Now please open your Bibles with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 10; page 957 in the church Bibles. 1 Corinthians chapter 10. Let me direct your eye to the words of verses 14 through 22. You’ll find they’re on page 957; 1 Corinthians 10:14-22. Paul has been dealing with the problems that a misunderstanding of Christian freedom can bring in the life of a church. In verses 1 to 13, as we looked at last time, Paul focused on the problem of presumption. The Corinthians were in danger of being presumptuous, thinking themselves free to live however they pleased. Then this week, 14 to 22, the problem of compromise – seeking to follow Jesus, meanwhile dabbling with the world. And then lastly, as I hope we’ll see next week in the remainder of the chapter, the problem of legalism – unnecessary and overreacting restrictiveness and its problems. So the problem of presumption last time, compromise this time, legalism next time.
Let’s look at verses 14 to 22 – the problem of compromise. Not just because it’s extremely important, it is, but because in the marvelous providence of God it is directly relevant to our worship service this morning as we celebrate the sacrament of holy communion and sit together around the table of the Lord. We will be considering Paul’s teaching in these verses under two simple headings. If you like headings, you can get your pen ready to note these down. First of all, in verses 14 to 17, I want us to see the glory of communion. That’s what Paul talks about; the glory of communion. And then in 18 to 22, secondly, the gravity of compromise. The glory of communion. The gravity of compromise.
Now before we read the passage and examine its teaching together, let me invite you first to bow your heads with me as we pray together. Let’s pray.
O Lord, would You come and speak Your Word with renewing power to our hearts? Would You teach our minds? Would You harness true faith? Would You show us our sin and lead us to renewed repentance? Would You ignite joy as we come to the table of the Lord? And would You draw sinners to Yourself? You can do all this and so much more, even through this portion of Scripture, and so we ask that You would, in the mighty power of the Holy Spirit and in the strong name of Jesus, amen.
1 Corinthians chapter 10 at the fourteenth verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 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? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 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. 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. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”
Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy Word.
The Glory of Communion
There is something about a meal, about dinner, that binds people together. It's part of Mississippi culture, isn't it, that we love people with food. We express our affection and our care for each other with a meal. That's part of the social fabric that binds us together. That was very much the case in Paul's day. Who you ate with, was all about your loyalty and your association and your affinities and your connections. Having a meal established a bond with people, probably in ways even more profound and significant than in our own culture. But we still understand something of this, especially when we feel betrayed. You know, the wife whose husband tells her that he's going to be at the office and then she sees him having a meal with another woman. The significance of that meal illustrates potential betrayal, disloyalty; new loyalty being formed. Or the business partner who is found to have regular dinners with his partner's major competitor on a regular basis. That imperils the partnership. There are disloyalty and new loyalty being established. Who you eat with speaks about loyalties and fellowship and bonds of relationship. We still understand that. That was very much the case in Paul’s day and really as the assumption, the operating assumption behind verses 14 through 22.
The sacred meals, whether they were meals in church or the similar pagan meals that took place in the temples, they established a bond between the diner, the worshiper, and the spiritual reality that is being invoked. So the concern in the background here is idolatry. You see it in verse 14 if you’ll look there with me for a moment. “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” That’s the concern. And everything else Paul says in this chapter is designed to show why that is so very urgent and necessary and important. At the end of the previous section in verse 13 of chapter 10, we saw Paul tell us that with every temptation, God in His marvelous grace provides the way of escape. Here, his counsel is, “When the way of escape comes, make sure you take it. Here’s my counsel in the face of idolatry,” Paul says. “Don’t try and tough it out, don’t try and explain it away. Don’t try and push through; get out of there. Flee from idolatry.”
Reason in Light of Scripture
And I want you to notice as well the nature of the way he argues as he tries to persuade them to flee idolatry. He does not make an overly emotional appeal. He does not provide a number of pragmatic reasons that will compel their conformity to his agenda. Instead, he appeals to their reason. Do you see that in verse 15? “I speak to sensible people. Judge for yourselves what I say. Get your Bible open, engage your brain. See if what I am saying is what God is saying. Use your reason. Think it through for yourself.” Paul knows, do you see, that so many of our problems, so much of the sin and the compromise that can easily infect our Christian lives, comes as a result not so much of wrong thinking, though that’s true, but of no thinking at all, when we just simply go along to get along. We go with the flow. We follow the herd. We do what feels right at the time, and before you know it, you’ve made all kinds of mess and found yourself in a place of spiritual compromise. That is a disaster, Paul says. He wants us to engage our brains, to think deeply, to reason in light of Scripture.
