“Provoking the Lord to Jealousy” (1 Corinthians 10:18-22)
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
As we study this passage this morning, I want to ask a question. What do we mean when we say that God is love? Rather, we don’t say it; the Bible says it. We see that in 1 John 4:8, then again, a few verses later in 1 John 4:16, the apostle John says a couple of times that God is love. What do we mean by that?
The reason we have to be very careful about defining what we mean about this is because what the scriptures mean about this is very different than what our culture means. It would be a mistake to talk about love according to what our culture believes and project that back onto God.
Our culture is obsessed with love. If you listen to the messaging that comes from our culture, everywhere you see stories and songs devoted to this idea of love. What is this love really? If you try to get to its kernel, what are you dealing with?
Our culture understands the idea of love primarily along the lines of tolerance and permissiveness. We are most loving when we allow anyone to be or do anything they want to be or want to do so long as they do it under the banner of love.
When we come to the scriptures, we see a very different understanding of love. We can’t project that upon God as though he were infinitely tolerant and infinitely permissible. That’s not what unconditional love means. What do the scriptures teach us.
The scriptures teach us a very different understanding of love that actually says far more than what the idea of tolerance says. On the other hand, it’s not the opposite, God isn’t simply intolerant. He’s more than tolerant but he’s also more than intolerant. There’s a word that shows up in 1 Corinthians 10:22 that gives us a handle on what God’s love is like. God’s love is a jealous love.
22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, ESV
This idea of jealousy means a lot. It means that God more than tolerates you. God loves you with a furious consuming fire, a jealous kind of love. Which means that God is more than intolerant to anything that stands between you and God, including and especially your sin.
God is more than tolerant of you, he loves you. God is more than intolerant of your sin. All of this fits under this idea of God’s consuming fire of jealousy. That Paul in this passage warns us not to stir up against ourselves.
Our big idea today is this, The Lord is jealous for the faithfulness of his people.
Maybe that word jealous rubs you the wrong way. I remember the first time that someone told me that God was a jealous God, and they were just quoting the scriptures, it’s found in Exodus chapter twenty. It struck me as really off until I understood more about what the Bible teaches. We are going to get there.
The Lord is jealous for the faithfulness of his people. We see this in three parts in this passage.
1. The Lord’s Communion with His People
2. The Lord’s Commandment for His People
3. The Lord’s Covenant with His People
The Lord’s Communion with His People
We see this in verse eighteen. As brief review to cover the first part of the passage that we read but won’t be studying much today; in verse fourteen Paul urged the Corinthian church to flee from idolatry. As he wrote this, he wasn’t only talking about the formal bowing down to idols. It happens, but that isn’t what he was so much worried about in their case. He wanted to warn the Corinthians about participating in feasts that were dedicated to idols, eating the food that was sacrificed to idols.
To illustrate the problem that simply participating in a feast to an idol is tantamount to idolatry, Paul appealed in verses fifteen through seventeen to the Lord’s Supper. He pointed to the Lord’s Supper and said when we eat this meal, which is in honor of Christ, eating this meal is a participation in him. He said in verse sixteen,
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 10:16, ESV
When we take the Lord’s Supper, we fellowship with Christ. We lay hold of all the benefits and blessings of his body and blood by faith. In verse seventeen, Paul says that when we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we have fellowship not only with Christ, but with other worshipers.
There’s not a separation between seventeen and eighteen really. It’s all one passage but we broke it up to look particularly at what Paul said about understanding the nature of the Lord’s Supper. Paul is still on this path and in verse eighteen, he gives us another example along these lines.
18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 1 Corinthians 10:18, ESV
What Paul is talking about, there’s some discussion. Some people think it only refers to the festival or feasts where they would gather together and eat collectively. Some think it refers to all sacrifices proper that they offered, which sometimes priests and Levites were allowed to eat from, it was part of the way that they earned their living and fed their families.
What Paul probably has in view here because he is talking about all the people of Israel who participated in these sacrifices, he’s probably talking about one sacrifice in particular that was eaten by all the people of Israel, it was called the peace offering.
