These last verses of 1 Corinthians 10 from v14 to 11:1 bring to a conclusion the section which Paul began in chapter 8 in answer to the Corinthians' question about food sacrificed to idols and eating such food at the temples. The argument of chapter 8 (v4-6&10) and the immediately preceding argument of 10:1-13 where Paul showed that Israel's idolatry had caused their overthrow in the desert, despite their sacraments all lead directly to these next two paragraphs, v14-22. Look at v14:
'Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.'
Perhaps for some of us that might include fleeing from World Cup matches on TV if they get in the way of our relationship with God and when they clash with Christian fellowship meetings! Bishop Martin Morrison from South Africa who came to preach at the confirmation service earlier this year was quoted in the 'The Times' last week as saying that churches who moved service times to accommodate the World Cup and showed matches as part of those services were guilty of idolatry. After England's victory on Friday, Beckham was called Jesus by some callers to Radio 5, and the headline in yesterday's 'Times' newspaper was 'Beckham puts the world to rights'. Idolatry, of course, is the worship of idols.
More particularly in v14-22 Paul is dealing finally with two arguments the Corinthians were advancing to justify going to the temple feasts as believers 'free' in Christ. Their argument to Paul had probably been twofold. First, that since an idol is not real, it does not matter what we eat or where we eat. Secondly, that as long as we participate in our own sacred meal we remain secure in Christ. So let's now look at Paul's reply under my first heading:
First, FLEE FROM IDOLATRY v14-22
Paul begins his closing exhortations lovingly but very firmly. V14:
'Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.'
The word flee translates a Greek word from which we derive the word fugitive. A fugitive is someone who desperately escapes from life-threatening danger or an enemy. We are to turn and run from idolatry. For the Corinthians this meant not going to the temple feasts and indulging in the temple prostitutes. The Corinthian Christians had been converted from a background of paganism. Temples for the worship of Apollo and Aphrodite were seen daily by them and the worship of Aphrodite, with its many sacred prostitutes, was a particularly strong temptation. Some of our international brothers and sisters may know of similar pressures and temptations for them back home. In some churches in the UK multi faith services are promoted and there was a brief hint of it in the Queen's Jubilee Service at St Paul's last Tuesday. What are the temptations to idolatry that we face? For many of us today what Paul defines as idolatry in Colossians 3:5 may resonate more as to not only what we are to flee from but also what we are to put to death. Paul writes there
'Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.'
Paul says the same about sexual immorality as he does about idolatry in 1 Corinthians 6:18:
'Flee from sexual immorality'.
Both idolatry and sexual sin are dangerous enemies from which we must take flight immediately. Life in this age may go on for the idolater and the sexually immoral, but unless they turn decisively from their ways to Christ they will not inherit life with God in his Kingdom. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 says this:
'Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God'.
Who needs to come to the cross of Christ this morning in repentance and faith, in need of that washing, justifying and sanctifying?
Paul goes on in the rest of chapter 6 to say that what we do with our bodies is not unimportant. We are not free as Christians to do what we please. As he puts it in v13b and following:
'The body is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body…Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body'.
Coming back to 1 Corinthians 10 Paul has said lovingly but firmly that Christians are to flee from idolatry. This appeal appropriately follows on the word of warning and assurance in v13
'God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.'
God will provide a way out of genuine trials but that does not include headlong pursuit of idolatry.
'Flee from idolatry', says Paul, he is both abrupt and absolute. Don't go to the temple feasts which are a participation in the worship of demons. And in v15 onwards Paul wants to show them how sensible his line is based on their experience of the Lord's Table. Judge for yourselves that I am right he says! In v16-22 he argues that participation in one meal is absolutely incompatible with participation in the other and that idolatry is a locus of the demonic. Look at those verses.
