1CORINTHIANS 10:1-11:1 – MORE ABOUT 'FREEDOM' AND 'RIGHTS'
© Rosemary Bardsley 2015
Paul was very concerned about the arrogance of some the Corinthian Christians.
This arrogance was expressing itself in their teacher-based divisions [1:10ff; 3:4ff] that demonstrated a failure to live in line with the message of Jesus Christ and him crucified.
It was expressing itself in their failure to remember what they were when Christ called them [1:26ff].
It was expressing itself in the jealousy and quarrels among them [3:3ff].
It expressed itself in their glorying in men [3:21f; 4:6ff].
It expressed itself in an open resistance to correction, as if they were above correction, even from Paul [4:14-21].
It expressed itself in their tolerance of incest among them [5:1-13].
It expressed itself in taking each other to pagan courts [6:1-11].
It expressed itself in their assertion of their perceived 'freedom' to engage in sexual immorality [6:12-20].
It expressed itself in their insistence that they were free to eat food offered to idols [8:1-13] even though this caused some of their fellow Christians to stumble.
To Paul such arrogance, which is totally the opposite of the humility and the compassionate heart of Jesus Christ, was a very dangerous thing. It seemed to deny the very nature of the message of Christ crucified. It treated with contempt the truth that every believer individually, and all believers corporately, are the temple of the Holy Spirit. It failed to recognise that Christians do not belong to themselves, but to God, who redeemed them by the blood of Jesus, his Son. It trod roughshod over their fellow-believers, ignoring their needs, their weaknesses, their sensitivities, in its self-centred insistence on its freedom and its rights.
If Paul had not personally known these Corinthians, if he had not personally witnessed their repentance and conversion, if he had not personally discipled them in the early days of their faith, he would have much reason to conclude that they were not truly Christians, that they did not, and had never, truly believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The kind of things they were doing, the attitudes they were displaying, were not the actions and attitudes expected of, or appropriate for, those who know and submit to the Lord.
So Paul hits them hard with lessons from the history of Israel.
A. LESSONS FROM HISTORY – 10:1-13
To impress them with the sheer wrongness of their attitudes and actions Paul says 'I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact …' [verse 1]. They are going along in their arrogance blind to the danger of their position. He has to let them know, he has to somehow make them see, how precarious their position.
A.1 'All …' [verse 1-4]
Paul speaks of the ancestors of the Jews who were led by Moses out of slavery in Egypt. About these Paul says:
All were 'under the cloud' [the cloud of God's protection that delayed the Egyptian advance – Exodus 14:19,20].
All passed through the sea [Exodus 14:14:21,22].
All were 'baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea' [that is, they were identified as being under the leadership of Moses.]
All 'ate the same spiritual food' [the 'manna' from heaven provided by God for the 40 years they wandered in the wilderness – Exodus 16:4ff, 35]
All 'drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them' [the original reference is in Exodus 17:1-7, where God supplied them with water from a rock; Paul has added spiritual significance – that Christ is the source of living water.]
A.2 'Nevertheless …' [verses 5-10]
They all experienced these physical blessings provided by God. But that did not mean that they were all people of true faith. They all experienced physical rescue. But that did not mean that they all believed in God or that they all worshipped God.
The truth is that 'God was not pleased with most of them' [10:5]. In fact, only two of the adults did not perish in the wilderness. The historical point at which this radical differentiation occurred is recorded in Numbers 13 and 14, where only Caleb and Joshua expressed faith in God in the context of entering the land of Canaan.
But this final evidence of lack of faith in God was not something that occurred only then; it was the expression of an absence of faith in God that had been there all along.
The large majority of the Israelites rescued by God had 'sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry' [10:7; Exodus 32:6]. While Moses was on Sinai speaking with God, the people convinced Aaron to make an idol for them to worship, and they then indulged themselves in an orgy of idol worship. Horrific punishment fell as a result.
Numbers 25:1-9 reports that the Israelite men joined with Moabite women in their worship of Baal of Peor; this involved them not only in idol worship but in the sexual immorality involved in that worship. Thousands were killed on that one day [10:8].
Numbers 21:4-9 reports that the people 'spoke against God and against Moses', grumbling about the conditions of their lives, wishing they had never been rescued from Egypt [10:9]. Many were killed by snakes.
