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.14 “Therefore 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