“A Participation in Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:14-17)
Listen to the Sermon:
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? 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, ESV
This is the word of the Lord given to us in love.
As I was growing up, I was blessed in many ways. There was one aspect of my childhood that I didn’t really appreciate fully until I looked back on it later in my life. I lived in a very small town in western Nebraska; Chappell, Nebraska if you are familiar with it. In that town both set of my grandparents lived within walking distance. One was a block away and another was a distance that I was allowed to walk myself when I was six.
In that family, on both sides, my parents had a lot of siblings. That meant that I had lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins. They didn’t live in Chappell with all of us, but they came to visit a lot. Anytime anyone came to stay, a big gathering or a small visit, I was right there a block or so away, so I was able to be right there for all of it.
I was at so many different family gatherings of various kinds at various times. There are a lot of memories that I cherish from that time. I didn’t realize what a special thing that was to be involved in all of that.
As I think back on those memories from my childhood, the memories that stick out the most always seem to revolve around food. I think back to the Saturday morning pancakes at my grandfather on my mother’s side. I think about Sunday fried chicken that we had almost every weekend at my grandparents on my dad’s side. I think about lots of summer cookouts, especially in my mom’s parent’s backyard.
I think about Thanksgiving together, where there were foods that we had, including this cranberry Jello salad that is now five generations deep. It’s one of the only things I make because I insist upon it because it’s nostalgia, just pure unfiltered nostalgia from my childhood. I think about Christmas Eve at my Gerber grandparents were we always had the same three soups; chili, clam chowder, and potato soup.
As I think about all this food, it’s not really to food itself, it was the fellowship. All of those memories with family. I remember so many conversations, so many stories, so much laughter, so many tears, so much joy.
We live in a culture that underestimates the value of eating together. We live in a fast food culture. There’s nothing wrong with fast food, but that’s what we see food as. Something to get quickly, eat quickly, and move on with the rest of our busy, productive lives.
The rest of the cultures throughout the world and history haven’t often seen food in this way. We are so rare in this regard. Most people have recognized that to eat together is one of the most intimate, important things that we do. Which is why I want to invite you to our monthly fellowship meal. Eating together is one of the most important things that we do outside of the corporate worship that we celebrate here.
If this is true about the meals that we celebrate as family and friends in our homes, in one another’s homes, here in the church; how much more true is this about the meal we share at the Lord’s table in worship?
This is a family meal that God himself has given to us in the person of his son Jesus Christ. As we study our passage today our big idea is this, Spiritual feasts create real spiritual fellowship.
We are going to see this in three aspects in 1 Corinthians 10:14-17.
1. Fellowship with Idols
2. Fellowship with Christ
3. Fellowship with the Body of Christ.
Fellowship with Idols
When we come to verse fourteen, Paul is dealing with the issue of fellowship with idols. Paul writes in verse fourteen,
14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 1 Corinthians 10:14, ESV
As we come here, this is the conclusion of an argument that Paul has been developing in chapter eight and chapter ten up to this point. Paul has been writing about Israel’s Old Testament history and reminding the Corinthians of this history.
He was reminding them that although Israel in the Old Testament was greatly blessed by God in the way that God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, the house of bondage. Though God greatly blessed them by providing them with food and drink in the wilderness, nevertheless the Israelites were entangled at many turns with the sin of idolatry.
Again, and again, they were falling into this sin of idolatry and Paul has been pointing to these stories to warn the Corinthians and us not become entangled in the same sin of idolatry. The context of this passage, starting in chapter eight all the way through 1 Corinthians 10:22, tells us that Paul’s concern is not so much the formal bowing down to idols.
He’s not thinking that many people are doing that. He thinks the problem is that they are convincing themselves that as long as they aren’t bowing down to an idol, they are safe. They believe that they charge of idolatry doesn’t stick to what they are doing.
What Paul has been trying to prove is that even external participation in religious feasts, spiritual ceremonies that are in honor of pagan idols, these external participations of eating a meal at a feast offered to idols is a part of idolatry.
It’s a sinful entanglement with these other gods. As Paul is arguing throughout this passage, spiritual feasts not only create, but always create real spiritual fellowship. This is why he urges them to flee from idolatry. You can’t participate even in the feasts that are offered to these gods without being bound up in the religious worship of these foreign gods.
