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Communion in Corinth (Part 2)


In part 1 there was a general sketch about Paul’s deep compassion for the Corinthian believers and the issues addressed in I Corinthians.  To narrow the focus, an overview of some matters discussed in chapters 8 – 11 of I Corinthians could help our understanding of the warnings regarding the Lord’s Supper.

The problems about eating meat that had formed part of a sacrifice offered to pagan idols was a very real issue for these Christians of the first century; Paul discussed this in chapters 8 and 10 here, and he also addressed it in Romans, (which was probably written later.)

Token parts of animals were evidently burned in pagan temples, then priests got a share, and other parts were distributed to the idol worshippers. It would have been customary that such worshippers give feasts in the precincts of the pagan temples; such feasts comprised a major component of the social life in Corinth. If a Christian were to be invited to such an occasion, a meal dedicated to an idol in a pagan temple, should he or she attend? No, a Christian should not attend, according to the truths proclaimed in I Corinthians 10: 14 –22. Even though an idol itself is nothing, the pagans were sacrificing to demons and not to God. A believer should not think in terms of partaking of the Lord’s table and the table of demons, or drinking the Lord’s cup and the cup of demons. One could not be a good example to anyone in the setting of idol worship, despite personal “freedom” regarding food itself: (8: 4 – 13.) In a place like Corinth, this commitment to refrain from joining blatantly idolatrous gatherings meant intentionally cutting oneself off from the majority of popular social activities.

The meat associated with these pagan sacrifices was far more than what was used in pagan rituals, so it was sold to shops from which it was sold to the public. Christians were free to buy such meat from shops without inquiring about the source of the meat: (10: 25, 26.) Ultimately, everything in the earth belongs to the Lord who owns the earth; this truth is quoted in this Corinthian letter from Psalm 24: 1.

Furthermore, Christians could accept invitations to eat in the homes of unbelievers, eating anything set before them without problems of conscience. Nevertheless, if someone else present would mention that the meat had been offered to an idol, it would be a reason to refrain from eating that meat, not due to one being oversensitive in his or her own conscience, but out of loving concern not to cause trouble for the conscience of the other person (who mentioned the idolatrous practice associated with the meat – 10: 27 – 29.)

According to Paul’s exhortations, the “knowledge” regarding freedom to eat what one wanted was merely being inflated with self- conceit; it was vital not to arrogantly strike blows against the potentially sensitive conscience of fellow believers. Such believers could be tempted in harmful ways (to violate their own conscience) by those who ate freely without regard to the qualms and uncertainty of others: chapter 8.

Paul, in his example (chapter 9), took all of these realities into account. He did not regard his freedoms, “rights”, or any possible privileges as an apostle as more important than the value of living the gospel in a true, inoffensive way. His carefulness among Jews, Gentiles, and sensitive Christians about customs (foods, etc.) was purposely focused toward “saving some.” He disciplined himself to make “blows” of self- discipline count (instead of “shadow boxing”), so as not to disqualify himself from the “competition” he had heralded. The context suggests extreme carefulness not to offend anyone (through customs or freedom to disregard customs) from any cultural background; this extreme care was for the purpose of not allowing sloppiness of example to interfere with possible opportunities to speak the gospel and “save some.” This is the context of “becoming all things to all men.” Paul clarified that this did not include being “lawless” or sinful before God. He would eat with anyone for the purpose of winning people with the gospel message, but clearly, as can be inferred from the context, not in a sinful setting, (such as a pagan feast in a temple of idols.)

He encourages others to practice this type of carefulness:

I Corinthians 10: 31 – 33:
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.

It is against this backdrop of encouragement for believers to have wise, loving, careful dealings with all people, despite the insidious nature of idolatry in pagan societies, that Paul approached some concerns about feasts among believers and the Lord’s Supper.

… to be continued.

One Response to “Communion in Corinth (Part 2)”

  1. on 31 Mar 2007 at 4:44 pmKaren

    Thanks Ken, that was an excellent and informative post.


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