One Cup, One Loaf, One People

Please read 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 in your Bible.

One Cup One Loaf One PeopleImage by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

There is more to the Lord’s Supper than a cup and some bread.

      It’s hard for us to appreciate the first Christians’ dilemma over idolatry.  We don’t live in a situation where the government overtly misuses its power to promote any kind of religion.  If we disagree with someone over a religious issue, there will very likely be no chance of getting thrown into jail for it.  It is not a life-or-death issue for us.  Our culture has so privatized religion that the “don’t ask – don’t tell rule” is nearly  universal.

All that to say this: we experience very little direct pressure to compromise our faith.  But the first Christians practiced a faith that was declared illegal.  At first, Rome considered them a sect of Judaism and thereby legal.  The Jews wasted little time in changing that opinion and the first Church lost the protection they’d had before.  The first Christians were disliked by both the Jews and the Romans, suffering persecution by both.

To do business of any kind, either as a worker or a consumer, they had to come into contact with people who were given to idol worship.  To buy meat at the market was to take a chance that it had previously been offered to an idol.  To go to someone’s home for a meal meant taking that same chance.  To be part of a trade guild you were expected to join in the worship of the guild’s favorite god.  People were required to publicly offer incense to honor Caesar, sometimes in a temple constructed for that purpose.  To refuse invited persecution and perhaps risked death.

Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges says A return to the main argument in ch. 8. An idol is nothing, and meats offered to idols are nothing; but idolatry is a deadly sin, and so also is whatever tends to promote it.” (Retrieved from Biblehub.com.)

  1. Command #1: Flee from idolatry. (14-17)

How do we FLEE from idolatry? Verse fourteen provides both the command and the means to keep it. The word THEREFORE requires you to read the previous verses to see what it’s “there for.”  In this case, we don’t have to read any more than verse thirteen to find the reason for THEREFORE and the answer to our question.  Verse thirteen promises two things:

– One, God is faithful to avoid testing us beyond our limits.  Obviously, He knows our limits better than we do.

– Two, He will always provide us with A WAY OUT so that we can STAND UP UNDER the temptation; that is, resist it by escaping it.

We FLEE from idolatry in the same way we avoid all other temptations, by taking the WAY OUT God has provided us.  It is not a matter of gritting our teeth, it is having the faith and good sense to follow God’s lead.  The Greek visualizes a person turning around and running in the opposite direction.

The virtue of being SENSIBLE gives one the freedom to judge for one’s self (15).  Interestingly, on this occasion Paul did not base his teaching on a revelation from Jesus nor did he did not exercise his authority as an apostle.  Instead he appealed to their reason or common sense.

This fact alone helps us understand the priority of the issue of meat offered to idols.  There are three levels of issues when we apply the teaching of the Bible.

The first and greatest priority we might call “Law.”  These are direct commands from God.  They are the parts of doctrine that qualify a person for having a true, saving faith.  There can be no compromise on matters of Law.  An example would be Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection.  We have no salvation if we deny or dilute that doctrine.  In this case, Paul introduced the truth with “What I received from the Lord I also passed on to you…” (1 Corinthians 11:22).

The second priority we call “Principle.”  Derived from the Law, Principles are applications of the core teachings to our attitudes and actions.  As they are a mixture of God’s word and good sense, there is more room for discussion here, and legitimate differences may be allowed.  An example would be the Lord’s Supper.  We are commanded to observe it and so we do.  In this case, Paul introduced the truth with “This is our practice in our churches” (1 Corinthians 11:16).

The third priority we could call “Freedom.”  One step removed from Principle, these are issues where the Word of God provides little or no direction, so we rely on enlightened reason.  This is called “Freedom” because without specific Law or Principle, we are more free to make up our own minds.  Continuing with the previous example, we have no choice in whether or not to have the Lord’s Supper, but we have perfect Freedom to choose how often we have it and the way in which we observe it.  In fact, you find a lot of diversity in the various denominations as to the frequency and methods of Communion.  In this case, Paul introduced the truth as a matter of good sense, as he did here in 1 Corinthians 10:15.

Clearly, Paul has put the issue of whether or not to eat meat offered to idols in the third category.  It simply was not worth the level of controversy it had received in the Corinthian church.