Similarly, Numbers 16 reports a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, the Lord's appointed leaders. This grumbling incurred God's judgment [10:10].
These are terrible reports. Paul does not refer to them to unsettle the faith of true believers but to warn those who are acting with similar arrogance to make sure that they really are believers, and that if they really are true believers they had better stop acting like unbelievers.
Association with believers does not automatically make a person a believer. All the Israelites had experienced physical deliverance, but not all were people of true faith.
A.3 'Now these things occurred as examples …' [verses 6-12]
Read 10:6-12. List the lessons Paul draws from these examples of godlessness.
Paul gives seven warnings or commands based on these Old Testament reports:
 These examples of what happens to the godless should 'keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did' [verse 6]. We, who belong to Christ, should not set our hearts on evil things. That is what the godless do. That is what attracts God's judgment on the godless. These 'evil things' are the things that God hates, things that are offensive to him.
Paul's readers were setting their hearts on [the word means to crave or lust after] evil things.
 'Do not be idolaters, as some of them were' [verse 7]. The whole of the Old Testament addresses the stark difference between the one true God and idols, and the utter wrongness of a person who claims to believe in God having anything to do with idols. The history of Israel is filled with the tension between true worship and idolatry. The kings of both Israel and Judah were assessed on whether they worshipped God or idols, and what they did or did not do about idols and everything connected with idols. Judgment fell upon both Israel and Judah because they had forsaken the Lord and worshipped idols.
Paul's readers were actually treading on dangerous ground when they minimised the issue of food offered to idols.
 'We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did' [verse 8]. But that is exactly what some of Paul's readers were doing, and without any sense that it was wrong, but rather with an arrogant assumption that it was permissible [6:12-20]. Their lives look like the lives of the unbelieving godless, not like the servants of Christ.
 'We should not test the Lord, as some of them did' [verse 9]. The Israelites had 'tested' [that is 'tempted', 'pushed to the limit', 'put pressure on', 'provoked'] the Lord by their lack of trust and by their lack of contentment, both expressed in petty grievances about which they grumbled and complained. They saw only their present physical discomfort, rather than the big picture of the amazing power of God and the amazing redemption provided by him. They overlooked the many times he had miraculously provided their physical needs. In their arrogance they looked not at who God is, but at what they felt was due to them as their right. True faith was absent.
Paul's readers, with their arrogance and their insistence on eating whatever they pleased, looked very much like these ancient Israelites.
 'And do not grumble, as some of them did' [verse 10]. This grumbling was not about physical comfort but about God's appointed leadership – the authority structure put in place by God. Again, the Corinthian Christians, with their arrogance and insistence on personal freedom, and their exalting of themselves above the message of Christ crucified, appeared to be guilty of a similar disregard of God's authority.
 'These things … were written down as warnings for us' [verse 11]. These Old Testament reports make it very clear that there are some things that God simply does not tolerate. Yes. He may bear with them for a time while he graciously allows time for human repentance, but on such things his judgment can and will fall. They are not the kinds of things appropriate for people who belong to God. They were wrong back then, and incurred God's judgment back then, when the people had very little in the way of God's self-revelation. But even then they knew such actions were wrong. How much more ought we, 'upon whom the fulfilment of the ages has come' [verse 11] know that these things are wrong! That is Paul's point. His Corinthian readers have heard the message of Christ and him crucified. They know God by knowing Christ in a way that those old Israelites never could. They have learned of the amazing redemptive work of the cross of Christ, planned and promised by God from the beginning of time, and brought into reality in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They have seen and heard what generations of believing Israelites longed to see and hear. And they are still living as though they did not believe! Their vastly increased knowledge of God should have resulted in vastly increased commitment to God. But such commitment was not evident.
 '… if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall' [verse 12]. Paul here hits at the Corinthian arrogance. So puffed up were they that they did not realise how vulnerable they were. Such arrogance, such self-confidence, ought in itself be a warning to them.
Reflection: What lessons from these examples apply to Christians today generally and to you personally?
A.4 The common human lot [verse 13]
The pressures the Corinthian Christians were facing, the temptations some of them were giving in to, were not unique. They were the same pressures [which is what the word 'temptation' means] that are 'common to man'.
