Rabbi Paul knows that Messiah’s Community in Corinth was doing well in many ways, but was also facing temptations, which, if yielded to, would harm the community.
One temptation: testing God by complaining about the leaders. Instead of being thankful for all of the leaders, and supporting all the leaders, many of the people in Corinth were supporting a favored leader and criticizing others leaders – even some of the great leaders like Paul. That grumbling needed to stop. All of the leaders needed to be supported, not opposed.
Another temptation: tolerating sexual immorality. They needed to remove from their community the man who was in a sexually immoral situation. They themselves needed to flee from any involvement in sexual immorality.
Another temptation: idolatry. The community was surrounded by idolatry. Individual members might be tempted to participate in idolatry to show the Corinthians, most of whom worshiped idols, that followers of Messiah were reasonable; they believed in toleration; they should be accepted. However, participating in idolatry is wrong, and instead of participating in it, they needed to flee from it.
Paul knows they are experiencing these temptations and calls on them to exert great effort to keep themselves under control, so that they live in a way that is consistent with the Good News. He doesn’t want them to be hypocrites who believe and say one thing and do another. He wants them to live purpose-driven lives, lives that were lived for the Lord and for the proclamation of the Gospel. He does not want them to be complacent, aimless, unfocused, undisciplined, caught up by worldly desires so that they set their hearts on evil things.
The Rabbi warns them not to repeat the mistakes that so many of the people of the generation who were saved from Egypt, made. Those people had a great leader, experienced miracles, ate spiritual food and drank spiritual drink, and were close to the presence of God. Because of these spiritual advantages, they assumed they were close to God and right with God – when they weren’t. Many of the people of that generation yielded to various temptations, displeased God and died in the wilderness, never reaching the promised land.
The Rabbi warns them not to think that they are different from the people of that generation. People are people; race doesn’t matter; the age in which one lives doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Israel in the wilderness, or Christians and Messianic Jews in Corinth. Everyone shares the same weaknesses. No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.
The Rabbi also lets them know that God is aware of their weaknesses. He knows their temptations. He know their limitations. He knows how much each one can handle. If they were camels, He knows the last straw that would break their backs. And God is faithful. He can be counted on to not allow that last straw to be placed on their backs. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
With each temptation, God has a way out for them. He has a way for them to be able to endure that temptation. They needed to have faith that God would help them find that way out, and come out purer, holier, wiser, stronger and better than before. They needed to endure their temptations, not yield to their temptations.
One temptation that Messiah’s followers in Corinth were particularly challenged by – idolatry. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. They needed to flee idolatry for several reasons: first, the people of Messiah’s Community are united to one another; and all the people of Messiah’s Community are united to Messiah. They can’t have people in the community, who are united to each other and united to the Messiah, participate in idolatry. If they yield to the temptation of idolatry, they will be harming the other members of the community, to whom they are united, and they will be sinning against the Lord of the community to whom they are united.
Paul uses their participation in the bread and the wine to remind them of their union with each other and their union with Messiah. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Messiah? The answer to the question is yes. When the members of Messiah’s community meet, and when we give thanks for the wine, and drink it, it is a participation in the blood of Messiah. That does not mean that the wine turns into Messiah’s blood, and we drink it and participate in the blood of the Messiah in a literal way. The wine doesn’t turn into the blood of Messiah. When we drink the wine, we experience a spiritual participation in the blood of Messiah. When we thank God for the blood that Messiah spilled, blood which reconciles us to God; blood which makes atonement; blood which enables God to forgive all of our sins; blood which enables us to enter into Messiah’s New Covenant, this amazing new relationship with God – when we thank God for the blood of Messiah and drink the wine that represents these realities, and reminds us of these realities, something spiritual takes place. Our souls are drawn closer to Messiah; our minds get closer to Messiah. Our hearts are filled with filled with thanksgiving and supernatural joy. The cup of thanksgiving is a spiritual participation in the blood of Messiah.
The same thing happens when we eat the bread. And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Messiah? The answer again is yes. When the community comes together and eats the bread, we are participating in the body of Messiah. That does not mean that the bread turns into the literal body of Messiah. It doesn’t. When we eat the bread, we experience a spiritual participation in the body of Messiah. When we eat the bread, we remember Messiah’s life. He lived a sinless life. We remember that He gave His perfect life for us, as a sacrifice to reconcile us to God. He gave His sinless life so that all of our sins can be completely forgiven. We also remember that Messiah’s body was resurrected. Messiah is alive, and full of power and energy and life. When we eat the bread, we are praying that the life and power that Messiah is full of, will fill us with life and empower us for godly living.
