Sermon Message: Extravagant Devotion
Sermon Message: Even the Death of the Cross
Sermon Message: God Is For Us!
Sermon Message: Fellowship in the Light
Sermon Message: O Worship the King
1 Corinthians 10:14-22
(Delivered Communion Sunday, July 7, 2002 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
A few weeks ago, I shared with you about two important ordinances the Lord has commanded us to regularly observe. One of them was baptism; and the other was the communion meal, or - as we often call it - the Lord's supper. This morning, we're going to observe the Lord's supper together. And to prepare ourselves for this important observance, I'd like to take you to a passage of Scripture that gives us some insights into its significance.
Paul writes, in his first letter to the Corinthians;
I need to tell you from the very start that this passage was not written with the intention of teaching us about the Lord's supper. What it has to say about the communion meal is secondary to its main purpose. This is a passage in which the apostle deals with a serious problem within the church in Corinth. But it's very interesting that, in attempting to correct this problem, Paul seeks to get his brothers and sisters properly oriented to the truths that stand behind the Lord's supper. This fact alone shows us how important it is that God's people understand this wonderful ordinance.
Let's begin, then, by understanding the problem Paul was trying to solve.
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The church in Corinth had many, many problems. In fact, I took a course in my seminary training that was titled "First Corinthians: Problem Solving In The Early Church". Think of that - a whole graduate level seminary course on dealing with problems in the church, based on this letter to the Corinthians. Frankly, that doesn't speak very well of the situation in Corinth! Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthian church to deal with these many problems. One of the problems came about as a result of the fact that the believers in Corinth lived in the midst of a very paganistic culture.
It was difficult to be a Christian in the culture of ancient Corinth. Of course, it's difficult to be a Christian in our culture too; but the reasons are a little different. It's difficult today because our culture is so committed to a secularized world-view - that is, a view of life that only recognizes the material world, and that has no place in its concept of reality for God, miracles or the spiritual realm. All too easily, we as Christians find ourselves caught up in the secularized mind-set of our culture. In Corinth, however, the difficulties came because their culture was utterly given over to the celebration and worship of a whole variety of false gods. Idolatry was an everyday part of public life; and it was as easy for Christians then to become caught up in the influences of their culture as it is for us to be caught up in the influences of ours.
One of the ways that Christians felt the sinful influences of that paganized culture was in the use of meat that had been sacrificed to idols. People in their culture regularly participated in the temple feasts and public festivals that honored their gods. Often, the meat that had been used as sacrifices in these feasts and festivals was then sold in the public market, or was made available to the general public for consumption within the pagan temple itself. And though the meat itself was perfectly good, these feasts and festivals that used them as offerings were grossly immoral in nature - not at all something a Christian should be a part of.
The problem that Paul was writing about, then, came from the tension that results from living a life of devotion to Jesus Christ in the midst of an ungodly culture. It's the age-old problem of being "in" the world, but not "of" the world. Many believers understood that the meat that had been offered to idols in a pagan ritual had been - in reality - offered to nothing at all; and so, it was, in and of itself, perfectly legitimate to use and enjoy. But other Christians - who were still immature in their faith, or who had perhaps been deeply entrenched in idolatry before they were saved - felt that, because the meat had been used in the worship of a false god, it had been turned into something evil. Paul wrote, in part, to encourage the believers who felt free to eat such meat to show love to the brothers and sisters who did not. He taught them to love and respect their brothers and sisters, and to not use such meat in front of them in an insensitive way. Basically, this is what Paul deals with in Chapters eight and nine of his letter.
But that was only one side of the problem. The other side involved the fact that many of these "mature-minded" believers had thought themselves so mature and morally free with regard to the meat offered to idols that they participated in their culture further than was appropriate. In the end, they came dangerously close to becoming caught up in the actual worship of the idols themselves. And this is what Paul deals with in Chapter 10.
