Liberty & Responsibility with Regard to Spiritual Associations
1 Corinthians 10
 
 

Good Spiritual Associations: God Insists on Reality (10:1-14)

Five Outward Privileges Enjoyed by a Mixed Multitude in Israel (vv.1-5)

vv.1-5 In the verses that follow we have five outward privileges that Israel enjoyed from the very beginning of their history as a nation. The key word is “all”… it is repeated five times. The point is that these outward privileges were enjoyed because of association, but it did not mean that individuals had faith, or that they were somehow exempt from judgment. In the oft-repeated word “all” is followed by “most” in v.5. The majority came under the judgment of God. These outward privileges were literally enjoyed by the nation of Israel, but each one has a spiritual counterpart in Christianity. As Christians, we cannot trust in baptism and the Lord’s Supper to have the Lord’s approval… He wants reality, and reality is manifest not merely by partaking of the sacraments, but by a holy life.

CHAPTER 10
 For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; v.1 The Cloud and the Sea. “For I would not have you ignorant, brethren” tells us that God does not want us to be ignorant of Old Testament typology! The cloud speaks of the presence of the Lord by the Spirit of God. By taking up a visible form over the congregation, Jehovah made it manifest that Israel belonged to Him. Later, in the wilderness, the cloud would hover over the tabernacle, Jehovah’s dwelling place on earth. Even later in the land, when Solomon built the temple he could say, “I have surely built thee an house to dwell in, a settled place for thee to abide in for ever… And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the LORD” (1 Kings 8:13,10). In any case it represents the presence of the Lord among his people. The sea refers to the Red Sea, where Israel was delivered from the army of Pharaoh. Egypt is a picture of this world, and in a sense the Red Sea marked the border of that land. It is possible for even one who is a mere professor to have deliverance from this world, but never had faith in Christ. Peter speaks of those who had “escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” but were later “again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning” (2 Pet. 2:20). The point is, there is an outward, practical deliverance that comes from being raised in a Christian environment, but it does not mean that all have life. Note: “all our fathers” refers to the patriarchs of the Jews, Paul speaking as one of them. Covenantalists have tried to force this verse to mean that Gentiles have been melded into the Jewish Church. Clearly, the “our” does not refer to Gentiles, but to Jews.
 
2 and all were baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; v.2 Baptism. The children of Israel were also baptized; i.e. brought into association with a divinely appointed leader. Baptism does not give faith or life, but it does save outwardly (1 Peter 3:20-21; Mark 16:16; Acts 22:16). read more… It disconnects us from something old and associates us with something new! In this case, baptism in the cloud and the sea made Israel outwardly the followers of Moses. But Christian baptism brings us into the privileges of the Christian testimony, and makes us outwardly disciples of Christ (Matt. 28:19)! We “have been baptized unto Christ” and therefore “have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). One who has been baptized is in the position of being a disciple, but they are not necessarily a “disciple indeed” (John 8:31). Why does it say “baptized in the cloud and the sea”? Baptism “in the sea” might speak of the aspect of baptism in which we are separated from the world, and baptism “in the cloud” might be the aspect in which we are brought into the company in which God dwells by the Spirit (Acts 2:2; Eph. 2:22).
 
3 and all ate the same spiritual food, v.3 The Manna. The manna was bread from heaven. It speaks of Christ in His humiliation. Manna is not doctrine, but Christ in His manhood; His humility, grace, denial of self, and devotion to His Father (read John 6:48-51). There is a plentiful supply for all, and for strength in wilderness need. But is it possible to taste of “the good word of God” (Heb. 6:5) and not be real. We see much of this in Christendom, where Jesus is viewed as a super-human, a great role-model, etc. but His is not looked to as the Savior of sinners.
 
4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank of a spiritual rock which followed them: (now the rock was the Christ;) v.4 The Water from the Rock. This was the same rock that was smitten by Moses in Exodus. It was smitten with the same rod that was raised over the Red Sea. It is a picture of the judgment of God which fell upon Christ at Calvary. We can have nothing, neither salvation nor refreshment, that does not spring out of a smitten Christ. This speaks of the Spirit of God that flows as a result of the work of Calvary. It is the practical grace that flows from the belly of everyone that believes on Jesus; “as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-39), bringing refreshment to this parched world, which knows nothing of honesty, righteousness, kindness, or grace. Especially in the early Church, this was a very practical enjoyment, because in seeing the miraculous signs accompanied the descent of the Spirit, many were “made partakers of the Holy Spirit… the powers of the world to come”, but they rejected the gospel. The writer of Hebrews goes on to explain this using the example of rain (the Spirit) the falls on the thorns (mere professors) as well as the herbs (true believers). The signs and wonders at Pentecost were just a sample of “the world to come”, or the Millennium. It is remarkable that to mirror the blessing of the Spirit in the Millennium, in a literal way springs and rivers will be everywhere (Isa. 35:1,7; 41:18), even where there was once desert!
 