The pressure that Satan put on Adam and Eve was the same pressure he put on Jesus Christ. The temptations endured by Jesus Christ were the same as the temptations experienced by every human being [Hebrews 2:10-18]. What confronts us and pressures us to be unfaithful to God is the same as the pressures that confront everyone, and the same as the pressures that confronted Jesus Christ.
And the same God who strengthened his Son to withstand the pressures is the God who is faithful to us. Because of his faithfulness to us, his blood-bought children, he does two things for us:
 He limits the pressure/temptation to what we are able to bear. We can see a clear example of this in Job 1 and 2, where God put a boundary around what Satan was able to do to Job. God knows our faith; it is, after all, his gift to us. Just as he knew what Job's faith could handle, so also he knows what our faith can handle. If we give in to the pressure/temptation it is not because the pressure was too big for us, but because we gave in before we needed to. It was not because our faith was too small, but that we did not exercise our God-given faith to its full extent. Whatever God allows, we are able to endure it.
 He provides a way out so that we can stand up under it. With whatever temptation God permits to confront us, God also, with the temptation, provides 'a way out'. The Greek is 'the way out' – exbasis. This does not mean that God removes whatever the temptation or pressure is, but that he provides the way for us to stand firm under that pressure or temptation instead of giving into it or falling into it.
Paul's point is: pressures/temptations come to everyone. God limits the pressure to what we can bear without giving up and giving in. God also, concurrent with every pressure/temptation, provides whatever we need to prevent us from giving up and giving in. If we give up the fight and give in to the pressure/temptation, we have made a wrong and unnecessary choice. With God's provision of 'the way out' we could have stood firm.
This is a clear rebuke to the Corinthians. Their failures are not only inappropriate. They are also unnecessary. And they are evidence that these Corinthians, in their arrogance, were not availing themselves of the God-given way of escape.
B. BACK TO THE QUESTION ABOUT FOOD OFFERED TO IDOLS – 10:14-22
Paul has made two extended digressions from the issue of food offered to idols. The first was his lengthy explanation of his own refusal to insist on his 'rights' [chapter 9]. The second was a hard-hitting list of examples of godlessness from the early history of Israel [10:1-13]. His intention in both was to get the Corinthians to see the inappropriateness of their attitude specifically in relation to the question of eating food offered to idols, but also of their attitude generally. The length to which he has gone to impress them is evidence of the seriousness with which he views their stance.
He now starts his refocus on foods offered to idols with the word 'Therefore'. On the basis of all that he has just written, he addresses them as 'my dear friends' and commands them 'flee from idolatry'.
Then he introduces three more (inter-connected) reasons for this command.
B.1 The Lord's Supper – verses 15-17
Christians all partake of the Lord's Supper. In drinking the cup, they participate in his blood. In breaking and eating the bread, they participate in his body. Thus they are united to the death (sacrifice) of Christ for them. And thus they are united to each other. This union is indicated by the practice of all drinking from the one cup, and all eating from the one loaf.
B.2 The sacrifices of Israel – verse 18
Paul draws a similar indication of unity from the sacrifices of Israel: that the participants, the sacrifice and the altar were bonded together. It was not possible to separate them. Just as it is not possible to separate the Christian from Christ and his death.
B.3 Sacrifices offered to idols – verses 19,20
Paul now returns to the food offered to idols question. He does not do this because 'a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything' or 'an idol is anything'. Neither the idols nor the sacrifices are anything. In this he reaffirms what he has said in chapter 8. But, and it is a strong 'but', there is a deeper, more sinister, truth that he has not mentioned before: that the sacrifices offered to idols are actually offered to demons. They are not offered to God. They are not even offered to 'gods' because 'gods' have no real existence. They are offered to demons.
Read Deuteronomy 32:16,17. What does it say about idol worship?
All false gods, all false teaching, are inspired by demons.
B.4 The utter inappropriateness of partaking in sacrifices offered to idols – verses 20-21
Because of this, and because of the principle he has laid down in the first two points above that those who partake of the sacrifice are co-participants in the sacrifice and in its meaning, Paul says 'I do not want you to be participants with demons'. In partaking of food offered to idols that is what they were doing. But Paul says that this is something that they 'cannot' do.
You cannot drink both the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons.
You cannot have a part in the Lord's table and the table of demons.
