The Pursuit of God

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Applying 1 Corinthians 10: More Beefing About Idol Meats

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This is a continuation of Applying 1 Corinthians 9.

After wading through the cesspool of self-exaltation that was Chapter 9, we start this new chapter hoping Paul is done blowing his own trumpet. Here we are going to find that he is not done discussing the idol meats issue from Chapter 8. Paul has very strong feelings about idol meats. He is adamantly against more mature believers eating idol meats in front of less mature believers because he feels the young will see such eating as an act of idolatry and be led astray. Now in our discussion of Chapter 8, we talked about how this issue can easily be diffused with some simple discussion. If you see a younger Christian misinterpreting something you’re doing as demonic, you can educate them. You can graciously explain why you have a clear conscious about what you’re doing and reassure them that pleasing God is very important to you. And let’s not forget that Paul is writing to a church—these issues can be discussed from the pulpit as well so that the whole body is educated instead of every individual having secret concerns.

When there are differences in convictions, we need to remember that God judges us by our hearts and encourage each individual to obey the leading he is receiving from the Holy Spirit. This is how the New Covenant is supposed to work—Yahweh and Jesus both said we’d all be individually instructed by the Holy Spirit. Given this, it is not correct for Paul to insist that all believers conform to his personal view of things. Paul is not God, and he isn’t doing believers any favors by teaching them to rely on his guidance instead of looking directly to God in their own lives. But hey, it’s Paul, and the man thinks he is God’s gift to the Church.

As we start this chapter, Paul is going to try and unload a major guilt trip onto the heads of believers who are eating idol meats. Though he has already acknowledged that these believers have a more mature understanding of what idol meats are and that they are not feeling convicted by God for eating them, he is now going to try and make these people feel as horrible as possible by saying that they are just like those idolatrous rebels that Moses led around back in Israel’s formative years.

In the books Exodus through Deuteronomy, we read the story of Israel’s early years. These books were written by Moses, and are essentially his biographical story as Israel’s first leader. In Exodus we read about Moses being called by Yahweh to lead Israel, then we read about how Yahweh miraculously freed the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. Once they reach the wilderness on the other side of the Red Sea, the Hebrew slaves make it very clear that they have no interest in Yahweh whatsoever. Instead, they are fully committed to worshiping the gods they learned about in Egypt—gods whose idols they hauled out with them when they were being rescued by Yahweh. When Yahweh terrorizes the Israelites with shocking displays of His power, they verbally agree to stay true to His Covenant, but in their hearts they think He’s an annoying Ogre. The whole wilderness journey is one long gripe session, as the Israelites find every reason possible to rip on Yahweh. When things start getting out of hand, Yahweh nails the little brats with some terrifying plague that kills a bunch of them off before they can kill Moses. Then things settle down for a little while.

Now after a long trek through desert wasteland, the Israelites reach the border of the Promised Land—a patch of lush land which Yahweh had graciously reserved for them to live in despite their constant attitude. But when they reach the Promised Land the first time, the Israelites refuse to enter. Their reason is that Yahweh is an untrustworthy weenie who couldn’t possibly help them drive out the current inhabitants of the land (see The Last Straw). By that point, Yahweh has already put up with all kinds of snark from these people. He decides that their refusal to enter the land He’s given them is the last straw. He then announces that the whole lot of them will have to wander in the desert for forty years while He kills off everyone who is 21 years or older. Yahweh decides everyone in that age bracket is educated enough to be spiritually accountable to Him. You see, out of the entire mob (which would have been well over a million people), no one except Caleb, Joshua and Moses expressed faith in Yahweh. So Yahweh spent the next forty years killing off the adult population in the desert. When Joshua takes over for Moses and leads the Israelites into the Promised Land, he is leading the children and grandchildren of the adults who Yahweh cursed.

Now the important point for you in all this is to understand that Israel never chose to follow Yahweh. Instead, He chose her. Yahweh’s relationship with Israel was like an arranged marriage in which a man chooses who he wants to marry and the woman he chooses wants nothing to do with him, but she’s forced to go along. When you’re stranded in a wilderness with some terrifying foreign God who says “Follow Me or I’ll kill you,” you’re going to at least pretend to go along with His program. But Israel never even tried to love Yahweh sincerely. Instead, she hated Him. The entire Old Testament reads like a tragic story of unrequited love. Then we come to the Gospels where Jesus continues expressing grief and frustration over the Jews.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone to death those who are sent to you. Many times I wanted to gather your people as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let Me.” (Lk. 13:34)

Now what’s different about the New Covenant is that Yahweh has changed how He defines “My people.” Instead of using the term to refer to a nation of folks who knew about Him, yet hated Him, today God’s people are Christians. All Christians have at least one thing in common: we’ve all voluntarily and sincerely submitted to our Makers at some point in our lives. This is much more than the Jews in Moses’ time ever did. Today the Bride of Christ is composed of people who have actually expressed some sincere desire in knowing and pleasing Christ. Back in Moses’ time, to be “chosen” by Yahweh, simply meant you were informed about who He was and what He wanted—it didn’t mean you actually cared about Yahweh.

