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The Sunday Sermon – 1st Corinthians 10:14-11:1

10/06/2012

Food, Freedom & Idolatry – The Sum of the Matter!

1st Corinthians 10:14-11:1.

We have seen Paul’s teaching on temptation, which every true believer will face. We will be tempted by the enticements of this world. I hesitate to draw up a list of examples. in the 1960’s and 70’s there was a ‘black and white’ situation. Christians were taught what they should do, to honour the Lord, and they knew what they should not do. Today there is a ‘greyer’ situation. There are lots of grey areas in Christian ethics. Where does the Christian draw the line? What is permissible and what is utterly forbidden? How do we know the difference? When does liberty become license? What are we free to do, and what must we never do? This passage will help us to lay down some very important principles. These principles will again help us to live obedient, humble, submissive, God-fearing lives. We cannot overlook Paul’s teaching here.

Let us then see:-

The Christian’s Communion Demarcated
This is Paul’s final contribution to the debate on Idol worship and meat, and it comes prior to his final summing up of the matter. He argues that you cannot have communion with the Lord, and with anything that is unholy or ungodly. He makes a similar point in 2 Cor. 6:14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
Paul has issued a clear command! Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. Do you know that we all worship something? There are those who profess to be atheists, or as they now prefer to be called, ‘humanists’ and they will tell us that they believe in no god at all. They will have us believe that they worship nothing or no one. That is quite untrue. Everyone that is born into this world worships something.

* Idolatry may be a vain attempt to worship the true God of heaven.
John 4:22 Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. Acts 17:23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. It will of course be A VAIN ATTEMPT, for such worship is unacceptable to a holy God. We cannot approach God the Father, without coming by way of the Cross of Christ. He is the only way!
Idolatry may be the worship of some false god. There are those whose religion is still in the darkness of superstition. They still bow the knee to little wooden gods, or some religious icon or picture that they have bought in a shop or fashioned themselves. This wooden or metal thing may be considered to be the god itself, or they may argue that it is just a representation of the god. It is all idolatry.

Some years ago a friend of mine was abroad, and while in the far east he bought a little statue from a junk shop. It was a little fat ugly man, and I personally would never have bought it, but there is no accounting for taste! It had pride of place on his mantelpiece until he took in some lodgers. His house was large, and largely unoccupied, so he offered accommodation to a number of students studying at Queen’s University. Some of these came from the Far East. Every time he would go to work, he would return to find the little fat ugly man was lying on his face! Same in the morning when he got up! Eventually, and out of curiosity he asked if any of the students knew why! They did! “It is an evil spirit” they said! “We knock it down because it brings us bad luck!” How many more are there like that?

Exodus 20:4 cf Leviticus 26:1 Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the Lord your God.

That is fairly clear-cut teaching from God’s Word. We must never bow to statues, pictures, icons, or any other representation of things in this earth or things in heaven. Idolatry may be the worship of some other alleged deity, or some earthly replacement for Deity. Romans 1:21-25 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things…. Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator. Nowadays, this form of idolatry may be simply putting your occupation before the Lord. Putting your home before the Lord. That is idolatry! We worship our influence, business, wealth, leisure pursuits, sex, power, reputation etc.

* Idolatry may be the worship of self, or self interest.
There is always a need for worship, and it will always be present in a human life. Here’s why. Mankind was made for a purpose, and that purpose was to give heartfelt worship and obedience to God Almighty. He was made and equipped for that purpose, being made in the image of God. But at the Fall of man, when sin entered into the created world, mankind fell. The image of God in him was distorted, and man began to worship other things, as we have seen above. When anything else takes the place of God in our lives – that is idolatry! The Greek word used here is ειδωλολατρειαs (eidololatrias) and it does not just mean that worship of false Gods, it has a deeper meaning; the falling short of a right relationship with God! So Paul GIVES US A VERY CLEAR COMMAND INDEED. WE ARE TO FLEE FROM IDOLATRY! Notice the action we are to take – FLEE! It is urgent, it is specific and directed – FROM! Where are we going to flee? Why we must flee to the Lord!

Not only do we find a clear command in Paul’s teaching, but we notice a cohesive communion! 10:16-17. For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. When we meet together as Christians around the Lord’s Table, we are IDENTIFYING ourselves as Christians! More so, we are identifying ourselves with Christ! We meet in this fashion as many individuals, but together we are identified and known as being part of the body of Christ! Paul now makes two comparisons. He draws an example from Israel’s Altar! 10:18 Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? Is it not interesting that he speaks of Israel after the flesh? This differentiates the earthly Israel from the Church, God’s true Israel! The earthly Israel of Paul’s day partook of sacrifices from the altar in the temple. Such participation IDENTIFIED the worshippers with the Jewish faith. And he points out the truth about pagan sacrifice! 10:19-20 the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.