There is something inherent in the nature of the Christian meal that makes participation in the temple feasts absolutely incompatible. That something is 'participation' (v16). Paul emphasizes the bonding relationship of the worshippers with one another that this meal expresses which is confirmed by v17. And also, v16, there is a memorial symbol of fellowship with the crucified Christ – a participation in the blood of Christ. At the Lord's Table no sacrifice is now involved for Jesus' sacrifice was once for all time hence the added illustration in v18. What Paul is saying is that the food eaten at the pagan meals (v20) has been sacrificed to demons. That means that those at the temple meal table (including Christians) are sharers in what has been sacrificed to demons in the same way that Israel shared in what had been sacrificed to God.
Paul's point is clear. The pagan meals are in fact sacrifices to demons and the worship of demons is involved. Someone who is already bound to their Lord and to their fellow believers at the Lord's Table cannot under any circumstances also participate in the worship of demons. Those who are bound to one another through Christ, v21, cannot also become fellows with those whose meals are consecrated to demons. So God's people are warned that if they do eat meat sacrificed to idols, they should not eat it with pagans in their temple feasts, for to do so is to become 'participants with demons'. V22 Will you, Paul asks, continue eating at both meals and arouse the Lord's jealousy, as Israel did in the desert? Are you stronger than he?
If we have any kind of participation with the demonic, with what we saw from Col 3:5, with other religions or freemasonry, will we continue eating at both meals so to speak? Fundamental allegiance is at stake. You can't serve God and mammon – or demons. Will you repent and trust Christ alone? Will you flee from idolatry? Sitting at the Lord's Table and experiencing its benefits of grace and freedom does not give us license for licentiousness. Rather, it binds us to one another in common fellowship around Christ and radicalises our behaviour to the law of Christ (9:21). Which brings us to my 2nd heading:
Secondly, CHRISTIANS ARE FREE TO SERVE OTHERS ABOVE SELF v23-30
As he does in chapter 6, Paul quotes a slogan of the Corinthians in v23
'Everything is permissible…'
Some at Corinth were boasting that they had the right to act in freedom as they saw fit. But, as Paul has already argued in chapter 6, such freedom of action may not benefit the Christian or others. Indeed one may become enslaved by the actions in which he freely indulges and lead others into sin. And Paul again counters their slogan and action in v23&24
"'Everything is permissible' – but not everything is beneficial."
Meaning here that not everything is beneficial for someone else whether a believer or non-believer. This is reinforced by Paul's second qualification
"'Everything is permissible'- but not everything is constructive."
The Corinthians believed they had the right to act in freedom as they saw fit. In contrast Paul, looking to the example of Christ who is the model for Christian behaviour, believed he had the right to become slave of all, the right to benefit and build up others in the body. As he continues in v24
"Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others."
It is fashionable in the world today to put your personal freedom and rights above those of others. Halle Berry, the first black woman to win the Oscar for best actress earlier this year, said recently in the press
'To survive you ust put yourself first.'
But here Paul says
'Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.'
For Paul the death of Christ, in which he gave himself for us, is not only God's offer of pardon for sinners, but also the proper model of Christian discipleship. So 'freedom' does not mean 'to seek my own good' rather it means to be free in Christ in such a way that we can truly seek to benefit and build up another person. Christians are free to serve others above self.
Apparently after the England-Argentina World Cup game on Friday Trevor Sinclair, the England winger, got on the team bus to leave the stadium only to discover he'd got on the wrong team bus! He found himself being given strange looks by the Argentinian players and quickly got off. He'd become confused over which bus was which. And here in chapters 8-10 of 1 Corinthians the Corinthians had become confused. In their argument for eating at temples and their criticism of Paul they revealed a basic confusion between absolutes and non-essentials and they also confused the true basis for Christian behaviour. Christians today can do the same. You see the Corinthians had tried to make temple attendance a non-essential whereas for Paul it was an absolute because it was idolatry. At the same time they had confused the true basis for Christian behaviour. For them it was a question of knowledge and rights. For Paul it is a question of love and freedom.
