Idol Feasts and the Lord's Supper
14Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
18Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons. 22Are we trying to arouse the Lord's jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
My first two years in college turned out to be a disaster of sorts. I discovered that I no longer had to attend classes. I had the freedom to come or not come and no one held me accountable. So, I decided to not go to class much more often than I should have. In exercising my new-found freedom, I actually led myself into deep trouble as my grades began to plummet. I discovered that the lure of freedom actually led me right into the clutches of my own laziness and irresponsibility. In a similar vein, Paul is concerned that the freedoms that some in Corinth are wishing to exercise will actually be used as bait to lead them right back into the clutches of evil forces. Paul has already conceded, in principle, the right of a Christian to eat meat of any sort, but his concern is that some of the Corinthians were taking that one step further and actually taking part in pagan cultic rituals while eating that meat. It is from this that Paul wants them to run and run fast.
As he usually does, Paul does not give them a strict rule or command, but he offers them urgent advice. He lays out his case in strong terms, but still desires for them to judge for themselves and make a wise Christian decision. They were thinking that because they were Christians, and Christianity was about the things of the Spirit, that what they did with their bodies didn’t matter. Paul wants them to come to the understanding that this is not the case and is not a wise line of thinking.
First, he will use a couple of examples, one from the Christian experience and one from the Jewish experience, to make a connection between those realities and what happens when one consorts with pagan rituals and worship. Paul asks two rhetorical questions with the assumption that the obvious answers are ‘yes’. He is reminding them of the basic understanding of the communion meal. When they partake of the blood and the bread, they are doing two very real things. First, they are uniting themselves as individuals into the life of Christ. They are renewing and reaffirming the fact that they have died to their old life and entered into the life of Christ. Second, they are uniting themselves together as a community in Christ. As he will go on to say in 12:12, they are, in a very real sense, the Messiah. They have as individuals and as a community become the representatives of the Messiah in the world.
Paul then makes a similar point from Israel’s history. When the priests of Israel partook from the sacrifices on the altar, they engaged, in a very real sense, with the presence of God.
Paul realizes that some may have trouble following his logic as he asks “What, then, do I mean?” (The NIV words it slightly differently.) He has already stated that idols, and food sacrificed to them, are nothing. Idols are powerless pieces of wood and stone. He is not contradicting that thought. The deep concern that Paul has it what the idols and the pagan rituals can lead to, and that is the very real evil world of the demonic. Paul’s point is that, just as taking part in the rituals of Christianity and Old Testament Judaism connected the participant with God, so does taking part in these pagan practices lead one into a very real connection with the forces behind them. Idols are nothing, in and of themselves, but they have been used as a gateway by demonic forces. Paul’s advice, then, is to not mess around with something so dangerous, but to flee immediately.
Why though, we should ask, does Paul connect pagan idols to demons. Aren’t false gods merely figments of the imagination? The biblical answer is “no.” Although the idols themselves are nothing, they are gateways to the evil forces that lie beyond normal human perception. According to Genesis 6, angels (sons of God) co-habitated and had children with human women. These offspring were known as the Nephilim; they were extremely violent and apparently gigantic. Jude 1:6-7 tells us that these angels committed sins of a sexual nature, as did the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jude says that these angels are kept in dungeons until the time of the final judgment; Peter informs us that the place they are being kept is called Tartarus (2 Peter. 2:4). According to the ancient Jewish book of Enoch, (a book that was accepted as accurate by the early church fathers and quoted by Jude) the Nephilim were destined to walk upon the earth as bodiless unclean spirits until the final judgment. These are the unclean spirits, or demons (which is from a Greek word that means “the knowers”) which are described in the Bible as teaching men all manner of evil (1 Timothy 4:1) as well as posing as pagan gods, using idols as a means to lead people into the clutches of evil (Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 106:36-37).
Paul instructs the Corinthians to be extremely careful because they cannot take part in the body of evil and the body of Christ. Considering their status as being those in Christ, Paul does not want them to try to unite the body and life of Christ with evil in any form, whether it be sexual union or pagan ritual and practice. In doing so, they would be testing Christ, something he warned them about in verse 9, for that is a test that they will always fail.
So there is a balance that they must understand. Yes, they are the people of the resurrection that need to understand that life and not live by the confines of the present world, but at the same time they need to be careful to not think that they are untouchable and cannot be pulled back into the world of evil. It’s certainly not that anything could forcibly separate them from the life of Christ but they must be careful to not take their freedom in the wrong way and begin to use it is a license to lull them right back into the enslavement of sin from which they had been freed.
Think about Paul’s theology that teaches that Christians have given up their very lives and entered into the life of Christ. Do you have that view of your Christian life. Into what compromising situations have you put the life of Christ that is in you?