You create a real communion bond with these gods even if you don’t think that’s what is happening; or more accurately as Paul goes on to say, “with the demons that are masquerading as gods.” It’s a serious thing that as Paul writes in a few verses, he says, “I do not want you to be participants with demons”, in verse twenty.
Paul is telling us to flee from this altogether. Now it’s interesting, there’s only one other time in 1 Corinthians that Paul has urged us to flee from something. It came in 1 Corinthians 6:18 when Paul wrote, “flee from sexual immorality.” Then he explained why he told us that it’s so important to flee from sexual immorality.
He tells us that sexual immorality is not just an external physical act. Sexual immorality is something that entangles you spiritually with someone that you are not meant to be entangled with spiritually. Because it’s not just something outside of your body, but it’s something that is entangling spiritually, you need to flee from sexual immorality.
Now for the same reason, because of the same problem of spiritual entanglement though this time not with a person but with demons; Paul says flee from idolatry, including the outward physical act of eating food. It’s not just food, there is a poison in that food that you don’t realize when you eat of these feasts.
Now verse fourteen, when Paul says, “flee from idolatry” and to avoid this kind of fellowship with idols, this is Paul’s main application point through the entire chapter of chapter ten. Everything before this point in chapter ten built up to it and as we go from here for the rest of chapter ten Paul is going to be proving the importance of this point. This is what Paul wants us to take away from this chapter if nothing else.
In the process of underscoring the importance and significance of this point, Paul appeals to what he takes for granted all of us already believe about the Lord’s Supper. Namely that in the Lord’s Supper, it’s a spiritual feast that creates real spiritual fellowship with Christ.
Now, when Paul then writes in verses fifteen through seventeen, his point is to illustrate why it’s so serious not to fellowship in these idol feasts. But as we read this, Paul’s purpose, even if it’s primarily to teach us the danger of eating in these idol feasts, nevertheless we see a secondary purpose.
Paul is telling us, this is in fact one of the clearest passages on this in the whole Bible, something important about the nature of the Lord’s Supper. We see what he is saying in relation to the larger context, but if we study his words, we glean information about what we are doing when we eat the bread and drink the cup. Namely that this feast of the Lord’s Supper creates real spiritual fellowship with Christ and with the body of Christ, others in the church.
Fellowship with Christ
So, let’s turn to the aspect of fellowship with Christ. Paul writes about this in 1 Corinthians 10:15-16.
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? 1 Corinthians 10:15-16, ESV
Paul is not saying this because he thinks that what he is about to say is up for debate. He’s saying I want you to think this through because I want you to really understand this. Don’t just blindly follow my instructions here. That might work for a time, but the next time a similar issue comes up if you don’t understand the underlying principles, you won’t know how to deal with that when it arises. So, I speak as to sensible people, bring this to your understanding.
So, what does Paul want us to understand? When Paul calls this the cup of blessings, he is importing a term from the Jewish Passover feast. You remember that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper at the Passover fest that he celebrated with his disciples.
At the Jewish Passover feast, and again Paul is saying is still the case in the Lord’s Supper, the cup is considered a cup of blessing. Not because the cup is what blesses us, but it’s actually that the cup is what is actually blessed. The one presiding over the meal blesses the cup, prays over the cup, asks God to set apart the cup from common use.
It’s not just a glass of wine that we might have with dinner, this wine has a specific purpose, a holy purpose. A purpose that is consecrated to the purposes that God has appointed for it.
What are those purposes? As we partake of the cup of blessings, we participate in the blood of Christ. What does this mean? The word participation is a word that a lot of people know in Greek, “koinōnia”. It’s the word that means fellowship. When we have the cup, we have fellowship with Christ. Particularly fellowship with Christ in view of Christ’s blood.
This doesn’t mean that we drink Christ’s physical blood. It means that we have fellowship with Christ in regard to laying hold, by faith, to the benefits and blessings that are offered to us in his blood. The blood of Christ which purifies us, the blood of Christ which cleanses us from all unrighteousness, the blood of Christ which forgives us of our sins. We lay hold of these blessings and these benefits when we receive the Lord’s Supper by faith.