As someone has written "Knowledge and rights lead to pride. They are therefore ultimately non-Christian because the bottom line is selfishness – freedom to do as I please when I please. Love and freedom lead to edification; they are ultimately Christian because the bottom line is the benefit of someone else – that they may be saved (v33)."
Paul then goes on to address these issues in v25-30 by using examples from the eating of meat bought in the market a) in your own home & b) in someone else's home, meat which may have been sacrificed to idols. Paul himself had been known to eat market place idol food (9:19-23) and had been criticised, judged and denounced for it (cf 9:1-3; 10:29-30). So here he is keen to demonstrate the case for personal freedom with regard to food but also to show that freedom sometimes needs to be curtailed for the sake of another. And as part of his argument as a whole Paul wants to further establish two things. First, that a Christian is truly free in matters that are non-essential, as he argues elsewhere with regard to matters such as circumcision (7:19) and the observance of special days (Col 2:16) as well as food. Second, that although personal freedom is important, it is not the highest good of the Christian life. Seeking the good of others is.
Look first then at v25-27
'Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, 'The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it.' If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience.'
Eating sacrificial food at the temple meals is absolutely forbidden because it involves the worship of idol-demons. But market place idol food is another matter altogether.
Paul's general 'rule' is simple: 'Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience.' Even if the meat had been offered to idols its ultimate source was God himself (v26) so there was no problem. Don't conduct inquiries in to the meat says Paul. Don't let it even be an issue. Meat is meat; buy and eat. God doesn't care, neither should you. As to dining in the home of an unbeliever again Paul says, 'eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience.' If the unbeliever does not bring the subject up, you are free to eat the meat, even if it had been offered to an idol. But personal freedom should always be conditioned by the 'rule' of v24 – seeking the good of another. So v28-29
'But if anyone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' sake – the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours.'
If the meat has been identified as meat sacrificed to idols and you eat it, the man – whether a 'weak' believer or an unbeliever – might think you condone, or even are willing to participate in, the worship of the idols it has been offered to. The unbeliever would be offended and unnecessarily hindered from accepting the gospel. So in those circumstances do not eat it. The exercise of one's personal freedom is to be governed, as we'll see in a moment from v31-33, by whether it will bring glory to God, whether it will build up the church of God and whether it will encourage the unsaved to receive Christ as Saviour and Lord.
In v29-30 Paul returns to the defence of personal freedom. Look at those verses
'For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?'
Paul is here bursting out in rhetoric against his own accusers. 'For why is my freedom being judged by another's conscience? I take part in the meal with thankfulness (referring back to v26), why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?' You see Paul could thank God for meat sacrificed to idols eaten in the home, for the idol is nothing and the meat is a part of God's created world. He should not be denounced.
Thirdly, and finally, CONCLUSION v31-11:1
Paul concludes this whole section with four verses of guidelines for the life of the church in these matters. We will find Christian freedom truly being exercised and experienced when we follow these ground rules for life together in Christ. As I read these ground rules out one by one let's contemplate them and resolve to obey them.
'So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.'
This is the guiding principle. Do it all for the glory of God – not for my freedom.
'Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God.'
Do not cause anyone to stumble by eating meat offered to idols or in any other way whether they are unbelievers or believers. Living to glorify God will result in doing what is beneficial for others whether they are non- Christians or Christians. Living to purely enjoy my freedom will not.
'…even as I try to please everybody in every way.'
Try to please everyone in everything – not claiming my rights. Paul does not mean that he will compromise the truths of the gospel in order to please everybody, rather he means that he will consider his fellow man and not cause anyone's conscience to be offended by his daily life, so as not to hinder anyone in that way from receiving the gospel.
Fourthly and leading on from the third, v33
'For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.'
Not seeking my benefit or fulfilment but the good of others, that they may be saved.
Fifthly and finally, 11:1
'Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.'
We are to be imitators of Christ. Christian freedom is to be free to glorify God by being like Christ.