There is an old saying about the process of biblical interpretation that goes like this, “A text without a context is a pretext.” Now doesn’t that make everything clear?!? It is saying that the larger context surrounding the passage (or text) you’re trying to understand is absolutely essential. Otherwise, you’re just making a guess at what is being said that may not actually be correct, such as would be clear from the information of the larger picture.
It has really struck me over the course of working through these difficult passages in Corinthian chapters 8-10 of the importance of everything being understood in light of the larger context. And again, that larger context relates to the rightful exercise of individual freedoms and liberties. And the big picture application is that, though freedoms exist, there yet needs to be a larger willingness to defer at times in the exercise of those liberties in light of others, particularly brethren who are weaker in the faith.
The background question at hand again today has to do with the freedom to eat meat offered to idols, as most marketplace meat available at that time had been. And in today’s passage and the one to follow in the next devotional, Paul is going to give three answers. Answer #1 is today …
1 Cor. 10:14 – Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.
10:18 – Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
Paul is telling the Corinthians that they should not be going to pagan temples and eating meat in those public places. Simply stated: FLEE IDOLATRY. Just stay away from it.
The first illustration Paul uses is of the communion time in the church assembly. Drinking and eating of the cup and the bread signify unity together of the participants with the work of Christ. There is oneness, everyone understands that. In that moment we are together one body – with each other and with Christ.
The second illustration looks back to the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, as those participants were also identifying with the sacrifice and with each other.
Likewise therefore, by application, when a Christian is in the pagan temple and participating, there is an identification/unity thing going on. Paul additionally says that, no, unlike with Christ, the pagan god is not real. But what is real are the demons associated with it all – doing the work of blinding and enslaving those who are fully invested in that system.
There is therefore then no place for Christians to have a foot in one world and a foot in the other. That’s crazy; that’s inconsistent. And beyond that, the Lord’s jealousy is rightly aroused; and there is no future or strength to be had to stand against that. It certainly did not work out well for Israel when they deviated in such fashion.
So how does this apply to us today? We’re not going to go downtown to a pagan temple and eat meat. But there needs to be some thinking that goes on in the minds of Christians as to what things they should participate in and what things need to be completely avoided. I certainly don’t think any would argue with me that a strip club is rather fully over the line into the errant category. But how about a casino? Or drop it back a couple of notches to a rowdy tavern? How about even a classier upscale bar?
Yes, it gets complicated; and various Christian people are going to draw the line at different places. As I wrote earlier in this discussion, the faith community around which I grew up drew the line VERY far back from any possibilities of worldly contamination. It was far enough to have honestly crossed another line and into an opposite category called “legalism.” But, having said that, I personally think the time has come where we need to consider that our evangelical liberties pendulum has swung a bit more widely to the licentious end. Just sayin’. Just being honest. Just being concerned. Just worried we might be getting a bit too Corinthian.