Eating the bread and drinking the wine bring us closer to the Messiah, our living Lord and sustainer and empowerer. Eating the bread and drinking the wine is a spiritual participation in the body and blood of Messiah. Eating the bread and drinking the wine reminds us that all who eat the bread and wine are united to the Messiah.
And when the community meets and eats the bread that represents the body of the Messiah, it is not one person who eats the bread. All of us eat the bread – which reminds us that, not only are we united to the Messiah, we are united to one another. Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf. Something happens when people share food and eat it with others. It brings them closer together. When we share the bread together, we are reminded that we are not just united to the Messiah; we are united to each other.
So, if members of the community yield to the temptation of idolatry, they not only harm themselves, they harm the other members of the community to whom they are united. And they sin against Messiah to whom they are united.
And as he does so often, the Rabbi reinforces his teaching by referring to the Word of God. Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? The answer to the Rabbi’s question is yes. When the people of Israel offered peace offerings, and the people ate their part of the sacrifice, they participated in altar. They were participating in the worship of the God of Israel, who ordained that sacrificial system. However, the God of Israel is a jealous God. He said to His people: you shall have no other gods before Me. The God of Israel demanded the exclusive devotion of those who participated in His altar. Those who participated in His altar dare not participate in the altar of another god.
The Rabbi’s point? Like the members of the holy nation of Israel, Messiah’s followers in Corinth participated in the altar of the God of Israel – but it was a greater altar. It was a spiritual altar. They didn’t participate by eating the bodies of animals. They participated by eating the bread and drinking the wine, thereby participating in the body and blood of Messiah. Therefore, since Messiah’s followers were participating in the altar of the God of Israel, they could not participate in the altars of other gods. If they are tempted to go to go to the temples of the gods and participate in the idolatrous ceremonies there, Messiah’s followers must resist that temptation.
Is Paul acknowledging that the pagan gods share the same level of authority as the God of Israel? Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? The answer is no. There is only one true God. He created everything, including the animals. The so-called gods of the nations did not create anything. They do not have the same authority as the God of Israel. In fact, compared to His authority, they have no authority. They have no authority over animals. For those who know this, it is OK to eat the meat of animals sacrificed to an idol.
Even though the so-called gods are not the true God, who alone is God, and therefore have no authority; and even though the food offered to idols belongs to the Creator, so that the idol and the food offered to an idol is nothing – there is something to the gods and idols of the pagans – but it is a dark something, a malevolent something. But the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. The Lord’s divinely inspired representative informs us that demons, also known as fallen angels and evil spirits, are lurking behind the worship given to the gods. When the pagans sacrifice to their idols, a demon is there, receiving that worship. And Paul does not want Messiah’s followers to be participants with demons.
Messiah’s followers are participants in the Lord and participants in His worship, and the Lord demands exclusive worship. You 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. The Lord is good. The demons are evil. They are in rebellion against the Lord. They are enemies of the Lord. The Lord will not tolerate human beings who worship Him, worshiping His demonic enemies. Messiah’s followers must not be involved in the worship of demons.
The Rabbi asks two questions which reveal the foolishness of followers of Messiah who are tempted to be involved with idolatrous worship. The first question: Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? The answer – we had better not try to arouse the Lord’s jealousy. It is foolish to arouse the Lord’s jealousy. The Lord has made it clear that He is a jealous God. We are to have no other gods before Him. He demands our undivided loyalty, our exclusive worship. He will not share our love or devotion with any other being.
The second question: Are we stronger than he? The answer is no. We are not stronger than He is. He is far stronger than we are, infinitely stronger. Therefore it is foolish to antagonize Someone who is so much stronger than we are. Therefore, if they are tempted to go to go to the temples of the gods and participate in the idolatrous ceremonies there, Messiah’s followers must resist that temptation.
The Rabbi anticipates, and answers, an objection. “I have the right to do anything,” you say. The Corinthians had been taught that Christianity was not a set of rules. They had been taught that following the Lord was not by having a list of does and don’ts. They had been taught that they were not under the authority of the Sinai Covenant. They had been taught that following the Lord meant being filled with the Spirit of Yeshua, and loving God and loving people and proclaiming the Good News and building Messiah’s Community. Some may have concluded from this: I have the right to do anything – including the right to go to the temples of the gods and participate in the worship there. They aren’t real gods. I won’t be harmed. I will show my good will toward my pagan neighbors.
