On August 1, 1838 the little island of Jamaica abolished slavery. The historical account of the event reveals that the day before their liberation a large company of former slaves gathered by the seashore to observe the solemn occasion. If you had been there that evening you would have seen a large mahogany coffin sitting beside a deep hole in the beach. All evening long the soon-to-be emancipated slaves placed symbols of their enslavement into the casket—there were leg-irons, chains, whips and padlocks. A few minutes before midnight the box was lowered into the hole in the beach, and as the sand covered the coffin all joined their voices in one accord to sing:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
They were free at last! In similar fashion, Christ’s death freed us from the bondage of our sins. He stepped into the slave market of sin and purchased us with His precious blood. Christ freed us from sin and death. He freed us from the power of Satan, and, wonder of wonders, he even saved us from ourselves. Christ’s finished work is what has made our liberty in Him a reality.
OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH CHRIST
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the Body of Christ?” (I Cor. 10:16).
In the narrative before us the Apostle Paul is going to methodically walk us through the subject of Christian liberty. The apostle begins by emphasizing our oneness in Christ. We are members one of another and we must never lose sight of this wonderful truth. Those who have placed their faith in Christ’s finished work, that He died for their sins, was buried, and rose again, are members of the one true Church, which is the Body of Christ. We must, therefore, before God, hold other members of His Body in the highest esteem, even though we may not always agree with one another on this side of glory.
The cup of blessing: Carefully note the order of the elements in this chapter—the “cup” first and the “bread” second. Normally we begin with the bread followed by the cup as outlined in I Corinthians 11:23-26. But the order here is reversed, and for good reason. Paul is going to deal with relationships in this section as he develops the theme of our liberty in Christ.
It has been said that there must first be a vertical relationship between God and the sinner, which is established through faith in the blood of Christ, before it can extend horizontally to touch the lives of those around us. The cup of blessing not only reminds us of our relationship with Christ, but also the oneness we enjoy with other members of the Body of Christ because of His once-for-all sacrifice. This is why when we are introduced to another believer for the first time it seems as though we’ve known them for years.
The Bread: “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the Body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one Body: for we are all partakers of that one bread” (I Cor. 10:16,17).
In the Old Testament, God gave the seven Levitical feasts to Israel. Fifty days after the feast of Firstfruits the priest was to take two loaves of bread, place them side by side, and wave them before the Lord (Lev. 23:16,17). According to prophecy, one loaf represented the 10 northern tribes, while the other loaf signified the two southern tribes. This looked forward to the day when the divided kingdom would be reunited and Israel restored to her former glory.
We witness a partial fulfillment of this type when Peter stood up on the day of Pentecost (50th) and said: “Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem” (two southern tribes) followed by, “Ye men of Israel, [ten northern tribes] hear these words.” The two loaves are then united in the apostle’s statement: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:14,22,36). Israel is represented in prophecy as two loaves.
Interestingly, when we turn to Paul’s epistles we note an important dispensational distinction. “For we being many are one bread, and one Body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.” Today believers are called “one loaf” or “one Body.” You see, we lose our identity in Christ. We are a new creation, there is no Jew or Gentile, bond or free, male or female; we are all one in Him. As members of His Body we have all been made to drink into one Spirit, by whom we are indwelt and have received life and life more abundantly (I Cor. 12:13).
“Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils” (I Cor. 10:18-21).
In these passages Paul makes reference to three tables: The Lord’s table, Israel’s table, and the table of devils.
When we gather at the Lord’s table it is to commune with Him. What we call the Lord’s Supper is actually a memorial service. For example, in the middle of most town squares it is not uncommon to see a bronze statue of a soldier standing beside a piece of artillery. It was purposely placed there to bring to mind those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country to preserve our freedom. In like manner, when we hold that little piece of bread in our hand at a communion service, it is a reminder that Christ’s body was broken for us. When we partake of the cup it is in remembrance that Christ shed His precious blood that we might enjoy a knowledge of sins forgiven. Every time we observe this memorial it is an act of worship, which shows forth “the Lord’s death till He come” (I Cor. 11:26).
In time past, Israel’s sacrifices were made to the living God; this, too, was an act of worship. Every sacrifice typified some aspect of the once-for-all sacrifice that was yet to be offered. At Israel’s table those who offered the sacrifices also partook of them, which was ordained of God.
