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

We Must Get Along… And More!

(Please read Romans 14:1-15:13 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

True faith requires us to get along with each other.

From the beginning of my ministry, even in seminary, I have numbered my messages as I wrote them.  I can’t tell you from where the idea came. When I realized last month that my 1600th message would be coming up, I resolved to do something a little different.  Not that there’s anything at all special about this particular number other than its roundness.

So I asked you to submit ideas for a message and then I randomly selected one of the responses and that’s how we ended up here at Romans 14+15.  This is obviously too much material to cover in one 20 minute message, so we’ll split it up over two Sundays, Lord willing.

Now that we know how we got here, let’s read a portion of our passage:

This is actually old news, but as I only heard about it last week, I’ve been interested and eager to share it with you.  Have you heard about the “9/11 Bible?”  When I read the headline I assumed it referred to some new kind of specialty Bible that had been recently published.

Not so!  This is the story of the discovery of an artifact at Ground Zero, the place where the World Trade Center buildings collapsed.  It is a Bible that was fused, by heat and pressure, to a portion of a steel beam that had framed one of the Twin Towers.

A firefighter discovered the artifact in March of 2002, months after the terrorist attack that brought the Towers down.  He recognized immediately what the find represented, he called to a nearby photographer to come and record the discovery.  Eventually the artifact became one of several discoveries that memorialize the events and people of 9/11.

What’s more interesting about the “9/11 Bible” is that the exposed pages of the Bible are open to Matthew’s Gospel and the Sermon on the Mount section.  Part of Jesus’ teaching on view on these pages – plainly legible – is “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth.’  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Jesus is teaching us about the futility of revenge.  Hundreds of years after these words were spoken, in a spot hundreds of miles removed from the mountain on which they were spoken, the words delivered a timely rebuke of calls to avenge the deaths of the lives lost that way.

It is an amazing story and a great illustration of one of the important truths of the Bible; God calls His people to peace.  We are to be peace-makers and nothing else.  Division, conflict, and violence are often the result of sin and selfishness, a product of spiritual immaturity and biblical illiteracy.

  1. The WEAK churched person is a legalist (14:2, 23).

Food serves as an example of legalism (2).  A faith that is WEAK imposes limits and makes laws that everyone must follow.  It is a sign of weakness because that person can’t have convictions of their own; they must have partners or follow the crowd.  (“Misery loves company?”)  It is a sign of weakness because that person’s convictions can’t stand scrutiny; they don’t hold up under opposition.

Eating ONLY VEGETABLES is not a condemnation of vegetarianism (no matter h0w much you may want it to be).  Paul is writing about people who chose to eat vegetables only because of their religious convictions, not because of perceived dietary benefits.  Some people of faith in Paul’s time were so concerned about avoiding meat offered to idols that they ate only vegetables.  Also, Jews couldn’t be sure meat sold in the market was kosher; rather than take the chance it wasn’t, they ate ONLY VEGETABLES.  We might call this a “faith-based lifestyle choice.”

The WEAK person rejects their liberty in Christ, the freedom of grace.  They settle for avoiding evil but don’t attend to doing good. Both of these moral priorities are necessary for a full-featured faith.

God’s standard for moral behavior is simple: EVERYTHING THAT DOES NOT COME FROM FAITH IS SIN (23).  For example, legalism is rooted in self-centeredness, not God-centeredness.  Therefore it is sin.

To put it another way, “If you’re not sure, assume it’s not God.”  Observing this guideline will steer us clear of a lot of trouble.

How do we know whether or not something comes from faith?

Test #1 – It arises from and is confirmed by the plain teaching of the Bible.

Test #2 – It opposes the traditional teaching of the Church only rarely; when the tradition is in conflict with #1.

Test #3 – It is in harmony with the Holy Spirit.

Test #4 – It promotes unity in the Church and enacts love toward maturity.

  1. The STRONG churched person is a realist (14:2, 14 + 15:1).

Food is a place where realism can be exercised (2).  One of the issues in the Corinthian church was eating meat offered to idols.  The WEAK person saw it as spiritually contaminated and made eating it a moral issue.  The STRONG person did not approve of idolatry but saw meat simply as meat.  “Realism” does not deny the supernatural, but affirms it in ways that are consistent with FAITH.

Paul’s reference to UNCLEAN things (14) refutes legalists’ claims to be more biblical.  Paul’s personal conviction was that NOTHING IS UNCLEAN IN ITSELF.  To conclude otherwise is to attempt to return to the Old Testament Law and use parts of it to support one’s personal biases (legalism).  Folks, God sorted all this out with Peter in Acts 10+11; what I call Peter’s vision of “meat on a sheet.”  Look it up for yourself!

However, Paul’s conviction was tempered by consideration for the people around him.  Out of respect for them, he would heed what they believed was unclean.  He did not force his view on anyone and expected others to do the same.

The kinds of things on which we typically disagree are DISPUTABLE MATTERS.  Paul may be thinking about moral and theological points that are of lesser importance and/or are more difficult to resolve to everyone’s agreement.  I heard recently there are currently 40,000 different groups calling themselves “Christians.”  Another person predicted more divisions; by 2025 there will be 55,000 Christian sects.  Why do we divide?  Because we’ve not learned to agree to disagree on DISPUTABLE MATTERS.  We are prone to “major on the minors.”

We can think of this phrase in terms of human nature: it is human nature to get mad about trivial things and be more forgiving on more important matters.  We can avoid a lot of division if we would overlook small matters.

Another quality of DISPUTABLE MATTERS is that agreement is not required.  We can agree to disagree without either one of us being untrue to Christ.

People who are STRONG in their faith will be more accepting, even of people who disagree with them.  Even when the WEAK refuse tolerate disagreement, the STRONG are to BEAR with them.  BEAR does NOT mean to growl at one another from our separate caves; it means to forgive and forget; to show patience and acceptance.

The STRONG can BEAR with the weak because they see things from God’s perspective and trust Him to work them out.  The STRONG are not out to please themselves but their neighbors (15:2), just as Jesus commanded.

The key word in this passage is “accept.”  In the NIV it is the first word in the passage: 14:1 = ACCEPT THE ONE WHOSE FAITH IS WEAK.  It comes up again in 15:7; ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER, THEN, JUST AS CHRIST ACCEPTED YOU, IN ORDER TO BRING PRAISE TO GOD.  The idea of mutual acceptance is developed in the rest of the passage.

ACCEPT is the Greek word proslamban, which means “to receive kindly or hospitably” and “to treat with kindness.”  In a general sense, it is to “welcome” each other, receiving each other wholeheartedly.  Specifically, when we “proslamban” one another, we grant each other admission into our heart, looking beyond the merely superficial, striving to build relationships.”

The important phrase for understanding and practicing this command is JUST AS CHRIST ACCEPTED YOU.   How did Christ accept us?   According to Romans 5:8 the Bible says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

We don’t follow Jesus’ example in the principle of self-sacrifice.  We must be so in love with God and each other that we are willing to make sacrifices in order for love to flourish.

  • I sacrifice my prejudice and stereotypes to welcome someone different from me.
  • I sacrifice petty things like my comfort, convenience, and choices so I can help someone in need. More than that, I want them to feel included in my family of faith.
  • I sacrifice some of the possessions, my time, my money, to support ministries that open doors to people who genuinely seek God.
  • I sacrifice my ego, pride, or self-centeredness to make my circle of friends a bit larger every day because I have served them, not myself.
  • I sacrifice the need to be right, to be the center of attention, to get my way all the time, in order to really hear the heart cries of people around me.
  • I sacrifice my private ambitions in order to grow our church, one person at a time.