The Lord’s Supper. These last two taken together speak of the Lord’s Supper; “at the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink”. Not that Israel had the Lord’s Supper, but that Paul is drawing a “typical” equivalent in Christianity (v.6). It is possible for a Christian to partake of the Lord’s Supper and not have genuine faith in the One those emblems speak of.
 
Two Christian Ordinances. There are only two Christian ordinances; the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. Compare these 2 with the 631 ordinances in Judaism. Unlike the ordinances of Judaism, as Christians we understand from the Word of God what these ordinances mean. However, like Judaism, it is possible (even likely) that many who partake of the ordinances are not real. He goes on to show in the next series of verses that reality is demonstrated not by partaking of the sacraments, but by living a holy life for God. Very early in the Church’s history these two ordinances were promoted as lifegiving. Paul’s teaching in this chapter combats that notion.
 
5 yet God was not pleased with the most of them, for they were strewed in the desert. v.5 Although the entire nation (“all”) enjoyed the outward privileges, the “most of the them” did not really have life, and this was manifested by unfaithfulness in their walk. The judgment of God fell upon them. They were “strewed in the desert”, meaning that when the glory cloud moved on to a new encampment, the wasted bodies of the unbelievers were left behind (Deut. 2:14). “In this wilderness shall your carcases fall; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number from twenty years old and upwards, who have murmured against me” (Num. 14:29). The result of their unbelief was upwards of 1,000,000 carcases strewn in shallow graves across the Sinai peninsula (600,000 men, most having at least one wife; Exodus 12:37-38).
 
Summary of Five Outward Privileges.
  1. Under the Cloud – the Divine presence of the Lord.
  2. Through the Sea – a Divine deliverance from the World.
  3. Baptized to Moses – associated with a Divinely appointed leader.
  4. Ate the Manna – a Divine provision of sustenance.
  5. Drank from the Rock – a Divine provision of refreshment.

Five Inward Evils and their Corresponding Disciplines (vv.6-11)

6a But these things happened as types of us, v.6a Here we have a great principle of the Word of God; the Old Testament scriptures contain typical teaching that directly applies to us as Christians! The Old Testament was not written to us, but it was written “for us” (Rom. 15:4) and the things that happened to Israel are types (inspired pictures) of God’s moral ways with Christians. How rich the Old Testament then becomes to the believer at the present time! Not merely history, nor a story book about others, but a wealth of spiritual wisdom for the pathway.
 
6b that we should not be lusters after evil things, as they also lusted. v.6b Lusting. This first warning is general, because it characterized Israel’s entire history. But chiefly we might think of Num. 11:4; “And the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?” At this time they began to desire the foods of Egypt, the fish, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. These were all foods that grow on or below grade (contrast the foods of Canaan, Deut. 8:8). These were all foods that depended on the Nile. These were all foods that have a strong taste in comparison to the Manna, which they had grown tired of. Israel tried to modify the Manna, but the taste of it became like fresh oil, instead of wafers and honey. We can do this too, and instead of the sweetness of Christ, we end up grieving the Holy Spirit! At last the Lord sent quails into the camp to satisfy Israel’s lusts, but “while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD smote the people with a very great plague” (Num 11:33). Unbridled lust is a mark of unbelief in Christendom, and those who are characterized by lust will undoubtedly come under the judgment of God. Even for those who are real believers, how careful we need to be to exercise self-judgment. Psa. 106:15 records the principle of that judgment; “And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.”
 
7 Neither be ye idolaters, as some of them; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” [Exodus 32:6] v.7 Idolatry. The Apostle Paul now goes back to an earlier part of the journey, to the bottom of Mt. Sinai, where the Law was given. While Moses and Joshua were on the mountain, Aaron created a false god to fulfill Israel’s desires, made from their golden earings. The idolatry which they had in Egypt was now exchanged for a new form in the wilderness. It wasn’t Baal or Ashteroth that Israel was worshipping, but a false version of Jehovah. This is in principle what we get in 1 John 5:21, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” In 1 John, the idols are false versions of Jesus presented by the Gnostic teachers. Have we manufactured our own god? Do we worship a false-god that panders to our lusts? Much of Christendom has. And we can well apply this warning about idolatry to any object that usurps the place of Christ. If might by my business, my hobby, worldly entertainers, favorite sports players, etc. By quoting from Exodus 32:6 Paul shows that idolatry leads to a lack of discernment, then to lasciviousness. When we set aside the true God, we actually become unmoored from truth, and no longer know what behavior is fitting to the servants of God. They began to eat and drink (gratification of “the belly”) and rose up to play (gratification of “the body”, 1 Cor. 6:13).
 
