HOPE CHAPEL Sunday Service Notes
Teaching Series: “Be Different” based on 1 Corinthians
Today’s Topic: “Week 6: Idolatry” (Chapters 8 & 10)
For further study:
“Beware of 4 Modern Day Idols” (FlexTalk - pursuegod.org) -
“True Freedom Begins with Your Mind” (John Piper - Desiring God) -
“Love of the Church” (Frances Chan - Naga Seminarian) -
Our study of 1 Corinthians has brought us to chapters eight and ten where Paul answers the Corinthian believers’ questions about ‘idol meat,’ what freedom in Christ looks like with regard to its consumption and attempts to persuade them to elevate the need to demonstrate love over knowledge. Chapter nine also addresses the issue of ‘freedom in Christ,’ but as we have already examined it alongside chapter four in Paul’s teaching concerning the rights of a worker and his rights as an Apostle, we will not be doing so again this morning.
“Now regarding your question about food that has been offered to idols. Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. 2 Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. 3 But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes.
4 So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God. 5 There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many lords. 6 But for us, “There is one God, the Father, by whom all things were created, and for whom we live. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created, and through whom we live.”
7 However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated. 8 It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do.
9 But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. 10 For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? 11 So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. 12 And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. 13 So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.”
Paul begins this section by making it clear that ‘knowing’ something without the exercise of love, actually reduces the value of the knowledge that is claimed. Some in the church have rightly understood that the idols of Corinth were nothing more than statues and had begun to freely eat the meat that had been used in the various temples for worship. Others in the church simply couldn’t bring themselves to do it, equating the eating of the sacrificed meat with worship of the idols.
Paul actually accuses those he agrees with of sinning. In verse twelve he tells them bluntly that by exercising their freedom because of their ‘superior knowledge’ they sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong; this sin against other believers is in Paul’s estimation a sin against Christ as well. Paul furthers his position by stating that if his eating causes another believer to sin, he would rather become a vegetarian!
Paul is clear that, yes, idols are not gods; there is only one God. But not everyone in the church knows this. In verse eight he tells them frankly that eating meat in the temples of idols, or not, doesn’t harm or benefit them either way. So why bother? For the sake of other believers who do not yet have this same understanding, why make an issue of it at all? It is far better to forego such freedoms for the sake of other believers, so that the church is built up through the exercise of love. Whereas knowledge alone in this matter will divide the church, love will strengthen it.
For now we will leave this discussion of eating meat sacrificed to idols until Paul revisits the topic midway through chapter ten...
“I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. 2 In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. 3 All of them ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
6 These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, 7 or worship idols as some of them did. As the Scriptures say, “The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.” 8 And we must not engage in sexual immorality as some of them did, causing 23,000 of them to die in one day.
9 Nor should we put Christ to the test, as some of them did and then died from snakebites. 10 And don’t grumble as some of them did, and then were destroyed by the angel of death. 11 These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.
12 If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. 13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”
Paul cautions the church in their need to stay true to the new relationship they have with Christ and not be swayed back to their old way of living. The Israelites, too, had experienced God to a life altering degree–“all of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water...” and yet all of “their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.”
The same people who lived the miracles of God’s rescue from Egypt, continually returned to their old ways of thinking and behaving. Paul refers to three instances where God punished the people enmass to warn the Corinthian believers from returning to their old ways of sexual immorality, worshiping idols and as a warning not to grumble against God:
What is the point of all these examples? A warning! Paul is telling the believers of the Corinthian church that their new relationship with God through Christ will not protect them from God’s wrath. If they choose to return to worshiping idols, continue to engage in sexual immorality or, it would appear from Paul’s examples, become ungrateful and complain against God and His plan, they only have to look to the history of the Israelites. “These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.”
He then adds that the temptations they are currently facing are not new. Anyone wishing to resist temptation need only remember the way out God has already provided. Forgiveness, the gift of the Holy Spirit and a transformed life through our belief in Jesus as Saviour! They are no longer slaves to sin, but alive in Christ.
“14 So, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols. 15 You are reasonable people. Decide for yourselves if what I am saying is true. 16 When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ? 17 And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body. 18 Think about the people of Israel. Weren’t they united by eating the sacrifices at the altar?
