No Neutrality

Text: 1 Corinthians 10:14-22
Date: Sunday February 26, 2023


‌On April 18, 1521, the great leader of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, was put on trial before the Catholic Church. He was being condemned for his writings against some of the ways the Catholic at the Church at the time had gone astray. The Catholic Church asked Luther to recant. And he responded with a lengthy speech summarizing how the practices of the Church were not in alignment with the Bible, and how we had to reform. After a lengthy speech, King Charles V, spoke very plainly and requested no more lengthy speeches. Charles said, “Tell us plainly. Do you recant.”

“Since your most serene majesty and your highnesses require of me a simple, clear, and direct answer, I will give one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the council, because it is clear that they have fallen into error and even into inconsistency with themselves… Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”

Martin Luther

We live in a day of religious plurality. One of the great crimes, says our cultural leaders, is to draw a line in the sand and declare with utter conviction what is true, what is right, what is good, and what is virtuous. Our cultural leaders tell us that to make such a declaration, especially if it involves God, is evil itself. As Christians, we ought to know better. We ought to know very well that this idea of pluralism is false. And yet in many ways, some subtle and some overt, we are very slow to use the kind of language Martin Luther used with our own cultural conflicts we face. We recognize that it takes a certain sense of courage and conviction to say those words, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.” It takes a certain resolve to say, “That is the teaching of demons—and I will not bow an inch.

We are wrapping today what has been five sermons tracing through 1 Corinthians chapters 8-10. These chapters have focused on an area of faith for those early Corinthians that was a daily clash of their faith and the Corinthian culture. The question they were asking was whether or not they could buy meat at the butcher that had previously been part of a pagan idol sacrifice. This seems at first so removed and distant from our daily life, but what we discovered over these last five weeks is that, though the form is very different, we are asking the exact same questions. Now that we are Christian how are we supposed to engage in this big city we live in. What can we participate in, and where do we need to draw a line. One of the working principles we have been operating under is that ‘A desparate desire to build others up in Jesus Christ should drive our ethical decision making.’ That’s been a sub-theme underneath all of these talks. Today, Paul closes the argument with another perspective. And that is the spiritual reality behind the daily cultural decisions we make. Many of our daily interactions with our surrounding culture have far deeper spiritual implications than we realize

We must determine to stand with Christ alone

‌Move 1: Exposition of the Text

Let us read the entirety of the text together.

1 Corinthians 10:14-22 “14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”

Notice Paul’s Pastoral authority in verse 14. On the one hand Paul is a Pastor who deeply knows his people. “My Beloved,” is a tender expression of warmth and relatability. It’s communicating, “I love you. I have given my life for you.” And in the very next words he gives this deep imperative, “flee from idolatry.” Our love of others must be both filled with grace and truth. It is both, “You are my Beloved,” and “If you stay on that path you will die.” It is not loving to permit those we love in the Christian to wander or veer off course. It is not loving to watch the slow demise of Christian brothers and sisters into idolatry and secularism, and not warn them to flee. But that truth ought to be accompanied by the grace of, “My Beloved,

Remember the argument he is making. Do not eat the meat that has been sacrificed to idols. Now, in his closing argument, he turns to a theological illustration. He examines the communion meal, the Lord’s Supper. This is a topic that he will return to in chapter 11, but here he only briefly discusses it, simply to make his point which he summarizes in verse 21

1 Corinthians 10:21 “21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.”

That is a weighty verse. But let’s go through our passage and see exactly what he means by this.

In verse 16 we are introduced to the language “participation.” He says that when we take of the Lord’s Supper we are participating in the body and the blood of Christ. This word “participate” is a deeply important theological term. In the Greek it is the word koinonia. Let me give you a few examples where we see this word being used.

2 Corinthians 6:14 “14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”
Philippians 2:1 “1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,”
1 John 1:3 “3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

‌The idea is a coming together of two parties, a forming of a mutual agreement and dependence on one another. One dictionary describe it as an “attitude of good will that manifests an interest in a close relationship, and shows proof of brotherly love.” Paul’s point is quite simple—when we gather together as Christians and take the Lord’s Supper together we declaring and in some ways participating in our fellowship with God that was made possible through Jesus’s death and resurrection. Through his blood and through his body sacrificed (symbolized in the wine and the bread) we have participation with God, fellowship with God.

Secondly, the Communion meal is a symbol of our unity of brotherhood. Paul says,

1 Corinthians 10:17 “17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”

The language of this verse is precious. One of the symbols captured in the taking of the Lord’s Supper together the oneness of the brotherhood. This commonality that we all share together. That which bonds us is Jesus Christ, as symbolized in the bread and the wine. This is why at the Church family we leave every former identity behind. Black, White, Asian, Latino—no matter your ethnic origin—when you come to the table, you have more in common with that brother and sister and Christ than anyone from your former cultural identity. Young and old come to the table and share in this fellowhsip. This is no light thing! One of the great traps we need to avoid is dragging the lies of the culture around us that tells us that our primary identity—our deepest form of fellowship—is something other than the cross of Christ. No!

