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.

Faithfulness or Unfaithful Mess? Your Choice. (Part Two)

(Please read Joshua 24:14-27 in your Bible.  I have prepared these remarks with the NIV.)

Faithfulness is a Fruit of the Spirit and is the only appropriate response to all God has done for us.

A politician said, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”  The politician’s name was Abraham Lincoln and he made these comments in a speech in 1863.

<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-jeff-simms-quotes-wear-judgment-privilege-13886.asp on 7/8/16.>

It sounds like the more things change, the more they stay the same.  For too long we’ve been operating under the mistaken notion that the human race is evolving, progressing, and improving our world.  I would say the violence we see reported anew almost daily argues against that notion.

We have changed many things but human nature is not one of them.  We have solved many problems, but sin is not one of them.  We have met some needs, but our need for God is one that we will never meet any way other than by faith.

As individuals, we are the sum total of the choices we have made and the choices others have made for us.  As we age, the effects of our own choices take on greater prominence than the choices of others.  In other words, we become increasingly responsible for the kind of person we’ve become.

What is true on an individual scale is also true on a national one: national identity is the sum total of the choices of its citizens.  It’s true that the choices of those in leadership positions have a greater effect on a nation’s character, but all of us contribute.

I mention all of this because we’re talking today about faithfulness.  Faithfulness is repeatedly making the right choices.  It is consistently choosing to obey God.

The Bible passage that most familiarly sets forth this matter of choice is Joshua 24:15, the centerpiece of the passage we’ve studied these two weeks.  Just as Joshua called the nation of Israel to faithfully obey God, this Scripture challenges us today to choose God.

PART ONE (See previous post.)

  1. The LORD has been faithful to you (1-13).

PART TWO

  1. You must choose to be faithful to the LORD (14-27).

Joshua called them to commitment in vs. 14-15.  Faithfulness features fear and service.

Some people are uncomfortable seeing FEAR of the LORD as a virtue.  They have such a benign view of God that they can’t see anything “negative.”  The Bible is clear that “respect” or “reverence” isn’t enough; a full understanding of God includes fear.  As Donald H. Madvig put it, “If we fear God, we need not fear his judgment,” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 3, p. 368).

Motivated by fear and love, we are to serve God.  We must make sacrifices as necessary to do His will as soon as it becomes apparent to us.  ALL FAITHFULNESS is the objective. Being faithful requires us to keep our focus on God.

You can safeguard your faithfulness by trashing your idols.  In this situation, Joshua commanded them to dispose of the idols, the household gods that were taken from Egyptian households as plunder.

As previously stated with regard to the word FEAR, some people have trouble accepting that God is JEALOUS, but He makes it clear that He does not want to share us with false gods.  It’s for our own good to get rid of everything in our lives that will distract us from God, everything that threatens to take His place.

After all these people have been through and all the miracles they have seen, we think this ought to be a “no-brainer.”  It’s also strange that slaves would worship the gods of their oppressors, but it has happened throughout history.

Commitment is follow-through.  Human nature has not changed since that day at Shechem: true commitment still requires undivided loyalty.  Joshua called upon them to CHOOSE; did not make up their minds for them or even attempt to persuade them, other than sharing his choice.  Verse 15 is one of the most familiar Scripture and is often quoted because it is the essential commitment of faith: Choose your god.

The people committed themselves to serve God in vs. 16-18.  They realized God saved them from slavery. In gratitude they said some pretty impressive words:

– “FAR BE IT FROM US TO FORSAKE THE LORD TO SERVE OTHER GODS!”

– “IT WAS THE LORD OUR GOD HIMSELF WHO BROUGHT US AND OUR FATHERS OUT OF EGYPT.”

– “WE TOO WILL SERVE THE LORD, BECAUSE HE IS OUR GOD.”

However, these declarations of faith ring hollow in our ears because we’ve read the rest of the story and know that there were periods in their history when Israel served idols and not God.