8 Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed fornication, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. v.8 Fornication. This refers to the incident in Numbers 25:1-9, after Balaam taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel. It says “Israel abode in Shittim; and the people began to commit fornication with the daughters of Moab” (Num. 25:1). Balaam had failed to curse the people of God, but he was successful at getting the people into an unholy alliance with the world (pictured by Moab). As a result of Israel’s fornication, Jehovah send a plague that killed 24,000 in total (Num. 25:9). Here we find that 23,000 of them fell in one day! It shows on one hand the severity of the judgment of God for this sin, and on the other hand that the governmental results can linger (the 1000). As Christians we need to “flee fornication” (1 Cor. 6:18). But in a spiritual sense, we need to beware of unholy associations with the world.
 
9 Neither let us tempt the Christ, as some of them tempted, and perished by serpents. v.9 Tempting Christ. This refers first of all to the incident in Numbers 21 when “the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way, and the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? … and the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.” But more generally, it refers to the “ten temptations” of Israel in the wilderness (Num. 14:22), the tenth and final temptation being at Kedesh-barnea when Israel rejected the good report of Caleb and Joshua. This is what is referred to as “the day of provocation” (Psa. 95:8; Heb. 3:8). Tempting Christ is to doubt that He is is really among His people, to despise His grace. We find this in the early days of the Church with Ananias, with Sapphira. Peter said to them that they had “agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord”. To act unrighteously in the presence of the Lord is to tempt Him.
 
10 Neither murmur ye, as some of them murmured, and perished by the destroyer. v.10 Murmuring. This refers to the incident that followed the judgment of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. After Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were swallowed by the earth, and the two-hundred and fifty who offered strange incense were consumed by the fire of the Lord, then it says “on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the LORD” (Num. 16:41). Murmuring is a type of complaining, but it is rebellion expressed more as a “muttering”, under the breath. True, Israel was characterized by murmuring against the Lord all through the wilderness journey (Ex. 15:24; 16:2; 17:3; Num. 14:2), but this was a special kind; murmuring because of God’s governmental judgment. How solemn a thing to complain against the Lord for his dealings! A plague broke out killing 14,700, and was only stopped by Aaron who stood “between the living and the dead” with a censer in his hand, a type of the Priesthood of Christ.
 
Common theme: Christ delivers. In Numbers 21 it was the brazen serpent (Christ lifted up in death) that healed the people from the bite of the fiery serpents. In Numbers 16 it was Aaron (Christ as intercessor) with a censer in his hand who stopped the plague. In Numbers 25 it was Phinehas (Christ as propitiator) with a javelin in his hand who stopped the plague.
 
A Moral Progression. While the incidents referred to in these verses are not listed in chronological order, there is a moral order! When someone has made shipwreck of their life we often wonder, how did they get there? It doesn’t happen overnight.
  1. Lusting. It begins with getting tired of the Lord, giving up of first love (Ephesus).
  2. Idolatry. The second stage is to replace the Lord with other objects that pander to our lusts (Pergamos). 
  3. Fornication. The third stage is to enter into unholy associations with the world (Thyatira).
  4. Tempting Christ. The fourth stage is to despise the grace of Christ, and rely on the flesh for protection (Sardis).
  5. Murmuring. The final stage is open indifference to the authority and claims of Christ (Laodicea).
11 Now all these things happened to them as types, and have been written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come. v.11 The circumstances surrounding the journey of Israel are “types”… inspired pictures. They have been written for our admonition or warning, because we live in a great time in world history; when the ends of the ages are come upon us. They types give us not only moral lessons, but they reveal the heart of man and the heart of God. We do well to read them and learn from them!
 
The ends of the ages. When you get the expression “consummation of the ages” or “ends of the ages” it isn’t saying that we are living during the days of end-times prophecy. Rather, we have all the accumulated light of the ages in view. Now that the Spirit of God has brought the outcome of the ages in view, we can see the purpose of the Old Testament typical teaching. The Church does not belong to the earth-ages, but we are privy to the knowledge of the end results! See encyclopedia entry.

God Tests Our Profession: Reality Proved by Humility & Dependence (vv.12-13)

12 So that let him that thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. v.12 Man’s Responsibility. We are called to observe humility and dependence, because the human nature is prone to pride and self-confidence. Yes, the Lord’s Supper and Baptism bring us into blessed associations, but we cannot trust in them to preserve us from a fall. We will never get into a position where it is not incumbent upon us to “take heed”. This is our responsibility in the wilderness scene.
 
