Monday, April 4, 2011

1 Corinthians 10:14-22 Standing Firm in a Pagan Culture

TEXT : 1 Corinthians  10: 14  - 22
TITLE:   Standing firm in a Pagan Culture !
DATE :  03/04/2011

Have you  ever worshiped demons ?  Have you perhaps  flirted  with evil spiritual forces?   You don’t think so?   The Corinthian Christians didn’t think so either…

Paul introduces  the subject  in  v.14Therefore my beloved, flee from idolatry ...”  and later  connects idolatry with demonism .
As we  try to make the subject our own  concern , I must remind you that our age is as idolatrous as any  age  before us .  John Calvin has rightly said  that our fallen hearts are indeed  idol factories !  So,  as you consider the content here , I ask you to see  what is true of us by way of  principles .  The particular  cultural expressions of idolatry here  must not  put us off. We must not say  , “Well these things  do not happen in our own society, and therefore this  part of scripture has nothing to say to  modern people   .”  Again I remind you  of  2 Tim 3:16 , 17 !

We need to talk about this subject  of idolatry a whole lot more . It is the number one trap of Satan into which we all fall,  if we are not careful . Idolatry  is  the first subject  addressed in terms  of  the  10  commandments . It is in the first place because it is  the sin that will most directly  usurp our relationship  with God  .
What is idolatry ?  Idolatry  is not  simply bowing down to a statue made of wood , stone or metal  . Idolatry is anything we love and pursue more than God.  This   has , spiritually speaking,  terrible consequences . No one must think that God will share His glory with anyone or anything else . He deliberately says,   “I  the Lord your God am a jealous God…”  (Ex  20: 5) . If  you are a Christian (if you say that you belong to God through Christ who purchased you by His own blood)  then  you cannot possibly be  loyal to  another  love .
This  matter  of idolatry  has  actually been  Paul’s  subject already since Chapter 8 . Some of the Corinthian  church members  had no  qualms  about  eating  food sacrificed to idols  at the local temples.  There were a number  of idol worshiping temples in the city  . On the Acrocorinth  ( the  mountain overlooking Corinth)   there was the temple of Aphrodite.  This temple had more than 1000  so called ‘sacred prostitutes’ , and it will tell you  something  about  the city’s  obsession  (idolatry) with  sex . Our society  may not have such temples , and yet  devious  and immoral  sex  practices  are the idols of many  in our community !  There  was also  the temple of Apollo associated  with homosexual practises –  which addresses another contemporary ‘hot potato’.  Another temple  of which  part of the foundation and a few pillars remain today  is the temple of Octavia . This  temple  was  dedicated to the sister of Emperor Augustus (27 BC-14 AD). The temple represented  the imperial cult of Rome, (emperor  worship) which was widely spread throughout the empire. Personality cults and  slavish devotion to   so called ‘idols’  is deeply entrenched in our own culture . 
What we are saying is that these temples were not just architectural marvels  and social gathering places . They were  strongly associated with a  so called  god and a practise that was  utterly opposed  to  God’s  revelation .  They were not leading people to the knowledge of the one , true God . They subtly replaced  His knowledge . Now , for  some of the Corinthian Christians  the matter  of   attending  such temples and the various feasts associated with such a temple , when they were invited by their friends  ,  presented  no  problem .  They were arguing   they  were  free in Christ . They felt that they were no longer bound  by these idols.  They  would go to such a feast simply for the sake of their friends  . They argued that  idols  (  such as represented by Aphrodite , Apollo or  Octavia)  were  after  all  not real gods.  Paul conceded  this  in  1 Cor  8:4  . But then he had   warned   them  that in the exercise of their freedom they should not  put stumbling stones before ‘weaker brethren’  ( 8:7)  - those who thought that idols were real . And in Chapter 9 he presents himself as an example of someone who restricts his own freedom to serve the gospel. 
The point is simple . Let nothing  hinder  the clarity of the gospel . Idolatry  hinders the clarity of the gospel ( it obscures the true God) ,  and  Christians  who  live in compromise with idolatry obscure  the testimony about Christ . Our lives need to be lived  so that there is no doubt in others that we are truly Christians !
I have also  shown you   that deep at the heart  of  the problem of this  church was a profound  lack of love . We will get to this in due course  as we  make our way to the heart of  the first letter to the Corinthians  in chapter 13 . 
It is becoming evident now that  in the heart of this church were  a group of people that did not truly love God , and therefore they did not truly love their  brethren . They were more concerned with their own pleasures and their own rights  than with the glory of  God in the church , and a tender affection for one another .  But more about that as we progress   further through the letter .
Right now we are still dealing with this defiant mindset .  They say , “ We are converted ; we are Christians … and nothing will touch us …”  Paul says : “ Oh really?
And then in  Ch 10  he proceeds to show them from history  that the Israelites  who   were led  in the  Exodus through the desert by God , who were under all sorts of spiritual experiences and privileges ,  succumbed to  idolatry when they dared to flirt but for a brief moment with  idols. He also shows them how in a number of events  how for this reason  God destroyed  them in their thousands , and then he warns them: “ Therefore  let anyone who  thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall ”. He says “Remember , they played with fire ! They thought they were  God’s holy people . They were instructed  by Moses  how to walk with God , but instead they  decided to play with idols  ( food and drink and partying and sex were expressions of this ) . Look where it got them to !

