One Cup, One Loaf, One People
Read 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 in your Bible.
Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020
There is more to the Lord's Supper than a cup and some bread.
It's hard for us to appreciate the first Christians' dilemma over idolatry. We don't live in a situation where the government overtly misuses its power to promote any kind of religion. If we disagree with someone over a religious issue, there will very likely be no chance of getting thrown into jail for it. It is not a life-or-death issue for us. Our culture has so privatized religion that the "don't ask - don't tell rule" is nearly universal.
All that to say this: we experience very little direct pressure to compromise our faith. But the first Christians practiced a faith that was declared illegal. At first, Rome considered them a sect of Judaism and thereby legal. The Jews wasted little time in changing that opinion and the first Church lost the protection they'd had before. The first Christians were disliked by both the Jews and the Romans, suffering persecution by both.
To do business of any kind, either as a worker or a consumer, they had to come into contact with people who were given to idol worship. To buy meat at the market was to take a chance that it had previously been offered to an idol. To go to someone's home for a meal meant taking that same chance. To be part of a trade guild you were expected to join in the worship of the guild's favorite god. People were required to publicly offer incense to honor Caesar, sometimes in a temple constructed for that purpose. To refuse invited persecution and perhaps risked death.
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges says "A return to the main argument in ch. 8. An idol is nothing, and meats offered to idols are nothing; but idolatry is a deadly sin, and so also is whatever tends to promote it." (Retrieved from Biblehub.com.)
1. Command #1: Flee from idolatry. (14-17)
How do we FLEE from idolatry? Verse fourteen provides both the command and the means to keep it. The word THEREFORE requires you to read the previous verses to see what it's "there for." In this case, we don't have to read any more than verse thirteen to find the reason for THEREFORE and the answer to our question. Verse thirteen promises two things:
- One, God is faithful to avoid testing us beyond our limits. Obviously, He knows our limits better than we do.
- Two, He will always provide us with A WAY OUT so that we can STAND UP UNDER the temptation; that is, resist it by escaping it.
We FLEE from idolatry in the same way we avoid all other temptations, by taking the WAY OUT God has provided us. It is not a matter of gritting our teeth, it is having the faith and good sense to follow God's lead. The Greek visualizes a person turning around and running in the opposite direction.
The virtue of being SENSIBLE gives one the freedom to judge for one's self (15). Interestingly, on this occasion Paul did not base his teaching on a revelation from Jesus nor did he did not exercise his authority as an apostle. Instead he appealed to their reason or common sense.
This fact alone helps us understand the priority of the issue of meat offered to idols. There are three levels of issues when we apply the teaching of the Bible.
The first and greatest priority we might call "Law." These are direct commands from God. They are the parts of doctrine that qualify a person for having a true, saving faith. There can be no compromise on matters of Law. An example would be Jesus' sacrificial death and resurrection. We have no salvation if we deny or dilute that doctrine. In this case, Paul introduced the truth with "What I received from the Lord I also passed on to you…" (1 Corinthians 11:22).
The second priority we call "Principle." Derived from the Law, Principles are applications of the core teachings to our attitudes and actions. As they are a mixture of God's word and good sense, there is more room for discussion here, and legitimate differences may be allowed. An example would be the Lord's Supper. We are commanded to observe it and so we do. In this case, Paul introduced the truth with "This is our practice in our churches" (1 Corinthians 11:16).
The third priority we could call "Freedom." One step removed from Principle, these are issues where the Word of God provides little or no direction, so we rely on enlightened reason. This is called "Freedom" because without specific Law or Principle, we are more free to make up our own minds. Continuing with the previous example, we have no choice in whether or not to have the Lord's Supper, but we have perfect Freedom to choose how often we have it and the way in which we observe it. In fact, you find a lot of diversity in the various denominations as to the frequency and methods of Communion. In this case, Paul introduced the truth as a matter of good sense, as he did here in 1 Corinthians 10:15.
Clearly, Paul has put the issue of whether or not to eat meat offered to idols in the third category. It simply was not worth the level of controversy it had received in the Corinthian church.
FLEE to Jesus: participate in the BLOOD & BODY of Jesus (16-17). Repentance requires turning our back on sin, but it also requires taking steps in the opposite direction, toward Jesus. In verse sixteen Paul reaffirmed that the CUP OF THANKSGIVING is our PARTICIPATION in the BLOOD OF CHRIST and the BREAD our PARTICIPATION in the BODY OF CHRIST? PARTICIPATION is koinonia, fellowship of the highest kind. Some of our Christian brothers take these words literally and say that the communion elements supernaturally become the body and blood of Jesus.
We take this to be a purely symbolic or spiritual level of PARTICIPATION. This makes more sense to me as Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper on a night BEFORE His body was crucified and His blood spilled. As He meant it then to be symbolic, there is no reason for us to take it literally now. I would consider these differences to be a third level issue, allowing for a great deal of difference of opinion.
In verse seventeen Paul emphasized the unity that is to come through the sharing of the Lord's Supper. As we observed recently, "breaking bread" is a figure of speech for fellowship and hospitality. That's why Paul refers to the ONE LOAF in this verse. It's a shame that the history of the Church shows division over the Lord's Supper, not unity.