13 No temptation has taken you but such as is according to man’s nature; and God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what ye are able to bear, but will with the temptation make the issue also, so that ye should be able to bear it. v.13 God’s Sovereignty. We have had our side in v.12, now we get God’s side. God is testing us to prove out the reality of our faith. The old English word ‘tempt’ simply means ‘test’ (Gen. 22:1). In His sovereignty, God will not give us a temptation beyond the strength that we have. Christ was tempted beyond that point in the forty days in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11). The first man met the Devil with a full stomach, having tasted the bounty of Eden. The second man met the Devil with the cards stacked against Him – having fasted for forty days and nights – and still Satan found no point of attack. But the secret of our success in small trials is the same as His success in great trial; humility and dependence on God, which keep us in obedience to His Word.
 
Temptations from within vs. without. James 1:13-14 says “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” How do we reconcile this statement with Genesis 22:1, “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, etc.”? There are actually two kinds of temptations; those from without that are allowed by God, and those from within that emanate from our flesh. James 1 speaks of both kinds; trials from without in vv.9-12 and temptations from within in vv.13-15. God can never be blamed for unholy temptations of the flesh. However, we are to see every trial as from His hand of love, for our ultimate good and blessing. 1 Cor. 10:13 speaks of temptations from without; i.e. directly or indirectly from the hand of God.

Warning about Idolatry (v.14)

14 Wherefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. v.14 Of the progression in vv.6-10, the point of greatest moment is v.7… turning to idols. Why? Idols are false objects that come between the soul and Christ! Lusts may be repented of by turning to Christ, but idols dull the spiritual senses, and diminish our moral discernment. This is what the Corinthians were toying unbeknownst to them. This is what Paul addresses in the sect section of the chapter.
 

The Responsibility of being at the Lord’s Table (10:15-22)

vv.15-22 In the next section of our chapter Paul addresses the evil of false association. In vv.1-14 he stressed that good associations do not bring us up, and in vv.15-22 he stresses that evil associations do bring us down. Another change that occurs in v.15 is that Paul ceases to address the house of God, and begins with a new figure, the body of Christ. From ch.1-10:14 Paul uses the figure of the house of God, where profession is in view, and there might be false professors mixed in with the real. Then from ch.10:15-end he uses the figure of the body of Christ, and only reality is comprehended.

Identification. Paul is seeking to show that actions have real symbolic meaning. The Corinthians did not understand this. Someone might ask, what’s wrong with wearing a swastika? There is nothing inherently evil about woven cotton threads dyed red and black. Yet it is evil, not inherently, but by association. The wisdom of God is to not even dabble it. Stay away from it.

The Principle of Identification within the Grasp of Intelligent Believers (v.15)

15 I speak as to intelligent persons: do “ye” judge what I say. v.15 The principle that Paul takes up in this next section is very important, but also one that is not popular. Yet it is really not difficult for “intelligent” believers to grasp. Paul says, “judge what I say”… test it out for moral soundness. Another practical lesson we can take from this verse is that there ought to be a moderate level of intelligence in those who bread bread at the Lord’s Table. Very young children or babies cannot be considered “intelligent persons”. We do well to receive those into fellowship who at least understand what they are doing, because there is a great responsibility connected with being at the Table.
 
Examples of Identification. He begins in vv.16-18 to give two examples of positive identification (the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament, then the Peace Offering in the Old Testament). Then in vv.19-22 he shows that eating at idol’s tables was negative identification. So we have three communions: the Christian communion (v.16-17), the Jewish communion (v.18), and the Pagan communion (vv.19-20). Paul shows that Christianity, Judaism, and Paganism are all exclusive of each other.

Identification in the Lord’s Supper (vv.16-17) 

16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of the Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of the Christ? v.16 The Loaf and Cup have a Communion. When someone takes the Lord’s Supper they are not merely drinking wine and eating bread. The emblems of the loaf and cup have real symbolic meaning. The “cup of blessing” and the “bread we break” are the public symbols of Christian communion. When you drink the cup you are making a statement; “I am identified with the blood of Christ which was shed for me”. When you eat the bread you are making a statement; “I am identified with the body of Christ which was given in death for me”. You are expressing that you have a part in the blood-shedding and death of Christ. Note: in v.16 the “body of Christ” refers to the Physical Body of our Lord, given in death (Heb. 10:10). The point at which the subject of the Mystical Body of Christ begins is v.17. Edward Dennett said of v.16, “it is the actual body of Christ, offered through the Eternal Spirit without spot to God, to which reference is here made; and we also avow our identification, as known by faith, with all the sweet savour of that sacrifice before God”. By saying, “we” bless, “we” break, and “we” partake Paul shows that blessing and breaking are actions are not done by an individual with special authority (i.e. the clergy), but by the whole assembly, though one brother gives thanks. Also, the blood is mentioned before the body in connection with the Lord’s Table because the blood is what qualifies us to be at the Lord’s Table. The blood is mentioned last in connection with the Lord’s Supper because Christ’s blood was historically shed after His body was given in death. It is a “cup of blessing”, not of judgment; do not confuse it with the Lord’s cup (John 18:11). It speaks of the the blood of Christ, which was the cost to bring us into blessing!
 