There are two matters relevant here.
Firstly, when a person takes part in any act of worship that involves idolatry, or pagan sacrifice, (or indeed the worship of other faiths or false cults) they IDENTIFY THEMSELVES WITH IDOLATRY or with false religion. This would be in direct contradiction to the Word of God. Listen to the distinct teaching of the Word:- Deut. 11:16 Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; Deut. 16:22, Neither shalt thou set thee up any image; which the Lord thy God hateth. Isaiah 42:8, I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images. 1 John 5:21, Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
Secondly, there are such things as demons! Paul admits that these demons are all around, and they are there to trip up the Christian. They are not omnipresent or omnipotent, but they are all around us! In Corinth there was a pagan belief that when a person ate the meat sacrificed to a pagan god, that god entered the body of the eater within and through the food. Why would a Christian want to IDENTIFY HIMSELF with demons? Look at verse 20-21. The Amplified Bible reads, “I do not want you to fellowship and be partners with diabolical spirits by eating at their feasts. You cannot partake of the Lord’s cup and the demon’s cup. You cannot partake of the Lord’s table and the demon’s table.
Paul also issues a contemplative consideration! 10:22 Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he? Jesus makes it clear. Matthew 6:24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. And Almighty God will not tolerate our IDENTIFICATION with other gods. He is a jealous God.

The Christian’s Conscientious Discipline!
Paul summarises his previous teaching. He speaks about liberty and responsibility, 10:23. He reminds them about the teaching regarding giving offence to other believers, and thus causing them to stumble. 10:24a. Now he gives some very specific directions:-

Meat at the market. Meat sold in the market should not infringe anyone’s conscience! The basis for this teaching is the premise that this earth belongs to God. Everything that is in it is His. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills! Man may claim ownership, but ultimately, everything is God’s, and idols are just pieces of wood, so how can they claim ownership of anything at all. Even the meat that has been slaughtered at the temple, and is now on sale in the market, is the property of Almighty God.

Meat at the table! The Christian cannot cut himself off from society altogether! He might be invited to a wedding, and there might be meat served. He might have to attend a business lunch, or a meal at someone’s home. Why would he go in and abuse their hospitality, by asking first, “Where do you buy your meat?”

Meat, testimony and truth! But here is a difference! Using the very same verse from the Psalms, Paul then argues, that if a Corinthian believer enters a home, and the householder MAKES HIM AWARE that the food is sacrificed to idols, then HE MUST NOT PARTAKE OF IT! 1 Cor. 10:28 But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof:

But why this difference? This is a most important principle and one we must learn. We cannot go through life asking whether every single thing we do, every single association we make would offend our conscience, or contravene the Scriptures or deflect glory and praise from the Lord. Life would be impossible. Very often we jump blindly into situations, and only discover afterwards that we have been involved in something, which had we known its nature earlier; we would never have been involved in! BUT IF WE ALREADY KNOW OR ARE MADE AWARE that an action of ours would offend the Lord, or bring dishonour upon His Name or His Work, or would contravene His Word, or would hinder our witness, or would cause a believer to stumble, then we must immediately and without hesitation or reservation abstain from it! James 4:17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

The Christian’s Criteria for Decision.
Here are Paul’s simple rules for considerate Christian living!

THE CONSCIENCE OF OTHERS. Paul makes a stern statement and then asks a rhetorical question in 10:29-30. He is speaking about the conscience of others here. Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other. “Why” he asks, “Would I worry if someone criticised me for eating, if in conscience, I could find no wrong in it?” It is the same question that many would ask today when they assert, “My conscience is clear. Who do you think you are for questioning what I do?” I can drink! My conscience is clear! I can steal time from my boss, I can go to watch a film full of violence or sex or foul language… I can tell lies… Spread gossip… BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CONSCIENCE OF OTHERS AROUND YOU! WHOULD THEY BE OFFENDED BY YOUR ACTIONS! For that is the important criterion! Our Christian freedom is constrained by the effect that our actions would have on others!
A young man studying at a Bible College was invited to conduct a meeting in a very conservative church. He arrived at the church dressed in a pair of jeans, and a tee-shirt, and over then he wore a straight denim coat, right down to his knees! His motive was to attempt to shock these people, and make them see that he was free to dao what he pleased without his salvation being effected. You can imagine the reaction. His mother told me afterwards, “Those people are just a bunch of old stick in the mud fuddy duddies! My son preached a good sermon and all they did was to criticise his dress! It’s his heart that matters, not his dress code, and where in the Bible does it say a preacher must wear a tie!” Well, my reply was, “Why did your son go like that in the first place! He knew the nature of the church, and if his heart was truly right before the Lord, He would not want to offend the people to whom he was preaching.” His dress obscured his message! Christian freedom should be used to help and bless others, not to shock them or offend them or become a stumbling block to them.

THE GLORY OF GOD! 10:31. Everything we do should have one primary purpose, that God might be glorified in our lives! Does this thing that you are doing bring praise to the Lord? Listen to Jesus, Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

CONSIDERATION FOR THE COMMON GOOD! Paul says that we are not to discriminate against either Jews of Gentiles in our pursuit of righteousness. He separates these two groups of unsaved people from the Church, and we too must make that distinction, but our good to others but go beyond our own doors!

PUT OTHERS FIRST! I do remember being taught this at Sunday School. We were told to pout God first in our lives, other people second, and our own good last! The lesson is still applicable! Jesus said, Matthew 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. So, in an earthly sense at least, the good of others must precede our own good always!

This whole section on eating meat sacrificed to idols has had at its heart the basic question of Christian liberty and freedom, and the restraints that we must exercise upon ourselves, for the sake of the Lord, other believers and the witness of the Gospel. Its principles are fundamental for Christian ethical behaviour. Let us summarise them in the words of 1 Cor. 8:9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak, and let us learn them well.

From → Sermon Notes

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