It’s very important to understand that the Jews in the wilderness despised Yahweh because in this chapter, Paul is going to try and liken those Jews to the Christians in Corinth. Is this fair? Not hardly. At least some of the Christians in Corinth are really trying, so to suggest that they are one step away from becoming like the hardened, demon worshiping rebels of Moses’ time is more than a little unreasonable. Yet this is what Paul is going to do because he is trying to make believers in Corinth who eat idol meats feel like rebellious crumbs.

I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. (1 Cor. 10:1-2)

Paul is a Jew. For him to talk about “our ancestors” tells us that he knows there is a decent population of Jews in the Corinthian church. After all, if you want to make a point to Christians in Russia, you don’t start referring to significant events in the history of Japan, because Russian Christians aren’t going to be well versed in another country’s history—they’re going to be focused on their own history. Paul is going to start throwing out a lot of famous events from Israel’s ancient past which would go over the heads of non-Jewish Christians, so he is clearly expecting the Jews in his audience to explain these references to others.

As they moved through the wilderness, the Israelites were guided by a cloud pillar that miraculously moved about in front of them and showed them where to go. That cloud was associated with Yahweh’s personal Presence.

Yahweh showed them the way; during the day He went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud, and during the night He was in a pillar of fire to give them light. In this way they could travel during the day or night. (Ex. 13:21)

When Paul refers to the ancient Jews walking through the sea on dry ground, he’s referring to the famous Red Sea crossing. Just to underscore how awesome He is, Yahweh caused the ground to be miraculously dry after He parted the waters above them.

Now after referring to these two famous elements of Israel’s early years, Paul says:

In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. (1 Cor. 10:2)

This is ridiculous language. To baptize someone is to dunk them in water. Baptism is a voluntary ritual which follows someone’s voluntary declaration about wanting to be a devoted follower of God. Moses didn’t baptize anyone. The first time we hear about baptism in the Bible is with John the Baptist. Moses didn’t dunk anyone in the Red Sea and he certainly didn’t toss them through Yahweh’s cloud pillar so what on earth is Paul talking about by saying people were baptized “in the cloud and in the sea”? He’s just making stuff up, as usual. Remember that Paul grew up as a Pharisee. Common Jews didn’t dare to question the “wisdom” of the Pharisees. When you’re used to people believing anything you say while your heart is totally hardened towards Yahweh, where is your accountability? Paul feels free to make the word baptized utterly meaningless by saying Moses baptized people when he really didn’t. And while John the Baptist had many people calling themselves his disciples, none of the ancient Jews boasted about being Moses’ followers. On the contrary, they generally disliked Moses and tried to kill him on several occasions. Paul is notorious for making up guff about what the Old Testament actually says, so you need to keep your guard up.

All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ. (1 Cor. 10:3-5)

You don’t have to be an expert on the Old Testament to know that something sounds wrong with Paul saying the Jews in Moses’ day were drinking from Christ. What is Paul smoking? In the first place, no one had ever heard of Christ in Moses’ time. In the second place, Yahweh was adamant that He was the only God in existence. In the third place, Christ is not a rock, nor did the Jews ever drink from a “spiritual rock.” On two occasions, Yahweh caused water to miraculously flow out of physical rocks in order to hydrate His thirsty mob of grumblers. But Christ had nothing to do with it.

