Summary: Attempting to worship the Lord with one foot in the world is provocative, to say the least. Christians need to take heed to their attempts to worship.
PICKING A FIGHT WE CANNOT WIN
“What pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 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. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”
We live in a world that is increasingly anthropocentric. Modern man has ensconced himself on the throne of his life and generally conducts his life with no thought given to what the will of God might be. “If it feels good, do it” has become the dominant philosophy guiding the life of far too many professing Christians. Too often we are able to navigate through life without consciously thinking of God or considering what His will might be, save for a brief pause on Sunday morning, providing we are not too tired to attend services at the local church.
It is certain that the Lord’s Table is meant to be a time of worship. However, the Meal is always corporate worship, and thus the relationship of the participants is vital. At the Communion Meal, we confess relationship with those sharing the Meal as together we declare our mutual relationship to the Risen Son of God. At the Lord’s Table, we subsume our personal experience to that of the corporate Body.
It is a human tendency to reduce common acts of worship to ritual in which the performance assumes greater important than the event itself. Thus, we become focused on carefully performing the prescribed steps, forgetting that the confessional aspect of the event; we become more intent on the action than on the act. Though the inclination to create liturgies is evident in every aspect of worship—preaching, singing, praying, baptising—nowhere is this propensity to exalt the steps more evident that at the Lord’s Table.
The great tragedy is not that we ritualise what should be a time of confession, but rather the great tragedy is that having reduced the worship to a ritual we ignore the relationship. With time, we ignore the implications arising from living out our daily lives with its attendant self-centred focus, bringing the attitudes that contaminate our lives into the congregation. Not even the knowledge that we are engaged in worship before the Lord with fellow saints is sufficient to deter this tendency.
That was precisely what was happening in Corinth when Paul wrote the congregation. Perhaps if we examine the letter he wrote when he confronted them, we will learn from their error and avoid dishonouring the Lord as we observe the Lord’s Table. Join me in exploring the stern confrontation delivered to the Corinthian Christians as the Apostle warned them they were picking a fight they could not win.
A DELIBERATE PROVOCATION — Some of the Corinthians, apparently a significant number of them, were invoking their rights as they participated in various pagan rites. The text before us is continuing the theme initiated in the eighth chapter. There, Paul begins by speaking of what appears to have become a somewhat common practise of participating in feasts dedicated to idols. Let’s examine the particulars.
Many, perhaps even most, of the Corinthian Christians had come to faith out of a background of idolatry. Beyond the fact that Greek culture was steeped in idolatry, there remains the fact that in that pagan culture those who worked in various trades were required to be members of a guild. No one could work at a given trade without holding membership in the appropriate guild. The various guilds shared some similarities to contemporary trade unions, but they each had a patron god or goddess to which the members of the guild paid homage. From time-to-time the guild members would join together to observe a festival or even a communal meal, and the food eaten whenever the guild came together would be first offered to the god or goddess to whom the guild was dedicated. Though all the food was offered to the patron deity, only the less desirable foodstuffs would remain on the altar while the rest was consumed for the meal. Those participating in the meal were said to be guests at the table of the patron deity. The meal was not the only feature of the festivities, for there were often included immoral and idolatrous activities associated with worship of the deity.
In itself, the act of eating a meal with the idolaters was a neutral act. This is what Paul means when he writes, “As to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” [1 CORINTHIANS 8:4-6].