You find a lot about it in Leviticus chapter three and 7:11-36. The peace offering was an offering that was not about trying to secure atonement for your sins. There were other sacrifices for that. There was the burnt offering, the sin offering and the guilt offering. All of those you would offer if you realized that you had sinned in some way. You would offer the peace offering not to gain atonement for your sins, you would do this after you had gained atonement for your sins.
The peace offering was a celebration of the fact that you were at peace with God, it wasn’t an attempt to gain peace with God. To eat the peace offering, this is what would happen. A worshiper who was overcoming with thanksgiving or praise, it’s actually called the sacrifice of thanksgiving or praise in Psalm 50:14.
A worshiper had something he wanted to praise God for. He would bring a sacrificial animal to the temple and hand the animal over to be sacrificed. As the priests were preparing to slaughter the sacrificial animal, this worshiper would stand up and tell the congregation everything that God had done for him. He would declare the praises of God in the midst of the assembly.
Then the sacrifice would be slaughtered, and cooked, and the meat from that sacrifice would be used as a communal feast for all of the worshipers gathered there, especially the poor that were in their midst. This is one of the ways that the people of God cared for the poor in their midst. They would give some of the meals from the overflowing of the thankfulness of the generosity of God’s grace to them in their lives. The poor would eat and be satisfied. That’s what it’s talking about in Psalm 22:26.
This was a fellowship meal where they celebrated and communed in the presence of God and with the other worshipers who were assembled with them. Thus, they became together participants in the altar here in verse eighteen.
The best example of this is in Exodus chapter twenty-four, where Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel go halfway up Mount Sinai and there they enjoy a feast. This is after the atoning sacrifices had been offered and the blood of the covenant had been splattered on them. To celebrate the fellowship and communion that they had with God we read that they eat and drink in the presence of God at peace with him.
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 24:11, ESV
This was a feast to celebrate the peace that the Old Testament worshipers had with God, just as the Lord’s Supper is the feast that we have to celebrate the peace that God has accomplished for us through the sacrifice for Jesus Christ.
In both cases we are not offering a sacrifice to gain acceptance to God. This isn’t a sacrifice for this purpose. In both cases the peace offering in the Old Testament and the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament, we are eating a covenant meal to celebrate our fellowship with and communion with Christ and with each other.
This is an important first principle. There is a reason that Paul sticks this in this first in the paragraph before moving on to deal with the issue of idol feasts directly. Not only because he wants us to understand what we are doing when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, but also to understand why the Lord hates idolatry.
It’s because the Lord wants communion and faithfulness with us. The Lord wants to be at peace with us. The Lord wants us to be exclusively his and to belong to one another in the body of Christ. This is why, as we are going to see, the Lord is so jealous for the faithfulness of his people. He longs for true peace, true joy, he longs for us to behold him in his glory and to eat and drink with him in peace.
Therefore, because he wants that so much, he hates anything that stands in the way of that. He hates anything that violates that peace, that intimacy, and that joy that we have with him.
This raises a question. Paul has just talked about the Lord’s Supper as a faithfulness with Christ himself and now he’s talked about Old Testament worship as a faithfulness of participation with the God who is worshiped at the altar. Then Paul goes on and talks about the feasts that are dedicated to idols in the same way.
Is Paul saying then that these idol gods are equally real, but simply in opposition to the God of the Bible? YAWEH of the Old Testament, the one who is revealed through the person of his son Jesus Christ? Are they equally real? Paul is going to say yes and no. Yes, in the sense that there is something real happening, but no in the sense that these are not rival gods. Something spiritual is happening, but it’s not what the idol worshipers think is happening. This is where we need to be very careful.
The Lord’s Commandments for His People
Specifically, Paul is referring to the second commandment that we should not make any graven images or bow down to them or serve them. In verse nineteen Paul says,
19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? ? 1 Corinthians 10:19, ESV
Are there just lots of gods out there and we worship YAWEH revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and these other people worship their equally real true gods? No, Paul says in verse twenty, no absolutely not.