It is beyond ridiculous to try and say that the Jews in the wilderness drank from Christ, so why is Paul talking so idiotically? Well, before he can use the ancient Jews as a means of guilt-tripping certain Christians in Corinth, he has to try and create similarities between these two groups. So he makes up this absolute guff about Moses’ crew having some association with Christ because now he can try to suggest that though people align themselves with Christ, they can still end up cast out by Yahweh. This is his real agenda: terrorize certain Christians in Corinth. So he now says of those Christ drinking Jews in Moses’ day:

Yet Yahweh was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, or worship idols as some of them did. As the Scriptures say, “The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.” [Ex. 32:19] And we must not engage in sexual immorality as some of them did, causing 23,000 of them to die in one day. [Num. 25:9] (1 Cor. 10:5-8)

The Exodus quotation is from a description of the Jews wigging out after they made their famous golden calf god to replace Yahweh during Moses’ absence. The reference to 23,000 dying in one day refers to a time when Yahweh massacred a bunch of Israelites for publicly worshiping an idol known as Baal of Peor (see Phinehas: Zealous for God to be Honored). In the original account, we’re told that the death toll was actually 24,000, but who can remember exact numbers? It doesn’t matter if Paul is off by 1,000 until you go around saying the Bible is inerrant—that’s when you start sounding foolish because obviously 1,000 corpses is a significant difference, especially if you’re the guy who had to bury them.

Nor should we put Christ to the test, as some of them did and then died from snakebites. (1 Cor. 10:9)

Again, alarms should be going off in your head whenever you hear Christ being mentioned in the context of the wilderness years. For Paul to suggest that the Jews in Moses’ time drank from Christ, tested Christ, or did anything else with Christ is utterly absurd. It was Yahweh who they were constantly trying with their incessant rebellion, and the incident he’s referring to here is described in Numbers 21 where Yahweh mass slaughtered people using a plague of poisonous snakes (see The Fate of the Bronze Snake).

And don’t grumble as some of them did, and then were destroyed by the angel of death. (1 Cor. 10:10)

This is a reference to another incident of mass carnage which was Yahweh’s reaction to a mutinous revolt against Moses that was led by a Levite named Korah (see Korah’s Rebellion). It’s no picnic being the guy Yahweh chooses to lead a bunch of idolaters through a desert. Moses was a prophet. The real prophetic calling is nothing like the glamorous flesh fest that it’s portrayed as today. Those who go around saying, “I wish I was a prophet,” and envying these pompous glory hogs have no idea what they’re talking about. Speaking for God isn’t a game and it isn’t some joyride that makes everyone want to fawn all over you. People hate God and they hate His truth. If you’re going to start representing those things, people will hate you as well.

These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. (1 Cor. 10:11)

While we’re definitely supposed to be learning from the records God has preserved for us about His dealings with Israel, Paul’s egocentric wording makes it sound like he thinks the Old Testament was just written for the people of his generation. Well, no, Moses’ books weren’t just written for those who thought they were living in the end times. They were written for everyone who lived before and after Paul’s day as well. If God brings the Bible into your life as a teaching tool, then clearly you are one of the people He preserved it for. So let’s not get ridiculous and think we’re the only generation God has ever cared about.

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure. So, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols. (1 Cor. 10:12-14)

Now Paul’s real motivations are becoming more clear. He’s very concerned that the Christians who are eating idol meats in Corinth aren’t as grounded in truth as they think they are. He’s afraid that they’ll fall back into an idolatrous mindset. After all, in Bible times, to eat portions of meat that was sacrificed to a god was considered an act of worship. In Chapter 8, we learned that what makes this issue so complicated is that idol meats are extremely hard to avoid. Most of the meat in the general market places were temple leftovers, so non-Jewish Christians are going to have a very hard time avoiding meat that was never associated with idol rituals. Given the prevalence of idol meats and the fact that we’re not all physically able to live as vegetarians, there is an urgent need for these Corinthians to theologically separate the concept of worship from the act of eating steaks.

To put this dilemma in perspective, let’s use a modern day scenario. Today America is an atheistic nation who is harboring an intense hatred of the Christian Gods. But suppose America was to decide to become an Islamic nation. And suppose it was suddenly declared that eating vegetables was an act of worshiping Allah. Suppose this idea really catches on in American culture. Just as Americans have turned God’s rainbow into a symbol of sexual perversion, suppose they turned the act of eating vegetables into a symbol of declaring your dedication to Allah. As a Christian, what do you do? Do you let Satan’s people control you by abstaining from all vegetables? Or do you keep on eating vegetables and refuse to let demons redefine things that God has made? After all, the original meaning of the rainbow has nothing to do with homosexuality. Yahweh gave us the rainbow to remind us of His promise to never again wash us all away in a global flood. It’s Satan who has come along and attached new meaning to the rainbow. Why should you let Satan tell you how to think? You shouldn’t. When you stick a rainbow sticker on your car next to the symbol of your Christian fish, God knows what that sticker means to you. If you’re reminding yourself of God’s faithfulness, He is going to be pleased. If someone else sees your sticker, they’ll assume you’re promoting homosexuality. Is this a problem? Well, what does God say about it? You answer to Him, not other people. If we were all caught in this dilemma, we should all pray about it, and we’d all receive different leading from the Holy Spirit. He’d tell some of us to leave the rainbow sticker on, He’d tell others of us to take it off. This is real life: God leads us all differently.