Paul is not saying that they ought not do so. He is saying that it is not possible to do so. [The Greek is ou dunasthe – it is not possible.] The two are mutually exclusive. You simply cannot have fellowship with Christ and fellowship with demons. The two have nothing in common. The two are antithetically opposed to each other.
B.5 God is a jealous God – verse 22
Paul was well acquainted with the Old Testament. He knew, even if some of his readers did not know, that God is a jealous God.
There are two aspects to the 'jealousy' of God:
 God's 'jealousy' is grounded in his knowledge that he and he alone is God: that there simply is no other God; that all the gods of the nations are false, the weak and helpless creations of human hands and human minds; that he and he alone is the source and sustainer of life and all that is necessary for life.
God knows that all idols have no real existence. God knows that they are substitute gods created by humans out of their dark, blind lostness, out of their rejection of God as God, way back in Genesis 3. Such idols are the products of human darkness, the result of Satan's deceptions.
It is no wonder that God cannot tolerate either these idols or the worship humans give to them.
 God loves us and wants the best for us. God knows that that best is totally dependent on us living in a relationship of dependence on and trust in him. God is jealous for us to experience this best. So he is against anything that robs us of this glory and this good. God knows that only in relationship with him can human beings be what he created them to be; and that those who worship idols become as worthless as the idols they worship.
God, the jealous God, is against the idols made by humans and against the demons who inspired their worship. They are contrary to him, and they are contrary to his good purpose for us.
For those who have returned to the true God by turning to Jesus Christ this jealousy of God is intensified. Those who believe in Christ are extremely precious to God, so precious to him that it is beyond our ability to realize how precious we are. God rescued us from the darkness, from the devil, from our blindness, from our lostness, at great cost. We are incredibly loved by him. And he is incredibly jealous on our behalf.
Why then would someone so loved by God, so precious to God, provoke his jealousy by participating in anything to do with idolatry?
Why then would anyone want to provoke his anger?
Are we stronger than God? Paul asks. Of course not.
Why then would anyone who knows God by knowing Jesus deliberately participate in anything to do with idols?
C. THE BELIEVER'S FREEDOM – 10:23-11:1
Paul twice quotes again the catch-cry he quoted twice in chapter 6: 'Everything is permissible'. This is apparently what the arrogant Corinthians were saying to validate several of their actions and attitudes: in chapter 6 it was sexual immorality; here it is eating food sacrificed to idols.
Even if it were true that 'everything is permissible', it is not true that everything is beneficial, and that everything is constructive. And why would anyone loved by God want to do anything that was neither beneficial nor constructive? Neither beneficial for the person involved nor constructive for his/her fellow Christians?
Read 10:23-11.1. What instructions does Paul give, and what is the basis of these instructions?
C.1 The good of others – verse 23,24
Paul stresses again that the basis on which we decide what we should or should not do should never be our own desires, our own pleasure or our own perceived freedom. We should make our decisions on the basis of whether or not it is good for our fellow believers: will it hurt them or help them? Will it build them up or pull them down? Will it bring them closer to Jesus, or turn them away from Jesus? Will it help them to live for Jesus or cause them to stumble? 'Nobody should seek his own good, put the good of others'.
Such an attitude requires humility. It requires what the New Testament calls 'submission' – that we are to give up our supposed rights in order to bring about the well-being of the other. This, Paul states in Philippians, means that we should have the same humble, self-denying, self-negating love for our fellow Christians that Jesus demonstrated in his incarnation, life and death [Philippians 2:1-8]. This, Paul states in Ephesians is what being 'filled with the Spirit' looks like [Ephesians 5:18,21]. This, Paul affirms in Colossians, is produced by the word of Christ dwelling in us richly [Colossians 3:16-4:1].
When we read verse 30 we will learn, in addition, that our actions are also to consider the well-being of unbelievers, not just of believers.
C.2 Food sold in the market - verse 25,26
Paul now gets down to the particulars of the question of eating food sacrificed to idols. Firstly, he speaks about food on sale in the market. This may or may not have been previously offered to idols. About this he states:
Don't even bother to ask if it had been offered to idols – 'without raising questions of conscience'.
He says this because the earth, and everything in it is the Lord's. The Lord created it. The Lord gives it life. The Lord sustains it. Without the Lord it would not exist. Without the Lord it would not survive.