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. 1 Corinthians 10:20, ESV
Where does Paul get this idea? Frankly this sounds a little harsh. Paul is condemning other religions as worshiping demons. Paul is not making up something new here. He’s quoting the Old Testament. He’s quoting what is called the Song of Moses back in Deuteronomy chapter thirty-two.
Back in Deuteronomy chapter thirty-two, the Song of Moses was given at a time when Moses was about to die. You remember as Paul has been talking about in 1 Corinthians ten, God was extremely gracious to the people of Israel under the leadership of Moses.
1 Corinthians 10:1-4, just the beginning of this chapter Paul talks about how they had a typological baptism as God brought his people out of Egypt, under the cloud and through the sea. They had a typological Lord’s Supper as Christ Jesus himself gave them spiritual food and spiritual drink. Then Paul documented several ways in which the people of Israel nevertheless, in spite of all God’s covenant kindness to them, fell into idolatry.
Paul has been warning them about this, but the same problem was at stake at the end of Deuteronomy. Moses has been trying to do his best to keep the people of Israel from idolatry, but now he is worried as he goes to his death, will the people of Israel remain faithful when he is no longer there to babysit them?
To help with this, the Lord gives Moses as song. A song that Moses is instructed to teach all of the people of Israel that they would sing and be reminded of two things. The first part reminded them of God’s great covenant faithfulness to bring them out of Egypt, to be kind to them, to establish them as they wandered through the wilderness. The second part of the song condemns Israel’s idolatry and warns of judgements that God would bring against any idolatry from his people in the future.
Essentially, it’s the exact same thing that Paul has been telling us through 1 Corinthians ten. Paul has modeled the structure of this chapter on the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy thirty-two. Here is what Paul is quoting when he says that pagans are sacrificing to demons, he’s quoting Deuteronomy 32:17,
17 They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
to gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
whom your fathers had never dreaded.
Deuteronomy 32:17, ESC
Just as Moses warned the Israelites not to sacrifice to demons that were not gods, so Paul is now warning the Corinthian not to eat the sacrifices offered to demons that are not gods in their own context. So, when we get to verse twenty-one, this is the logical conclusion to what Paul has written up to this point.
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. 1 Corinthians 10:21, ESV
Obviously, it’s possible to do this in the sense that it’s possible to try. The Corinthians were trying to eat at one table, a table where they were eating food sacrificed to demons. Then they would go directly to church on the Lord’s Day with the people of God and to try to eat from the table of the Lord there. You could physically do that in some sense, but it wasn’t permissible.
What they were doing wasn’t allowed by God. God wasn’t tolerant of this. By doing this they were stirring up the Lord to jealous wrath against them.
Paul then is giving them no new warnings. He is reminding them of warnings they already have, they should already be familiar with, that are already included in the scriptures.
When we come to verse twenty-two and we see, “shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy?” and we see what Paul is saying here; that the Israelites, as well as Corinthians, by their idolatries stir the Lord to jealous wrath. We need to ask a question, was God wrong to act in this way? Was God wrong to be jealous toward his people?
Understand that the scriptures tell us that God’s jealousy is a holy aspect of his character. If God were not jealous for his people, he would not be holy or righteous, he would not even be good.
The Lord’s Covenant With His People
That flies in the face of the way that we usually think about jealousy. We have to understand that this jealousy is built on the Lord’s covenant with his people. God’s in covenant with his Old Testament people. We read about all their issues and idolatry in chapter ten. Now Paul is saying that you are in covenant with the Lord and therefore the Lord will be jealously possessive, as he says here in verse twenty-two.
Once again, in asking shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy, Paul is quoting the Song of Moses. Deuteronomy 32:16,
16 They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
with abominations they provoked him to anger. Deuteronomy 32:16, ESV
Then Deuteronomy 32:21,
16 21 They have made me jealous with what is no god;
they have provoked me to anger with their idols.