17 Because we, being many, are one loaf, one body; for we all partake of that one loaf. v.17 The Loaf has a Special Significance. Paul now progresses to speak of the mystical body of Christ; that “we, being many [individual members] are one loaf, one body”. This is the truth of the one body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). He now gives an added significance to the Lord’s Supper that we get nowhere else in the New Testament; a truth Paul received by revelation. The “we being many” in this verse includes every true member of the Church of God. The “we all partake” refers to those at the Lord’s Table. The Apostle does not even consider that there might be one member of the body who would not partake of this one bread. The “one loaf” is used in two different ways; first to describe the unity of the body, then to describe the physical “bread which we break” as in v.16. Partaking all together of the one loaf does not make us one body, but it is the expression or sign that we are one body. Paul is revealing an added significance to the loaf. We are one mystical loaf, just as we all partake of one physical loaf. Paul didn’t view the loaf in Corinth as a different loaf from that in Ephesus. The point is: when we Christians partake of one loaf, we give expression to the truth that we are one body.
 
Can we partake of an unbroken loaf? The broken loaf symbolizes the physical body of Christ given in death; un-given, we could have no part with Christ. It is His death which gives us life, and therefore we partake of a loaf that has been broken.
“…The loaf on the table… Before it is broken, in a certain sense, it represents the body of Christ before it was broken; but it does not form a sacrament in that state, because we have not the figure. It is true I eat Christ as the living bread that came down from heaven, but I go back to do that after I have eaten of Him as broken.” – J.N. Darby
We feed on Christ as a living man on this earth as believers (John 6:57), but what saves us was His death (John 6:53). It is not Christ’s perfect life, but His atoning death that is symbolized in the Lord’s Supper. The death of Christ is the touch-stone for the Church! For someone to say, “I don’t want to break the loaf because that would destroy the unity of the body” is to miss the point. The physical body of Christ was broken (given) in death, but His mystical body is undivided. 
 
Other views on v.17. Some have thought that the “one loaf” in v.17b was the mystical body of Christ. If that were true, it was strip the added significance from the loaf in the Lord’s Supper. But that cannot be true because of the context. The context of these verses is that the physical emblems have real symbolic meaning. This view would be out of context, and it would reduce v.17 to a redundant statement, saying “we are one body, because we are part of one body”. Rather, it says much more! We are one body, and this is expressed by our partaking of one loaf.
 
Leavened or unleavened bread? When the Lord instituted His supper, He used unleavened bread. We know this because they had just kept the Passover, and the Jews were not to have any leaven in the house at that time (Exodus 12:15). But here Paul uses the word “loaf”, which is risen bread. Certainly any type of bread is fine for the Lord’s supper, but v.17 sets aside the false notion that it has to be unleavened (flat) bread. In fact, leavened bread might be a more practical choice.

Identification in the Levitical Sacrifices (v.18)

18 See Israel according to flesh: are not they who eat the sacrifices in communion with the altar? v.18 The Principle of Identification in the Law. Paul now returns to the Old Testament for an example of the principle of identification. The peace-offering is really the communion or fellowship offering. The priests were allowed to eat of the meat that was offered on the altar (Leviticus 6 and 7), but the priest who ate of it was identified with the altar. He had to conduct himself in a way that was fitting with the altar (e.g. Lev. 7:20-21). Paul’s point here is that a man gets into fellowship with an altar by eating what is on the altar. 
“This is the great principle: partaking at an altar associates one’s self with all moral and doctrinal attributes or affiliations of that altar.” – Edward Dennet
The principle holds for any “altar” or “table” today. An altar in scripture speaks of an approach to God. It was right and proper for the Jews to eat at the altar of Israel, but today that altar or table has been set aside (Heb. 13:10), “for we have an altar whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.” Fellowship at any table (fellowship expressed by eating) associates me with that table, and all that it stands for. This is precisely why the Lord’s Table is not an “open” or “loose” table, because it would be defiled by association. 