FLEE to Jesus: participate in the BLOOD & BODY of Jesus (16-17).  Repentance requires turning our back on sin, but it also requires taking steps in the opposite direction, toward Jesus.  In verse sixteen Paul reaffirmed that the CUP OF THANKSGIVING is our PARTICIPATION in the BLOOD OF CHRIST and the BREAD our PARTICIPATION in the BODY OF CHRIST?  PARTICIPATION is koinonia, fellowship of the highest kind.  Some of our Christian brothers take these words literally and say that the communion elements supernaturally become the body and blood of Jesus.

We take this to be a purely symbolic or spiritual level of PARTICIPATION.  This makes more sense to me as Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper on a night BEFORE His body was crucified and His blood spilled.  As He meant it then to be symbolic, there is no reason for us to take it literally now.  I would consider these differences to be a third level issue, allowing for a great deal of difference of opinion.

In verse seventeen Paul emphasized the unity that is to come through the sharing of the Lord’s Supper. As we observed recently, “breaking bread” is a figure of speech for fellowship and hospitality.  That’s why Paul refers to the ONE LOAF in this verse.  It’s a shame that the history of the Church shows division over the Lord’s Supper, not unity.

His repeated use of the number one emphasizes the unity that individual churches and the Church around the world is supposed to enjoy because of the Lord’s Supper.  ONE LOAF, in his mind, is symbolic of how diverse peoples in diverse places are actually ONE BODY.  It is one of the shameful facts of church history that we have allowed different methods and doctrines of Communion to divide us.

Here in 1 Corinthians, Paul is using the Lord’s Supper as not only a symbol of unity, but also a supernaturally powered means of maintaining unity.  He did not want the Corinthians to split over the issue of meat offered to idols, so he told them to flee from idolatry and to flee to Jesus.

We might say that idolatry being a sin in a first priority truth, a Law, but the issue of meat offered to idols was a third priority truth, a matter of freedom.  It was certainly not an issue that should cause a split in the church.

  1. Command #2: Consider the example set by the people of Israel. (18-22)

The Old Testament Law gave to the persons offering it a portion of a sacrifice for use as a family meal (verse eighteen, see also Leviticus 7:11-34.)  This is the third time Paul has asked a rhetorical question with the expected answer being “Yes.”  This was typically one of the few times in the year the majority of Israelites had meat to eat.  Both the act of worship and the meal helped create unity among the families of Israel and each individual family at their table.

Paul is setting up a contrast.  Persons who offered a sacrifice to God were participants in an act of worship.  They ate a portion of the animal sacrificed.

By contrast, the Corinthians did not participate in the sacrifice of an animal to an idol, they simply came in contact with the meat because pagan practices allowed the sale of the leftover meat.

Though meat was sacrificed to idols in a similar way, the two were, spiritually speaking, completely different (19-22).  Anyone in the Corinthian church who made a big deal of this issue might be considered to be giving more importance to idols and sacrifice to them (19).  This was a review; Paul answered this question in 8:4.  An idol has a physical reality as a hunk of wood, stone, or metal.  But it has no spiritual reality in itself.  It’s just a deaf and dumb thing.

Paul answered verse nineteen’s question a second time in verse twenty with a “NO.”  The people making an issue of meat were missing the point.  The issue was not the meat, but the act of worshiping an idol.  Idol worship is a Law level offense and is very serious.  Purchasing or eating the meat coming from such a sacrifice is only a matter of Freedom.

Paul’s advice was to let one’s conscience be one’s guide.  However, there were two principles to guide such a decision: we find them in vs. 31-33.

– One, do everything – including mealtime – to the GLORY OF GOD.

– Two, avoid causing a brother to STUMBLE.  Don’t cause offense on this trivial matter if you can avoid it.  Demonstrate its triviality by allowing concern for others to dictate your actions.

To reinforce his point on the Law forbidding idol worship, Paul pointed out a person is not permitted to worship God on one occasion and worship demons on another (21).  This identifies DEMONS as the true spiritual reality behind idols.  Idol worship is not a benign folly; it is a serious spiritual offense against God and it brings a person into fellowship with spiritual evil.  People who are truly God’s people will not compromise on this point.  The Lord and the devil are enemies.  No one who claims Jesus has any part to play with demons.

Verse 22 asks a pair of rhetorical questions that have an expected answer of “No.”  Here Paul adds emotional emphasis to the reasonable arguments he has just made.  He’s saying, “Do you think you can defy the Lord’s commands by messing around with idols?  Do you think you are strong enough to survive His wrath?”

It’s silly to think we could make Jesus love us more by being more vile sinners.  God has already declared he is jealous for us (Exodus 20:5), so why even attempt to arouse His JEALOUSY?  It is equal folly to think we are as strong as Christ, it is folly to think we can have one foot in the camp of demons and the other in the Church.

