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Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (25)

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Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (25)

1 Corinthians 10:14-22

Broadcast: August 9, 1998; Message Number 1484

The Proper Way to Celebrate the Lord's Supper

In the first section of this chapter Paul warns the Corinthians against the sins of idolatry, immorality and discontent. Giving examples from Israel's history he shows what happens to people who provoke God, especially those who have received many privileges, as was the case with Israel and the Corinthians. The same judgments that fell on God's ancient covenant people will also come upon the Christians at Corinth if they commit the same sins. Privilege alone offers no protection against God's wrath. Few were as blessed as Israel, but God destroyed most of them in the wilderness because of their sins. The Corinthians should learn from this that they should never presume upon God's grace. Therefore, "let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." This is Paul's solemn warning aimed especially at those members of the congregation who thought of themselves as strong Christians.

In the next passage, covering verses 14 to 22, Paul expands on the sin of idolatry and explains why this sin is especially abominable to God. The apostle is still dealing with the issue of eating meat offered to idols. Some of these strong believers were taking their liberty in Christ too far. They thought nothing of going to the temple to feast on meat that had been sacrificed to idols. The apostle was very upset about this and tells them they must stop doing this. "Therefore, beloved," he urges them, "flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say." He then proceeds to explain why idolatry poses such a threat to their spiritual life.

Idolatry is to be avoided, first of all, because it is inconsistent with their profession. As Christians they claim to be united to Christ. This union between believers and their Lord comes to expression especially in the Lord's Supper. In the next three verses the apostle recites the litany with which many of us are familiar: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread."

If we are at all familiar with this formula, that does not necessarily mean we understand the meaning of these words. We may think we do, of course, but as is so often the case with familiar Scripture passages, we tend to stay on the surface and never reach the depths of God's Word.

The cup of blessing or thanksgiving was the name given to the third cup that was passed around during the Passover feast. It is very likely that when Christ instituted the Lord's Supper on the night before his death He used this particular cup as the symbol of His blood shed for sin. In other words, the Saviour set aside this cup as a token of special thanksgiving before He passed it to the disciples who were with Him in the upper room. Ever since that time, whenever believers partake of communion they drink from this sacred cup. For Christians it is the supreme cup of blessing, which in turn we bless to show our thankfulness for Christ's death each time we use it in remembrance of Him.

Not only that, we also consecrate this cup to sacred use. Wine as wine is not the symbol of Christ's blood, but only when it is solemnly consecrated for that purpose. Even our ordinary food is said to be sanctified by the word of God and prayer (I Tim.4:5), in the sense of setting it apart for the purpose of nourishing our bodies. We ask God to bless the food He gives us so we may be strengthened by it. So it is here. The cup of blessing is the cup which, by the benediction pronounced over it, is set apart from a common to a sacred use. When the minister blesses the cup at the start of the Lord's Supper He asks that the Lord will bless it to the end for which it was appointed, namely that it may strengthen our faith through communion with the blood of Christ. In other words, so that by drinking from the cup we may receive the benefits of our Saviour's death.

"Is it not the communion of the blood of Christ," Paul asks? When we partake of the cup, he means, we partake of or share in our Saviour's blood. It goes without saying that this is true only of believers. Paul is writing to Christians and assumes the presence of faith in the receiver.

The same thing is true of the bread at the Lord's Supper. "The bread which we break," the apostle continues, "is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" By partaking of the bread we partake of the body of Christ. To partake of His body is to partake of the benefits of His body as broken for us. The bread which we break--here Paul is alluding to the original institution of this sacrament when Jesus "took bread, and having given thanks, he broke it and said, Take eat; this is my body which is broken for you" (I Cor.11:24). The whole service, therefore, is often referred to as "the breaking of bread" (Acts 2:42; 20:7).

"For we, being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread." Here the apostle reminds the Corinthians that at the Lord's Supper they not only experience communion with Christ, but also with one another. We are one body because we partake of one loaf, he means. Because we are one with Christ, we are one with each other; we share the benefits of His sacrificial death as well as the blessings of His resurrection life.

Again Paul looks to Old Testament Israel to illustrate his point. "Behold, Israel after the flesh, [that is the Jews as a nation] are not those who eat the sacrifices partakers of the altar?" When the Israelites brought their sacrifices to the Lord, some of the offering was burnt as the sacrifice proper, some of it was eaten by the priests and part of it was eaten by the people who offered it. The point is that everyone, priests, Levites, and worshippers, was involved with the offering, with God and with each other.

But what does all this have to do with idol worship? A lot. Paul's entire discussion of the Lord's Supper and its implications serves as his introduction to what he is going to say about the dangers of idolatry, dangers to which many of his Corinthian fellow Christians were blind.

To understand what Paul is getting at, it is important to know what all went on in these pagan temples. There were certain similarities between the Jewish sacrificial system and that of the heathen nations around them. One thing they had in common was the idea of worshippers sharing some of the meat that had been offered to the deity. Every sacrifice was followed by a communal meal. At such feasts it was believed not only that the god himself was present, but that his spirit was somehow in the meat that had been offered to him. Those who ate the sacred meal thought they were eating a part of the deity. One could say there was a real communion between the god and his worshipper.