Identification in Pagan Sacrifices (vv.19-20)

19 What then do I say? that what is sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 But that what the nations sacrifice “they sacrifice to demons, and not to God.” [Deut. 32:17] Now I do not wish you to be in communion with demons. vv.19-20 The Principle of Identification Applied to Demon’s Tables. Are there other tables beside the Lord’s Table and Israel’s table? Yes. Earlier in ch.8 Paul had confirmed that the intelligent believers knows there is nothing morally wrong with food that has been sacrificed to idols, and that even the idols are non-entities (1 Cor. 8:1). He repeats this point here. However the Corinthians were abusing the liberty afforded them by this knowledge, and they were going so far as to sit down to eat at idol’s tables (1 Cor. 8:10). They were missing something. Paul shows from Deut. 32 that the Gentiles sacrifice to demons! Behind the idol is a demon. They is nothing intrinsically wrong with the food, but by fellowshipping at an idol’s table, the believer actually comes into communion with demons. Some might say, “What’s the big deal?… the idol is nothing.” Paul says that it puts you “in communion with demons”… an awful place for a believer to be. 

The Responsibility of those at the Lord’s Table (vv.21-22) 

21 Ye cannot drink the Lord’s cup, and the cup of demons: ye cannot partake of the Lord’s table, and of the table of demons. v.21 The Folly of Partaking at both tables. Why does it say “Ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils”? Why couldn’t they? Physically they could. But morally and spiritually they couldn’t. In other words, it is not morally right to partake of the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Why not? Because of the preceding principles. Just as a demon is behind a table of demons, so the Lord is behind the Lord’s table (see Psa. 95:6). When I partake at the Lord’s table, I enter into association with the Lord. When I partake at a demon’s table, I enter into association with demons. By partaking of both I create a moral and spiritual link between the two spiritual entities! If a man in Corinth continued to do this he would be guilty of idolatry. What would happen if someone insisted on partaking at both tables? The Lord would refuse His fellowship to the idolater (Matt. 12). The person ought to be put out of fellowship for idolatry (1 Cor. 5:11), or the Lord would judge such a person directly (1 Cor. 11:30-31). This is a serious matter. It is good to remember that while the Lord’s Supper is a special occasion, a believer is at the Lord’s Table twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
 
The Lord’s Table is a sphere of fellowship that is the normal portion of every true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, not every believer is in the fellowship of that table, though their place is there. It is evident from 1 Cor. 10:21 that the Lord’s table is not an open table, with Christians coming to and from it, and partaking at other tables where evil doctrine is held, taught, or practiced. Granted, they may be tables that have nothing to do with idols, but if evil is there, or if the table itself is open to evil, the Lord cannot be attached to it. It is “the Lord’s” table, not our table to dispose of as we please. We are under His lordship, and He says that it is not an open table. Is the Lord’s table a closed table? No, except it is closed to evil. Is every table that is not a Jewish table or the Lord’s table therefore a table of demons? Of course not. There are many tables today that are set up by men with right spiritual intentions, and we would never think that they are tables of demons. Yet their claim to be at the Lord’s table is denied by their practice, because they do not meet on the scriptural basis for gathering. Paul is giving the principles, and we are required to act on those principles.
 
22 Do we “provoke the Lord to jealousy?” [Deut. 32:21] are we stronger than he? v.22 A warning about carelessness. The Lord is “jealous” over the affections of His people. A believer at the Lord’s Table can no more go to another table that is not the Lord’s than an Israelite could go to an altar that was not Jehovah’s. If we walk with mixed associations His jealousy will be provoked, and we may encounter His governmental judgment. 
 
Old Testament Principles. In 1 Kings 12 and 13 we have a number of helpful principles in connection with other “tables” or “altars”. In ch.12, the heretical leader Jeroboam led the ten northern tribes away in division. He set up an independent altar, which was in competition with the true altar in Jerusalem; “Then David said, This is the house of the LORD God, and this is the altar of the burnt offering for Israel” (1 Chron. 22:1). Jerusalem was the place which the Lord chose “to place his name there” (Deut. 16:2), and it was there only that Israel was to “sacrifice the passover unto the LORD”. Jeroboam set up another altar, with a golden calf in Bethel and another in Dan. He set up his own imitation priesthood, not of the Levites, but of “the lowest of the people”. He made his own feast day to compete with the true Passover, in the 15th day of the 8th month (c.p. the 15th day of the 1st month). His willfulness in this false system is described in 1 Kings 12:33; “So he offered upon the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and ordained a feast unto the children of Israel: and he offered upon the altar, and burnt incense.” Did the Lord accept this new system as the same as the worship of the two southern tribes? No. For generations after this, it is referred to as “the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin”. In ch.13 the Lord raised up a prophet to come from Judah to Bethel to cry against… the people? No… the king? No… the altar? Yes! “And he cried against the altar in the word of the Lord, saying, O altar, altar, etc.” (1 Kings 13:2). In v.9 this prophet said that the Lord had charged him “to eat no bread nor to drink water” in that place; i.e. have not even the most basic expression of fellowship with the heretical system. Later in the chapter, that prophet was deceived into having fellowship there by an old prophet from Bethel, and the governmental consequence was death. So we can see that the true “altar” or “table” of Christianity may be imitated ever so closely, but if it is not on the true ground of the Church, it is a false system. We do well to heed these principles.
 