And so with that exhortation very much in mind, to engage our brains and to reason, let’s examine Paul’s first argument together. Shall we? Notice where he starts in verses 16 and 17. He wants us to see why idols are so very dangerous, but he starts not by talking first about idols, but by talking about the Lord’s Supper. Do you see that in verses 16 and 17? “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? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Paul is teaching us that the Lord’s Supper establishes and deepens a real, spiritual bond. Paul calls it a participation. And it does so along two planes. First, Paul teaches us it establishes a fellowship, a communion, a participation with Jesus Christ in His body and blood. There’s a vertical plane, we might say. But also in verse 17, he says it establishes a horizontal plane. We are, though many, one in Jesus Christ as we eat from the one loaf. And so the meaning of the Lord’s Supper travels along these two planes simultaneously, and to understand it, we need to examine both.
Communion with Christ
So let’s think about the vertical plane first of all. Paul, we’ve already noted, uses the word “participation” or “participate” to describe what is going on here. Actually, in verses 16 to 20, he uses it four times over. It is at the heart of what he understands is taking place at the Lord’s Supper. It is the Greek word, “koinonia,” that we sometimes translate “fellowship” or “sharing” or “partnership” or “communion,” which is why we call the simple meal of bread and wine a communion service. We have communion. We participate. We have fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. A mysterious, supernatural reality takes place when believers clinging to Christ by faith alone sit at the Lord’s Table and eat the bread that we break and drink the cup of blessing that we bless. The bread and wine do not turn into anything. No change takes place in them. They remain ordinary bread and ordinary wine. But somehow in the mighty working of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s body and blood are communicated to the faith of believers as we eat and drink. We commune with Christ. He feeds us with Himself. We are nourished in Him.
As Jesus puts it in John 6:53, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day. My flesh is true food. My blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” Now there’s a great mystery in all of that, isn’t there? And sometimes Christians in different traditions try to remove the mystery and explain it all away and make it less uncomfortable and strange. After all, it is a little weird, even gruesome – all this talk about eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus. We want to sort of sanitize it a little bit. But that’s the language of the Bible. And in fact, we need to embrace the glory and the mystery and the enormity of what we enjoy by faith in the Gospel as it is communicated to us at the Lord’s Table. We enjoy Christ Himself. We participate in His body and blood. We feast by faith upon Jesus Christ crucified and risen. We are nourished by Jesus who is true food and true drink for our souls; sustained by Him and helped heavenward through Him. He is our sustenance, our satisfaction, our life.
Communion with Each Other
And yet, there’s another dimension, isn’t it? That’s the vertical plane; now there’s also a horizontal plane. Along with the Christ-ward, supernatural component of the supper, there’s a “one another” supernatural component to the Lord’s Supper. We have communion not just with Jesus, but because we are one with Christ and have communion with Him, we also have communion with each other. Verse 17, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Presumably in the small congregations at Corinth, meeting in people’s homes around the city, when they celebrated the Lord’s Supper there was a single, common loaf of bread which, in the celebration of the Supper, was broken and each received a morsel of bread from that one loaf. Because we partake of the one bread, which is the emblem of our common communion with Christ Himself, we are in fact one body. We are one, not just with Jesus, but because we are one in Christ we are one with one another.
And I think grasping those two components of the Lord’s Supper, the vertical and the horizontal, will radically deepen our attitude – at least it does for me – our attitude and our approach; the way we come to the table of the Lord. If this meal is a mere pneumonic device, an aid designed simply to jog our memories and nothing else, if all the bread and wine do is remind us of the cross, well then, they might over time lose their luster for us. If all the bread and wine do is remind us of the cross, if they’re mere props to teach us, divine visual aids and nothing else, well then once we’ve grasped their message and learned all that they can teach us, we might wonder what benefit they still have to offer us. Why keep doing this over and over? We get it already!
God’s Action in the Lord’s Supper
But if, along with the reminders of the cross that the broken bread and the cup provide, if along with that there’s also something supernatural going on, if much more important than our action in the Lord’s Supper, our remembering, our thinking, our pondering and meditating, if much more important than our action is God’s action, by the Holy Spirit in response to a believer’s faith, if that’s what’s happening in the supper so that we receive Jesus Himself who comes to us here, well doesn’t that change everything about the way in which we come to this table? If we really began to grasp all of that, wouldn’t we come to communion with fresh expectation and eagerness? This is not the same-old, same-old. But Christ is here to give Himself to you afresh; to nourish and sustain and keep you. Don’t you come with any sense of your own bankruptcy to the table in light of all of that with new urgency, new hunger, for the only one who can satisfy and respond to your sin and need? Won’t you come here looking to meet Jesus?