Now apply this to the question Paul is dealing with here. How can a man who claims to have communion with Christ go to a pagan temple and there have communion with an idol? To sacrifice to an idol is to identify with it and with all others who sacrifice to it. For a Christian to frequent pagan temples is completely inconsistent. The two are totally incompatible with each other, as different as night is from day.

Not only is idol worship inconsistent with the worship of God; it is also demonic. This is what Paul turns to in verses 19 to 21. "What say I then? that the idol is anything, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is anything? But this I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with a devils."

Paul lived in a world believed to be populated by hordes of demons, both good and bad. Most of them were thought to be evil spirits. Every spring, every grove, every rock, mountain and field had its demon. There were gods in every fountain and every forest; gods breathing in the wind and flashing in the lightning; gods in the rays of the sun and stars, and heaving in every earthquake and tempest. The world was packed with demons.

Of course, Paul did not believe in all these spirits good or bad, but he did believe in the existence of Satan and his evil spirits. For him, too, the air was filled with principalities and powers. Although he knew that an idol was nothing and stood for nothing, objectively speaking, he understood that the whole business of idol worship was the work of demons or devils. Through idolatry demons seduce men from the true and only God. When people worship idols they think they are worshipping gods; while in fact they are being deluded by evil spirits. Every time a person bows down to what he believes to be a god, Satan dispatches one of his demons to act out the part of that imaginary god. There is never a real god behind an idol, but there is always a spiritual force; and that force is always evil and always demonic.

Demons possess considerable power. Many cultic and pagan religious claims are faked and exaggerated, but not all. Some are true. They are evil, but true. Much that goes under the name of astrology, for instance, is simply exploitation of the gullible. But some predictions may come true because of demonic forces that are involved. Demons are not unlimited in power, but they have enough signs and wonders to keep superstitious worshippers deceived and loyal (2 Thess.2:9-11).

Scripture calls Satan the prince of this world. By God's permission he rules this world for a time. He is assisted by legions of evil spirits or demons. To participate, therefore, in the corrupt things of this world, especially in idolatrous acts of worship, is to participate in Satan and his demons. Moses accused Jeshurun or Israel of having sacrificed to demons who were not God (Deut.32:17). They worshipped beings which were not divine, but they were real.

A Christian therefore "cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons." Paul is not simply giving advice; he is stating a fact. In this too he was following his Lord who also made it very clear that we "cannot serve two masters" (Matt.6:24). It is not only that we should not, but that we cannot. It is impossible to do both at the same time, Jesus means. It is one or the other. Either we will hate the one and love the other or we will hold to the one and despise the other.

From what Paul says here we can conclude that Christians are not immune from the influence of demons. When we willingly and knowingly ignore the Lord's ways and start to flirt with the things of the world by setting up idols of any kind, we open ourselves up to demonic influences.

The situation in which the Corinthians found themselves may have been different from ours, but the underlying principles remain the same. We are still exposed to demonic influences. Satan and his fellow devils are very real. They still operate in the world, especially in areas where Christianity was once the dominant religion, Europe and North America. With the Christian religion in retreat, false religions are rapidly filling the vacuum with the result that idolatry is as rampant here as it is in countries traditionally known as pagan.

Idolatry, however, involves more than bowing down to an image made of gold, silver or stone. Idolatry is having any false god--any object, idea, philosophy, habit, occupation, recreation, or whatever it may be--that takes the place of God in our affections. Because idolatry is worshipping something other than the true God, it is the most serious and contaminating of sins. It strikes at the very character of God. Those who worship an idol declare that the Lord is not the only true God.

That is why no sin so angers God as idolatry. Our God, Moses, reminded Israel, is a jealous God who will not tolerate the worship of another. Paul says the same thing here in I Corinthians 10: "Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy?" "The Lord" here is a reference to Christ because the context shows that the Corinthians were trying to celebrate the Lord's Supper in conjunction with feasting in the pagan temple.

What a proof this is of our Saviour's divinity! The relation in which New Testament Christians stand to Christ is exactly the same as the one in which Old Testament Israel stood to Jehovah. Christ is our Jehovah who is worthy of our undivided love and devotion. Do not provoke Him, Paul warns the Corinthians and us. "Are we stronger than He," he asks? Don't do it, he means, unless you think you can beat him. Of course, it is both foolish and dangerous to think so. God is almighty and will not allow idolaters to go unpunished. No one can escape Him. Not even His own children. If we persist in worshipping any sort of idol we will pay dearly for this sin.

With this statement the apostle concludes his answer to the so-called strong Christians in Corinth who thought they could celebrate the Lord's Supper and also sit down at idol feasts in the local temple. He has pointed out that this is inconsistent with their profession of faith in Christ because it amounts to a denial of His Lordship which can only provoke Him to jealousy.

If we have handled the body and blood of our dear Saviour there are certain things we should not touch. I read of the great sculptor Thornwaldson that right after he had finished his famous statue of Christ, he was offered a commission to carve a statue of the Greek goddess Venus for the Louvre. His answer was very firm and admirable: "The hand that carved the form of Christ can never carve the form of a heathen goddess." What is this but the practical application of what Scripture says: "Be ye holy; for God is holy, for you were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation [or empty way of life] received by tradition of your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot."

Additional Info

  • Audio: 1205155048
  • Speaker: Rev. C. Pronk
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