Let’s be honest.  Are we any different?  Only if we choose to be.  We have to commit ourselves to the LORD & keep choosing Him to maintain our faith.

Joshua challenged their commitment and cautioned them about the wrath of God (vs. 19-20).  Joshua got in their faces!  He challenged them because he knew that a superficial commitment did no one any good and that he needed to move them beyond momentary emotion.

About Joshua’s theology: God is not only HOLY and JEALOUS and full of wrath against sin, but Joshua emphasized even exaggerated these parts of His character so that the people would stop to count the cost.  A spurious commitment that is superficial and ultimately results in backsliding and turning against God is as bad as an initial rejection of Him.

The people recommitted themselves in v. 21.  The people’s response is the more deliberate decision Joshua was working toward: they protested that they were serious and fully committed.

He made a covenant between God and the people (vs. 22-27).  The people served as their own witnesses. As they had agreed with this statement, their words were a vow to the LORD and would condemn them if they ever rejected God.

Joshua repeated himself in v. 23, demanding the casting away of all idols they carried out of Egypt.  This act was to be a demonstration of their sincerity.

I don’t know of any text that confirms that they did this, but they reaffirmed that they would serve the LORD only.

Joshua copied the Law that God gave them through Moses.  He made the rules clear to them.  Though v. 25 at first sounds like this COVENANT was something new with Joshua, we have no reason to think this was anything more than a reminder of what God had already revealed to Moses.

The stipulations of the agreement were recorded in a scroll called THE BOOK OF THE LAW.  That was one reminder of their oath.  Joshua set a LARGE STONE against an OAK TREE that stood near the place that was HOLY because God had met their forefathers there.  This was a second reminder of that oath.

Joshua knew the importance of memorials and visual reminders.  He’d made an altar on the Promised Land side of the Jordan (4:8-9).  He had already written the words of the Law on the stones of an altar erected on Mt. Ebal (8:32).

It is human nature to forget or be tempted to backtrack on the oaths we have made.  The intensity of emotions fade, so we need reminders.  The memorials were also important for future generations.  People who did not stand at that spot, who did not say those words would come along later and wonder how would they know these things were so?  Why should they fulfill oaths that others made?  These visual reminders would help.

Let’s conclude with the end of the story.  Several things happened after this pivotal event in the history of Israel.

First, Joshua sent them home – TO THEIR INHERITANCE.  It is, of course, a fantastic feeling to have these emotional, life-changing, “mountaintop” experiences.  The challenging part is taking it on into daily life.  To change the way we think, react, and interact with the little things of our world.

Second, both Joshua and Eleazar died.  These two leaders, representing the overlapping circles of civil and religious authority, were no longer available to lead Israel.  It was a rough and abrupt transition, no doubt, but new leadership was taking the people of God into a new day.

Third, the bones of the patriarch Joseph, which they had carried all the way from Egypt, were finally laid to rest in the exact spot where this meeting had been held.  This act of respect brought to a ceremonial end one era of the history of God’s people.  The past had literally been buried and the future lay ahead of them.

The last word of the book of Joshua is not the last verse.  Look at v. 31.  This verse summarizes the long term effect of the decisions made and oaths taken on that day.  What we see is that the generation who stood with Joshua at Shechem remained faithful to the LORD.  That is good news.

However, as we turn the page and get into the book of Judges, we see the following generations turning to idol-worship and sinning against the Lord.  Indeed, the history of Israel as preserved in the OT is very cyclical:

The people commit themselves to God.

=>

The people compromise & slowly turn to idols.

=>

Pagan nations take over & make them suffer.

=>

The people cry out to God & He delivers them.

=>

The people repent & commit themselves to God.

Good thing none of us are like that, right?  To me, this passage is about personal choice.  But it is also about helping others – particularly the next generation – make the same choice.  It’s not enough to keep the doors open and set the table, we must invite them to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8).  Then, having tasted of the joy that is in Christ, we must help one another to fully commit to Him as Lord.

We must break the cycle of generations lost to the enemy by choosing to serve God and leading others to do the same!  If you will commit yourself to following God, please stand.