One Body in Christ
And if, as we sit together at the table, we are bound together as one body, that also changes things. Doesn’t it? We’re not really here for a quiet time in the middle of a worship service. We are here, Paul is teaching us, to renew our fellowship and to strengthen our bonds. You belong to me; I belong to you. Together we belong to Jesus Christ. This is the family table, and families who eat together are bound together. You know sometimes at communion I think one of the temptations we have to resist is the temptation to radical individualism where we think that in order to really get the most out of communion we have to sort of shut everybody and everything out so that “I can have a little private time with Jesus.” I think that’s actually the opposite of what Paul intends to take place at the Lord’s Table you know. This is the family table, and everything that is appropriate at the family dining table to communicate, “We love you. You belong here. We are one. We are yours. You are ours.” Everything that would communicate that at a family table is appropriate at the table of the Lord. This is not a wake. This is a celebration. It's not a wake. We are not mourning over Jesus’ dead body. We are rejoicing that the Christ who was crucified, lives and reigns and is a perfect Savior to all who trust Him.
Paul really wants us to see the glory of communion, doesn’t he? That it’s not, first of all, something we do for God; some tool we are using to help ourselves think about Jesus. It is, first of all, supremely something God does in Christ by the Holy Spirit for us mysteriously to be sure, but supernaturally and really, when we eat the bread and drink the cup believing the Gospel, clinging to Christ, He comes to us to strengthen us and to sustain us. It expresses also symbolically here something that ought to be practically expressed every day at church members. The New Testament is full of those “one another” commands. Isn’t it? “Love one another. Pray for one another. Bear one another’s burdens. Encourage one another.” It’s full of “one another” commands. This is the “one another” celebration so that the commands of Scripture to which we are called are the realities for which the Supper is designed to equip us. To better one another, one another. To better care and pray and carry one another’s burdens. We are strengthened here and our bonds renewed. So that’s the first thing to see. The glory of communion.
The Gravity of Compromise
Then secondly, the gravity of compromise. The gravity of compromise. Look at verses 18 to 22. Now Paul has established that this simple meal of bread and wine is not an empty ritual, but there is something profound and spiritual taking place; a real fellowship with Christ. And now that he has established that, he says the same also goes for the other sacred meals that were taking place in the pagan temples. Exhibit A, all the way through chapter 10, you will remember from last time, has been Israel’s experience in the wilderness when they came out of bondage in Egypt. Over and over again, they disobeyed the Lord and fell into pagan idolatry and sin. And in verse 18, that is almost certainly what Paul still has in mind. He’s thinking still about Exodus 32. You remember the story? Moses is up on the mountain receiving the Law, the people grow impatient at the foot of the mountain, they ask Aaron to make an idol for them, he constructs the golden calf, and then he builds an altar in front of it. And verse 6 of chapter 10 reminds us that the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play as part of their worship before the altar.
And Paul is telling them, just as communion is not an empty ritual, neither is eating at the altar of pagan idols an empty thing. Those who eat of the altar, participate in all that the altar signifies and means. Something sinister and wicked. That was true for Israel in the wilderness, the Corinthians were in danger of it being true for them, as are we even today. Now if you’ve been with us as we’ve worked through Paul’s letter, you will remember, you may remember that back in chapter 8 verse 4, Paul had agreed with the Corinthians that idols are nothing more than lumps of wood or stone. The Corinthians were saying an idol has no real existence; they’re empty things. They’re not real gods; they’re nothing. So isn't Paul now contradicting himself here in chapter 10? Is he implying that idols are in fact real after all? Well, Paul is already ahead of you. He is anticipating that objection. Look at verse 19. "What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagan sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons."