Against that koinonia and fellowship, he contrasts what takes place when a Christian eats food that has been offered to idols. Listen tot he words carefully

1 Corinthians 10:18-20 “18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.”

‌Pauls says that those who eat the meat that has been offered to an idol are partipating (that’s the term koinonia again) with the altar. Put another way. These Corinthians thought that by not attending the ceremony where the meat was sacrficed an an altar to a fals God, they were then free to eat that meat later on. Paul says, “No, as soon as you eat the meat, it is the same thing as if you had been worshiping at the ceremony. You are participating in the false worship.

The term koinonia is used again in verse 20 when he says I do not want you to be participants (those who koinonia) with demons. Buckle up here. Paul is saying that beneath the idol that was made of wood that these Corinthians sacrificed to, were demons. Spirits that hate and detest God, that hate and detest Christians, and seek to tempt and cause Christians to despair. Paul says, “When you eat the meat that has been offered to idols, you are fellowshipping with demons.”

1 Corinthians 10:21 “21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.”

And so Paul’s point here—his closing consideration of this subject—is in this cultural interaction of these 1 century Corinthians that were required to abstane from participation, because to do so would be to open mutual dependent relationships with demons.

Now, the reality of demons in our presence is something that is spoken of quite regularly in Church settings, but what I have found is that many do not take seriously when they leave the Sunday gathering. Many feel that to speak of such invisible realities is far fetched. And I simply want to say that if we are going to take the Bible seriously—as all Christians ought—then we are forced to recognize that on a daily basis we are operating and integrating ourselves with hidden spiritual realities. Demons are real and their aim is to destroy our faith if they can, or settle for neutering our faith if that’s all they can get.

‌Move 2: Exposition of the Heart

We have been considering this text specifically within its context in 1 century Corinthian culture. Now I want to transport us to 21st century Chicago culture and apply this passage to our lives. Once again, we are not dealing with the issue of food offered to idols. And yet, according to Paul, many of the places where our Christian faith intersects with culture are frought with demonic activity. And if we are not careful about what and where we participate in cultural activities, we may be unintentionally fellowship with demons.

Before I go any further, I want to linger on this idea for a moment. Paul’s words ought to shock us, and if they don’t there is something wrong. As a Christian our love of Christ ought to be protected and guarded in our lives. The Christian is the person who has placed their true faith in Jesus, and anything that hints of demonic activity is a rotten stench in our nostrils. Not just because demons are scary (which they are), but because we love Christ and want to honor Him as King. Further, we love our Church family. And as we have seen from this text, when we engage with culture wrongly—fellowshiping with demons—we then bring that demonic stronghold with us into our homes which impacts our families, and into our Churches, which impacts each other. We are so individualistically minded.

Why do we permit this as Christians? You’d think that Christians would not want anything to do with the slightest sniff of demons. And yet, we like these Corinthians, try to make excuses of why our behavior is not as bad as it seems.

I think sometimes there is an honest ignorance as to what participating in. When I first got saved, I was not ovelry concerned with the music I was listening to, and I definitely wasn’t thinking that potentially the music I was listening to was partnering with demons. Sometimes there is an honest ignorance. We don’t know.

Sometimes, I think there is a genuine enjoyment of sinful behavior. I think that sometimes we’re well aware of a certain aspect of culture around us, but we gleefully turn a blind eye because we enjoy it. It’s one of the reasons many folks choose to live in the city, is because of cultural opportunities around us.

Lastly, sometimes I think that we begrudgingly participate, because we’re afraid to hurt someone’s feelings. We’re afraid that if we say, “No, I’m a Christian. I can’t participate in that way,” that we’ll lose a friend. And we’re more concerned not hurting someone’s feelings than we are with the potential of partnering with demons.

Intentionally choosing not to use examples, because I want them to work this out…

These questions are at the heart of our dialogue. And they are so real. This is our every day. So are we going to do this? How are we going to live like Christ in the world, but not of the world. Among secular ideologies without embracing secular ideologies. I love how one author has describes this task before us. John Stackhouse Jr. wrote,

“Christians live within a strong tension. They believe that God has ordained worldly institutions, and that they must work within those institutions as best they can. At the same time, however, they affirm that God’s kingdom has penetrated the world here and now. Thus, under God’s providence, they tread a path that can seem crooked and unclear, trying to honor what is divinely ordained in culture (such as family bonds, the rule of law, and deference to legitimate authority) while also living out the distinct values of the kingdom of God as best they can without compromise. Furthermore, sin mars all of our efforts, evil twists them, and God works in mysterious ways behind the scenes. Thus Christians… are never free of suspicion yet never lacking hope”

John Stackhouse Jr.