Even if they had that right, the Rabbi teaches them that there are other things to be considered. “I have the right to do anything,” you say – but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”- but not everything is constructive. Even if we have the right to do something, we should consider if using that right will help or harm. If it will not result in something beneficial, then even if we have the right to do it, we should not use that right.
And when we consider if using a right is constructive, we should consider if it is constructive not only for ourselves, but for others. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. If others will be harmed, not benefitted; if others will be torn down, not built up, then because of our love for others it is better not to use our right.
The Rabbi addresses other situations relating to idolatry. It’s unacceptable to participate in idolatrous worship in the temples of the gods, but what about eating food that was sold in the meat market that had been sacrificed to idols?
Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” Most likely most, or even all of the meat sold in the meat market was first sacrificed to an idol. However, since we know that the Lord made everything, including the animals, the meat belongs to the Lord and therefore Messiah’s followers have the right to eat the meat. And as he does so often, the Rabbi reinforces his teaching with a quote from the Word of God, in this case Psalm 24: the Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. Eating meat sold in the meat market is acceptable.
What about eating meat sacrificed to an idol in someone’s home who is not a believer? If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. Accept the invitation to eat a meal with someone who doesn’t know the Lord. Share a meal with them in their home. Eat the meat that has been served to you, even if it has been offered to an idol.
What about eating meat sacrificed to an idol in someone’s home, and someone there raises a concern about it? But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours.
If someone at the meal raises a concern about eating the meat offered in sacrifice to an idol, even if you aren’t concerned because you know better – don’t eat the meat. Apply the principle that love is greater than knowledge. Apply the principle that we are to consider if what we are doing is beneficial or harmful to others. If eating the meat will cause the person who is concerned about participating in idolatry to go against his conscience, which is something we don’t want to happen – we don’t eat the meat.
The Rabbi anticipates the objection that our freedom shouldn’t be determined by how others responds. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? The answer? Because love for others is greater than our knowledge. Because love for others is greater than our freedom, or insisting on our rights.
And because the glory of God is involved. So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. God is glorious. God is very glorious. It is one of the highest duties of each creature to honor the glorious God. The glory of God must be taken into consideration and given a priority in our decisions about eating and drinking things connected to idolatry. In fact, the glory of God is to be taken into consideration and given a priority in everything we do.
Paul was amazing. He was one of the greatest human beings who ever lived. He felt obligated to bring the Good News to everyone, because he knew they were not saved, and their greatest need was to be saved. Bringing the Gospel to others was a huge part of his purpose driven life. To do that, he gave up seeking his own good, his own personal interests. He sought the good of others. He adapted himself to each one. He looked for shared interests that would help him point people to Messiah. He looked for ways to please others, which would smooth their way to the Lord. He did everything he could not to cause anyone to stumble. In other words, he did everything he could not to offend anyone. He asks Messiah’s followers in Corinth to follow his example.
Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. And 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Messiah. Paul divides the world into three groups of people: Jews – the members of the Chosen People who don’t know Messiah and are not saved. Greeks: the people that the Corinthians were part of. They represent the nations other than Israel. They too are not saved. Then there is the third group, the church of God, the community of people who belong to God, who are saved. That community is made up of Jewish people, who remain Jewish in their national identity, and the people from the nations, who maintain their national identities.
We don’t want to offend the Jewish people, who need to be saved. There is no place for anti-Semitism among Christians. We want to please them and bring them the Good News so they can be saved. We don’t want to offend the people from the other nations, who need to be saved. We want to please them and bring them the Good News. And we don’t want to offend the people who are part of the community that belongs to God. We want to encourage them and inspire them so they will work hard at living holy lives and work hard at proclaiming the Good News. We want to seek everyone’s good.
That’s the way Yeshua lived. This is what was important to Him. Paul knew that and followed His example. That’s the way Paul lived, and he asks us to follow his example. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Messiah.
Lord, worshiping idols is not a temptation for most of us in Western Civilization today. But, serving other interests before you is a temptation for us today. Help us to flee from those idols which tempt us. Help us give ourselves wholly, completely to You.
Help us to follow the example of Paul, who followed the example of Messiah. Help us to work hard at living holy lives and work hard at proclaiming the Good News, trying to please, not offend people, seeking everyone’s good.