Paul begins dealing with this aspect of the problem by showing how the Jewish people in the Old Testament serve as an example of how easily God's people can slide down the slippery slope of sin and become ensnared in its unwanted consequences. Paul writes,
Apparently, many of the believers in Corinth had become over-confident in the things they felt the freedom to enjoy. They assumed that, because they were secure in Christ, they could walk the cutting edge of the ungodliness of their culture and never get sliced. "What's the big deal", some of them might have said; "An idol isn't really anything at all anyway. Besides; you get free food, and you can enjoy a good show. I'm secure in Jesus Christ; and nothing will ever be able to separate me from Him. So, how can food from an idolatrous feast hurt me? For that matter, how can even getting involved in the festival and going along with the crowd ultimately hurt me?"
First, Paul deals with this by pointing back to the tragic example of Israel. They had some pretty marvelous advantages over us. They visibly saw God's mighty power on display. Every day, God miraculously provided food for them and for their families. They could always look up to the sky and see God constantly demonstrating His presence among them - through the pillar of smoke that led them by day and the pillar of fire that illumined their way by night. You would think that, if anyone had been insulated from idolatry, it would have been them. And yet, in spite of all these great advantages, many of them still crossed the line into gross sin - including idolatry - and they suffered horribly as a result.
Paul is careful to point out that sin never has to overtake us completely. He assures us that God makes a way for us to escape sin whenever we're tempted. But he is also warning us that God makes no provision for us when we refuse to take the way of escape, and willingly run head-long into sin - regardless of the warnings. This is what some in Corinth were doing.
Paul doesn't deny believers the right to eat and enjoy any meat they wish - even meat that had been used as an offering in the temple of an idol. The broader principle that we can take from this into our own day is that we are morally free in Christ to use the things of this world; "for 'the earth is the LORD's, and all its fullness" (1 Cor. 10:26; cf., Psalm 24:1). But Paul passionately urges those first-century believers to remember who they truly belong to, and to keep themselves separated from the sin of idolatry in the way they used that meat. And the broader principle that we can take from this is that we must be careful that our freedoms do not lead us into sin; "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12).
And so, Paul's second way to deal with this problem is to remind the Corinthian believers who it is that they belong to. And this leads us to his words in this morning's passage. To drive his point home, the apostle Paul points to the Lord's supper; and calls his readers to become properly oriented to the truths that we affirm together when we partake of it.
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Now; I doubt very seriously that any of us here today has had to concern themselves with whether or not the meat they bought at the store had been used as an offering to a false god. I also would suspect that none of us have ever been tempted to participate in an idolatrous feast. Some of us have lived in different cultures; and it may well be that some of us actually have had to deal with such issues; but even so, it's just not the sort of thing that pop up in our culture very often.
But I do expect that each one of us has had to deal with the challenge of how close we should draw to the cutting-edge that divides godliness and ungodliness as we interact with our culture. These sorts of decisions confront us all the time. They often come up in decisions we have to make regarding work or employment, or social activities, or choices of entertainment. It even comes up in the things we eat, or drink, or enjoy. The question is this: How close to the edge of sin should we allow ourselves to come in our use of the things of this sinful world?
You may notice that Paul urges the believers, "Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry" (v. 14). He's pretty unambiguous in what he says about the matter. He isn't saying that they were simply to be "in idolatry" but not "of idolatry". He doesn't even suggest that we simply shy away from it. He certainly isn't saying, "Go ahead and participate, so long as you make sure that you can handle it"! Rather, he calls us to a radical move when he says to "flee from idolatry". To "flee" means to high-tail it and run for your life, in order to escape from its clutches or avoiding its dangerous consequences.
Certain sins require that kind of a response - that is, that we flee from them. Paul used the same word in 1 Corinthians 6:18 when he says, "Flee sexual immorality ..." In 1 Timothy 6:11, with respect to the dangers of greed, he tells Timothy, "But you, O man of God, flee these things ..." In 2 Timothy 2:22, he tells Timothy, "Flee also youthful lusts ..." These aren't the sorts of things that you should ever try linger around and to "handle". They're dangerous, because they have the potential to suck you into their clutches before you even know what hit you. The only thing God has told us to do with them is to "flee" from them. Included in this category of extremely dangerous sins, then, is idolatry. "Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry." Many Christians have fallen down in the battle for the faith, because they didn't flee when God said to do so.