Now stickers are optional, but eating vegetables is a matter of basic health. Eating meat is a pretty basic health issue as well. People need protein in their diet. So if you’re a Christian in Corinth, do you now have to get anemic because you don’t want to be seen eating meat that was offered to idols? Practically all of the meat is offered to idols. Why should you let other people’s idiocy stop your life?

Satan is at war with God, and he is going to try and turn as many mainstream activities as he possibly can into demonic symbols. It’s all about mind games. If he can make you mentally associate putting on your shoes with bowing down to some demonic god, then suddenly he’s got you pinned in a corner of guilt. But here is where we need to remember that this kind of game can be played both ways. Symbols are not static things, they can be changed anytime. The rainbow didn’t start off as a celebration of perversity—it was turned into that, and it can be turned into something else as well. In Corinth, eating meat is strongly associated with idol worship. But the Christians in Corinth don’t have to just lay down and act like Satan’s definitions rule the world. They can change his definitions into something God honoring. They can start viewing meat as a gift from God and turn their barbecues into times of thanksgiving and praise. Why should we let demons back us into these corners with their stupid games? Instead of teaching Christians to view themselves as having options, Paul encourages them to let Satan’s current agenda control their behavior. This is lousy advice.

You are reasonable people. Decide for yourselves if what I am saying is true. When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the Blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the Body of Christ? And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body. Think about the people of Israel. Weren’t they united by eating the sacrifices at the altar?

What am I trying to say? Am I saying that food offered to idols has some significance, or that idols are real gods? No, not at all. I am saying that these sacrifices are offered to demons, not to God. And I don’t want you to participate with demons. You cannot drink from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of demons, too. You cannot eat at the Lord’s Table and at the table of demons, too. What? Do we dare to rouse the Lord’s jealousy? Do you think we are stronger than He is? (1 Cor. 10:15-22)

This is very bad teaching. Idolatry is a heart attitude, it is not something you do with your mouth. Paul talks like the mere act of participating in Communion constitutes worship. What a crock. If Paul would spend more time reading the Old Testament and less time rewriting it, he’d discover that Yahweh is constantly railing against the Jews for going through a bunch of external acts of worship. If the actions are all that count, why do we find Yahweh saying things like:

“I do not want all these sacrifices! I have had enough of your burnt sacrifices of male sheep and fat from fine animals! I am not pleased by the blood of bulls, lambs, and goats.

You come to meet with Me, but who asked you to do all this running in and out of My Temple’s courts? Stop bringing Me worthless sacrifices! I hate the incense you burn. I can’t stand your New Moons, Sabbaths, and other feast days; I can’t stand the evil you do in your holy meetings. I hate your New Moon feasts and your other yearly feasts. They have become a heavy weight on Me, and I am tired of carrying it.

When you raise your arms to Me in prayer, I will refuse to look at you. Even if you say many prayers, I will not listen to you, because your hands are full of blood.” (Isa. 1:11-15)

If merely making sacrifices and eating the meat of those sacrifices always constitutes some valid act of worship, why is Yahweh telling the Jews to stop bringing Him sacrifices? If Yahweh always interprets sacrifices as an act of worship, why is He so outraged and talking like the Jews are insulting Him with all of their religious activities? Sacrifices, celebrating religious festivals, joining together for corporate worship and prayer sessions—these were all standard ways of worshiping Yahweh under the Old Covenant. Today Communion is a standard way that Christians claim to be honoring Christ. But are we? Does Christ really feel honored by you participating in Communion at church? It depends on your heart attitude. Are you even thinking about Christ as you take the elements, or are you planning out the rest of your day? Do the elements actually mean something to you or are you just going through some tiresome routine?