Idolatry is not Harmless
The idol is a lump of wood or stone and that’s all. It’s nothing. But idolatry is not harmless. When we are deceived into false worship, it is not nothing that we are worshiping. Certainly, there is no such thing as Apollo or Artemis or Shiva or Krishna or Ganesh or any of the other million, million false gods that have been invented by human superstition over the ages. The god that you create for yourself is not the God who is there, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But, if we dabble in false religion, Paul says standing behind the deception, nevertheless, remains a real spiritual presence. Satan and his demons are real. Sometimes I think we think ourselves far too sophisticated to believe in any such thing, that there is such a thing as the demonic world. CNN had an interview with one of the survivors of the Las Vegas shooting last week, you may have seen it, in which the man said to the camera at the end of the interview, “I came to the concert tonight an avowed agnostic and left convinced of the existence of God.” Now whatever you make of that, isn’t it equally plausible, equally logical to leave such an episode convinced of the existence of Satan and of personal supernatural evil.
Evil is real, and Paul is saying it’s not safe to play with it, to dabble in it. The Corinthians, you see, were sitting at the Lord’s Table, as we are shortly about to do, on the Lord’s Day, and then on Monday, maybe for a business meeting, they would go to the temple of Apollo or Artemis or Serapeum and maybe they’re there with clients or they’re with a business associate. And at the start of the meal, a sacrifice would be made to whichever patron god their business associate wishes to invoke that day. And the Corinthians were saying to themselves – here’s how they were rationalizing it – they were saying, “Now we know that an idol is nothing! There is no god called Apollo! Apollo is nothing! So no harm, no foul. Right? Why give offense needlessly to my business associate? I don’t want to lose his business, so I’ll just go along. I know better.”
“Well, not so fast,” Paul says. Verse 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.” Don’t kid yourselves that you can compromise with the world and faithfully follow Jesus Christ at the same time. Don’t deceive yourselves into thinking that horoscopes and yoga and Ouija boards and palm reading and inter-faith prayer and the spiritual wisdom of the Dalai Lama and new-age healing and whatever other hokey, mystical, mumbo-jumbo the world has generated these days, don’t kid yourself that those things don’t matter. They’re not harmless fun or valid sources of personal wisdom. They are expressions of idolatry, fundamentally incompatible with the worship of the living God who has revealed Himself in the Lord Jesus Christ.
When at the opening service of, I think it was the 222nd General Assembly of the liberal mainline Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, a Muslim stood to offer prayer to Allah that those present might be led, and I’m quoting now, “in the path of all the prophets – Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad.” When that happened, what was going on? It was not a wonderful moment of inter-faith fellowship. Paul says they were sitting at the table of demons. They were engaged in the worship of idols. It’s horrific.
The Appropriate Jealousy of God
Now how does the Lord respond? Verse 22 – isn't this sobering? Look at verse 22. "Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?" Our God is a jealous God. In the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, when God is described as a jealous God it's almost always, in fact, I think it's always said in the context of God's response to idolatry. Like a wife who catches her husband eating dinner with another woman, the Lord is appropriately jealous of our love. He wants all of it. And as we sit at His table today, we're being given extraordinary reminders, aren't we, of the lengths to which the Lord our God has gone to secure and to win our life. He gave His Son to the emulation of the cross; His body torn by the lash and the nails. Jesus Christ dying for us, shedding His blood for us. You know, when we come to trust in Christ, we are betrothed to Him; we are bound to Him as a bride to her husband by covenant. We are His; He is ours. But when we rationalize superstition and indulge in false religion, in the name perhaps of inclusivism and tolerance, we might well appease the politically correct spirit of the age, but we provoke the Lord to jealousy and we are not stronger than He. We can't eat at His table and at the table of another lover.
But brothers and sisters, think of the glory of communion. Why ever would you want to eat at another’s table when Christ Himself is available to you as you eat and drink believingly. Christ and all His benefits to sustain you and nourish you. Christ who is sufficient for every need of your heart. Why go elsewhere? Why ever would we look for spiritual nourishment anywhere else than to Him? That is the heart of what is available to us in the means of grace, in the Word that is preached, and in the Word that is seen and handled and tasted at the Lord’s Table. Christ and all His benefits, who is more than enough for our hearts. And so, brothers and sisters, come to the table of the Lord to taste and feast by faith on the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Let’s pray together.
Our Father, we praise You for the means of grace, the simple, unimpressive, ordinary tools that You deploy, which, when we use them by faith, bring us to Christ and sustain us in Him. We pray as we prepare for the Lord’s Table that You would deal with our hearts, that You would bring us to renewed repentance, that we might flee back to Jesus if we’ve wandered away. And we pray especially for those who are here who are not yet believers in Christ. O Lord, would You grant that they might not come to the table, but come to the cross. Draw them to Jesus Himself. Bring them to the end of themselves as You bring them to Him, for the salvation of their souls. For we ask all of this in Jesus’ name, amen.
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