This brings us to  our   study portion for today (14-22) , and Paul will show us here that we can really not have our feet in two worlds . We cannot  love  pagan culture   along  with  Christ .  Paul now engages in plain talk:  “14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.”  
Flee from idolatry!   Make sure that you get distance between those things that you know are abhorrent to God .   
Eating , and drinking  in themselves  are  not abhorrent to God ( though gluttony and drunkenness is) .  But in what context  are we eating and drinking ?
That becomes the issue now! 16 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? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

There is a difference between eating the meat itself and participating in a pagan banquet. It is possible to eat meat that pagans have offered to their idols , which you might have bought on the market place , and give thanks to God for it. But it is not possible for a Christian to participate in a banquet  in honour to some god .  How can a Christian  eat to the praise of a false god ?  
We will not appreciate  the weight of  what Paul says here  unless we understand  that such banquets were an important feature of Corinthian society. It was the done thing! And when  you  became a Christian  and   if   you  said  to your pagan friends that  you would never  attend  such functions again , it  would perhaps be the equivalent of you saying  to your  family  that you would never celebrate Christmas  or a birthday with them again !    (the Jehovah’s Witnesses  do this ) . 

Now here is the point : The Corinthians  participated in the Lord's Supper every Lord's Day (see Ch 11) . It was the climax of their worship every Sunday, and so it ought to be . The Lord’s supper crowns our worship. It was   a wonderful time in  terms of affirming  their communion   with Christ and with one another.   It is natural for Paul to refer to the Lord's Supper as illustrating the point he wanted to make, because after all , this communion meal  was in honour  and praise of   our God  , who delivers us so wondrously from the effects  of sin .
Allow me to  briefly remind you  concerning the theology of the Lord’s supper as Paul expounds it here in vv 16,17  :
The Lord’s  supper  is  a participation  ( fellowship à Gr koinonia ) in the  blood  and the body  of Christ . We have fellowship with Christ . But that is not all . We  also have fellowship with  one another (v.17) .  We are one with Christ and we are one with another .  Each Communion table  reminds us that we are Christ’s and if we are in Christ , then we also  belong to each other . 

