Lesson Text: 1 Corinthians 10:12-22
Background Scripture: 1 Corinthians 10:1-22
Devotional Reading: Hebrews 3:7-14
1 Corinthians 10:12-22 (KJV)
12 Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
14 Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.
15 I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say.
16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
17 For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.
18 Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?
19 What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing?
20 But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.
21 Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils.
22 Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?
TODAY’S LESSON AIMS
Learning Fact: To describe the Apostle Paul’s admonition to Corinthian believers concerning the Lord’s Supper and the temptation to serve idols.
Biblical Principle: To discover that the Holy Scriptures are not just recorded history, but also contain examples and warnings to learn from.
Daily Application: To live responsibly by taking heed of Biblical examples to flee sin and overcome temptations.
HOW TO SAY IT
The Medicine of Immortality?
Ignatius of Antioch, a leader in the early church, called the Lord's Supper the “medicine of immortality, the antidote against dying.” He was writing about A.D. 110, a little over 50 years after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Ignatius believed and taught that partaking of the Lord's Supper gave Christians almost magical protection against life's ultimate troubles. This idea later developed into what is called sacramentalism, a belief that eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord's Supper is essential to maintaining one's salvation. To be barred from partaking (excommunication) was effectively to lose one's salvation.
But defective views of the Lord's Supper did not begin with Ignatius of Antioch. At least some of the Corinthian Christians of Paul's day held one or more false understandings in this area. Part of Paul's response was to warn them by drawing on incidents from the history of Israel. This week's lesson will explore those examples.
Time: A.D. 55
Place: from Ephesus
Two areas of background information will better help us understand today's lesson. First, the warnings from Israel’s history that the apostle Paul recorded here in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 illustrates Israel’s exodus from Egypt and wandering in the Sinai wilderness, and showed what happens to people who reject God by succumbing to idolatry. It is useful to review the wilderness experience of the nation of Israel. Perhaps some may idealize that experience as being somewhat like a weekend camping trip that was extended for 40 years. Everything was the same, week by week, as people lived in tents. Their clothes and shoes never wore out, so they never got new ones (Deuteronomy 29:5). They gathered manna and ate it daily (Numbers 11:6; Deuteronomy 8:3).
During this period, the people of Israel had many points of contact with other small nations and tribes (Numbers 14:45; 25:16-18; Deuteronomy 23:3). Encounters with peoples outside the covenant are the basis for some of the lessons Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 10.
A second background item that can help us understand this lesson is to note Paul's use of an interpretation method known as typology. The essence of typology is that certain persons, places, things, or events in the Old Testament serve as patterns (or “types”) that can help us understand various persons, places, things, or events in the New Testament.
A good example is King David as a “type” of the Messiah or Christ. Certainly, David did not measure up to Jesus in essential nature, character, or importance, but David's kingship provides many patterns that help us understand Jesus as the true Messiah, sent by the Father. For example, when Psalm 2:7 says “Thou art my Son,” we understand this as having been written about David, but it is applied more fully to Jesus in Hebrews 1:5. Typology figures heavily into Paul's method of teaching in 1 Corinthians 10.
Paul reminded the experienced believers who were strong in the faith that they had better not grow overconfident in their ability to overcome temptation. “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). Paul used the nation of Israel as his example to warn the mature believers that their experience must be balanced by caution.
Cautions for Corinthians: 1 Corinthians 10:12-14
1. What advice and fundamental truth does Paul offer concerning temptation? (1 Corinthians 10:12-14)
Paul offers sound advice: don't overestimate your spiritual strength. This is akin to the old saying, “Don't play with fire or you will get burned.” Paul is not speaking to folks who are constantly in the presence of temptations due to life circumstances. Paul has in mind, rather, the believer who acts arrogantly, trusting in his or her spiritual maturity and strength to enter the lions' den of paganism voluntarily and not be consumed.
We are all born with a corrupt moral nature inclined to do evil (see Ps. 51:5; Eccles. 9:3; Jer. 17:9). Also, we do not have the ability to change ourselves. Only God can transform us and give us the strength to resist evil. So, despite the power of evil to tempt us to sin, that enticement can be resisted. The Lord in His faithfulness will provide a coping strategy for every tempted believer who relies on Him rather than on his or her own wisdom and strength. Furthermore, God does not permit enticements that are too great for the believer to resist, nor does He allow anyone to be trapped by temptation with no righteous choice available (1 Cor. 10:13). Down through the centuries, these truths have given hope to beleaguered Christians.
Let's apply this to the Corinthian situation. What would be a way to escape the temptation of participating in idolatrous activities at a pagan temple? How about this: Don't go! We should never underestimate the power of temptation. Often the best way to defeat temptation is to avoid it altogether.
What Do You Think?
Is it useful to try to identify in advance possible escape routes for various kinds of temptations? Or is this more of a “wait and see what God will provide” issue? Explain.
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Regarding temptations of the body | Regarding temptations of the spirit
Observing the Lord’s Supper: 1 Corinthians 10:15-22
2. What wise path does Paul advocate in regards to idolatry? (1 Corinthians 10:15-17)
By speaking as to “wise men,” Paul is calling on the Corinthians to exercise wisdom. To flee from idolatry is the wise path. The opposite is to invite temptation by participating in activities of the pagan temples, the places of idol worship. To join in activities there—even activities that do not involve worship as such—is unwise, foolish. Paul wants his readers to take this matter seriously, to examine carefully what he says. This is not a light matter! The salvation of some believers may be at stake.