Then Paul says the same thing about the bread. The idea of breaking bread goes back to the institution of the Lord’s Supper. When Jesus took the bread, he broke it. This is in all of the accounts that we have of the Lord’s Supper, including the one that Paul gives in 1 Corinthians chapter eleven. This idea of breaking the bread was so common, such an important feature of the Lord’s Supper that the early church often referred to the Lord’s Supper just as the breaking of bread.
You see this in Acts 2:42, they gathered in one another’s home for the breaking of bread. In Acts 20:7, when they were gathered on the first day of the week to break bread. The Lord’s Supper is what is referred to there because Jesus broke the bread to symbolize his broken body.
Paul says that this breaking of bread is a participation in the body of Christ. This meal actually creates a fellowship between us and Christ with a view toward laying hold of the benefits of his broken body. As we partake of this meal, the broken body and the shed blood of Jesus become more than distant history. Certainly not less than history; we are not saying that well isn’t this just a pretty picture and thought, we have bread and a cup, we could imagine something spiritual out of this.
We are saying that in history, when Jesus Christ entered the world, he actually gave his body to be broken. He actually spilled his own blood at the cross. When we participate in the meal that he left for us, he is allowing us to have a share of that, to participate in that, to have a fellowship in that. It’s where we personally lay hold of the benefits of what Christ accomplished for us at the cross when he gave his body to be broken and his blood to be shed. When we lay hold of those benefits by faith.
By this meal we lay hold of nothing less than the gospel by faith. The by faith is important. We can’t simply treat this as though it were magical. We can’t just by eating bread and just by drinking the cup we are getting the benefits that God intended for us. Christ says that if we take this meal inappropriately it will be a curse and a condemnation for us. If we take this by faith, then we are actually laying hold of the promises of the gospel by faith.
Through this meal Jesus promises forgiveness of sins. He promises to reassure us that we are counted righteous through Christ. He promises to continue the work of making us holy by the grace of the Holy Spirit. This meal confirms our interest and our union with him, and it strengthens our communion with Christ.
So, what should we learn from this, this participation in the blood and body of Christ? There is not warrant here for believing that the bread transforms into the body of Christ or that the cup transforms into the blood of Christ. The word, fellowship or participation, is not at all related to eating and drinking. So, if I sit down with you at the fellowship meal later today and I say I would like to have fellowship with you, understand that I am not asking to eat you. That’s really important, I want to clear that up.
The apostle John in 1 John 1:7 says that we have fellowship with one another. He’s not encouraging cannibalism. He’s recognizing what every human culture has recognized, that when we eat together, we have fellowship together. It’s a unique kind of fellowship.
My childhood memories, thinking about all of those family meals, I’m remembering not so much the food but the fellowship around the food. When we go to the fellowship after the service, I hope you might remember the food, I hope it’s good and you enjoy it. More than that, we want the fellowship that comes from this.
This is all the more true when we come to the Lord’s table. At the Lord’s table we eat and drink with Jesus Christ himself. The background story here, part of the words that Jesus himself borrowed in the creation of the new covenant by his blood, Jesus is referring to a story in Exodus.
In Exodus chapter twenty-four Moses took the physical blood of the sacrifice and splattered in on the people. He said, “behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” That was the blood, it was physically shed. They didn’t eat it. Rather, Moses and Aaron and Aaron’s sons and seventy of the elders of Israel go halfway up the mountain.
9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11 And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank. Exodus 24:9-11, ESV
When we take the Lord’s Supper, we are doing the same thing. We are eating and we are drinking in the presence of God. We don’t see him, but we see the image of the body and blood of Jesus that he has left for us, the bread and the cup. This is the means that God has appointed for communicating Christ to us, for offering Christ to us, bot the physical body and the physical blood of Jesus. This is a covenant meal where we fellowship with Christ.
I don’t want to get too graphic here, but we are not talking about chewing his body and swirling his blood around our minds and ingesting that into our stomachs. That’s not at all what’s in view here.
In the language of the Westminster Confession of Faith we don’t feed on him carnally or corporally, but we feed on Christ spiritually here. In this meal we lay hold of the spiritual benefits accomplished for us by his broken body and shed blood.
There is no warrant here for recognizing that the bread transforms into the body of Christ or that the cup transforms into the blood of Christ. It’s also not enough to interpret this meal as merely a symbol, as though this is just a picture. It is a picture, but it is more than a picture. Here we feed on Christ really and truly, not physically but spiritually.