So I will make them jealous with those who are no people;
I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. Deuteronomy 32:21, ESV
Beyond this, Paul is appealing to the second commandment. Where do we learn about the jealousy of God? In Exodus 20:5. They weren’t supposed to make images or idols for themselves. They weren’t supposed to bow down to them or serve them by even attending feasts to these gods because,
5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,Exodus 20:5 , ESV
Idolatry is forbidden because the Lord is jealous for his people. Remember that the context for both the Song of Moses and the Ten Commandments is God’s gracious covenant with his people. Again, the Song of Moses began by singing about God’s covenant with his people and so did Exodus chapter twenty, the Ten Commandments.
You have to start with the preface. The preface is that God establishes covenant relationships to his people. He says, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” What he’s saying is that we are not trying to obey God’s commandments because we were trying to earn his favor.
We don’t have to do these things in order to be loved, but rather we obey the Lord because he has already loved us, because he has graciously redeemed us. He has brought us not only out of the house of Egypt, but out of the house of slavery to sin in order to make us his covenant people.
It’s because of God’s covenant with us, through Christ, that the Lord is jealous for us. Again, ask this question, is this jealousy really good? I said that earlier and let me know try to prove it. When we talk about jealousy the problem is that we usually use it in a very negative sense. There are a couple of issues with the way that we use jealousy.
Part of the problem is that we don’t always distinguish envy from jealousy. If you experience envy, you are wanting what belongs to someone else. If you are experiencing jealousy, you are possessive of what belongs to you. We don’t always use it this way or make that distinction. When someone says, “I’m so jealous of that, it’s so cool”, and they might be very envious in their heart as they say that.
Another problem, even if we fully understand what the word jealousy means, is that nothing and no one in this world belongs to us in the way that everything and everyone belongs to God.
It’s difficult to talk about being jealous for something we own because we know that we don’t fully own anything in an absolute sense. We understand that a husband, for example, has exclusive rights to his husband and a wife has exclusive rights to her husband. Yet we realize that no one owns his or her spouse in an absolute sense.
So, we recognize that to talk about a jealous spouse, there is some legitimacy to that, but usually when we talk about a jealous spouse, we mean someone is too possessive. They have crossed a line, they are clingy and often this jealous is expressed in the manner of cruelty toward the spouse due to the jealous, which arises not from love but from insecurity.
These are absolutely wrong ways to think about the Lord’s jealous. A better word to translate this word jealousy, in verse twenty-two, is zeal, “the Lord has zeal for his people.” The word there is where we get our word zeal from. The idea of to be zealous is to be jealous for someone or something.
What is God jealous for? He is jealous for his people. In a general sense the Lord possess everything and everyone in heaven and on earth because he created everything, and he providentially sustains it. There is not an atom in your body, an electron swirling around in that atom, that is not there because God did not speak it into existence and because God does not continue to make sure that it stays in place.
Beyond this, the Lord uniquely possess his covenant people. He bought these people at a price, nothing less than the price of his only begotten son who shed his blood to purchase a people for his own possession at the cross. When we think about the Lord’s jealousy, the best way to understand what the Lord’s jealous is practically speaking, why it goes so much further than the definitions that our world has for love, is that we should look at the cross.
The cross is where we see God’s jealousy on full display. There is a two-part aspect to this. First, at the cross we see the Lord’s perfect righteousness. The way that the Lord hates sin so much and refuses to tolerate sin in the midst of his people to pollute them.
On the other hand, at the same time, see the Lord’s perfect love for his people. The Lord loves his people so much that he refuses to abandon them to their sin. Rather than abandoning us, cursing us away forever, rather than sweeping our sin under the rug by ignoring it, the Lord Jesus Christ was instead so zealously jealous for his people that he endured the shame, torture and curse of the cross.
Our Lord was jealous not because he was cruel or insecure, but because he was strong and because he loved us with an everlasting love and gave himself for us.
The gospel is not that the Lord merely tolerates you. The gospel is that the Lord died for you out of his great jealousy for you. He purchased you out of sin and death and your slavery and bondage to the world and the devil in order that he might bring you into his righteousness and joy when you look to Jesus Christ who died for you by faith.