In verses 16-18, Paul now returns to the Lord's Supper as a way to understand the danger of flirting with idolatry. He reminds the Corinthians that the Lord's Supper is a communal meal, a symbolic sharing in the blood of Christ and the body of Christ. The Lord's Supper has a built-in symbol of unity: the single loaf of bread that is shared by all partakers. This connectedness is not incidental, but purposeful and meaningful (compare Romans 12:5). Paul's implication is that the communal meals at a pagan temple, using food dedicated to an idol, also speak to a unity of worship—idolatrous worship.
3. What did Paul say about efforts to be involved with both idolatry and the worship of God? (1 Corinthians 10:18-20)
Paul explained that there were spiritual realities underlying the participation of believers in the Lord’s Supper. By remembering Christ's death, the believer enters into a communion with the risen Lord. In 1 Corinthians 10:18, Paul pointed to the temple altar and sacrifices as another illustration of this truth. The application is clear: A believer cannot partake of the Lord's food (the Old Testament sacrifice, the New Testament supper) and the devil's food (the idol's table) without exposing himself to danger and provoking the Lord.
Evidently, many of the Corinthian believers felt no qualms about participating in the feasts held at the temples of idols. They correctly reasoned that the idols at the pagan temples represented inanimate creations of stone and wood, and were lifeless, powerless gods. However, Paul warns that there is a demonic presence behind them. Just because the pagan gods are fictitious does not mean they do not represent powerful, evil spiritual forces (compare Revelation 9:20).
What Do You Think?
What experiences have you had, or personally know of people having had, with demonic spiritual forces? How have these affected you?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Ouija board | Witchcraft/Wicca | Fortune-telling | Other
4. What does Paul tell the Corinthians about divided loyalties? (1 Corinthians 10:21)
This verse (1 Corinthians 10:21) has one of the most profound statements in the book of 1 Corinthians. In modern idiom, we might put it this way: “You cannot share yourself with both the Lord and the demons.” Our relationship with God must be exclusive. There can be no such thing as a part-time, Sunday-only Christian.
Paul is drawing a direct contrast between the pagan celebrations—spiritually enlivened by the demonic realm—and the celebrations of the Lord's Supper practiced by the Corinthians. Both are intended to have a powerful spiritual impact on participants. The temples of the gods do not sponsor meals merely as free entertainment. They do so to honor their gods, and Paul warns that demonic powers lurk behind these events.
Paul's statement here is similar to Jesus' teaching that we cannot serve God and mammon (Matthew 6:24). There can be no divided loyalties in the Christian walk. There is one God (Ephesians 4:6) and all other gods, whether mammon or Apollo, are false. This does not mean they are “fake” with no spiritual power (compare Acts 16:16-18; 19:13-16). If we allow ourselves to think otherwise, we are truly setting ourselves up for a fall (1 Corinthians 10:12). We must guard our hearts, not inviting temptations and compromise.
What Do You Think?
What guardrails can we erect to keep us from dividing our loyalties in various areas of life?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Family | Vocation | Hobbies | Other
5. What is the meaning of Paul’s rhetorical questions in 1 Corinthians 10:22?
Paul ends this section with two rhetorical questions: (1) Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? (2) Are we stronger than He (the Lord)? The answers to which should be obvious. “Are we stronger than He?” (1 Cor. 10:22) is directed at the strong Christian who was sure he could enjoy his liberty in the pagan temple and not be harmed. “You may be stronger than your weaker brother,” Paul intimated, “but you are not stronger than God!” It is dangerous to play with sin and tempt God. As God desired the allegiance of Old Testament Israel, so He desires ours. To shift our allegiance to idols or other things will provoke the Lord to jealousy (compare Exodus 20:5; 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24; 5:9; 6:15).
POINTS TO PONDER
1. God will not abandon us in times of temptation. (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)
2. A wise person will overcome the temptation by relying on God only. (vs. 14-17)
3. We must choose to serve God and Him only. (vs. 18-22)
In the final analysis, God commands that we “flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14). This is a constant refrain in the Old Testament, and the Christian way does not require any less. The new covenant through Jesus' blood has not changed this. We must guard our hearts and give them only to the Lord.
Seduction to Sin
On the blog “Waiter Rant,” this observation was made: “Seduction... isn't making someone do what they don't want to do. Seduction is enticing someone into doing what they secretly want to do already.” This statement occurs in the context of a waiter enticing a foursome of women to have dessert after an expensive dinner. He presumed that the four truly wanted calorie-laden desserts but were denying themselves this pleasure. The waiter, using patience and the power of suggestion, eventually convinced all four to order dessert, adding $33 to their bill. When paying their tab, one of the women moaned, “I can't believe I ate that... You are the devil.”
We are surrounded by temptations. These come from advertisements, from the Internet, from friends, from those closest to us. None of these wears the face of a devil or demon. But just as Paul warned the Corinthians, we are to be careful lest we fall into old patterns of sin.
Temptation to sin may also come through us. Remember that some of our fellow believers have been delivered from horrendous, destructive patterns of sin. They may fall back into them easily through a bad witness on our part. We must never be the cause of the fall of a brother or sister (Romans 14:20; 1 Corinthians 8:13). Let us work daily to keep our lives pure and unspotted from the world (James 1:27), and to keep everyone in our fellowship in the same condition (Jude 23).
Holy God and Heavenly Father, may we flee from sin. May we be strong to resist temptation. May we never think we can mix our allegiance to You with service to the gods (temptations) of this world. In Jesus' name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Falling to temptation is not inevitable. God always provides a way out.