Summary: In today's lesson we learn that Christians are prohibited from practicing idolatry.
We continue our study in The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians in a series I am calling Challenges Christians Face.
One of the challenges that Christians face is the issue of Christian liberty. Let’s learn about this in a message I am calling, “Flee from Idolatry.”
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 10:14-22:
14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (1 Corinthians 10:14-22)
According to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church the definition of syncretism is “the attempt to combine different or opposite doctrines and practices, especially in reference to philosophical and religious systems.”
An example of syncretism in the United States, according to wiki.answers.com is “when we have Easter egg hunts, we are combining a Christian holiday with ancient Greek and Roman pagan traditions.” Or, another example from my home country in South Africa is when African Traditional Religion is mixed with Christianity. I once heard of a Christian church dedicating its new building with an animal sacrifice in order to appease the spirits.
This is somewhat similar to the situation in the city of Corinth at the time of the apostle Paul. People had come to faith in Jesus Christ in Corinth. Some of them were Jews and some of them were Gentiles.
The Gentile Christians had formerly worshiped at pagan idol-temples prior to their conversion to Christ. They brought their offering to the temple priest. One part was burned on an altar as a sacrifice. A second part was given to the priest, who would either eat it or, more likely, sell it at the meat market. And a third part was eaten by the worshiper, usually in the temple precinct. In fact, one commentator says that the temple precinct “was the basic ‘restaurant’ in antiquity.”
Now, let’s briefly review how this fits into Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
You may recall that The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians was in fact Paul’s response to a letter he had received from them. Six times in his first letter to the Corinthians Paul said, “Now concerning. . . ” (7:1; 7:25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1; and 16:12). And six times Paul responded to a question or issue raised in the letter that he had received from the Corinthians.
In 1 Corinthians 8:1 Paul said, “Now concerning food offered to idols. . . .” This was the third of six issues. All of chapters 8-10 deal with the issue of food offered to idols. The Corinthian Christians were engaged in a debate about whether it was okay to eat meat offered to idols. This was an issue on which God had not clearly revealed his will. It was therefore a debatable matter, and the Christians in Corinth were divided over the issue. Some said it was okay to eat meat offered to idols; others said it was not okay.
Paul responded to their question by setting down a foundational principle in 1 Corinthians 8:13: “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” Paul would never do anything to cause his brother in Christ to stumble. He was willing to limit his Christian freedom in order to love his brother in Christ.
So, in chapter 8 Paul set down the principle that Christians must deny themselves their rights for the sake of the gospel.
In chapter 9 Paul illustrated from his own life a pattern of self-denial for the sake of the gospel.
In chapter 10:1-13 Paul showed from Old Testament examples how an unwillingness to deny themselves their rights for the sake of the gospel disqualified some from effective service.
Now, in chapter 10:14-22 Paul brought to a conclusion the question about food offered to idols. Paul set down a very clear prohibition against idolatry.