1 Corinthians 10:14-33

Click here to read the passage.

In this section Paul finally concludes the discussion which began at 8:1, regarding whether believers should eat food that has been sacrificed to idols. He draws together threads that have been running through the whole discourse: rejecting idolatry; the people of Israel; permissibility vs benefit; questions of conscience; exercising freedom vs becoming a stumbling-block for others; seeking the good of others instead of the self.

Paul’s argument starts in a strange place: the Christian sacrament of holy communion (verses 16-22). If sharing in the cup and the bread is a genuine participation in the body and blood of Jesus, just as the ancient Israelites shared the meat that came from sacrifices on the altar, then isn’t sharing the meat that has been sacrificed to idols a real participation in idolatry? We cannot share in both Jesus and demons, Paul emphatically states. And yet, he also declares that idols are nothing and have no power. Without knowing for sure what Paul was intending, I suggest, based on my personal experiences in South East Asia, that he may have been discerning a difference between the visible idol, which has no power, and the demonic spirit that it represents, which indeed has power. In effect, don’t be scared about those figurines in the spirit houses, but also don’t offer sacrifices to the demonic forces they represent. Don’t worship, revere, or honor anything over against the Lord, who deserves all our worship. Don’t make God jealous by giving your attention to something else.

The second half of the chapter (verses 23-33) goes back to the idea first expressed in 1 Cor 6:12. In their superior knowledge and wisdom (please note the irony intended by both me and Paul), it seems that at least some of the Corinthians believed that they could do anything with their bodies without fear of repercussion. Whether that was because of a super-charged notion of grace and forgiveness, or because of a dualistic belief in the complete separation of body and spirit, the net result was complete libertarianism, that the Christian was completely free of the law. Paul’s response is that (1) not everything is beneficial or edifying for the believer; and (2) a believer should not live for her own pleasure, but for the good of others.

Therefore, with regard to food sacrificed to idols, if no one is thinking about it being sacrificed to idols, don’t worry about it, go ahead and eat, especially if that creates good relationships. But if someone at the table – whether you, or your Christian friend, or your non-believing friend – thinks of that food as sacrificed to idols, don’t eat it. Don’t risk anyone’s conscience being challenged by what you eat. Don’t let anyone else fall just because you think you are strong. (We talked about this a few days ago with reference to drinking alcohol, which is perhaps a clearer example in our modern Asian culture.) Definitely don’t eat food offered in spirit houses to demonstrate your point that the idols have no power – that’s probably what those puffed-up Corinthians would have done if they were in South East Asia.

The rubber hits the road, so to speak, when we consider who we are living for. Are you living for yourself, and your own pleasure? Or are you living for the glory of God? Do you want to please yourself, or do you want to bring benefit to others, in order that they might be saved? While there may be many confusing things in this section of 1 Corinthians, what is clear is that Paul wants his readers, in everything they do and say, to live for the sake of others, and especially for God.

Prayer: Lord God, forgive me for my selfishness. Help me in all that I say and do to live for you and for others. Give me your wisdom to make right decisions in how I conduct myself.

Thai Spirit Houses - San Jao (Chao) Thi, San Phra Phum
Spirit house in Thailand

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