As you’re aware if you’ve been reading this blog (or reading 1 Corinthians), Paul has spent quite a lot of time explaining to the Corinthian church why they shouldn’t toy with idolatry. He starts out oh so gently, even granting some of their points for the moment so that the Corinthians can understand him.
He teaches them as one would teach science to a child. Children have very little foundation for science, so teachers must start at a level they can understand, even, for a time, going along with fallacies such as the idea of the rising and setting of the sun. We explain to our children that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Later, when they can understand more, we explain that the sun only appears to travel across the sky, that it is, in fact, the earth’s turning that makes the sun appear to rise and set. But to try to explain this concept to a 4-year-old without building a foundation for it would be futile.
In 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, Paul ties up his discourse with his strongest and most straightforward argument. Up until now, he has been hedging in the issue, explaining to the reluctant Corinthians that, though the idols were nothing but blocks of wood, stone, and metal, participating in their worship (even if only in form) involved them in situations of temptation, was harmful to weaker-minded Christians, and was a thing that the Children of Israel didn’t get away with in the wilderness.
This is pretty plain. How could you misunderstand Paul’s nearly shouted warning: “Flee from idolatry!” Don’t mess around with it. So, if an idol is a thing you trust rather than trusting God, or a thing you toy with rather than being serious about God, or a thing (or person) you value above God, what are our idols today? What about you?
The statements Paul is about to write simply make sense. Any wise person can see their veracity. Well, any wise person living in the culture of the day. Eating and drinking together was and is an important ritual in the Middle East. If you shared a man’s bread, you were, in some degree, obligated to him for friendship and loyalty. Therefore, sharing in an idols’ sacrificial meat had a somewhat greater meaning to the Corinthians, and particularly to the Jewish believers.
I don’t believe the Corinthians held that the physical bread and wine they took during Communion literally became the body and blood of Christ, as some profess to believe today. Nevertheless, the act of taking Communion, though it is symbolic, is a genuine sharing in the body and blood of Christ. When we share that meal together, it unites us as a body of believers. E Pluribus Unum. We many are one–or have become one, in Christ.
In the Corinthian church, Paul is speaking to many Messianic Jews as well as Pagan background believers. Hence, his frequent allusions to Jewish traditions and history. Here, he connects with the Jews’ sharing in the meat of the animals they have brought to the Temple to sacrifice. This is considered a holy meal. It connects them to God.
By bringing up this example, Paul doesn’t mean to say that idols are real gods, or that animals sacrificed to them are, in any tangible sense, unclean.
Rather, Paul’s point is that the gods the idols represent are demons, and that the meat sacrificed to them is sacrificed to demons. Sharing, knowingly and willingly, in the sacrificial feasts, means sharing in substance that has been dedicated to demons. It isn’t the actual meat that defiles, but the knowledge and willingness of the believer to participate in a sacrificial meal dedicated to demons.
A house divided against itself cannot stand. We as believers can’t serve both God and our own lusts, inspired by the fallen nature and, yes, by demons. We have to choose which kingdom we’re going to be a part of. God isn’t going to grant us a dual citizenship between the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of the Heavens.
This last verse in the section has, for me, an ominous ring to it. Are we provoking the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He? Repeatedly throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, we are told to fear God. This includes the idea of respect and awe, as many preachers have told me, but it also means, quite simply, to Fear God. Don’t be a fool. Don’t mess around with God. He’s God. He doesn’t have to do anything for you. As for us, we who deserve eternal judgment: we are completely at His loving mercy, which we’ve done nothing to earn. Let’s not try his patience by toying with the world. Put away your idols. They are nothing but garbage, anyway.
Grace and Peace,