19 What am I trying to say? Am I saying that food offered to idols has some significance, or that idols are real gods? 20 No, not at all. I am saying that these sacrifices are offered to demons, not to God. And I don’t want you to participate with demons. 21 You cannot drink from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of demons, too. You cannot eat at the Lord’s Table and at the table of demons, too. 22 What? Do we dare to rouse the Lord’s jealousy? Do you think we are stronger than he is?
23 You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial. 24 Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.
25 So you may eat any meat that is sold in the marketplace without raising questions of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
27 If someone who isn’t a believer asks you home for dinner, accept the invitation if you want to. Eat whatever is offered to you without raising questions of conscience. 28 (But suppose someone tells you, “This meat was offered to an idol.” Don’t eat it, out of consideration for the conscience of the one who told you. 29 It might not be a matter of conscience for you, but it is for the other person.) For why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks? 30 If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it?”
In these verses, Paul is actually referring to two different settings in which the Corinthians might find themselves ingesting ‘idol meat.’ In verses 14-24, Paul is speaking to those who have been going to the temples located throughout the city and eating on the premises. Though they may not see their eating as participating with those who are actively worshiping the idols at these temples, Paul warns them that they are walking a fine line. Just as those who participate in the Lord’s Table are sharing in the body and blood of Christ, those who participate at a table set for an idol–which is really worship of God’s enemies–are sharing in the cup of demons. Paul warns these ones who have adopted this practice because of their ‘superior knowledge’ and ‘freedom,’ “You cannot eat at the Lord’s Table and at the table of demons, too. What? Do we dare to rouse the Lord’s jealousy? Do you think we are stronger than he is?” To which the answer to this rhetorical question is a resounding ‘No!”
Paul then continues to explain in verses 25-30, however, that ‘idol meat’ bought on the open market should not be cause for concern. This is where it would be helpful for us to consider how an offering was dispersed. When a worshiper brought a sacrifice to a temple, only a portion of it was burnt up as a sacrifice; the priests would receive a portion, a sacred portion would be set aside to be consumed in the temple by the one making the offering; the rest of it would be sold on the open market.
Paul assures the Corinthian church that purchasing this meat, even knowing that it had been part of an offering to an idol, was entirely permissible. They are free to eat it in all good conscience and thank God for it. This also frees them up to accept invitations to dinner from non-believers; they do not have to refuse out of concern for where it might have been obtained. If, however, their host tells them that it is ‘idol meat’ and, we can assume, believes that fact to hold significance, then they should refrain from eating it so as not to send the wrong message.
Chapter 10:31 - 11:1
“31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. 33 I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved. And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.”
He concludes this portion of his letter by encouraging the believers to follow his example by choosing love of others over personal freedom...every time. Paul is willing to endure inconveniences to his personal preferences if it means that others might come to know God through his self-denial. Rather than provide unnecessary offense, it is best to find ways to open doors for the gospel through the consideration of others.
Application - How do we apply this to our lives today?
Idolatry is just as prevalent today as it has ever been...it is one of Satan’s most effective tools in his arsenal against God and His people. Idolatry installs a lesser thing in the place that belongs to God alone. It can take the form of other religions, possessions, prestige and worldly philosophies. Our ‘idols’ need to be identified and removed. God alone is worthy of our worship, obedience and focus.
The history of the Israelites should serve as a dire warning. God is patient, but He will draw a line–He was not blind to their spiritual adultery...and He isn’t blind to ours either.
These instructions of Paul beg the question, “Do we exercise our spiritual freedoms under God’s overarching principle of love first and foremost?” We are not bound to rules created by people to earn favour with God or to ‘re-earn’ our salvation...that is the way of the modern day Pharisee and we know what Jesus had to say about Pharisees. But neither are we free to cause someone less mature in their faith to ‘stumble’ over our freedom. The Church is to be a real life rehabilitation centre where God does the work of transforming our wrong thinking, habits and behaviours...and we are all clients. The Church is, or should be, full of people recovering from backgrounds in gossip, cheating, stealing, addictions, abuse, hate, murder and even idol worship...you can fill in your own blanks. We each need to take care that our actions are not simply determined by our own selfishness without considering how it might impact another in the faith.
Next week: “Be Different” - Week 7 - “Worthy Worship” (Chapter 11)
First licensed for pastoral ministry in 1994, Pastor Jane Peck has served in camp and church ministries in three denominations, five provinces and in a variety of roles. Her most recent position is that of Pastor at Hope Chapel which she began in 2020. She is excited to see what God can and will do in the days to come!