Choose whom you will serve

Good evening. Please turn with me again to 1 Corinthians chapter 10. 1 Corinthians 10.

We’re moving on to the next section of Paul’s extended exhortations against idolatry.

As we have noted in previous sermons, the first 14 verses of chapter 10 we could summarize as warnings against the dangers of PRESUMPTION. Pride, blatant idolatry, grumbling, and testing Christ are all listed and illustrated by Paul as sinful examples from the Old Testament for us to avoid.

After the sin of presumption, we have in our text tonight a warning against the idolatrous temptation to compromise. Compromise.

And then next time, Lord willing, we will get to verses 23-33 and see the dangers of legalism. Legalism.

But let’s start tonight by reading our text, 1 Corinthians 10:14-22:

14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel:[d] are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

Let’s begin by just noting in passing that Paul’s statement in verse 14 to flee from idolatry is a kind of hinge verse that serves as a transition point from the preceding section into this one. He was addressing, in a more general way, the sins of the old testament fathers.

Now he moves into a more specific exhortation against the sin of idolatry. Apparently in Corinth, there were people that were not merely eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols, which was been a background concern since chapter 8. But there also appears to have been some Corinthian believers who were actively participating in the pagan temple worship ceremonies. They were present for and, in some measure at least, partaking in the idolatrous ceremonies.

And Paul wants them to see the danger of compromise, of knowingly or unknowingly partaking in idolatry.

And I think you can see the questions and the rebuttals that Paul is pre-empting. The Corinthians might be tempted to think and argue back against Paul.

But Paul, you’ve already said in chapter 8 that idols are nothing and have no real existence, and that there is no God but our true god. If that’s the case, what harm could there possibly be in going to our old stomping grounds and enjoying the celebrations and the feasts like we used to? There’s no harm in participating with a non-existent idol. What’s wrong with that? It’s just meat and food and wine, just hanging out with old friends.

Paul anticipates this logic, and gives us our section of text tonight to open their eyes to the spiritual realities that are behind the ceremonies. He pulls back the curtain, as it were, to let us see the greater entities and forces that are lurking behind these seemingly innocuous ceremonies.

And in his argumentation, we will note, can be observed a pattern, repeated twice. And that pattern is this: Think, question, acknowledge. Think, question, acknowledge. That’s the pattern he uses, and he uses it twice.

Look at verse 15 and see the first exhortation to think. Think. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Judge for yourselves. Examine the evidence. Use your brains.

 There’s certainly a little play on words with word judge. The Corinthians had previously boasted in their ability to judge, to reckon, to discern. They viewed themselves as logically and intellectually mature Christians, with gifts in the area of discernment and rhetoric. So Paul presses them to use it.

I think it is worth noting in Paul a disposition that all good teachers and leaders have. Paul was in a position of authority. He was their apostle, and so he could have said something like: by the Power and authority given me by Jesus Christ himself, I forbid you to go to the pagan temples. He could have thrown his credentials around and really put his foot down. But he didn’t do that.

He instead wanted them to use their gifts of reason. Consider. Judge for yourselves. He doesn’t merely want to train them in WHAT to think, but HOW to think. That’s what the best of teachers and leaders want to do. We don’t want to create mere mindless robots that blindly submit and ask no questions.

Rather, we want to create individual thinkers that wrestle with and pursue the truth. Christianity is the truth, it is not afraid of reason, but rather accords with it. We’re not afraid of logic and investigation.

Normally, this will look like appeal to reason and revealed truth.

Of course, this principle isn’t universally applied. When I tell my 2-year-old to put on his jacket and he asks “Why?”, I’m not going to give him a dissertation on the relation between the cold weather and the human immune system. My two-year-old can’t reason and use logic yet. He needs in that moment to know that Daddy said so, and Daddy loves me, so I can trust daddy, and he needs to learn to submit.

But if I treat a teenager the same way, we will have a problem. If a parent tells their 16-year-old to do something, and only ever tells the teenager “because I said so” without training the 16-year-old to reason on their own, then the parent is really doing that 16 year old a disservice. The young person needs to be trained to think rightly, not merely trained to submit without question.

The same is true in probably every area of leadership, and it is especially true in the church. If you’re ever under someone who refuses to reason from scripture or sound logic, and instead consistently appeals to their position, their office, their role as a leader or superior or pastor, then you need to be careful.

Authoritarians, and tyrants, and poor leaders all can hide behind the impenetrable wall of their authority, and view questions as implicit or explicit threats. Christians, instead, should stand clearly on the truth of God and sound reason from it, and therefore should not be fearful or threatened by questions.

