Contributor: Leye Olayiwola
We considered the first verses of 1 Corinthians chapter 10 last week. Apostle Paul drew our attention on the need to avoid the attitudes displayed by the children of Israel who rather than serving God gave heed to their own desires and emotions. We saw how, though having been saved and delivered from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites mind sets were still otherwise. We concluded on how to deal with temptations. Though temptations are very certain to happen, we were enjoined never to allow them linger on in our thoughts and never to allow them persuade us to do wrong things. The last verses of this chapter spell out Paul’s bottom line in the matter of idol-meats. In these closing words of instruction and counsel, Paul practically applies what he has been teaching in principle by addressing three situations which the Corinthians would face: (1) The question of whether a Corinthian Christian should eat idol-meat at a meal that is a part of a heathen worship ritual. (2) The question of whether a Corinthian should eat meat purchased at the meat market, the origins of which are not known. (3) The question of whether a Corinthian Christian should accept a dinner invitation from an unbeliever. Interspersed in these verses are the general guiding principles which should govern every decision pertaining to idol-meats, and any other question regarding our conduct in a pagan world. Let us learn from our “fathers,” as we are instructed from the inspired Word of God.
1. Dining With the Devils - Eating Meat in a Pagan Worship Ritual (verses 14-22)
The issue of meats offered to idols was first introduced in chapter 8. There, Paul did not debate the question of whether or not a Christian was at liberty to eat idol-meats, but allowed the assumption of some to stand that idol-meats were a matter of Christian liberty. In chapter 8, Paul sought to establish the principle that while one’s knowledge may cause him to conclude that he is free to eat idol-meats, love for the weaker brother should prompt him to forego his rights in deference to the one who may be caused to stumble. For some, the logic of 1 Corinthians 8:4-5 gave them license to eat idol-meats, and under virtually any set of circumstances. Paul takes a very different approach to this matter in the verses above. Now just exactly what does this mean, to “flee from idolatry”?
i. To partake of the cup at the Lord’s table is to symbolically partake of what the cup represents. To partake of the cup is to symbolically commemorate (give respect to) the fact that we have become partakers in the shed blood of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins which it accomplished, through faith in His atoning death on the cross of Calvary. This is what Jesus taught before His death (John 6:47-58).
ii. To partake of the bread at communion is to symbolically proclaim that we have identified with our Lord’s body. We have identified with Christ, not only in His incarnation, and in His bodily death, burial, and resurrection, but we have identified ourselves with His “body,” the church.
iii. Communion commemorates our union with the person and work of Jesus Christ by faith at the time of our salvation and for all eternity. It signifies our union with the church, His body.
iv. The pagan ritual of eating a meal, of which a portion is that which was sacrificed in heathen worship, was a “communion service” as well. The heathen worshipper is celebrating a communion service when he eats of what was sacrificed to an idol. In eating the things sacrificed to the idol, he is identifying himself with the pagan sacrifice and all that it means.
v. When the pagans worship idols by sacrificing to them, they are worshipping demons. Here is an amazing fact, which the Corinthians had overlooked. There are no other gods. Idols are nothing, because they represent gods which don’t exist. But false worship is not thereby rendered harmless and insignificant. This is where the Corinthians went wrong. Paul says that the worship of idols is the worship of demons. (See Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 106:37).
vi. Christians cannot become partakers of two tables, for one is the table of the Lord and the other is the table of demons. Just as no man can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24), neither can a Christian participate at two religious tables or partake of two sacrificial meals.
vii. When the Corinthians eat idol-meats while participating in pagan idol worship, they provoke the Lord to jealousy. Paul has instructed the Corinthians to “flee idolatry” in verse 14. Now we know exactly what he means. To sit at the table of demons and to participate in this pagan worship by eating idol-meats is to practice idolatry. This is exactly the way the ancient Israelites fell into idolatry, by joining themselves with the pagans at their “table”. Idolatry is a most serious offense to God. The Israelites were “laid low in the wilderness” (10:5) because God poured out His wrath by various plagues. To practice idolatry is to provoke the Lord to jealousy, and this is a most serious situation.
