December 11, 2005

One's Company, Two's A Crowd

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: 1 Corinthians Scripture: 1 Corinthians 10:14–22


One's Company, Two's A Crowd

1 Corinthians 10:14-22
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Pastor Randy Smith

When God called Abraham (Abram) from a pagan world He said, "Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation" (Gen. 12:1-2a).

When Moses appeared before God at the burning bush, the Lord uttered this promise to His servant: "I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey" (Ex. 3:7-8a).

After 400 years of Egyptian captivity and 40 years of wandering in the desert, Israel, led by the leadership of Joshua entered the land of promise - The Promised Land. It was everything God said it would be. Houses they did not build. Vineyards they did not plant. Wells they did not dig (Dt. 6:10-11). Military success. But it all came with this caveat: "Watch yourself, that you do not forget the Lord" (Dt. 6:12).

Unfortunately, the success and blessedness promised by the Lord was fleeting. Within a relatively short time the kingdom was divided. Soon after, both Israel by the Assyrians (722 BC) and Judah by the Babylonians (586 BC) were led off into captivity. Within a few hundred years, the triumphant entry into the Promised Land was followed by an ignoble entry into personal slavery by those who were enemies both of the Jews and Jehovah their Lord. From God's greatest blessings to God's greatest chastisement.

Why? As we consider this question, we would do well as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10 to learn from the example of the Israelites (1 Cor. 10:6, 11). Why would God bring this humbling defeat to His chosen people?

In 2 Kings 17 we have the answer. Beginning in verse 6, "In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and carried Israel away into exile to Assyria. The reason begins in verse 7, "Now this came about because the sons of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up from the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and they had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord had driven out before the sons of Israel, and in the customs of the kings of Israel which they had introduced. The sons of Israel did things secretly which were not right against the Lord their God. Moreover, they built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. They set for themselves sacred pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, and there they burned incense on all the high places as the nations did which the Lord had carried away to exile before them; and they did evil things provoking the Lord. They served idols, concerning which the Lord had said to them, 'You shall not do this thing.' Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah through all His prophets and every seer, saying, 'Turn from your evil ways and keep My commandments, My statutes according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you through My servants the prophets.' However, they did not listen, but stiffened their neck like their fathers, who did not believe in the Lord their God. They rejected His statutes and His covenant which He made with their fathers and His warnings with which He warned them. And they followed vanity and became vain, and went after the nations which surrounded them, concerning which the Lord had commanded them not to do like them. They forsook all the commandments of the Lord their God and made for themselves molten images, even two calves, and made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. Then they made their sons and their daughters pass through the fire, and practiced divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him. So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from His sight; none was left except the tribe of Judah" (2 Ki. 17:7-16).

If we keep reading, we will soon discover that Judah was not far behind. Both nations were removed from favor with the Lord primarily due to one sin - the sin of idolatry. I think we had better take this sermon seriously!

We have learned the past few weeks that idolatry was also rampant in the Greek town of Corinth. Those whom Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians turned to the living God, but they still lived in a world immersed in the detestable practice of idolatry. Conflict was bound to result. It was much deeper than breaking an old habit because the old habit intertwined with their daily living.

Could they eat meat sold in the marketplace that may have been previously used in an idol sacrifice (1 Cor. 10:25)? Could they enter an idol's temple if their family gathered there for a banquet (1 Cor. 8:10)? Difficult decisions indeed.

General guidelines contained in the Word of God are established for the believer, but not every situation is black and white. Oftentimes we need to take biblical principles and make God-honoring decisions through prayer, wise counsel and guidance by the conscience and Holy Spirit.

Generally speaking, the Corinthians wrestled with the same issue we wrestle with today. How can we be in the world as a witness to the world, but not compromise our faith by acting like the world? The Corinthians had difficulty knowing where to draw the line between involvement with idolaters and participating in the actual practice of idolatry.

About seven years ago Julie and I were invited to my cousin's adult Halloween party. Year's back we had decided in our hearts not to participate in this holiday. However, if we refused to go, we would devastate my cousin and lose out on a great witnessing opportunity. What should we do? We prayerfully came to the conclusion that we would attend the party, but not participate in any of the Halloween activities. By establishing upfront where we needed to draw lines, we attended without violating biblical standards or our personal convictions.