In his thorough examination of this issue of meat offered to idols, the Apostle Paul attempted to get the Corinthians to focus on the part that was really important and not on the part that was unimportant.  What was important was to avoid the worship of idols.  There is a demonic reality behind the falsehood of idols and it is also defiance of God’s command to worship Him only.

The unimportant part was what the pagans did with the leftover meat.  As human nature often compels us to do, some of the Corinthian church folk were trying to make meat the issue and it simply was not.  We too often make the trivial essential and then go to war over it.

Paul’s solution to that particular issue sets a principle we all need to follow as we live together: keep the first things first.  Don’t create mountains out of mole hills and then compound error by dividing from other believers over the molehills.  People have a habit of making complaints on the basis of some high-sounding principle, but in sensible terms the matter makes no practical difference!

That is one aspect of human nature that must be replaced with the divine nature of Jesus Christ.  We must be students of not allowing trivialities to cause friction or division.  We practice this Scripture by being reasonable people.

Under normal circumstances, we would be observing the Lord’s Supper today.  Sadly, as we are apart, we await another time when we can worship the Lord together. We await another time because…

There is more to the Lord’s Supper than a cup and some bread.

The sacrificial Death & Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ are the spiritual realities that stand behind the bread and the cup.

We also refer to the Lord’s Supper as “Communion.”  The physical and emotional reality behind the bread and cup is that they deepen our relationships with one another, creating a Communion between believers.  The spiritual reality behind the bread and cup is that they deepen our Communion with God.  When we share these common items, they have the uncommon effect of drawing us closer to one another and closer to God.  That is something worth waiting for.  I look forward to the time when we can once again observe Communion together.

 

RESOURCES:

https://biblehub.com/commentaries

Talking About the Table

(Please read 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 & 11:17-34 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Pastor Bob Deffinbaugh wrote about a personal experience of his in an internet study:

“A few years ago, my parents spent a year in Taiwan, where my dad taught in an American school, and my mother assisted. They came to know a young Chinese man whose name was Johnny. He did not know English very well, and my dad agreed to teach him—from the Gospel of Matthew. Johnny was saved at chapter 16. Over time, they got to know Johnny quite well. He began to speak of having them over for dinner, and that he had something very special to serve.

“One evening, my dad and Johnny were walking home and were passing through an alley when a dog began to bark incessantly. Johnny finally yelled something at the dog in Chinese, and suddenly it was quiet. As they continued on, my dad pressed Johnny to tell him just what he had yelled at the dog. Johnny told him that he told the dog to shut up or he would eat him. Johnny was serious. As Johnny began to speak more often about the meal he planned to serve my folks, it came out that the special dish was a dog. As politely as they could, my folks explained that in America we looked at dogs as our friends, and so we would not think of eating one. That seemed to put the matter to rest.

“What we eat really does matter a lot to us, doesn’t it? When one of our children was asked to spend the night at the home of a friend, our daughter had one important question to ask: “What are we having for dinner?” The answer to this question was usually the determining factor in her decision. The Corinthians seemed to have divided over what certain people ate for dinner. Some Corinthians felt they were free to eat any meat whatsoever, even meats offered to idols. They were so liberated in their thinking and behavior that they had no scruples about eating idol-meats at a meal that was part of a pagan religious idol worship ritual. Other Corinthians were much more particular. In fact, some were so sensitive on this matter that they would not eat anything without first knowing its origin. Every meal must have been like an inquisition, with the host being grilled (pardon the pun) concerning the origin of the meat being served.”

<Retrieved from https://bible.org/seriespage/19-table-talk-1-cor-1014-33 on 5/4/17.>

  1. 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 = How to get the rite wrong: practicing it in a worldly way.

CONTEXT = One problem Paul dealt with i/t Corinthian church was how they messed up the faith by combining it w/ their old idol-worship.

COMMENTS = Paul makes his point abundantly clear: FLEE FROM IDOLATRY (14).

Historically, there has always been a temptation to combine Christian faith with other faiths or worldly things.  If you want to impress someone with your vocabulary, this problem is called SYNCRETISM.  (Think of “synchronizing your watches.”)  The problem is, our faith is not modular: you can’t keep the true faith by taking out the bits you don’t like or adding bits from other sources.  We received an entire word of God and a whole faith; it’s a package.  Syncretism was the general issue. In this case, the specific problem was Christians eating meat from the market that had previously been a sacrifice offered to an idol.  Enquiring minds wanted to know: Was the meat tainted spiritually?  Were people sinning in this practice?