Heightened Responsibility. Beginning in v.23, Paul speaks of the everyday movements of life, not restricted to the Lord’s supper, as in vv.15-22. This shows that there is added significance to breaking bread at the Lord’s table, compared to casual fellowship in someone’s home (v.27). There is a special bond of association formed by going among a spiritual gathering and partaking at that table. The food itself is not significant, but the association that we enter into is important. It shows that we can make a distinction between those who are simply not at the Lord’s table, and those who are positively identified with evil. Let’s say we meet a fellow believer from the Roman Catholic Church. They enjoy our fellowship, but always go back to the Roman Church for mass. We are free to have fellowship with them, but we are not free to let them take the Lord’s supper at the Lord’s table, because it would force a link between the two. But then, let’s say the worship of Mary comes up as a topic of conversation. If we present the truth about idolatry to our Catholic friend, and they will not listen, we cannot go on even in casual fellowship with one that has espoused idolatry (1 Cor. 5:11). These principles are helpful in “separating the precious from the vile” (Jer. 15:19). We want to walk with all our brethren to the maximum degree possible, and yet shun evil as God’s Word commands.
 

Conclusions about Christian Liberty (10:23 – 11:1)

Liberty Regulated by Love (vv.23-24)

 23 All things are lawful, but all are not profitable; all things are lawful, but all do not edify. 24 Let no one seek his own advantage, but that of the other. vv.23-24 Having already established that eating at idol’s tables is wrong, what about eating things sacrificed to idols not at the idol’s table? Paul again repeats the same principle that he gave in ch.6, and adds a new one. He affirms that “all things are lawful”… we have Christian liberty, but that liberty needs to be governed by what is profitable. You are free to eat things sacrificed to idols (granted not eating at the idol’s table), but it won’t necessarily profit you spiritually. Also, he adds that it will not necessarily edify or “build up” your fellow believers. We cannot just think about ourselves; seeking our “own advantage”. We must think of others, and how our actions impact them. To summarize: you have liberty to eat, but love for others ought to regulate it.

Love Active in Regard to Eating things Sacrificed to Idols (vv.25-30)

25 Everything sold in the shambles eat, making no inquiry for conscience sake. 26 “For the earth is the Lord’s and its fulness.” [Psalms 24:1; Deut. 10:14] vv.25-26 It was a common practice for merchants to sell meat in “the shambles” (market-place) that had been offered to idols. If a strong believer, who knew that the idol was nothing, saw it, he could buy and eat that food without asking questions, even though he knew there was a chance that it had been offered to idols. Why did he have the liberty to do this? “The earth is the Lord’s, etc.” In other words, the meat is simply part of God’s creation, and meant to be enjoyed. There is nothing wrong with the meat because it was offered to idols.
 
27 But if any one of the unbelievers invite you, and ye are minded to go, all that is set before you eat, making no inquiry for conscience sake. v.27 If a believer was invited to the home of an unbeliever, he should eat whatever is set before him, without asking about the origin of the food. Once again, there is nothing morally wrong with the food. A believer who is “strong in the faith” does not live life with a detective’s hat and magnifying glass looking for reasons not to do things. Just receive it with gladness.
 
28 But if any one say to you, This is offered to holy purposes, do not eat, for his sake that pointed it out, and conscience sake; v.28 However, if there is someone nearby, whether the host or a fellow-guest, or a bystander at the market-place who has a weak conscience, we should not eat it. The point is: if you know someone there has a bad conscience about something you would otherwise do, don’t do it. I don’t believe this applies across the board, but specifically when in the presence of those who have a weak conscience [1] [2]. If it were a matter of two strong believers, it would be a non-issue, because both had the knowledge. Why in Acts 15:29 did the assemblies tell the Gentile converts to “abstain from meats offered to idols”? It was because they were newly converted and had a conscience about it!
 
29 but conscience, I mean, not thine own, but that of the other: for why is my liberty judged by another conscience? 30 If “I” partake with thanksgiving, why am I spoken evil of for what “I” give thanks for? vv.29-30 Paul clarifies his meaning. You wouldn’t abstain because of your own conscience, but for the other “weak” brother’s conscience. (Although, if you had a bad conscience about it you shouldn’t do it in the first place). He gives the reasons in the form of two questions, that are actually rhetorical. The answer to both questions is, “because I’m insisting on my liberties”. Neither should be true of us:
  1. Why cause someone to judge your liberty? To “judge” here is to impute sinful motives. It is wrong to behave in a way you know others will perceive as sinful (granted it is a matter of liberty, not obedience to God).
  2. Why incur a bad testimony on account of a subject of thanks? It is not morally fitting to turn something that ought to be a source of thanks into a source of evil. 