God does not want us nor did He want this church in Corinth to live isolated from the world in a Christian cocoon. They were to be lights to the world. However, in their association with an idolatrous world we unfortunately see them going too far and actually becoming like the world. They crossed the line and actually flirted with the practice of idolatry. So the Apostle Paul says in verse 14, "Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry."

Paul said in verses 6 and 11 of chapter 10 that we are to learn from the example of Israel. Two weeks ago we observed in verse 7 the idolatrous tendencies of the Israelites. We just read in 2 Kings how idolatry led their nation to spiritual catastrophe. In the same way, we in the church are to avoid the sin of idolatry at all costs, lest we too bring about God's displeasure and reap spiritual destruction upon ourselves.

This morning I would like to discuss the sin of idolatry. Even though you might not worship a god made out of wood or stone, we are prone to commit this sin often without even knowing it because our idols today have changed (I will speak more on that later in this message). As the first two commandments teach (Ex. 20:1-6), God will not share His glory with another (Isa. 48:11) nor will He permit any misrepresentation of His character (Dt. 4:16). Therefore I plan to use verses 16 through 22 of chapter 10 to give three reasons why God finds this sin so offensive. The answers for the Christian are crucial and very straightforward. As Paul said in verse 15, "I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say."


First, idolatry implies that God is willing to share His glory. If God were not zealous for His glory, He would be an idolater (I'll let you talk about that one over lunch!).

When God called the nation Israel to Himself, He called her to be a "holy nation," a people for His "own possession" (Ex. 19:16; Dt. 4:20). Paul picks up on this theme and applies it to the church in his letter to Titus: "(Christ) gave Himself for us to redeem us…and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession" (Tit. 2:14, emphasis added). Peter says, "But you are a chosen race…a holy nation, a people for God's own possession" (1 Pet. 2:9, emphasis added).

We have been set apart, sanctified, to be God's special people. We are accepted based on receiving Christ's righteousness. We have entered into an intimate relationship with our Creator. In verse 9 of chapter 1 of this epistle Paul told these Corinthians, "God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (emphasis added). We commune with Him and He delights to commune with us. There is a love relationship!

Nothing shows His love for us better than sending His Son, Jesus Christ to die for our sins. And on that night before the crucifixion, Jesus instituted the ordinance we commonly call Communion. He held up the bread and said it would be a reminder of His body given for us (Lk. 22:19). After supper he held up the cup and said it would be a reminder of His blood shed for the purchase of the New Covenant (Lk. 22:20). And one of the great promises of the New Covenant from Ezekiel 37: "They will be My people, and I will be their God" (Eze. 37:23). Intimacy!

Communion itself, the ordinance we enjoy on a regular basis, implies within itself the communion, the relationship, the fellowship we share with our God.

With this as a backdrop, Paul says in verse 16, "Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?"

Every time we take Communion we are having spiritual fellowship with God. We are remembering His death in the past (Lk. 22:19) and proclaiming it until He comes in the future (1 Cor. 11:26), but we are also having present fellowship with our Lord in an intimate and unique way. And moreover, we are celebrating the fellowship we enjoyed with Him throughout the month.

Therefore the bread and juice are only symbols, but they are not to be taken lightly. A picture of my children is only a symbol, but I would be hurt if someone tore it to shreds. A wedding ring is only a symbol, but your spouse would be hurt if you threw it across the room in anger. In the same way, the Bible says we eat and drink judgment upon ourselves if we misuse the elements of the Lord's Table (1 Cor. 11:29). Therefore if we have not trusted Jesus as our Savior or we are out of fellowship with Him (by cherishing known sin), we should not partake of the symbols lest we imply to Him something that is not accurate: fellowship with Him though that fellowship really does not exist.

Self-examination should always precede Communion (1 Cor. 11:28). Before we receive the elements, we should be sure that we are in communion with God. Furthermore, we should be sure that we are reconciled or in communion, as much as it depends on us, (Rom. 12:18) with the rest of His children.