Solomon – a Man for the Ages?

Solomon: His Story

          Let’s start at the beginning. He was the second son of King David and Bathsheba (see 2 Samuel 12:24).  The first son of their union died (see 2 Samuel 12:15-18). The name Solomon is derived from the word “shalom,” which means peace or welfare.  Solomon’s lesser-known name was Jedidiah.  Because Solomon was born to David’s favorite wife, he was likely David’s favorite son.  In any event, Solomon’s reign began before David’s death in 967 BC and lasted 40 years.

          Solomon is remembered for having lots of wives and concubines, but he was also the mastermind behind impressive building projects. He built God’s house first.  It took seven years to complete because David had set aside the materials beforehand (see 1 Kings 6-7). He built his own house second.  It took thirteen years to complete (see 1 Kings 7-14).

          He is also famous for his unparalleled wealth. During Solomon’s reign Israel enjoyed an era of security and prosperity that it has not known before or since.  (See 1 Kings 10:14-29.) Solomon built wealth by several means.

  • By entering into trade agreements with neighboring kingdoms (see 1 Kings 9+10).
  • With the help of the Phoenecians, he built Israel’s first and only fleet of merchant marine ships.  (Otherwise, Israelites hated and feared the sea, using it as a symbol of evil.)
  • Also for the first time in Israel’s history, Solomon organized a “standing” or professional army and outfitted them with the latest military technology: chariots (see 1 Kings 10:26).
  • He controlled all the important trade routes in the region, including the “Way of the Sea” and the “King’s Highway.”  Solomon charged tariffs for the use of these routes (see 1 Kings 10:15).
  • He received “tribute” from conquered kingdoms (see 1 Kings 4:21).
  • Unfortunately, part of the burden fell directly on the shoulders of Solomon’s people in the form excessive taxation and forced labor – more on that later.

          History remembers Solomon’s peerless wisdom. 1 Kings 3:4-15 tells us how Solomon came by his extraordinary wisdom – God gave it to him at his request.  (God offered him anything – what would you ask for?) 1 Kings also details some of the ways that Solomon put his wisdom to use, including the writing of 3000 proverbs and 1005 praise songs!  (Of course, if you’re the king, they’re going to print everything you write!)

          The most familiar illustrations of Solomon’s wisdom are his decision regarding a child custody case disputed by two prostitutes (see 1 Kings 3:16-28).  And there is the impression he made on the Queen of Sheba (see 1 Kings 10:1-13 and Luke 11:31).

 

Solomon: His Sins

          Solomon was guilty of ruthless ambition. After taking power, Solomon solidified his grasp on the throne by murdering his step-brother Adonijah (see 1 Kings 2:13-15). Worse, some of these murders were actually suggested by King David (see 1 Kings 2:1-18).

          While this does not sound at all politically correct, a big problem was his foreign-born (pagan) wives. David was not the first man in history to blame his wife for his troubles – nor the last – but he certainly had more room to spread the blame than the average guy!  1 Kings 11:3 says plainly, HE HAD 700 WIVES OF ROYAL BIRTH AND 300 CONCUBINES, AND HIS WIVES LEAD HIM ASTRAY. At that time, marriage was a means of diplomacy.  Even though he had an army, Solomon’s foreign policy was largely accomplished by diplomatic means.  To be precise, the problem was not exactly that his wives foreign or that they brought their foreign gods with them.  The problem was that Solomon also indulged in their worship, even building shrines to their false gods (see 1 Kings 11:7-8).

          In spite of all he owned, Solomon was still guilty of extravagance and greed.  1 Kings 10:14-23 provides an interesting accounting of Solomon’s legendary wealth.  Solomon lived like a modern man who maxed out his credit cards and left the bill to be paid by others.

 

Solomon: His Legacy

          What his own people thought of Solomon can be discerned by reading the biblical account of what happened after his death.  Though Solomon saw little opposition, the people strongly desired relief after his death and when Rehoboam threatened to intensify his father’s policies, a civil war ensued and Israel was broken in half (see 1 Kings 11-12).