Let’s get clear about the religious hoopla: our Gods hate hypocrisy. They don’t need us fussing around with bread and wine and bickering over which cups to use. They aren’t the Ones insisting that we show up at a church once a week to go through the motions of worshiping Them. If we’re not really worshiping Them, then we need to stop with the hypocrisy. If you know your wife is cheating on you, are you going to blessed by her giving you some flowery card that says you are the only one she loves? Our Gods detest it when we sing words at Them that we do not mean in our hearts. When Paul labels the routine of Communion as some worshipful act and says all eating of idol meats is the worship of demons, he is leading these Christians astray. Worship is a soul attitude, not a physical activity.

It doesn’t matter who prayed over your hamburger before it reaches your lips, the eating of that burger is going to be what you make of it. If you are mentally associating the act of chewing with praying to Satan, then yes, God will have a major problem with you. But if you aren’t making any such association, then God is not going to start inventing reasons to be mad at you. God judges you by your heart. If Communion has become a meaningless affair to you, then He’d much rather you be honest about that and skip it. If you’re just praying before your meal to impress your pastor and you’re not really thanking God from your heart, then you need to stop with the games. God hates hypocrisy and He judges you by your soul attitude. But Paul and the other New Testament apostles are going to keep trying to tell you that God judges you by your actions, and this is going to drive you way off course.

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial. Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others. (1 Cor. 10:23-24)

It’s not others you should be focusing on, it’s God. What He thinks of your current activity should be the thing you care most about, not how other people might interpret your behavior. Paul keeps elevating human opinion as more important than God’s.

So you may eat any meat that is sold in the marketplace without raising questions of conscience. For “the earth is Yahweh’s, and everything in it.” [Ps. 24:1]

If someone who isn’t a believer asks you home for dinner, accept the invitation if you want to. Eat whatever is offered to you without raising questions of conscience. (But suppose someone tells you, “This meat was offered to an idol.” Don’t eat it, out of consideration for the conscience of the one who told you. It might not be a matter of conscience for you, but it is for the other person.) (1 Cor. 10:25-29)

First Paul tells the Corinthians that to eat idol meats is to akin to worshiping demons—an act that will surely ignite God’s wrath against them. Now he backtracks and says it’s okay to eat idol meats if you pretend not to know what they are. The vast majority of the meat sold at the markets in Corinth was involved in temple rituals, but Paul says “Hey, there’s got to be some meat in the mix that wasn’t sacrificed to idols. Don’t ask the butcher where he got his meat. Just assume the best and remember that it doesn’t really matter because everything belongs to God.” But then Paul says that if you’re invited to dinner at someone’s house and someone tells you that the meat was sacrificed to an idol, then you should abstain. Well, good grief, are we eating at the table of demons or aren’t we? Paul says we are, then he says we’re not. One minute he says it’s fine to eat idol meats, the next minute he says it’s a terrible thing. And all throughout this ridiculous doubletalk he hammers the point that it’s other people’s opinion that matters most.

For why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks? If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it? (1 Cor. 10:29-30)

Does Paul even hear how two-faced he’s being? He just said: “Don’t eat it, out of consideration for the conscience of the one who told you.” Now he says: “why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks?”

First he says: “You cannot drink from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of demons, too. You cannot eat at the Lord’s Table and at the table of demons, too.” Now he says: “If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it?” The next time you hear someone complain that the Bible contradicts itself, you’ll understand where they’re coming from.

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved. (1 Cor. 10:31-33)

At the end of the last chapter, Paul boasted of how he puts on a bunch of phony airs in order to blend in with his current target audience. When he’s with Jews, he pretends to care about Jewish laws. When he’s with Gentiles, he pretends not to care about Jewish laws. Paul keeps saying his hypocrisy is helping souls get saved. In his mind, he clearly thinks that his personal behavior is playing a critical role in helping souls reaching the point of submission to Christ. These are the arrogant conclusions we draw when we decide that the Holy Spirit is our Servant instead of our Master. Paul clearly thinks he can get in the Holy Spirit’s way. If he eats idol meats in front of an unbeliever, apparently that’s like putting zip ties on God’s wrists and tape over His mouth. How small does the Holy Spirit have to be if He can be completely immobilized by human behavior?

In our last chapter, Paul brazenly took all the credit for saving the Corinthians. In Chapter 4, he told the Corinthians to imitate him as Paul follows Christ. And why isn’t he telling the Corinthians to just follow Christ directly and bypass the middleman? Because where would the glory for Paul be in such a setup? It’s far more appealing to the human ego to believe that we have the power to incapacitate the mighty Holy Spirit by putting certain foods into our mouths. What a shocker to realize that God’s opinion of Paul is a lot lower than we’ve all been led to believe.

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