Summary: Paul’s admonition to the Corinthian church to flee from idols is relevant to our temptations to secularism.
Flee from Secularism
I Cor. 10:1-14
Most of you probably saw the story in the news last week about a man in Afghanistan who could be sentenced to death because he converted from Islam to Christianity. Under the religious laws of that nation, converting to Christianity is a crime. The prosecutor said he offered to drop the charges if the man converted back to Islam, but he refused. He said he was a Christian and would always remain one. The way of the cross can be painful. Young people, I hope you never face a trial like that, but if you do, I hope there is enough evidence to convict you.
About a month ago we entered a season that the Christian church calls Lent, a period of time when we focus our thoughts on the testing, the trials, and the suffering of Jesus as he faced the cross. As we reflect on His struggle with the prospect of death in obedience to God’s will, we become aware of the reality of suffering, the weakness of human flesh, and the inner turmoil and conflict as good confronts evil. And we recognize that evil still lurks within and around us. And we wonder why it takes such effort to accomplish good. As we have told you before, when someone tells us, “I want to start coming to church,” we often say, “You will be fighting a battle. Every possible excuse will get in the way.” Some of you know what I am talking about.
Maybe you heard about the man who was awakened by his mother one Sunday morning for church. He groaned, saying, “I don’t want to go today.” “Oh, but you must,” she said. “Your shoes are polished; your clothes are ready. You haven’t missed one Sunday. And besides, you are the pastor!” No one said it would be easy.
During these weeks we have been examining the letter that Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Remember that this was a young church faced with challenges. They lived in a seaport city where the world beckoned them from all sides. Corinth stood at the crossroads of commercial traffic. From north, south, east, and west, merchants and traders, sailors and soldiers converged upon its shores, passed through its streets, and indulged in its offerings of vice and pleasure. Corinth was known for drunkenness and debauchery. It was a city of wealth, luxury, and sexual perversion. Paul writes in Chapter 6 that some of the believers in Corinth were people who had engaged in such activities. In this letter, Paul calls them saints, but their new clothes do not yet seem to fit them well. They were under lots of pressure to conform to this world’s standards. This church had written to Paul with questions. So now Paul writes to them, taking up one problem at a time. In Chapters 1-4 he takes up the problem of division within the church; in 5-7 he tackles the question of immorality; in 8-10 he focuses on the problem of-- well, let’s call it secularism.
Actually, for them, the question was whether or not to eat meat offered to idols. Since this isn’t a problem for us, we need a little background to help us understand it. In the ancient world, people thought various gods were in control of things like weather, fertility, crops, health. So, in order to please these gods, people offered animal sacrifices. Some sacrifices were made at home; others at public temples. When they sacrificed an animal, they didn’t use the whole thing.
When these sacrifices were made at home, the animal was divided into thirds. One-third was burned on the altar. The priests who conducted the ceremony received a third. And then the worshipper himself took the rest of the meat and held a banquet. This happened especially at weddings. So, here was their question: Since Christians no longer believed in these gods, it doesn’t matter, does it, if a Christian takes part in a feast where this meat would be served? After all, if these gods do not exist, then they have no effect on the meat. Besides, by not taking part in such feasts, a Christian was cutting himself off from lots of social occasions.
Beyond that, people in Paul’s day believed strongly in demons and devils. The air was full of them and they were always lurking around, waiting to get into people and, if they did, they could injure people’s bodies or drive them crazy. These spirits settled on the food as people ate, and so got inside. One way to avoid that problem was to dedicate the meat to some good god who could live in the meat and put up a barrier against the evil spirit. Nearly all animals were dedicated to a god before being slaughtered. A person could hardly eat meat at all which was not in some way connected with a heathen god. Could the Christian eat it?