Summary: Have you worshipped demons lately? Perhaps hung out with evil spiritual forces? No? The Corinthian Christians didn’t think so either, but Paul had a different perspective.
Have you worshipped demons lately? Perhaps hung out with evil spiritual forces? No? The Corinthian Christians didn’t think so either, but Paul had a different perspective.
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
Idolatry is the subject of chapter 10. It is the temptation that Paul is concerned with. The form in which the Corinthians are engaging in idolatry is participation in religious meals at the many pagan temples. Paul’s admonition: “Flee.” Get away from this practice as fast as you can. He has already demonstrated what happens to idolaters. He now explains how it is that they are committing idolatry.
15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Follow Paul’s logic. 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.
Take the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Our partaking of the two elements – the cup and the bread – is a ritual by which we participate in the blood and body of Christ. Let’s carefully interpret Paul’s meaning. The “cup of blessing” is the communion cup. The term is taken from the Passover meal’s designation for the fourth cup of wine. It is called the “cup of blessing” because the host raises it and recites a blessing of God. Note the phrase “that we bless.” We will discuss it further when we get to verses 19ff.
The word for “participation” is “koinonia.” It is a significant word used in other passages about Christian fellowship. In verse 16, the emphasis is on our participation, or communion, with the blood and body of Christ. What does that mean? It means that through the sacraments, we by faith participate in the benefits of Christ’s new covenant.
When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, he referred to the cup as symbolizing his “blood of the covenant” (Mark 14:24). The sacrifice he would make by shedding his blood would serve to make and ratify a new covenant with God on our behalf. We then participate in that new covenant ratified by Christ’s blood. In the same manner, we share in the benefits of his body given for us.
But the sacrament also conveys to us the mystical union we have with Christ. As Paul says in 1:9, we were called into the fellowship (the koinonia) of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. In chapter 12, he will develop a theology of us forming the body of Christ. Thus, to participate in the blood and body of Christ has to include the concept of being united with Christ both through contract (the covenant) and through the union of the Holy Spirit.
Verse 17 takes this concept of koinonia with Christ and extends it to include koinonia with fellow Christians. 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Paul speaks in verse 16 of the bread broken. The bread is broken for what purpose? So that all the believers may partake. The bread represents what? The body of Christ. Therefore, the act expressions that we have fellowship together through Christ. The one loaf makes us one body in Christ.
So what do we have so far? The observance of the Lord’s Supper is a participation with Christ and, through Christ, with one another. The feast is a religious ritual expressing our collective union with our God. Now, hold that thought and consider another scenario.
18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? Paul is referring to the practice in which the worshippers, after offering an animal for sacrifice, would then eat a portion of the animal not consumed or given to the priests.
Leviticus 7:15 gives the following instruction to the worshipper: the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten on the day of his offering. He shall not leave any of it until the morning. If you were a Jew in Jerusalem, you would take your lamb to the temple, give it to a priest to slay it and place a portion of it in the fire on the altar as an offering to God. Then, you would sit down with your guests and make a meal of the remaining portion. Thus the meal was a participation in the worship ritual. You and your guests participated (had koinonia) with God through the offering and meal. You participated in the benefits of the altar, redemption and fellowship with God.
The Jews would never had regarded the meal as eating and drinking God. But they would have participated in the meal with the concept of sitting in the presence of God to whom they had made their offering. The meal represented, for example, what really did happen in Exodus 24 where Moses and the elders of Israel ate a meal in the visible presence of God on Mt. Sinai. That meal also was described as an act of worship.