Study Notes for I Corinthians 10:14-11:1 (click here for Study Sheet)

Paul has just reminded the Corinthians of some of Israel's most ignoble moments, and he has told them that "these things happened to [Israel] as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come." Now he progresses to a practical warning to help these early Christians not to compromise themselves with evil as Israel had.
First Paul reminds the Corinthians that when they drink "the cup of thanksgiving" and break bread together, they are participating in the blood and the body of Christ. The symbols of the cup and the loaf came from the Passover service. When Jesus ate the Last Supper with his disciples, he took the cup of thanksgiving, which was one of the four cups of wine served at each Passover meal, and gave it new meaning. "This cup is the new covenant in my blood," he said; "do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." (I Cor. 11: 25) Likewise when he broke the Passover bread he told the disciples, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me."
The Corinthians, who had no history of celebrating Passover, nevertheless celebrated communion when they became Christ-followers. For Jewish Christians the new communion service was rich with the meaning of fulfilled symbolism. For the Corinthians, communion was a Christian rite which was completely different from the pagan rituals they left behind. Their pagan rituals had involved eating meat offered to idols, and to eat bread and drink wine as symbols of Deity was a new paradigm.
They didn't have the personal understanding of liberation from Egypt, wandering in the wilderness, and years of apostasy and repentance with the God who finally fulfilled his promises to them. Instead, the Corinthians had a completely new life. They had been rescued from the darkness of demon worship, and their God only asked that they eat bread and drink wine to remember His gift of salvation.
Paul reminds them, therefore, that the wine is not just a drink and the bread is not just food. When they drink the wine they are participating in the shed blood, the life-giving blood, of their Savior God. When they break the bread they are participating in the broken body of Christ, the symbol of their Savior's humanness that suffered and died in the place of their own death.
They were not to forget what these symbols stood for. No longer did they have to offer animals and kill them as they had in their pagan rituals. They no longer had to witness a creature's physical suffering or eat its dead flesh every time they worshiped. Furthermore, their worship was not to be a plea for their God's mercy and grace, as their pagan worship had been. Their worship as Christ-followers was to be a celebration of Jesus, of his life and death and resurrection, and of their own eternal life.
Paul also points out to the Corinthians that they break bread from one loaf. "Because there is one loaf," he says, "we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf."
"You are all one in Christ," he says to them in effect. "You all accept Jesus and participate in communion together; you need to remember that you all belong to Him and are His body. You are all nourished by the same bread of life-Jesus."
Bread and wine became the symbols of the body and blood of Christ because never again does blood have to be shed for sins. Jesus died and bled "once for all"; the continuing symbols of his sacrifice are symbols only of life: bread-the basic food of life-and wine. Meat would not have represented Christ's sacrifice as a completed act. Ceremonial meat involves an animal dying. But Jesus has already died; his blood has been shed eternally. No other creature's death will ever be needed to represent salvation!

The Lord's Table vs. the Table of Demons

Now Paul asks the Corinthians to think about "the people of Israel". When they ate the sacrifices in their temple, he asks, didn't they "participate in the altar"? In other words, when people participated in the Jewish rituals and ate the food that's part of the ritual, they were participating in worshiping God, who established those rituals.
Likewise, Paul points out, when a person participates in eating sacrificial meat in a pagan ritual, he is participating in the worship of the god being honored. Paul says again that idols are nothing, but he clarifies that the pagans are really worshiping demons.
"I do not want you to be participants with demons," he says. "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."
This warning was especially important for people who had recently left demon worship behind. They were vulnerable to those demons because they had honored and worshiped them all their lives. To exercise their "freedom" to participate in pagan temple rituals with their friends was to put themselves in a position where they could very easily be sucked back into demon worship. All their habits and responses were in their memories, ready to spring back into action if they put themselves in the demons' territory.
But there is also another reason why Paul cautioned the Corinthians. Whether or not a person had been involved in worshiping demons, he or she cannot honor two masters. A person who accepts Jesus and is filled with the Holy Spirit cannot simultaneously participate in the motions of honoring a demon. If a person tries to do both, rationalizing that he or she really is committed to Jesus but is participating in evil for the sake of socializing, that person dishonors his Savior who defeated those demons by giving up his life.
People who put themselves in such a double-minded position become the sites of internal spiritual battles. Demons can claim the right to harass such people because they have honored them. Christ-followers cannot truly honor God when they participate in activities they know to be against God. Paul is warning the Corinthians not to put themselves in spiritual danger by returning to their pagan rituals. They now belong to God, and God, who actually suffered and died for their sakes, claims their hearts and their worship. They must honor their Savior.
After all, compromising with pagan rituals was Israel's repeated downfall throughout their entire history. Although they were God's people always, God could not bless them when they honored demons. God cannot do in a Christ-follower what He wants to do if that person is compromising with evil.