And that’s what Paul does: seeks to get the Corinthians to think clearly about the situation. And how does he get them to think? He moves in verse 16 to pose 2 questions for them to Consider. Consider these 2 rhetorical questions about the nature of the ceremonies in these pagan temples.

16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

His larger point behind these questions is this: participation is not neutral. Participation is not neutral. Yes, an idol made of wood and metal is nothing, but there cannot be neutrality in these kinds of things. And he drives to that point with a first question about the Lord’s supper.

The cup that we bless, is that not participation in the blood of Christ? Partaking of the Lord’s supper is no mere meaningless and spiritually insignificant ceremony. Christ’s spirit is active, working in and through the means of the table to strengthen and bolster the heart of the faithful. Furthermore, the table becomes an occasion for discipline of those that are partaking without a proper heart of faith, as we will see in chapter 11.

And if that’s true in the Lord’s ceremony, if it is true that deeper spiritual forces are at play at the Lord’s table, why would you think anything less is taking place in the pagan temples? Participation in the ceremony, which on the surface is nothing but food and drink, is no mere neutral event. It involves interaction with spiritual realities which are in no way indifferent, so don’t be naïve.

Likewise with the bread: The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

Being involved with the Lord’s ceremony is not merely a snack time in the middle of the service. If that’s all it was, it would be a sad snack indeed. Participation at the table is to fellowship, to commune with, a spiritual presence working behind the meal.

But let’s move onto the next verse and see the principle to acknowledge in verse 17. The principle to acknowledge.

17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

In the Lord’s supper, our shared loaf illustrates the unity and oneness that we have as the body of Christ. Shared experience of the ceremony points to a larger reality of horizontal participation and unity.

Individual Christians don’t take the lord’s supper at home in their closets. It’s a meal for the body of Christ, for a local church, and in that shared experience of taking the Lord’s supper together, we’re not merely communing with Jesus, we’re communing with each other under the ministry of our Lord. It’s a communal act, a shared act of obedience and faith.

So, in light of that principle, why would we think anything else is happening in the pagan temple? Participating in the pagan ceremonies is participation, communion, fellowship with others around us. It’s not hard logic to follow.

Paul then reinforces his argumentation with another cycle of Think, question, acknowledge. First, in verse 18, think, consider, reason, use your brain. Paul says:

Consider the people of Israel:[d] are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?

Consider. Think. Realize. Reckon with what I’m saying.

Then Paul again goes to the Old Testament revelation for not merely a sermon illustration, but also for sound logic and reasoning.

Consider the people of Israel:[d] are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?

He’s training them how to think. Does not the one who eats the sacrifice also participate in the altar?

That is, when a Hebrew brought an animal to be slaughtered as an offering, and then partook of the cooked meat, is not that Hebrew necessarily participating in whole act of worship? You can’t separate the eating of the meat from what was happening at the altar. The two are connected.

Participation is more than mere performance. In fact, participation gives expression to who we are, what we think, and what we believe. Participation gives expression to what is going on in our heads and our hearts, or at least it should.

But Paul, didn’t you already say that these idols are nothing, and that we can either eat the meat or not? It seems like you’re speaking out of both sides of your mouth. Which is it? Idols are nothing, or idols are something? Because if they are something, we won’t participate, but if they are nothing, then why can’t we go to the parties like we used to?

Good questions. And Paul, the master orator, anticipates their thoughts and offers more questions.

Look at verse 19, where he presses them to reason by using 2 rhetorical questions. 19 What do I imply then? Think for yourselves. What am I saying here? Where do these premises take our conclusions?

That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No of course not. The idols are mere man-made trinkets of wood and metal, birthed out of ignorance and deception. They have no power on their own. They can’t move, they can’t speak, they are powerless. The Old Testament speaks about that in many places.

Isaiah 41:29, for example:

“Behold, they [the idols] are all a delusion;
their works are nothing;
their metal images are empty wind.”

The idols themselves are nothing, useless, powerless, lifeless. And yet. And yet. Paul wants us to see more. To see behind the idols.

That’s the principle to acknowledge in verse 20:

20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.

Here’s where things get really interesting. Paul is saying that the pagan idols are nothing in themselves. They have no real existence. That’s why meat sacrificed to those idols is not necessarily a problem.

And Yet, the ceremonies and the rites surrounding the idol worship are fueled and overseen and influenced by demonic activity. The spiritual forces surrounding and encouraging pagan idolatry…that’s the real problem.