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Paul tells us to "flee idolatry"; but where are we supposed to flee to? Some might think that Paul is calling us to avoid any contact with pagan people, so we'll never have any contact with idolatry. But that is not what Paul is saying. Elsewhere, in fact, he admits that in order to avoid contact with any sinners - including those who commit idolatry - we "would need to go out of the world" (1 Cor. 5:10). Besides; if we didn't have contact with the idolaters of this world, who would teach them about the one true God? If we didn't have any contact with sinners, who would teach them about the Savior from sins?
Paul isn't calling us to avoid any contact with idolaters in telling us to "flee from idolatry". Instead, he's calling us to flee from idolatry by running to the truth and affirming it before the world boldly. He's calling us to cling to the truth about Jesus Christ, and never forsake this truth - even in the midst of all the pressures of an idolatrous culture. He points us to the broad principles of biblical truth that protect us from the sin of idolatry; and these broad principles are embodied in certain affirmations; and these affirmations are symbolized for us clearly in the Lord's supper. This is why he points his readers to the Lord's supper in our passage this morning.
Put another way: to say "yes" to the Lord's supper is to affirm certain things that are true of who we are in Christ, and that are true of His exclusive rights over us, that - by the very nature of the case - demand an unambiguous "no" to any form of idolatry.
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Many believers regularly observe the Lord's supper without giving much thought to its significance. They rightly understand it to be a symbol; but they don't really give too much thought to what it's supposed to be a symbol of. So they observe it and then forget about it. But here, Paul says, "I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say" (v. 15). And here, he invites us to think about this whole matter of idolatry a little more closely; and to see how the truths affirmed in the Lord's supper have a devastating impact on idolatry. He shows us that to participate in the Lord's supper is to affirm certain spiritual realities that define who we are in Christ, and that radically impact how we are to live all the time! If we really understood what we're affirming together in the Lord's supper, then we will understand the insidious nature of idolatry and will flee away from it, clinging instead to the truth.
Notice the first thing he says about the Lord's supper; that ...
1. IT AFFIRMS OUR UNION WITH CHRIST (v. 16).
Paul writes, "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?"; or, as this verse is translated in the NIV, "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?"
Think back for a moment about the earliest times of Jesus' earthly ministry. He had become quite popular; and many people were following. But all that began to change, because He kept saying things about Himself that thinned the crowds down significantly. Jesus always had a way of putting people at a fork in the road over who He was. There was one time in which He said something about Himself that finally caused everyone to leave except the twelve disciples. He told the crowds that followed Him,
Many found Jesus' words so hard to accept that they became offended at Him; and they ceased from being His followers. But on the night before He went to the cross, He shared a final meal with the disciples who remained with Him to the end. I believe that they remembered those shocking words, and realized - though perhaps to only a limited degree - the connection between what Jesus had said before and what they were doing then.
You see; He took bread, gave thanks and said, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:19). He passed the cup to them and told them, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you" (v. 20). And in eating the bread He gave them, and drinking the cup He passed to them, they were symbolically doing then what Jesus had invited everyone to do earlier. They were symbolically "eating His flesh" and "drinking His blood"; and in so doing, they were accepting His invitation to enter into a deep spiritual union with Himself. His life was going to be bound up forever in them and their lives were going to be bound up forever in Him. They were being promised a spiritual union with Christ Himself; and in eating the bread and drinking the cup, they were symbolically embracing that promise. His death would become their death, and His resurrection-life would become their life.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; do you realize that when you say "yes" to the bread and the cup, you are saying "yes" to spiritual union with Jesus Himself? You are, in essence affirming, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). Jesus Himself described this relationship in the most wonderful terms possible. He prayed to the Father about us; and He described this union to the Father in these words: "I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one ..." (John 17:23).
When we say "yes" to the Lord's supper, you see, we are saying "yes" to a relationship of union with Jesus that is deeper and more profound than any other love relationship could ever be. We're saying "yes" to a union with Him that brings us into a union with His own Father, and binds us up into the very triune Godhead itself forever!
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Next, we see another thing that the Lord's supper affirms; ...
2. IT AFFIRMS OUR UNION WITH EACH OTHER THROUGH CHRIST (v. 17).
Paul goes on to say, "For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread" (v. 17); or again, as the NIV translates it, "Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of one loaf." We symbolize this in our celebration of the Lord's supper by the fact that we don't tear pieces off of a variety of different loaves of bread - a little "butter-top" here; a little "rye" there; a little "spelt" over here; a little "raisin-nut" over there. Rather, we partake from only one loaf. It's to properly symbolize that Jesus' body is only one; and we who participate in His one body, participate together AS one body.