Paul also speaks of a third table—the table of devils. When the unbeliever offered a sacrifice to idols they were sacrificing to devils, not to God. Unbeknown to them they were worshiping devils. An idol is nothing in this world—they have eyes, but they can’t see; they have ears, but they cannot hear. But Paul is careful to expose the evil influences behind the idol. While the cup of the Lord is full of realities and truth, the cup of devils is full of vanities and false religions. Here are a few examples:
Islam teaches: “humans are basically good, but fallible and need guidance. The balance between good and bad deeds determines eternal destiny in paradise or hell.”
Christian Science teaches concerning Christ’s death: “One sacrifice, however great, is not sufficient to pay the debt of sin.”
Modernism teaches that every man must atone for his sin, and they add: “the gospel of gore (referring to the blood of Christ) is outworn.”
Separation is a theme that is woven throughout the Scriptures. You will recall when old King Nebuchadnezzar erected an idol to himself, a blatant act of self-deification, he required that all bow and worship him when the musical instruments played. Those who failed to do so would be cast into the burning fiery furnace, which by no means was an idle threat. Even though Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego served in the king’s court, they lived separated lives unto God and refused to obey the king’s commandment. They remained standing when everyone else lay prostrate on the ground. When they were hauled before the king by their jealous enemies they gave this memorable response:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Dan. 3:16-18).
Paul wanted those at Corinth who were still dabbling in idol worship to separate themselves from this evil practice because it was affecting their testimony for Christ. The apostle was not advocating isolation, but separation from the world. As the old saying goes, “you want the boat in the water, but not the water in the boat.” Sadly, today the Church has been so influenced by the world that it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the two apart. Living a separated life more clearly defines who we are as ambassadors of Christ. Remember our three Hebrew friends; they stood out among their countrymen who compromised their convictions on the altar of conformity.
The following is an excerpt of a letter we received from a young prisoner which vividly demonstrates how others are drawn to those who live a separated life for the Lord.
“I am speaking on behalf of myself and my cousin who is only 14 years old—I am 19 years old. We both are locked up in a big prison, in a small town, on big charges. We both came from a nice family and a loving church, but we strayed. We watched a young man [from our local assembly] who carried himself in a well-behaved manner and we asked, how can we be like that in a place like this…? Well, we are both asking that you keep us in your prayers and if it isn’t a problem, could you send us some reading materials…to help our spiritual growth? Thank you!”
LIBERTY IN CHRIST
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not” (I Cor. 10:23).
Paul says, “All things are lawful,” that is, permissible, under grace, but all things are not expedient or profitable; all things are lawful but not all things edify or build up. Having separated us from false religions, the apostle now touches on our liberty in Christ, which has been purchased for us at a great price. We should be ever mindful what our Savior endured to deliver us from the slave market of sin. Death by crucifixion is one of the most inhumane forms of death that mankind has ever devised. Even the hard-hearted Roman soldiers often pitied those who suffered this cruel means of ending a life.
Liberty is like fire. It can be used for good such as cooking, heating or a romantic candlelight dinner. But it can also be destructive. Fire that is out of control all too often takes lives and destroys everything in its path. We are not to use our liberty for an occasion to the flesh or to further our cause. Paul says: “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth” (vs. 24). That is, we are to be looking out for the welfare of other believers. Liberty is considerate! It’s tolerant! It accepts others where they are in their spiritual life without being judgmental.
“Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake. For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof” (I Cor. 10:25,26).
Before we continue, it will be necessary to define the terms “shambles” and “conscience.” The term shambles was usually used of the slaughterhouse, but recent archeological digs have discovered that the slaughterhouse and meat market were often one and the same. Modern day excavations of Pompeii, the city frozen in time due to a volcanic eruption, also substantiate this finding.
Conscience is a warning system that God has placed within each of us to differentiate between right and wrong. We might liken it to the long striped gates at a railroad crossing. When a train is approaching the gates come down, lights begin to flash and in some cases bells ring. The flashing lights and gates are warning you that danger is approaching—beware! However, the warning system does not have the ability to make you stop; that’s a matter of the will. You must apply the brakes to stay out of harm’s way; those who fail to do so proceed at their own peril. In similar fashion, the conscience doesn’t have the power to keep you from doing something wrong; it can only warn you of the danger.