God takes His personal relationship with each of His children so seriously that we are out of fellowship with Him if we are out of fellowship with another Christian. This is the point Paul makes in verse 17. "Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread" (cf. Mt. 5:23-24). Communion reminds us of the peace we have with God vertically and the peace we have with each other horizontally.

Has Paul been trying to teach us a lesson on Communion (that will come in chapter 11)? No, he is trying to teach us a lesson about idolatry. What Paul has been doing in verses 16 and 17 was to use Communion as an illustration to show how we identify ourselves with Jesus Christ. Verse 18 makes the same point though the illustration changes. "Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar?" Three times in these verses we see the Greek word, koinonia that is translated: sharing (NASB), or communion (KJV), or participation (NIV) or fellowship (YLT) depending on your translation.

Do you see the point? We cannot claim to have an intimate relationship with the Lord and then fellowship with an idol (see the New Covenant promise - Eze. 36:25; 37:23a). We cannot share our heart with God and an imposter. Nothing should come between us and our Lord who demands first place in our lives (Col. 1:18) for the sake of His glory.

2. IDOLATRY IS DEMONIC (verses 19-21)

So idolatry violates our personal relationship with God and as we move to the second point, we learn that idolatry is far from an innocent practice. Verses 19-21 teach us that idolatry is demonic.

Look with me beginning at verse 19. "What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. 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" (1 Cor. 10:19-21).

Many of the Corinthians easily could dismiss the practice of idolatry because the idol itself was nothing more than a block of wood or hump of metal. And Paul admits in verse 19, to a degree, they were correct - "An idol is (nothing)." In 8:4 he said the same thing. "We know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one."

Idolatry is not wrong because there is something inherently evil with wood or metal. Idolatry is wrong because we are giving that wood or metal the glory that is due God alone.

And who more than anyone else loves to see God robed of glory? Satan! Satan and his demonic forces use idolatry to keep people away from wholehearted worship to God. Trusting the idol will keep people from trusting the Lord.

You see, as verses 20 and 21 teach, behind every idol are demons that keep people enslaved to breaking allegiance with their Creator. Therefore, maybe we should think of idolatry as that which is far from a neutral act. Idolatry is actually participation with the occult. Instead of fellowshipping with the Lord, verse 20 says we fellowship (koinonia) with demons. And as these verses stress, "We cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons" (verse 21; cf. Mt. 6:24). And why would we want to? When we consider fellowship with Christ, idols and demons lose all their attraction.

Let's begin to think outside of the box a little. Possibly you have been feeling very comfortable up to this point, but what is your view of other religions. Are they all acceptable paths to God? According to these verses, they are demonic because they draw people away from Jesus Christ. Pluralism may be very politically correct, but it is far from being biblically correct. Any faith that does not acknowledge Jesus Christ as the sole mediator between God and man is not from the Lord (1 Tim. 2:5). Any faith that does not honor the Son does not honor the Father (Jn. 5:23). And any faith that does not honor the Father, giving Him the glory due His name, originates in the pit of hell and is continued through the work of demonic activity. It's idolatrous!

If you are not supporting our Lord's words this Christmas season, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (Jn. 14:6), you are not celebrating the birth of your Savior. On the contrary, you are furthering the work of the evil one and supporting idolatry.

Let's keep the heat on. You may feel comfortable this morning because you do not prostrate yourself to a tangible idol. But do you cherish any idols in your heart? As I mentioned earlier, the idols today have changed. Martin Luther once said, "The god of this world are riches, pleasure and pride. D. L. Moody remarked, "You don't have to go to heathen lands today to find false gods. America is full of them."

An idol can be anything - an idea, a philosophy, a pleasure, a dream, a habit, a hobby, an object, an occupation or even a person. Like the block of wood, they may not be necessarily inherently evil in and of themselves. As a matter of fact, many might be quite praiseworthy. But the moment we ascribe to that "thing" the loyalty that is due the Lord, we have become an idolater.

An idol is anything in our lives that pulls our heart away from God. It is anything we trust over God to meet our needs. It is anything we love more than God. An idol takes something from God's creation and seats it on His throne in place of Him (Rom. 1:25). Created things should be mirrors of His glory, not objects of His glory!