And so, Paul gets to the nub. He doesn’t want the Christians to participate with, to fellowship with, to commune with, to be influenced by with the demonic forces.

Let’s stop here for minute and reflect about what the bible teaches about these spiritual dynamics. Let me gives us a few bullet points about the nature of these spiritual realities.

  1. Demons work to deceive.

2 Corinthians 4:4 says that the god of this world has blinded the minds unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel and the glory of Christ. That’s an interesting phrase: blinded the minds of unbelievers.

The pagans in the temple ceremonies are blind of mind, clouded in their thought, unable to naturally see the truth and glory of Christ. They are unaware of Satan’s schemes, led around by the deception of another. They’re enslaved by deception. And that leads to a second point:

  1. Idolatry breeds vulnerability.

 Romans chapter 1 gives us this sort of connection. Romans 1:21: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Worshipping any creature rather than the creator, making an idol of any created thing, leads down the path of sin, it clouds our minds, it makes our thinking futile and it darkens our hearts. And when we bow down to any idol, don’t be surprised to see Satan and his demons show up and act in ways to foster this.

Idolatry makes one exposed to demonic manipulation, and liable to satanic delusion and deception. But its not just a problem for unbelievers, which is our next point:

  1. Christians are not immune to deception.

In 2 Corinthians 11:3, Paul talks about the serpent that deceived Eve, and then just a little later in verse 13, he says of the false teachers, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” Satan disguises himself as an angel of light and purity, and Satan works through the deceived false apostles, claiming to be working on behalf of Christ.

There are a whole slew of false religions, bearing varying levels of correspondence to Christianity, that are full of deceived leaders seeking to lead others into deception.

The Roman catholic church, for example, has many marks that are similar to biblical Christianity, and yet the heart of it undermines the gospel, and turns the faith into an idolatrous religion of man’s works, rather than God’s grace.

Mormonism, likewise, and Jehovah’s witnesses. These are certainly idolatrous religions under the influence of demonic forces seeking to hide the truth and obscure Christ. The Black Hebrew Israelites, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism, all of these things are tools of Satan to use deceived men and women to worship the creature, rather than the creator, and obfuscate the grace and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. And that leads to a problem, seen in the next point:

  1. You cannot serve two masters.

That’s the point of Paul’s next verse in our passage. Look at verse 21:

21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t participate with demons and participate with Christ. Friendship with the world is enmity with God, the bible says.

To put it more sharply: To be connected with polluted worship is to be involved with the pollution. You can’t avoid it. And that leads to an important truth, seen in the next point:

  1. External activities matter.

You can’t claim the name of Christ, and then involve yourself in activities under the influence of Satan and expect to remain unaffected. What we do, matters. What we engage in, matters. And in these matters, we need prudence, and we need to not be naïve.

Overt idolatry is ruled out. Worshipping Allah and worshipping Christ is unacceptable. Islam is a religion of false gods that is clearly under the deceptive influence of Satan and his minions. Clear idolatry is unacceptable.

Further, the bible makes clear that purposeful engagement of the dark spiritual realm is sin. Galatians 5 lists sorcery as one of the deeds of the flesh, and Revelation mentions deception and sorcery several times. Revelations 18:23 says that entire NATIONS are deceived by sorcery, and Revelation 21 speaks of the final destination of the sorcerers is the lake of fire.

Christians aren’t to be anywhere near this kind of stuff. No Ouija boards, no palm readers, no seances, no witches or witchcraft. Nothing. You can’t participate in these things and expect to remain unaffected.

But the next step away from those things could be less clear for us, and so we should be watchful, and not be naïve.

Worshipping Allah is out, but fasting is OK, even a Christian duty, so what about an Arab Christian participating in the month-long fast of Ramadan? That’s ok, right?

What about other, seemingly neutral things? Are you aware of how the demonic might influence you and your spirituality through otherwise benign channels? Social media, for example.

Nothing inherently sinful about social media; and yet, you best not be naïve about Satan’s influence over such things. If his goal is to confuse and deceive and obfuscate the truth, then you better believe that he’s doing that on social media. Satan may not be personally manipulating algorithms, but he certainly can work through the people that DO implement the algorithms, and thereby can influence what you see.

Or how about the media? News outlets? What about the movies we watch? The music we listen to? The places we visit? Do you think that Satan has a vested interest in these things promoting lies and darkness, rather than truth and light? Of course, he does. Don’t be naïve about these things.

