Dwight Fletcher | Not everything is permissible
Today we begin a new series and will be looking at what God may have meant when He granted us grace and liberty. Culture and norms often clash with our faith, and we are not sure what to do. Corinth was the New York City of ancient Greece. It was a hustling, bustling, thriving, commercial metropolis. Goods, ideas and culture flowed freely through the streets, marketplaces, and pagan temples. The who’s who of the citizens hung out at the Temple of Aphrodite, which was the country club. It was the place to be seen and noticed; it was the place to rub elbows. If you wanted to be part of the temple scene, you would have to slice up a bull to sacrifice to your favourite goddess. Surely you would also have to stick around for some sex-play worship with some of the temple prostitutes. This was Corinth.
The Christians in Corinth had grown up with this for years, and now they had a struggle on their hands. It seems that some of them wanted to walk the tight rope, or tiptoe along the edge of the cliff, and some even had jumped off into this swirling whirlpool of immorality and sin. After all, they’re baptised, communing Christians, and they could handle themselves. “We know how far to walk out, Paul, without falling into it.” In Chapter 8 of 1 Corinthians, we see that eating meat sacrificed to idols was not in and of itself a wrong activity, but if coupled with some type of homage to that idol then it became something to avoid. Additionally, we see that, though something was alright to do, it didn’t mean that one should do it, especially if it would negatively affect our brothers. However, there were some who were enticed to and wanted to even pass that level and participate in the sacrifice itself. Paul states categorically, this is wrong. “Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 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. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy?” 1 Corinthians 10:18-22 (NIV)
Although an idol is nothing, there are spiritual entities behind their worship, and to sit and participate in the actual ritual is to be spiritually adulterous. “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.”
Some persons want to stretch the limits and straddle the fence. Some of the Corinthian believers thought that because they had professed faith, went to church, and joined in the Lord’s Supper, that they could live as they pleased. This belief was false, and Paul illustrated this through an example from Israel’s history.
Paul is imploring the Corinthian (and present-day) believers, to not make that mistake! Verses 1-13 are all about them not making that mistake. He writes broadly about two things:
1. Be warned by Israel’s history – God’s covenant protection is conditional
2. Look to the Lord to get you out of temptation.
Next week, we will look in more detail at Paul’s warning and how we, too, need to take heed today.