And this is part of the irony and the pathos of idol worship: that idol worshippers thank their idols, sacrifice to their idols, worship their idols for things that the one true God has provided. And the one true God, in his amazing grace, continues to provide and sustain.
So, Paul says, eat the food from the marketplace with a clear conscience. It is, after all, from the hand of the Lord.
Similarly, verse 27, eat whatever an unbeliever gives you to eat as a guest in his house, with a clear conscience.
C.3 But … verse 28
Verse 28 overrides what Paul has just said in verses 25 to 27. In those verses, it was unknown whether or not the food had been offered to idols – whether food in the market or food provided by an unbeliever in his private house. In those cases Paul said it was unnecessary to ask any questions of conscience about the food.
But, he says, if someone says that it had been sacrificed to idols, then Christians must not eat it. This command is very clear. Paul's reasoning, however, is somewhat involved, and may be misunderstood to mean that it is actually okay to eat the food even if you know it has been offered to idols.
In explaining this clear command not to eat food that you know has been sacrificed to idols, Paul gives his reasons as:
'for the sake of the man who told you' … From this man's perspective, whether he is a believer or an unbeliever, the food belongs to the idol. To eat it, as Paul has explained in 10:14-22, is to participate not only with idols, but also with demons. For a believer to eat it, knowing its history, would be seen as an affirmation of idolatry. The 'man who told you' needs to know that Christians do not affirm idolatry, and that the Christian God is far removed from their idols.
'and for conscience' sake' – that is, not the believer's conscience, but the other man's. It seems probable, but not totally necessary for Paul's argument, that this 'other man' is a believer. It is the impact on this other man's conscience that Paul is concerned about. Paul has already spoken of the harm done to a 'weak' brother's conscience in chapter 8. What he says now seems to be a different argument:
'For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience?' Paul seems to be arguing that if a Christian eats food he knows has been sacrificed to idols, that Christian will be judged by another man's conscience. The other man will be thinking all sorts of judgemental, condemnatory thoughts, questioning the integrity of his faith, and so on.
'Why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?' By both this 'why' and the previous one Paul is drawing attention to the pointlessness of insisting on one's 'rights' and one's 'freedom'. Why, he asks, would anyone want to go ahead and eat this food sacrificed to idols, when all it results in is judgment and condemnation?
In the eyes of the unbeliever, and in the eyes of the weaker brother, the Christian who eats this food, is dishonouring the God he claims to believe in, making no distinction between God and idols.
C.4 Paul's concluding instructions – 10:31 to 11:1
Summing up all he has said about eating food offered to idols [Chapters 8 to 10] Paul gives three concluding commands:
 '… whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God' – verse 31. This command covers everything, every choice, every decision, every attitude, every action. The one goal of the Christian is to glorify God – in everything.
This purpose permeates the whole of scripture.
And this purpose dominated and characterised the life of Jesus Christ – John 17:4.
 'Do not cause anyone to stumble …' - verse 32. This command forbids the Christian to cause anyone – whether Jews, or Greeks or the church – to stumble. That is, we are commanded to do nothing that would hinder unbelievers coming to God, or that would hinder believers in their walk with God.
This command requires the Corinthians to put their arrogance [and their 'rights' and their 'freedom'] aside and to live with a humble consideration for the well-being of the other. Paul explains it by a further references to his own life:
'even as I try to please everybody in every way' – verse 33. He does not mean by this that he does whatever anyone wants him to do, that would make him their slave rather than Christ's. His meaning is that rather than please himself he moderates his actions so as not to give offence to or bring a bad result to others.
'For I am not seeking my own good, but the good of many, so that they may be saved' – verse 33. Here is Paul's other-centred mindset. Here is the ultimate good that he wants for everyone – to be saved. Regardless of whether or not the process is 'good' for him, comfortable for him, easy for him, that is his goal. That is his purpose. For that reason he gladly surrenders his rights and his freedoms.
 'Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ' – 11:1. In the matter of humility versus arrogance, in the matter of rights and freedom versus the well-being of the other, Paul commands his readers to follow his example. Just as in these matters he imitates Christ.
Reflection: How do Paul's instructions to the Corinthians challenge your life and your attitude today?