it sends to them. It might lead them to think that you don’t mind honoring other god’s along with your own.

Living in a diverse culture obligates us to understand how others think. If we only consider ourselves, we miss amazing blessings, and we fail in our mission.

It’s not enough to just avoid what God forbids and live disregarding everybody else. We’re not called to merely be alive in Christ. We’re to shine as lights, bringing God’s truth, provision, and promise to the world around us.

Today we don’t have to face issues about food sacrificed to idols in pagan temples. But there are similar situations where the same principle needs to be considered. Never give the impression that you agree with things God condemns.

This is why we shouldn’t participate in worship with friends in a church where Christ isn’t honored as Savior. If the Bible isn’t respected as God’s only infallible word, we would confuse others by taking part there. Being in the building isn’t evil, but engaging in their worship goes against the advice Paul gave the Corinthians here. It identifies us with false worship and belief in a false god, It confuses those who need to hear the truth from us.

This is why we shouldn’t go to places where immoral behavior is openly promoted. There are environments where sex outside of marriage, or illegal drugs are practiced. While we could possibly keep ourselves from doing immoral things in places like that we don’t want to give the impression that we approve of other standards than God’s. It’s not enough that we’re thinking pure thoughts in situations like that. We’re obligated to keep from confusing the message of God’s law and the gospel. The mere appearance of evil is a victory for the enemy of our faith.

In all things, even in what you eat or drink, you must glorify the One True God.

Paul ends this section with a practical summary:

32. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God,
33. just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

We often hear the little saying, “What Would Jesus Do?” Here we have Paul teaching us how to determine from Scripture what Jesus would do.

There are these two tests when we decide if something is right or wrong:

1st — Does it glorify God? (verse 30) – We need to be sure that we’re not violating God’s moral commandments, and that it’s not keeping us from the duties God calls us to do. If it keeps us from worship, or our other obligations, or if God isn’t able to be openly honored, and his glory promoted to others then we should flee from it.

2nd — Does this help others to better know God and his truth? (verse 24) – If what we are considering might confuse others about what we believe, or if it helps someone make excuses for sin, then we should flee from it. We shouldn’t make these kinds of decisions based on how something might profit us. The question is: how will it honor God and effect those around us spiritually?

To bring God’s promises and principles to others, we might have to cross some personal barriers. We may have to get over some of our own customs, personal tastes, styles, and mannerisms to best communicate the gospel to those we’re sent to reach.

But we need to know where to draw the line so that our mission isn’t compromised.

When Jesus came into this world he set aside the display of his eternal glory, and took on the form of a human. He lived among us, endured the cruelty and hostility of some very wicked people. He even died a horrible and unjust death at a young age. He did it because he loved us so much.

Now he sends us out to our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and classmates to help them understand this greatest gift ever given.

God didn’t have Paul write this passage to limit our enjoyment of life. These are the loving words of our Father in Heaven, given so that our joy might be full in this life and in the life yet to come.

By carefully becoming all things to all people without compromising God’s principles we honor the one who alone can make our lives full and satisfying.

(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)

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