This promised of jealousy Paul uses as a warning here, but it’s first a word of gospel. There are ongoing implications if the Lord has jealousy purchased us by his own blood, it means that we must give ourselves exclusively to the Lord. This is burdensome, this is a joy to give ourselves to Jesus by faith knowing that he gave himself for us at the cross. It also means that we must not provoke the Lord to jealous wrath against him. Not because we are still trying to earn his favor, but because he has already purchased us and because he calls us not to stir up his covenantal wrath and jealousy against us.
Are we stronger than he, Paul writes? The author of Hebrews says something very similar in Hebrews 10:29-31, this is talking about the covenant people of God.
29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:29-31, ESV
Should we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
1. Enter into God’s covenant by faith. To put this another way, recognize what the Lord has done for you out of his jealous love for you. Repent from your sins, recognize that where you are in your sin is abhorrent to God. God cannot tolerate it. God cannot tolerate it in the sense the he wants to condemn you forever, he calls you to repent from your sins and embrace the gospel in the Lord Jesus Christ. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and the promise is that you will be saved.
The gospel declares not that God is merely tolerant of you, but that he is jealous for you. Not the clingy, impatient, insecure, jealousy of weakness, but the jealousy that is strong and patient and kind in our weakness. The Lord wants you; he wants all of you.
C.S. Lewis says,
You asked for a loving God: you have one… The consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes. How this should be I do not know. It passes reason to explain why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we, should have a value so prodigious in their creator’s eyes.” C.S. Lewis
God calls us to repent from our sins and to turn to Christ in faith. God hates your sin, he is intolerant of your sin, but he more than tolerates you, he jealousy with zeal loves you. Because of both God’s great hatred toward your sin and his great love toward you, God sent his son to die for you. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
2. Eliminate any rivals that provoke the Lord to jealousy. Brothers and sisters, what sins entangle you? What idols do you have in your life? During our confession of sin today we considered the idols that we have, that our hearts are factories of idols.
Not necessarily gods of idols that have been made of stone or wood, but money, power, sex, comfort, popularity, respect, pleasure, prestige. What do you want from this world? What occupies you? What has too much of your attention, too much of your affections, too much of your time, too much of your treasures, too much of your heart?
We need to remember what Paul wrote just a view chapters earlier in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20,
19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, ESV
Not only your body, but your attention, your affections, your time, your talent, your treasures, your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Whatever rivals you have, eliminate them. Do not provoke the Lord toe jealousy. Are we stronger than he is?
3. Fellowship with Christ at the Lord’s Supper. Don’t come mindlessly to the table. Our big idea last week was that spiritual feasts create real spiritual fellowship. This week we see just as the Old Testament Israelites fellowshipped with God at peace with him at the peace offering, so we fellowship with Christ at the covenant meal of the Lord’s Supper.
We don’t feed on his physical body and physical blood, but we really and truly feed on him spiritually by faith. In the Lord’s Supper we are offered by faith the ability to lay hold of all the benefits and blessings of Christ’s broken body and shed blood. Not by what we eat and drink, but what we look to Christ in this sacrament by faith.
We joyfully in doing this, cast ourselves into the might jealous furious roaring consuming fire love of God. The love of God our almighty who demonstrated his jealous zeal for us through the sacrifice of his only son Jesus Christ. Don’t come thoughtlessly, mindlessly, prayerlessy.
Come to the table by faith, come with joy. Look up and see the other believers for whom Christ died. Commune with Christ here, fellowship with him. Commune with others whom Christ has purchased by his own blood.
The Lord is jealous for the faithfulness of his people. That is a call to repent from our sins, that is a call to believe and that is a call to commune. To eat and drink in the presence of God at peace through the bloodshed and the broken body of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Father, we ask that you would give us grace to know your jealous love, to surrender to it, to fling ourselves into it. Knowing that everything we have comes from you. You are the gracious God who gives us everything we need pertaining to life and godliness. We pray that we would look to your jealous love and be filled with awe and humility and joy. To know that the God who created the universe and who sustains everything in it is the God who gave his son up to die for us so that we might be yours. Thank you for your jealous, zealous love for us. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.