Permissible but not Beneficial

After warning the Corinthians of the dangers of participating in demon feasts, he again says, "'Everything is permissible,'-but not everything is beneficialnot everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others."
In this advice Paul is underscoring the freedom a believer has in Christ. When we are in Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we live in freedom from external laws and requirements. As Paul said in I Cor. 2:15, "The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment." Each believer is answerable directly to God; he can speak to God and receive direction directly from God.
As members of Christ's body, we have a role different from any other people in the history of earth. We, the church, the temple of the Holy Spirit, are priests of God and one with God through the Holy Spirit. We have the authority of God in us; "we have the mind of Christ." (I Cor. 2:16) We truly have freedom in Christ from all external requirements.
Our freedom, however, does not nullify our responsibility and accountability for our choices. As believers, we now have the freedom to let God show us how to speak and behave on a moment-by-moment basis so we represent him and love others for him. Sometimes following the direction of the Holy Spirit will look like foolishness to other people. Sometimes it will look noble. But other people's perceptions of our actions and choices do not indicate whether or not we're behaving the way God wants us to behave.
Sometimes we are completely free to do certain things that, were we alone, would be no problem for us or for anyone else. But those same things might be a spiritual stumbling block to other people who are coming from different backgrounds or who are spiritually immature. Our responsibility as Christ-followers is to allow the Holy Spirit to check our behaviors if we will be offending others or putting ourselves in compromising situations.
God told the Israelites that they were to "touch no unclean thing." Because they were under the law, because Jesus had not yet died and sent the Holy Spirit to indwell them as he does the church, because the law was necessary to point out sin and spiritually dangerous situations, Israel lived by the rules God gave them. God told the Israelites to "touch no unclean things" because he wanted them to be conscious of their position as his chosen holy people. He wanted them to keep themselves ritually pure in order to cause them to think about their relationship to him and their place in his heart. He wanted them to take seriously his requirements that they dedicate themselves to purity, holiness, and loving obedience to him.
God gave Israel laws of ritual purity to keep them from sliding into pagan rituals. By having to keep themselves from touching unclean things, they would have to decide to break their agreement with God if they were to engage in eating or participating in pagan ceremonies. Their clean/unclean laws were in place to keep Israel separate from paganism. Those laws were there to protect Israel from ignorantly becoming involved with the pagan practices all around them. And the reason God wanted Israel separate from paganism was to keep them spiritually untainted by the demons the pagans worshiped.
Now, however, Paul underscores to the Corinthians that their role is different from that of Israel-but the ultimate goal is still the same. God wants his people to be spiritually pure and committed to him. And now he has removed the external laws and given them something far more powerful and effective-the Living Law, the Holy Spirit, residing in them. Now they are free from ritual laws of clean/unclean. Nothing in itself is unclean. Now, however, God will inform his people when to refrain from participating in things that would spiritually compromise them or the people around them.

Avoid Confusion

The point of this passage in I Corinthians is that Christ-followers are to avoid confusing other people. A person with a "weak conscience", or someone who has habits related to false worship that he needs to break, may be spiritually confused by a believer who participates in the rituals the new believer feels he or she must leave behind. We are never to be cavalier about our freedom in front of people who are struggling to be obedient to the call of Christ. For many new believers following Christ means abandoning certain practices that connect him or her to the past. We must respect those things others give up; we must not try to convince them that they're really O.K. to do. We have to respect the new believers' needs to make clean breaks from the falsehood or deception they have connected to the behaviors they're giving up.
On the other hand, Christ-followers also need to be sensitive to their witness to unbelievers. An unbeliever who watches a Christ-follower do things connected to evil or self-indulgence may think that a Christian is hypocritical, or that he can be loyal both to God and to gods. As Christ's body on earth, we are to represent the living Christ to our world. We are to allow the Holy Spirit to direct our actions and choices so we speak truth and represent our Savior truthfully.

Surrender to God

God asks us to submit our freedom to him and to the influence of the Holy Spirit. He asks us to pray for the people in our lives, and he asks us to let him minister to those people through us.
God also asks us to give him our lingering habits that compromise us spiritually. We don't worship idols, but we do embrace loyalties and compulsions that come between Jesus and us. God asks us to submit these things to him because they become the equivalent of participating in the altar of demons. Satan has access to the places in us that are hurt or broken when we don't surrender those places to God.
God wants to extend our spiritual freedom to include our emotions and minds. He wants our entire life experience to be one of peace, joy, and freedom. He wants us to become so unconscious of self and so focused on him that we walk joyfully in his will with our hearts and minds at peace.
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened," Jesus says, "and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:28-30)
Jesus wants us to step into his yoke. He's calling us to give up our own yoke of bondage and join him. He will help us bear our burden; no longer do we have to fight our battles alone. Jesus is walking with us-and we're safe inside HIS yoke. When we commit ourselves to Jesus, he does the hard work. "My yoke is easy," he says, "and my burden is light."
We don't have to struggle and fail, over and over, any longer. Jesus walks with us, and his love bears the burdens of our life. We bear the burden of facing the world as a Christ-follower, but that burden is light compared to fighting our own internal demons alone.
God calls us from double-mindedness. He calls to us a clear commitment to him. He calls us to reveal and release our secret shame and bondage to him.
Jesus calls us to a life of healing and freedom. He calls us to peace and joy and love.
The Holy Spirit calls us to listen to his constant ministration of God's love and power in our hearts. He calls us to a life of integrity.
God calls us to be free!

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