A more contemporary example: a church I formerly served was offered money for assistance for paying heating bills by a local service club.  We all knew the money had been raised by selling liquor and gambling tickets.  Was the money tainted spiritually?  Would we be sinning by accepting it?

To begin to answer the question, Paul compared eating the Lord’s Supper with eating meat offered to idols.  By the way he handled this controversy, Paul teaches us something about the Lord’s Supper.  Paul made his point by…

Characterizing his opposition as wrong = I SPEAK TO SENSIBLE PEOPLE (15).

Characterizing the nature of the rite: PARTICIPATION IN THE BLOOD & BODY OF CHRIST (16).  In the Old Testament system, the people who offered the animal sacrifice on the altar shared in the meat from the slaughter of the animal (18).  Then he offers a negative example: those who offer sacrifices to idols are not participating with Christ, but with DEMONS instead (19-21). Verses 19-20 clarify that there is no reality to an IDOL; it is not ANYTHING.  So eating meat offered to any idol has no intrinsic spirituality.  Verse 21 = However, Satan is the “Father of all lies” according to Jesus, so DEMONS are the unseen reality behind the falsehood of all idol-worship, even the kind we do.  The bottom line is we are not to corrupt our faith – including our practice of the Lord’s Supper – by combining it with anything evil or worldly.

Characterizing the effect of the rite on the BODY as unifying: ONE LOAF…ONE BODY (17).

Characterizing violation of the Lord’s Supper as arousing the LORD’S JEALOUSY (22).  This is Paul’s way of returning to the idea of being SENSIBLE PEOPLE.  He’s urging his readers to use their brains and think about what they’re doing, and consider the effects.  God does not want to share you with an idol; discipline will result if we persist in idolatry.

  1. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 = How to get the rite right.

CONTEXT = The way the Lord’s Supper was handled in Corinth was a rite gone wrong.

COMMENTS = The specific problem was that their rite (ritual) was abused as an occasion for PREJUDICE instead of fellowship.  The wealthy members abused their poor brothers and sisters in the way they practiced the Lord’s Supper.  They brought “gourmet” food and refused to share it with the poor; they probably said it was too good for them.  They began the meal before sundown, excluding working folk still on the job.  (A large percentage of the Church at that time were in slavery.)  They were also guilty of drunkenness and gluttony, treating the Supper as a pagan rite.

A result was that the rite drove them apart instead of building UNITY.  Paul used two words:

DIVISIONS (18) = When our focus is on bias, competition and/or dispute, DIVISIONS result.

DIFFERENCES (19) is actually an emotionally stronger word having the same root as our word “heresy.”

This was a serious problem.  Verse 22 is a strongly-worded rebuke.  V. 27 = it was a SIN against the Lord Jesus Himself.  Vs. 29+34 = they brought the Lord’s JUDGMENT on themselves.  V. 30 = His judgment was manifest in sickness and death among them.

They needed to make their rite RIGHT.  Step #1 = They needed to keep the Supper as they’d RECEIVED it (23).  Get back to basics.

Step #2 = they needed to keep it in a way that valued EVERYONE equally as members of the BODY OF CHRIST.  Paul had some practical suggestions on how to achieve this:

WAIT FOR EACH OTHER (33) = wait until after sundown so the working folk could come.

IF ANYONE IS HUNGRY, HE SHOULD EAT AT HOME (34) = the fellowship around the meal is more important than the meal.  If your tummy rules you, quiet it by snacking first.

Understand your motive; examine yourself to know why you’re at the table at all (vs. 28+29).

Appreciate the fact it is always better to obey God than be condemned with the world (30-32).

Why is this important?

The answer is simple.  This is a matter of life and death, just as 1 Corinthians 11:30 made clear.  That is the truth because there is more to this table than bread and grape juice, more even than symbolism.  This table is our participation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  This is what Jesus taught before His death:

“I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh.” The Jews therefore began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”  Jesus therefore said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

“For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.  As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me.” (See John 6:51-57.)

The Lord’s Supper is for all who have truly trusted in Jesus and have received, by faith, the gift of life.  Your years of experience in church, your titles, your awards, your contributions; none of those things matter.  In this moment, what matters is what is real in you.  If you are a participant in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, this table is the way He has chosen for you to remember Him.  Honor Him with your actions in these next few moments.

Participate or refrain, but in either case, choose the right thing and in so doing, honor Jesus Christ.  There is nothing else that matters in this sacred moment.