Two Guiding Principles for all Christian Conduct (vv.31-32)

31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatever ye do, do all things to God’s glory. v.31 It Should Be Glorifying to God. No matter what we are doing, it should be done in a way the brings God glory. Insisting on our “rights” does not bring God glory. Humbling ourselves and forgoing our rights does bring God glory, because we reflect the character of Christ. But this principle is broad, encompassing every aspect of life. In our daily habits, in our social conduct, in our moral conduct, in our sphere of ministry, in our natural relationships as husbands, wives, etc., all should be done to the glory of God.
 
32 Give no occasion to stumbling, whether to Jews, or Greeks, or the assembly of God. v.32 It Should not be Offensive to Man. We need to be careful not to offend others. We cannot go through life like a bull in a china shop, leaving a trail of offended people behind us. If there is anything in our life that could stumble a Jew or a Greek (hinder an unbeliever from coming to Christ), or that could stumble a believer in the assembly of God, we should remove it from our life. The Ephesus town clerk gave Paul and his companions a wonderful commendation; “…these men, which are neither robbers of churches, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess” (Acts 19:37).
 
Three classes. This verse is helpful for another reason. It surveys every human being on the the earth in three categories; Jew, Gentile, and the Church of God. These three groups correspond to the three communions in vv.16-20. They are mutually exclusive. You cannot be a Jew and a Christian. Once a Jew believes the gospel, he is put into something brand new; the assembly of God. The same is true with the Gentiles. The old distinctions are gone in the new creation. The number of distinct earthly inhabitants has changed in the following pattern: 1 – 2 – 3 – 2 – 1. In the eternal state there will be no Jew and Gentile, but simply “men”‘ on the earth. But the Church in heaven will remain distinct for all eternity!

 

Paul as the Model for Christian Conduct (10:33 – 11:1)

33 Even as “I” also please all in all things; not seeking my own profit, but that of the many, that they may be saved. v.33 Paul is the model Christian in this matter of liberty. He had surrendered his rights for the blessing of others (1 Cor. 9:15-23). So often we hear this attitude; “I’m not doing anything the Bible condemns, so people will just have to accept me for who I am”. Paul was the opposite; he would change anything in his power to benefit others. Paul was not a “man pleaser”, going with the current of the world, sacrificing holiness to be accepted. This is referring to Christian Liberty. He did not seek his own profit in the sense of natural desires, but rather sought the profit of “the many” or the majority, “that they might be saved”. Paul viewed anything that could get in the way of the spiritual blessing of others as a worthy sacrifice.
 
CHAPTER 11
 Be my imitators, even as “I” also am of Christ. v.1 Many times over Paul exhorts us to be followers of him (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 1 Thess. 1:6; 2:14; 2 Thess. 3:7; 3:9). Sometime he adds “as I am of Christ”, and other times he does not. In Phil. 3:17 he does not add “as I am of Christ” because the context there is striving to attain, and Christ never had to do that. But here in 1 Corinthians Paul does add “as I am of Christ”, because Paul had followed in the Lord’s steps of self-sacrifice. Christ is the ultimate example of self-sacrifice. As Paul said in Rom. 15:3, “for even Christ pleased not himself”.
 
Is it hypocritical or dishonest to change our behavior around certain people? It depends on our motives. This is a common question with regard to Christian Liberty, and it is a good one. In the chapters that deal with Christian Liberty, Paul gives himself as an example of one who would use his liberty or not use it depending on the circumstances. Wherever the Word of God would permit, he would be flexible. To the Jew he became as a Jew, to those without law he became as one without law, to the weak he became as weak, etc. He was careful to guard against doing anything that would compromise the truth of the Gospel, and he had discernment to know when certain liberties were or were not appropriate. For example, Paul circumcised Timothy but not Titus, and he took money from the Philippians but not the Corinthians. He summarized it by saying, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake…” (read 1 Cor. 9:19-23). Should our behavior change depending on who is around? Definitely, if it is for “conscience sake” or for “the sake of the gospel” (see 1 Cor. 10:25-30). Yet this doesn’t mean we are to live for the eye of man; “not with eye-service as men-pleasers; but as bondmen of Christ, doing the will of God from the soul” (Eph. 6:6). If our motive is to avoid persecution, gain popularity, or the praise of men, the motive is all wrong. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Each scenario requires careful discernment. 
 

  1. “If any man said, ‘This was sacrificed to idols,’ it was a proof that he had conscience of an idol.” – J.N. Darby, Notes of Readings on 1 Corinthians, p.253, 1889
  2. “In private, where one should say, ‘This is offered to holy purposes’, because he evidently has a conscience about it, though one otherwise might have perfect liberty.” – W. Kelly, Exposition of 1 Corinthians

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