Now, hold onto that thought and consider  the next verse  (v.18)Consider the people of Israel:  are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?” Paul is here referring to the practice in which the OT  worshiper would take  a lamb to the temple, give it to a priest to slay it and place a portion of it in the fire on the altar as an offering to God. Then he  would sit down with  invited  guests and make a meal of the remaining portion.  Thus the meal was a participation in the worship ritual.  You and your guests participated ( i.e. had  koinonia) with God  and one another through the offering and meal. 
The point is this : Religious meals, whether they are the  Lord’s Supper or the Jewish temple meals  or  meals in honour to  demon gods  – they  are all  acts of worship.   They  denote  koinonia –  fellowship , participation in  and with their god  and one another  .
Follow Paul’s logic : 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 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.
He is telling them, “don’t be ignorant  to what is taking place spiritually.  Yes,  it is true that Aphrodite, Apollos and Octavia do not exist.  But, don’t be so naive as to think  that there is no spiritual activity behind  such pagan feasts”.   Remember what  Paul teaches elsewhere  e.g.  Eph  6:12 :  “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”  . The Corinthians  thought that they were immune  from these things .  They thought that in Christ they had conquered  these things.  But Paul says – no , you are forgetting  that there is  behind all these things a   demonic  reality  and whenever you   are involved in parties like this  you have fellowship with demons  , and so he says ,  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.  
Think of what you are doing.  You partake regularly  in a meal  that identifies you as belonging to Christ and his church.  How then can you even think of participating in a meal that exalts demons and  makes you look as  one of their followers?
You may hear a silent protest here  :  “But, Paul, we don’t mean that!”   It doesn’t matter what you mean. Your actions speak louder than your words !   And by doing this , Paul says , you are provoking the Lord to jealousy : V.22  Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?. Be very , very careful .  If you play with God , you play with your life  ! ( read v. 11 & 12 again)

This  matter  may be  at face value  more relevant  to some Christians than  to others.   There are certain  cultures in which  such idol worship is apparent .  Our  Herero  people in  Namibia in particular  face this in terms of ancestor  worship   . And it is hard  for  Herero  Christians to go against this . 

But then , remember  that  we are not  at all immune from  these things. We are all challenged I believe  to compromise  as  our society grows more  and more culturally diverse and  is increasingly seduced by New Age thought.   I  have  a directory  entitled  “ Alternate ways- conscious living directory “  ( publ. 2007 )  for Windhoek . This directory is filled with various   new age  practices .   Go to the  bookstore, and you will find  large sections  devoted to New Age religion. Are you reading these things?  Are you feeding on Christ and on  New Age spirituality  ?
Do you  read  horoscopes?  Do you  look for them in the  magazines? Do you play with tarot cards  or  play ‘glassy glassy ‘ or  do you have  an  Ouiji Board ?   Are you a Free-mason ?  Do you visit  fortune tellers?  Do you  believe in  magnetic healing therapies  ? Do you possess crystals  that are supposed to convey healing power and bliss ?  Do you possess   power beads,  lucky charms  for good luck etc ?    Beware !  These are not  simply gimmicks created for entertainment.  These are religious objects and rituals that Satan uses  to draw us into  becoming participants with demons . They are not harmless  and cute . And even if their power amaze you  , do not be enticed by them .   They  will dull your senses so that we become like the Corinthian  Christians  who end up  having fellowship  with  demons (v.20)  , and so provoke the Lord to jealousy .
You know that your senses  have become dulled  when  the fruit of darkness (Gal  5:19-21)  no longer  horrify you .
Satanism and  witchcraft  have  had a following in our country for quite a while now.   Many of our young people  are deaf  to the claims of Christ now . They go to parties and dress like  Goths , and tattoo their bodies  and wear black clothes   and adopt a nihilistic culture . They drink and do drugs and die young  .   It is no good for Christians  to say – “ they are young … they must go through this …its part of life …”

The truth is that idolatry destroys  lives . It provokes the wrath of God . And as I said  last time , that if  “unbelief  has slain its thousands , then spiritual complacency has  slain its ten thousands !” 
 It all comes back to this: If we are not firmly  obedient to Christ , and think that we can dabble  here a little and there a little   in pagan culture  , instead of  praying and subduing that culture  for Christ , we shall not stand !  If you are not  standing firm in Christ  you will not stand at all !  Flee from idolatry ! Be settled with Christ alone ! Amen

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