In regard to meats offered to idols, Paul essentially says to the mature believer—don’t ask questions for conscience sake. It’s a non-issue; therefore don’t trouble your conscience or the conscience of others who never entertained the thought. After all, an idol is nothing in the world anyway. Furthermore, the “earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof,” which in this context implies there are no dietary restrictions today, so all foods can be received with thanksgiving. Liberty says it’s okay to eat!
“If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake” (vs. 27).
But what if an unbeliever invites us over to dinner, Paul, what should we do in this case? Once again, the mature believer understands that an idol is nothing; therefore, don’t ask the unsaved if the meal he is serving was offered to an idol. Since your host hasn’t raised the issue, there’s no need to ask. Once again, liberty says it’s okay to eat!
“But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that showed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other” (I Cor. 10:28,29).
Next the apostle turns his attention to the weaker brother in the faith. If a weaker brother is sitting across the table from you and someone comments that the meat about to be served had been offered to an idol, Paul says—don’t eat it! If you partake of the sacrifice in front of the weaker brother, he will think you are compromising, simply because he hasn’t yet come to a full appreciation of his liberty in Christ. Note the apostle states a second time, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” to make it perfectly clear the earth belongs to the Lord, not the false gods. However, with this said, these false gods would be honored in the mind of the weaker brother if the stronger brother eats in his presence. You see, we have liberty to not exercise our liberty, so as not to offend a brother in Christ who may not be as far along as we are in the faith. Essentially, meat was not as much the issue as love. Love will not partake out of concern for the weaker brother’s conscience.
“For why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience? For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:29-31).
Why was Paul judged? Why was he “evil spoken of?” He had given thanks to the Lord. After all, this is the age of grace—he had liberty to partake if he so desired! Paul could have demanded his rights, but he chose rather to allow grace to control his actions. You see, the apostle understood we are to glorify God in everything we do. Of course, this would be impossible to accomplish if he caused a weaker brother to stumble; consequently, it was best for him to abstain from eating all meats offered to idols if it caused an offense. And he was willing to do so! Thus the apostle concludes: “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God” (I Cor. 10:32).
LIBERTY IS ACCEPTANCE
“Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations” (Rom. 14:1).
Here we learn that we are to receive the weaker brother with a cordial welcome, not with a spirit of critical analysis or an attitude of superiority. There are many questionable areas in the Christian life where there is no specific command in the Word of God to guide us. Today a believer may choose to be a vegetarian because he is of the opinion that red meat could harm his body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Another brother in Christ may not share this view, believing this type of protein, within moderation, is necessary to maintain sound physical health, which would also glorify God. Who’s right? Grace says there is liberty to do either!
Several years ago I came across the following list of questionable areas in the Christian life. I’ve taken the liberty to add a few things to it from my denominational days:
1. Working in the yard on Sunday afternoon
2. Shopping on Sunday after church
3. Wearing certain clothing
4. Watching television
5. Listening to secular music
6. Dining at a restaurant where alcohol is served
7. Having a glass of wine for dinner
8. Wearing jewelry
9. Not having a quiet time everyday
10. Going to the movies
We must remember that these are questionable things. Some would call them gray areas. This could be grounds for excommunication in certain denominational churches if you are guilty of one or more of these infractions. These types of assemblies have an unwritten code of ethics (their’s) you must follow or run the risk of being given the cold shoulder or worse.
If you were to ask six believers to list 10 things they deem to be unacceptable Christian conduct, not directly addressed in the Word of God, I think you will find each list would differ dramatically. What one believer may find acceptable another may find unacceptable, which is fine, as long as they don’t impose their convictions on another brother in Christ. Liberty says we are to respect one another’s convictions even though they may not be the same as our own.
Sadly, many believers establish these unspoken rules to measure whether or not others are spiritual. But spirituality is not trying to conform to someone’s list of do’s and don’ts. This is nothing more than a form of carnality! The spiritually-minded man is a man who desires to conform his life to the image of Christ. He always has a balance in the Christian life because his attitude and responses are always in line with the Word of God. Having a Christ-like spirit, he walks in lowliness of mind and consistently esteems others better than himself. He values his liberty in Christ, yet is very careful never to misuse it.