Jesus in this meal is as present to us spiritually, by faith, as the elements of the bread and cup are physically present to our outward sense. Christ says that this is a picture of my broken body, this is a picture of my shed blood, but it’s not only a symbol, it’s more than that.
God uses this by the person of his Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith, our union and communion with Christ. Theologically this is what is called a sacramental union. That is there is a relationship between the sign and the thing signified, between the blood and body of Christ and the cup and blood of Christ. The cup is a participation in the blood of Christ, the bread is a participation in the body of Christ.
The whole point that Paul is making, again in the context of warning us against idolatrous feasts, but as we understand what Paul is saying, he’s telling us that the Lord’s Supper creates real, spiritual fellowship with Christ.
Fellowship With One Another
It’s not just with Christ. Paul says additionally, this meal also gives us fellowship with one another. Look at what Paul writes in verse seventeen.
17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 1 Corinthians 10:17, ESV
Paul is saying we feast together from one loaf of bread, as you pick the various pieces up that were cut from one loaf. This is a picture of the way that we are many people with many stories, who have battled many challenges in this week, and yet we all come together to eat the same meal. It’s the ultimate family meal.
Do you have good memories of family meals where everyone has been different places throughout the day, maybe you haven’t seen each other throughout the day, but when you sit down as a family you all share a common experience? You are all there in the same place in the same time, seeing the same sights, feeling the same textures, tasting the same tastes, hearing the same words of the conversation that is happening.
Or at the Lord’s Supper hearing together the words of institution that Jesus gave to his church that has been repeated in every church, in every language, in every culture, in every age. These same words bond us together, not only us in this room but beyond this to the wider body of Christ. Meals create a communion bond with Christ and with each other.
We are entangled in one another’s lives as we come to this feast. The fellowship, our participation is with Jesus, but with each other too. Christ doesn’t save you individually to put you on a new island in relationship to himself. Christ saves you to be one of the members of the body of Christ in the church. By this meal Jesus uses this meal, Jesus sends his Holy Spirit to work in this meal to not only strengthen our communion with Christ, but to build the bonds of communion that we have with one another.
At this meal we reaffirm our union as one body and we celebrate our communion together because spiritual feasts, including the Lord’s Supper, create real spiritual fellowship that we enjoy with one another.
1. First let me simply use Paul’s application in verse fourteen. Flee from idolatry. You may be thinking, okay that’s probably never going to happen in America. Let me tell you it might. You might have a friend, perhaps someone you are trying to find opportunities to present the gospel of Jesus to, who may as a part of this invite you to a spiritual feast.
This isn’t something that has gone away. All religions have their spiritual meals. If someone invites you to this and you are trying to weigh out is this the right thing to do, understand that the scriptures give us very clear warnings here that are just as applicable today as they were then.
You might say we are modern; we don’t believe in that stuff. The Corinthians thought that they understood too what was happening. They said we know there is only one God, in 1 Corinthians chapter eight, we know that these so-called gods are not real gods. Paul said it doesn’t matter because when we partake of spiritual feasts, we create real spiritual fellowship with whoever is being honored there.
What you need to do is politely decline. To tell them that the scriptures teach you that you can’t do that, that other religious feasts are off limits. Instead, invite them to your house for a common meal, not a religious meal. We are not supposed to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in private, this is for the whole church to be doing here at this meal. But invite them to your home for a common meal. Sit down and get to know them. That kind of thing is encouraged. But to go to religious feasts is absolutely forbidden.
Additionally, beyond these feasts that you may or may not get invited to in your life, consider the ways in which you might be entangled in a sinful way. Again, the point that Paul is getting at here is that if we are entangled in sinful ways, then we will be drawn away from Christ.
Some of these external acts are not only external. In fact, they entangle us spiritually in ways that we don’t necessarily fully understand. So, earlier Paul talked about that in relation to sexual immorality. That entangles you. I want to say once again that if you are struggling with sexual immorality, this is a difficult sin to get out from under from, precisely because of the spiritual entanglements of it. If you are struggling with this sin, please come talk to me so we can fight this together.
Additionally, what about all the other areas of your life where you find yourself entangled. What activates consume your mind and your heart and your affections? What relationships lead you to an increasingly evil and unbelieving heart? What in your life deadens you love for the Lord?