2. Is Market Meat Idol-Meat? (verses 23-26)
• Paul’s words in verses 23 and 24 should sound familiar to us because they are not new – 1 Cor.6:12-13. When Paul repeats the words of chapter 6 in chapter 10, we should not be surprised. The principle of profitability (or edification) underlies the teaching of the entire book. We find it in chapter 6, again in chapter 8, now in chapter 10, and again in chapters 12-14. The law of love obliges us to act in a way that benefits or edifies our brother, and, if possible, the lost (by leading to their salvation).
• Can the Christian eat meat purchased in the market place, knowing that it could possibly have been sacrificed to an idol? The issue at hand seems to be as follows. The Christians purchased their food supplies at the market place. In addition to fruits and vegetables, this included meat. It was possible that some of the meat sold in the market place had been offered to an idol. It appears that the question pertains to meats whose origins are not known and are not immediately apparent. Should the Christian buy no market meats because of the possibility of obtaining idol-meats? Or, should the Christian seek to satisfy his sensitive conscience by inquiring about the origin of the meat?
• Paul’s answer is really quite simple. In today’s jargon, Paul would have said, “Chill out; relax!” The fact is, it didn’t really matter. Biblical separation required that the Corinthian Christians have no part in the idol worship of their pagan peers. It was not necessary that the meat they ate have no such association. Whether or not a Christian should knowingly purchase idol-meats is not asked or answered. But when the origin of the meat is not known, the Christian is not to make an issue of it.
• Are the Corinthians concerned about the immediate origins and associations of the meat they purchase? They need not be. And the reason is to be found in the ultimate origin of such food: God created it. If God created it, we know it is good. All that is required is to partake of it gratefully and with thanksgiving.
3. Should I Dine With My Pagan Neighbor? (10:27-30)
• Now, Paul provides us with another specific application to his instruction to “flee from idolatry.” Does “fleeing from idolatry” mean that I should never go to dinner with an unsaved neighbor, for fear that I might be served idol-meats? The assumption here seems to be that the invitation is to the home of an unbeliever and not to a heathen temple, where the meal would be a part of a heathen religious ritual involving idols.
• Biblical separation does not require the Christian to avoid all contact with unbelievers. It does not even prohibit the Christian from enjoying the hospitality of an unbeliever by accepting a dinner invitation. Biblical separation is not meant to keep the Christian isolated from the world (which we are to evangelize), but to keep us separate from those who profess to know Christ and who live like pagans.
• Paul’s answer is similar to his response to the previous question: “Don’t ask!” The Corinthians should not make an issue of the origin of the meat or food they are eating. They should eat all of it. Eating a piece of meat that was offered to an idol will not defile the Christian. What defiles the Christian is participating in heathen worship. If eating a piece of idol-meat does not defile the Christian, there is no need to make an issue of it.
• The law of love does require an exception to this instruction, however. If one’s host volunteers that the meat has been offered to an idol, then the Christian should refrain from eating it. When the host makes an issue of the origin, it is because it is important to him, or because he thinks it may be important to his guest.
Conclusion – (verse 31-33)
Having expressed his commitment not to eat idol-meats at the table of an unbeliever under certain circumstances, Paul now concludes by explaining his response in terms of two guiding principles, principles which should guide every Christian concerning the exercise of their Christian liberties. The first principle governs our actions in terms of our relationship to God. The next governs our actions in terms of our relationship to men. The goal of history, and of God’s eternal plan, is to bring glory to Himself. The guiding principle by which the exercise of every liberty must be determined is that whatever we do, it must bring glory to God. Eating everything set before us at the home of a heathen can bring glory to God because our presence is to be a manifestation of His excellency to lost men (1 Peter 2:9).
It may be by our witness at the dinner table that we are able to share our faith and be instrumental in leading lost souls to faith in Christ.124
The second guiding principle is that our every action should be done for the edification and upbuilding of others. For the lost, we should act in a way that most facilitates the gospel and the salvation of the lost. For those who are saved, our actions should be those which build up our brothers and sisters in their faith, and which enhance their daily walk with Him.