His repeated use of the number one emphasizes the unity that individual churches and the Church around the world is supposed to enjoy because of the Lord's Supper. ONE LOAF, in his mind, is symbolic of how diverse peoples in diverse places are actually ONE BODY. It is one of the shameful facts of church history that we have allowed different methods and doctrines of Communion to divide us.
Here in 1 Corinthians, Paul is using the Lord's Supper as not only a symbol of unity, but also a supernaturally powered means of maintaining unity. He did not want the Corinthians to split over the issue of meat offered to idols, so he told them to flee from idolatry and to flee to Jesus.
We might say that idolatry being a sin in a first priority truth, a Law, but the issue of meat offered to idols was a third priority truth, a matter of freedom. It was certainly not an issue that should cause a split in the church.
2. Command #2: Consider the example set by the people of Israel. (18-22)
The Old Testament Law gave to the persons offering it a portion of a sacrifice for use as a family meal (verse eighteen, see also Leviticus 7:11-34.) This is the third time Paul has asked a rhetorical question with the expected answer being "Yes." This was typically one of the few times in the year the majority of Israelites had meat to eat. Both the act of worship and the meal helped create unity among the families of Israel and each individual family at their table.
Paul is setting up a contrast. Persons who offered a sacrifice to God were participants in an act of worship. They ate a portion of the animal sacrificed.
By contrast, the Corinthians did not participate in the sacrifice of an animal to an idol, they simply came in contact with the meat because pagan practices allowed the sale of the leftover meat.
Though meat was sacrificed to idols in a similar way, the two were, spiritually speaking, completely different (19-22). Anyone in the Corinthian church who made a big deal of this issue might be considered to be giving more importance to idols and sacrifice to them (19). This was a review; Paul answered this question in 8:4. An idol has a physical reality as a hunk of wood, stone, or metal. But it has no spiritual reality in itself. It's just a deaf and dumb thing.
Paul answered verse nineteen's question a second time in verse twenty with a "NO." The people making an issue of meat were missing the point. The issue was not the meat, but the act of worshiping an idol. Idol worship is a Law level offense and is very serious. Purchasing or eating the meat coming from such a sacrifice is only a matter of Freedom.
Paul's advice was to let one's conscience be one's guide. However, there were two principles to guide such a decision: we find them in vs. 31-33.
- One, do everything - including mealtime - to the GLORY OF GOD.
- Two, avoid causing a brother to STUMBLE. Don't cause offense on this trivial matter if you can avoid it. Demonstrate its triviality by allowing concern for others to dictate your actions.
To reinforce his point on the Law forbidding idol worship, Paul pointed out a person is not permitted to worship God on one occasion and worship demons on another (21). This identifies DEMONS as the true spiritual reality behind idols. Idol worship is not a benign folly; it is a serious spiritual offense against God and it brings a person into fellowship with spiritual evil. People who are truly God's people will not compromise on this point. The Lord and the devil are enemies. No one who claims Jesus has any part to play with demons.
Verse 22 asks a pair of rhetorical questions that have an expected answer of "No." Here Paul adds emotional emphasis to the reasonable arguments he has just made. He's saying, "Do you think you can defy the Lord's commands by messing around with idols? Do you think you are strong enough to survive His wrath?"
It's silly to think we could make Jesus love us more by being more vile sinners. God has already declared he is jealous for us (Exodus 20:5), so why even attempt to arouse His JEALOUSY? It is equal folly to think we are as strong as Christ, it is folly to think we can have one foot in the camp of demons and the other in the Church.
In his thorough examination of this issue of meat offered to idols, the Apostle Paul attempted to get the Corinthians to focus on the part that was really important and not on the part that was unimportant. What was important was to avoid the worship of idols. There is a demonic reality behind the falsehood of idols and it is also defiance of God's command to worship Him only.
The unimportant part was what the pagans did with the leftover meat. As human nature often compels us to do, some of the Corinthian church folk were trying to make meat the issue and it simply was not. We too often make the trivial essential and then go to war over it.
Paul's solution to that particular issue sets a principle we all need to follow as we live together: keep the first things first. Don't create mountains out of mole hills and then compound error by dividing from other believers over the molehills. People have a habit of making complaints on the basis of some high-sounding principle, but in sensible terms the matter makes no practical difference!
That is one aspect of human nature that must be replaced with the divine nature of Jesus Christ. We must be students of not allowing trivialities to cause friction or division. We practice this Scripture by being reasonable people.
Under normal circumstances, we would be observing the Lord's Supper today. Sadly, as we are apart, we await another time when we can worship the Lord together. We await another time because…
There is more to the Lord's Supper than a cup and some bread.
The sacrificial Death & Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ are the spiritual realities that stand behind the bread and the cup.
We also refer to the Lord's Supper as "Communion." The physical and emotional reality behind the bread and cup is that they deepen our relationships with one another, creating a Communion between believers. The spiritual reality behind the bread and cup is that they deepen our Communion with God. When we share these common items, they have the uncommon effect of drawing us closer to one another and closer to God. That is something worth waiting for. I look forward to the time when we can once again observe Communion together.