These are entanglements. We need to recognize that we need to cast off sin that entangles us so easily so that we may run the race set before us. Flee from these things, flee from idolatry, flee from things that spiritually entangle us in body and soul.
2. Feast with Christ at the Lord’s Supper. We have a wonderful blessing here; we receive the Lord’s Supper every week. The challenge however is that as we receive it every week, sometimes we approach the table without fully recognizing what we are doing.
Let me give you a couple of things to think about today as we prepare to approach the Lord’s Supper. Let me also give you a little bit of homework to do another time as you think about how to prepare and reflect on the Lord’s Supper.
Here’s some things to think about today. Start by recognizing that you are at a spiritual feast. This is a covenant meal that you are enjoying with Jesus himself. The Lord does not lay a hand on you if you receive this meal, turning from your sin in sorrow, and looking to Christ in faith.
You eat and drink with Jesus in joy and in peace. This is a spiritual meal, so as you ask Christ for fellowship with him, ask that you may lay hold of all the blessings. Blessings that you can’t understand, blessings that you need that Jesus sees that you need and promises to give you in the participation that you are about to share in in the body of Christ and the blood of Christ through the bread and the wine.
As you approach the table, come confessing your sins and rejoicing over Christ’s salvation. The gospel message is that Christ’s body was broken, and his blood was shed for sinners. Sinners who recognize that they are fallen, sinful, guilty before God and that they have no hope of being received into the glory of Christ apart from what Jesus did for us.
To come into this world and to have his body broken and blood shed on the cross, taking the curse upon himself that we deserve. Freely offering to us, not only forgiveness of sins, but also the righteousness that he accomplished in his life.
Use the table as an opportunity for God to search your heart. To find to you the ways that are displeasing to him. Also, to recognize aspects of his grace and glory that you haven’t fully appreciated. Things that you haven’t understood or forgotten about Jesus. As you approach this table as that he might bring them to mind so that you can approach the table in joyful worship. Those are a few things to think about today.
Here’s some homework. I would encourage you to read through the Westminster Larger Catechism questions 168-175. Maybe you could read one every week as we prepare to receive the Lord’s Supper every week. The Westminster Standards are our confessional standards, what we believe, preach, teach and practice about what the scriptures proclaim. In it they have so many thoughts about how to participate fully to feast at the Lord’s Supper.
3. Feast with each other in the Lord’s Supper. I get to see people as they come up, and I’m guilty of the same thing myself, but as we come up tend to look down and privately thinking. This is fine as we are participating with Christ in our hearts. Let me encourage you brothers and sisters, look up. Look up to the gospel promises of Jesus at this table and look upon one another.
Let’s use this time to remind us to pray for one another. You know, when you promise you will pray for people and you forget despite your best intentions. Then you see them walking up to participate in the Lord’s Supper, that’s a fantastic time to remember your commitment to pray for those people.
Pray for the Lord to build up the faith of these people. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:6, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” Their spiritual health will affect your spiritual health. Pray that God will build them up through Christ by the Holy Spirit. Ask that as you are looking upon these people, maybe you don’t know them as well as you would like or there is something between you, ask that God would give you reconciliation and fellowship and joy with each other as we share together in this experience.
We need to recognize that the feast of the Lord’s Supper is an entanglement with other believers, but not a sinful one. This is the kind of entanglement that God has intended. Romans 12:4-5,
4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another Romans 12:4-5, ESV
We are all entangled into one another’s lives, so let me give you a follow up. Go to the fellowship meals. This is one of the best ways you can practice the fellowship we have in Christ. The table of our Lord Jesus is the best fellowship we have, but short of that there is nothing better than to spend time with other believers fellowshipping on the Lord’s day. Get to know others, ask them about their stories and how the Lord has been writing their story to work in their lives.
Thank you to those who are serving at the fellowship meal. If you haven’t served let me encourage you to serve, there is a sign-up sheet in the parlor. This is one of the most important things we do outside of corporate worship. Thank you for all those who cooked and prepared and set up and will clean up. This is so important in the body of Christ.
Brothers and sisters, flee from idolatry and anything that sinfully entangles us to that we may be free to enjoy consistently and increasingly more fellowship with Christ and with one another.