Ask yourself, what or whom are you depending on? What or who brings you joy and peace? What or who consumes your time, thoughts, talents and treasures? What or who overrides your obligations to God?

Are you an idolater? Is God your priority? Where does the church fit into your schedule? How motivated are you to read the Bible and pray? How often do you tell others about the Lord? We have programs that scan our hard drives for viruses. Run your heart through an idol scan!

Oftentimes others are more aware of our priorities that we are. If you were to ask your neighbor or co-worker to identify you, what would be his or her first response? Would they say you are a golfer or homemaker or family man or teacher or architect or wealthy or antique car buff or butterfly collector, or would they say first and foremost you are a Christian?

Satan uses these idols to gain a foothold in our heart, and oftentimes we are not even aware of it.

You will remember that Ananias and Sapphira of Acts 5 had an idol in their lives. Their idol, like many in our world today, was money (see Col. 3:5). Maybe that is why we need to keep, "In God we trust" on our currency. Nevertheless, behind their idol, like behind any other idol was Satan. Peter said to Ananias, "Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit" (Ac. 5:3). For the almighty dollar, they lied to the church, provoked by the "father of lies" himself (Jn. 8:44). God killed both of them on the spot (Ac. 5:5, 10) to teach His church throughout the generations how serious He is about idolatry.


The final point is only a conclusion of the two prior points. Naturally, if we rob God of His glory and have fellowship with demons we will, verse 22, "provoke the Lord to jealousy."

Because of our marriage relationship to God, idolatry is often compared in the Bible to spiritual adultery. Due to her idolatry, God told Israel she was a "harlot with many lovers"(Jer. 3:1). Hosea the prophet became a living parable to illustrate this tragic truth (Hos. 1:2). Because of His great concern for His glory and immense love for His children, spiritual adultery will naturally provoke the Lord to holy jealousy (cf. Jas. 4:5; 2 Cor. 11:2).

God told the Israelites in Deuteronomy, "You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, for the Lord your God in the midst of you is a jealous God" (Dt. 6:14-15a; 5:9). Later in the book He said, "They have made Me jealous with what is not God; they have provoked Me to anger with their idols" (Dt. 32:21).

Couples, how would you feel if your spouse cheated on you and then acted as if your communion was still in tact? Do we wish to hurt our Savior in such a way? Furthermore, do we think idolatry will go unpunished and undisciplined? Paul closes in verse 22, "We are not stronger than He, are we?"

We are called to learn from the example of the Israelites. Like them we are prone to create idols in our heart. But we must understand that idols are unable to help in any way. All the idol does is cut off the blessing we can receive from the true God by provoking Him to anger and jealously. Our God will not stand for a spirit of competition.

Idolatry is a deed of the flesh (Gal. 5:20). According to Revelation 21, idolaters will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 21:8; 22:15). May we, verse 14, "flee" from this awful sin that provokes the jealousy and anger of the Lord. May we find our joy in looking away from worthless idols and looking to our priceless Lord. May we reject the satanic lie and realize that He is everything our hearts will ever desire. Only He can satisfy our deepest needs. Understanding this is the cure for idolatry. For "in (His) presence is fullness of joy; (and) in (His) right hand there are pleasures forever" (Psm. 16:11).

"When the mind is freed from the blindness of nature, and the eyes of the understanding opened, the light of the glorious gospel will shine into such a regenerated mind, revealing to it the beauties of holiness, and causing it to rejoice in the glory of God. To such a one Christ appears lovely - the chief among ten thousand, and He becomes the jewel of their hearts. Idols are at once cast away, and He as their rightful King is enthroned in their affections. Believers do not and cannot doubt of Christ's excellency and suitableness. His doctrines they humbly receive, and found their hopes of salvation on His faithful word alone" (Archibald Alexander, Obedience to Christ Gives Assurance of the Truth of His Doctrines).

other sermons in this series

Apr 22


Edification or Self-Exaltation

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 14:1–40 Series: 1 Corinthians

Apr 15


Everything Minus Love Equals Nothing

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:1–13 Series: 1 Corinthians

Mar 18


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Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:21–27 Series: 1 Corinthians