          Other Bible personalities expressed their thoughts about Solomon.  Nehemiah referred to Solomon as an example of the peril of marrying foreign women.  Nehemiah 13:26-27 reads, “WAS IT NOT BECAUSE OF MARRIAGES LIKE THESE THAT SOLOMON, KING OF ISRAEL SINNED? AMONG THE MANY NATIONS THERE WAS NO KING LIKE HIM.  HE WAS LOVED BY HIS GOD AND GOD MADE HIM KING OVER ALL ISRAEL, BUT EVEN HE WAS LED INTO SIN BY FOREIGN WOMEN.”

          Jesus used him as an illustration of points He was making in His teaching.  On the subject of anxieties about worldly things, Jesus compared Solomon’s finery to flowers; “AND WHY DO YOU WORRY ABOUT CLOTHES? SEE HOW THE LILIES OF THE FIELD GROW.  THEY DO NOT LABOR OR SPIN.  YET I TELL YOU THAT NOT EVEN SOLOMON IN ALL HIS SPLENDOR WAS DRESSED LIKE ONE OF THESE (Matthew 6:28-29; Luke 12:27).” On the subject of wisdom, Jesus compared Solomon to Himself; “THE QUEEN OF THE SOUTH WILL RISE AT THE JUDGMENT WITH THIS GENERATION AND CONDEMN IT; FOR SHE CAME FROM THE ENDS OF THE EARTH TO LISTEN TO SOLOMON’S WISDOM, AND NOW ONE GREATER THAN SOLOMON IS HERE (Matthew 12:42; Luke 11:31).”

          Some statistical information may help make the point: the name “David” appears 930 times in the Bible, but “Solomon” appears just 253 times. For all his mistakes, David never led Israel into idolatry.

          Clearly, Solomon became something of a Bible byword for idolatry and excessive worldliness.

          What Solomon thought about his own life is revealed in the book of Ecclesiastes, which tradition says he authored. “Vanity” is the most oft-repeated word.  Here’s Solomon’s self-portrait in words; I DENIED MYSELF NOTHING MY EYES DESIRED: I REFUSED MY HEART NO PLEASURE.  MY HEART TOOK DELIGHT IN ALL MY WORK, AND THIS WAS THE REWARD FOR ALL MY LABOR.  YET WHEN I SURVEYED ALL THAT MY HANDS HAD DONE AND WHAT I HAD TOILED TO ACHIEVE, EVERYTHING WAS MEANINGLESS, A CHASING AFTER THE WIND; NOTHING WAS GAINED UNDER THE SUN.

          What God thought about Solomon can be similarly gleaned from biblical witness; the LORD rebuked Solomon, predicting that his kingdom would be divided (see 1 Kings 11:9-13). In the middle of that passage (verse 6), we read: SOLOMON DID EVIL IN THE EYES OF THE LORD; HE DID NOT FOLLOW THE LORD COMPLETELY, AS DAVID HIS FATHER HAD DONE.

 

          As with nearly all of the people described in the Bible, Solomon’s life was not an example of perfection.  Indeed, in spite of literally having it all, the biblical record clearly showed that Solomon failed to be faithful to the Lord.  In spite of the divine wisdom and wealth he’d been given, he foolishly frittered away his days in self-absorption.  His name became a biblical byword for the perils of paganism.  In fact, I believe the main reason the book of Ecclesiastes is in the Bible is to give us an inside look at the mind that engineered such a catastrophic failure and how he viewed life.  It’s a warning to not do likewise.

          Solomon’s life is a warning to believers of both genders, but especially to men who are convinced that sex, wealth, and/or power are the means of happiness.  This is the very same lie of which our culture attempts to convince us.  Solomon had all these things to obscene abundance and his verdict on it all was “vanity.”  Let us heed his negative example and not allow our attention to be possessed by these vain, superficial things, but instead devote ourselves to the deeper things of God.