There are a few ideas here that must be lingered on. We are called to live in a tension between following Christ, and living in the midst of sin-filled and often demonically inspired culture around us. And if our passage today says anything, it is that we must take far more seriously than we do, our engagement with culture around us and the institutions around us. We cannot just receive them, because—according to Paul—we may be fellowshippinging with demons

Perhaps we should look to Christ. Perhaps Jesus is the exemplar of how to navigate all of this. Remember, Christ dwelt among us though he never sinned. He always did what the Father commanded. He broke no laws. He was often hated, but also brought joy and healing with him wherever he went. How did Jesus behave?

First, Christ dined with sinners. This is remarkable. Christ was not Amish. Christ walked straight up to the Samaritan woman at the well and spoke with her, when no one else would speak with her, even though she had broken God’s law time and time again and was currently living with her boyfriend. Christ was in her life, personal conversation. Jesus was called a friend of sinners, prostitutes, of tax collectors. When Matthew the tax collector began to follow Jesus, Matthew threw party at his house and invited all of his sinful tax collector buddies over to hang with Jesus. And Jesus hung out with them.

We must be deeply ingrained in the messy lives of nonChristians

And yet, secondly, Christ never enjoyed nor affirmd sin. To the woman at the well, he spoke very plainly. He said, “The man you are living with is not your husband.” Notice—those words were not necessarly words of condemnation. She was already condemned under the law of God. It’s God’s law that condemns. Jesus revealed the truth. He said it plainly and unashamedly. Jesus’ message was always, “Repent,” which means, the way you’re behaving is wrong. Notice—Jesus was often cast out for his unwillingness to bend on issues of sin.

We must not be afraid to stand against sinful ideology with clarity

Third, Christ never enjoyed sin. Jesus was called a glutton by the Pharisees because he was often found in the homes of people who were pouring wine to enjoy fellowship together. Yet—Jesus never once enjoyed gluttony. Jesus was a friend of prostitutes—but Jesus never enjoyed the prostitution. In Christ we see a man who walked this powerful line of being deeply engaged in messy people’s broken lives while never once personally enjoying the very sin that was killing them.

We must check our motivations for our behavior and root out our enjoyment of sin

Fourth, Christ shared the message of the Kingdom of Heaven wherever he went. When Jesus confronted the woman at the well, he did not leave her dry. He said, “Ask of me and I will give you living water.” Jesus was in her life, not just to pass the time, not just to entertain himself, but because he loved souls so deeply that he would do whatever it took to share with them the one message that can save them, Christ crucified on their behalf.

‌Move 3: Gospel Resolution

This is the mighty task before us. To be, “in the world but not of the world.” To be, “friends with sinners,” but not enjoyers of sin. To meek, humble, lowly, and yet strong in the Lord, optimistic and hopeful that Christ will truly transform culture through our endeavors to push back the darkness.

The last verse in our passage reads,

1 Corinthians 10:22 “22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”

Often when we consider the word jealousy, we think in such small terms. Our God is a jealous God. This is not an earthly human jealousy rooted in fear and insecurity. No. In Exodus 20 verse 5, God gives the second of ten commandments to not make or bow to an idol and he says,

Exodus 20:5 “5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God...

When we speak of God’s jealousy we are referencing is jealous in the sense that he is a keeper of his glory. He is a guarder of his divine name. He is a protector of his majesty. When you believed in Jesus—you proclaimed before God and man that you had a new master. In turning to Christ you discovered that there was nothing you could ever do to earn favor with God, because on your best day, sin had so marred your perspective and your being that all of your works were like filthy rags, spotted with ego and glory-stealing. But God reached out to you, and changed your life. You repented of sin, and trusted that Jesus’ death on the cross was enough to forgive you of all of your sin. And in that moment of belief, God placed His Holy Spirit inside of you. Now you are a Holy Spirit filled one, Christian. You are an ambassador for Christ—Christ making his appeal through you. Now you are the light of the world, and the salt of the earth. Now you are a sent one. And when we, His ambassadors, steal his glory by behaving in a way that partners with demons, God grows jealous for his own glory. This is a warning—Do not provoke God to jealousy.

‌Move 4: Application & Closing

Permit me to close today’s message with a plea. As I’ve reflected on this passage this week, it is overwhelmingly clear to me, that there may indeed by many places and spaces in our life where we may be unintentionally or carelessly stealing glory from God by partnering with demons. My heart grieves for this in my own life. And my prayer is that this week you will stir one another up in your Small Groups and in your communities to reflect deeply. To pray fervently—God I’m willing to change my behavior if this action is partnering inappropriately.

My Beloved. Flee idolatry!


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