I can't help but notice how different this affirmation is from the attitude of the culture around us. Our culture seeks to bring about unity in a rather strange way; that is, by "celebrating diversity". Neither "unity" nor "diversity" is wrong in and of itself; but our culture seeks to relativize all differences and unite us all around a common allegiance to "diversity" as an end in and of itself. But this will never bring about either a lasting unity, or a sincere celebration of diversity; because, apart from Jesus Christ, no real point of unity exists between people to give meaning to their different points of diversity.
But how different it is in the body of Christ! And what a wonderfully different thing we affirm when we partake of His supper! While we celebrate and enjoy the genuine, God-given distinctions that make us unique, "diversity" is never our goal. In Christ, what we do is "celebrate unity" - a marvelous unity that redeems those genuine points of diversity for our common good in Christ. As the Bible says, "For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free - and all have been made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:12-13).
Each time we enjoy the Lord's supper together - sharing together from the same loaf, drinking together from the same juice, waiting for one another so we can all partake together - we showing ourselves to be a diverse people made ultimately one in Christ; and thus we celebrate our unity in Him! Our diversity is brought to the service of Christ; because together, we honor "one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Eph. 4:4-6). We celebrate a common life in Christ; "where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all" (Col. 3:11).
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A third thing we see in the Lord's supper is that ...
3. IT AFFIRMS OUR IDENTIFICATION WITH THE SACRIFICE OF CHRIST (v. 18).
Paul points us back again to the experience of the Jews in the Old Testament and writes, "Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the alter?"
Here, Paul is thinking back to the Old Testament laws in Leviticus concerning the sacrificial offerings made in the tabernacle. In the performance of many of these sacrifices, a portion of the offering was burnt on the alter, and a portion that remained was given to the priest for food. It was an essential part of the sacrifice that the sons of Aaron ate their portion (Leviticus 7:15; 8:31). In fact, this act of worship was not complete unless the priest ate his portion; and to eat of it was to participate in the act of worship. Those who ate were partakers of the alter and became, therefore, identified with the sacrifice that had been made on it.
Similarly, when we partake of the Lord's supper, we are involving ourselves in an act that is meant to identify us with the sacrifice of Jesus. Ultimately, our identification with Christ's sacrifice on the cross is by faith - not by eating. But we demonstrate that faith BY our eating. In eating the bread, we're identifying ourselves with the body of Christ broken on the cross for us; and in drinking the juice, we're identifying ourselves with the blood of Jesus shed for our sins. In all of it, we're admitting that we're helpless sinners that deserve eternal death for our sins; but we're confessing that Jesus paid the death penalty for sins on His cross, and we're claiming His sacrifice as our payment for our sins. To eat, therefore, is to affirm ourselves to be partakers of the alter on which our sacrifice was made - that is, the cross of Jesus.
The Corinthians often forgot that they were identifying themselves with the cross of Christ when they ate the Lord's supper. Sadly, they were eating this important supper in a very unworthy manner - rushing to get there before others, pigging-out on the food when they arrived, getting drunk on the wine, and leaving nothing for the others (1 Cor. 11:17-22). They were not considering that they were partaking of something very sacred and very holy - that is, the very alter of Christ; and they were not taking careful examination of their faith in Christ and of their repentance of sin before they partook. They were treating the Lord's supper with no more regard than they were treating the immoral pagan feasts of their culture. For this reason, some in the church were becoming sick, and even dying (1 Cor. 11:30)!
And so, Paul had to write to remind them of the significance of what they were doing. He told them;
Each time we partake of the Lord's supper, then, we're partaking of His cross. We're taking to ourselves the symbols of His sacrifice for our sins - His body broken on the cross for us; and His blood shed for the remission of our sins. To do such a thing is worthy of the utmost planning, personal preparation, and careful soul-searching. How dreadful to partake of such a thing in an unholy manner, or with an inward commitment to continue in sins!