One more: I can think of another false religion in America, certainly influenced by demonic forces. It’s a religion with prominent priests, and the most impressive temples. It’s a religion that competes with the Lord’s day, and seeks to subtlety distract from the gospel, rather than overtly contradict it at first. This is the religion of athletics. We’re no different than Corinth, in that regard.

Sports fills the channels 24/7, it distracts us on the Lord’s day, it occupies our minds, it calls for our money, it demands our allegiance, it promotes division and rivalry. It easily gets our heart set on the things of this world, and distracts our attention from God. We easily get more excited about our favorite athletes and teams than we do about anything related to the work of the Lord.

Sports are certainly not necessarily sinful, but don’t be naïve about its influence, especially Satan’s influence over it and through it, to deceive, distract, and devalue the things of the Lord. Because to do that, is to endanger our souls, which leads to my final point:

  1. Paying homage to idols is flirting with the demonic.

This is assumed in Paul’s argumentation when he says “I don’t want to you to participate with demons.” If we bow down to idols, we’re fellowshipping, participating, communing with the demonic.

And we’d be foolish to think that God would be OK with that. And so Paul concludes this section with a couple more rhetorical questions. Verse 22:

22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

Paul warns of the danger of provoking God. Nobody does this, but to their own ruin. Commenting on this text, Calvin says that, “to contend with God is nothing short of voluntarily courting destruction. Therefore, if we fear to have God as an enemy, let us shudder at the thought of framing excuses for manifest sins.”[1] That means, if we’re fearful of the idea of having the living God displeased with us, then let us work to keep ourselves free from any pollution or contamination from demonic activity.

Now, to be sure, we must believe what the bible says about demonic activity, but we must also believe it in the proportion that the bible teaches it. That is, we should be balanced in our thinking, as scripture is balanced. We don’t go around finding demonic activity under every falling leaf and every sneeze.

We don’t live in crippling fear of the demonic, for Satan is a defeated foe and we’ve been liberated from his captivity. And yet, we don’t go naively courting Satan and the things under his influence. That’s foolishness, and tempts God to holy jealousy.

And if you’re hear tonight, and you’re hearing what I’m saying for the first time. If you’re not sure what to think about this Jesus and the demonic forces that I’ve been talking about, I encourage you to read God’s word, and see what he says. Think, as Paul would exhort of us all.

Satan and demons are real. They are not little fluffy devils in red costumes and carrying pitchforks like in the cartoons. They are real, personal beings bent on deception and death. Jesus says that Satan was a liar and a murder from the beginning, and that’s exactly what he seeks to promote in this world. Lies and murder.

And that’s exactly what he promoted about Jesus. He lied about Jesus’s identity, about his origin, about his goodness, about his power, about his truthfulness, and about his promises. And for years he lied and murdered Jesus’s character among men, before ultimately murdering Jesus on the cross through the hands of sinful men.

And today, Satan and his demons are still at work promoting lies and distorting the truth today, to the end that Jesus gets defamed, and men murder men. If you don’t believe in Christ, that’s where you sit: under the influence and deception of the most crafty and powerful created being. His goal is your death, and his delight is your deception.

But Jesus is not like that. Jesus came that you might have light, instead of darkness. He came to deliver to you the truth, not lies. In fact, He says that He is the truth. The embodiment of all that is good and righteous and true and beautiful.

And not only that, he came that you might have life, not be murdered. He came that your heart would overflow with rivers of living water. He came to make the light of God shine in your heart. He came to free you from captivity to darkness. He came to give you liberty from fear. He came to release you from the chains of death and the grave, and freed from the dominion of Satan.

And he did all of this because of the love of God. He was moved by goodness, and love and compassion to come down and take action to save. Rather than murder, he brought life, and he brought it at the cost of his own.

Jesus died for the salvation of sinful, deceived souls, that they might be set free from deception and death. Satan means to end your life, but Jesus allowed his life to be murdered that yours would never have to be.

Trust in this Jesus, and have him as your savior, and you too can know the truth. You can know salvation. You can know mercy and light and grace and all things pleasant and glorious.

Don’t neglect so great a salvation, and don’t remain under the deception, under the sway of the great murder and deceiver. There’s no hope in that. There’s no peace in that.

Come to the light, and by sharing in his grace, you too can know peace, and communion. You too can participate with Christ, rather than demons, simply by believing in his name.

[1] John Calvin et al., Calvin’s Commentaries. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009), 341.


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