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This leads us, finally, to notice one more thing about the Lord's supper. I believe that it brings all that Paul has had to say so far about the Lord's supper together as a warning to those who draw dangerously close to idolatry in their interactions with this world.
Paul has told us that those who partake of the Lord's supper are partakers, as it were, of the alter on which He was sacrificed for us. Many in Corinth were, of course, failing to recognize that. And yet, many in Corinth were also failing to recognizing that the same principle applied with respect to their participation in the alter of false gods. Apparently, many were not simply eating the meat that they purchased from the pagan meat market; but they were actually eating the meat from the alter in such a way as to participate in the alter itself. This brought them horribly close to committing idolatry - if not actually making them guilty of it!
And so, in the Lord's supper, we finally see that ...
4. IT AFFIRMS CHRIST'S EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS TO OUR DEVOTION (vv. 19-22).
Paul anticipated the arguments of those who felt the freedom to eat from the alter. He wrote; "What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything?" (v. 19). His implied answer is, "Of course I'm not trying to suggest that there really are any such things as other gods." But that wasn't really the problem. It wasn't true that these things were being offered, in the end, to nothing at all; because Paul then warns, "Rather, that the things which the Gentiles [that is, unbelievers] sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord's table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?" (vv. 20-22).
Dreadfully, these Christians were dishonoring the sanctity of the Lord's supper by also joining themselves to the alter of a false god - which wasn't really a god at all, but was actually ploy of the servants of the devil in the demonic realms. In partaking of the pagan sacrifices and rituals, they were actually offering themselves over for fellowship with demons! Such believers were, unwittingly, entering into the ceremonial worship of demons! Such a thing was utterly unacceptable to the Lord!
I take Paul's warning about provoking the Lord to jealousy; and reminding us that He is stronger than us, to be an indication of just how seriously the Lord will fight us if we try to worship at His alter and at the alter of a demon at the same time. In the second commandment, God has said:
Billy Graham made an interesting discovery when he gave a gospel invitation to people in certain Far Eastern countries. He learned that he had to make it clear to his listeners that by coming forward, they were indicating that they were turning away from all other gods forever, and were turning to the one true God of the Bible. Apparently, many thousands of people in these cultures had come forward to receive Jesus Christ before; but in their minds, what they were doing was simply making Jesus just one more of the many other gods they already worshiped. Nothing, in the end, really changed for them. Dr. Graham began to stress to them the exclusiveness of Jesus; and that in saying "yes" to Jesus, they were renouncing all other gods as false.1
One of the great things we affirm when we partake of the Lord's supper is Jesus' exclusive rights to us. We are affirming in the communion meal that we belong only to Him; and He does not tolerate us giving such love and devotion to Himself and then to another - not even to gods we know to be false (which are, in reality, not a false gods at all, but actually demons).
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Now, you might be tempted to ask, "This 'idolatry' business seems like a first-century problem. When would it be that I ever have to resist the temptation toward idolatry?" But if we say this, we're really not understanding the basic nature of idolatry.
Idolatry can defined as setting something up - any thing or any person - in the place that should only be occupied by God. This certainly happens in the more explicit sense we think of when we think of idolatry; that is, when someone carves an idol or constructs a false god and bows down to worship it. But it can happen just as much in the subtile forms of idolatry that characterize our own culture; that is, when money, a career, or things, or other people occupy the place in our lives that only belongs to God. It even happens when we reject God's revelation of Himself in the Bible, and set up in its place our own version of who He is and what He is like, and declare, "I worship God as I conceive Him to be."
With this in mind, let me close by reminding you of something that the apostle John wrote at the close of one of his letters. He said,
The affirmations we make in the Lord's supper are affirmations of the truth: that Jesus is the Son of God who gave His body to be broken for us, and His blood to be shed for us on the cross; that we are brought into union with Him and with one another through our faith in His sacrifice; and that He has purchased us with His blood, and now holds exclusive rights to our hearts' full devotion. To affirm anything else than these truths affirmed in the Lord's supper is to hold to something that is not the true God and eternal life; and to do that is to commit idolatry.
Therefore my beloved, flee from idolatry!
1Billy Graham, A Biblical Standard for Evangelists (Minneapolis, MN: World Wide Publications, 1984), pp. 11-12.
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