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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
I want to take a minute to welcome you to HBS. I also want to acknowledge and thank each one of the regular students of God’s Word for their faithfulness, and then encourage you to press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14 – Berean Study Bible).
We’ve been studying the subject of idolatry for some time now (1 Corinthians 8; 9) and for good reason. Paul recently helped us understand this sin, which is closely associated with the sin of unbelief, disqualified the Exodus Generation – for with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness (10:5).
Without a doubt idolatry is the key theme in chapter 10. Our Apostle Paul highlighted this truth at verse 10:14 when he commanded the Corinthians to flee from idolatry. Then in verse 19 he added this comment: “What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?”
However, few Believers understand just how subtle the temptation to commit this sin really is or what it essentially is. Pagan idolatry did not begin with religious orgies or the superstitions and fear that characterize it today. It began by merely putting something before God. In the Ten Commandments God warned His people not to do this saying: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3)
Idolatry is a major problem in America and the world-at-large. People are displacing God with idols or false gods of their own choosing at an ever increasing rate. Buddhism has Buddha and other gods; Islam has Allah; Hinduism has 300 million different gods from which to choose; and while Judaism’s god seems similar to the biblical version, Judaism’s god requires little faith but a whole lot of works, and denies the existence of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; the only way to the Father (John 14:6).
The list and descriptions of false gods that exist in the world today is almost endless. Money is and always has been a false god. Power and fame are also false gods of this age. There are now more CEO’s, executives, and celebrities than there were at any time in history combined. But before people begin thinking, “You’re not talking about me… there are no idols in my life” Hold up there, Pilgrim. I have more to show you. I said this temptation is subtle; meaning: so slight as to be difficult to detect or describe; elusive. Do you not know this is how Satan works? Thus, every Believer should be looking for idols in the home, the workplace, and where they play and toss them!
The Idol of Convenience
The Scriptures teach us Idolatry is a horrible thing, as is the effect it has on God’s people. For instance: Moloch (also spelled Molech) was one of the false gods of the Canaanites Israel worshipped during its periods of apostasy. This cult required the parents to sacrifice their sons and daughters on the outstretched hands of this false god which were heated to the point of being “white-hot.” The children were literally burned alive (2 Chronicles 33:6; 1 Kings 11:7; 2 Kings 23:10; Isaiah 57:5). Of course, the LORD God had forbidden this activity (Leviticus 18:21).
If you’re thinking, How horrible! I would agree. If you’re thinking this couldn’t be happening today, I’d be disagreeing with you – in part. Human sacrifice is not a thing of the past. It takes place each and every day here in America and elsewhere in numbers unimaginable. The Israelite children in the O.T. were sacrificed to appease Moloch (a false god) in exchange for good crops that year or some other favor they believed the idol might bestow upon them and their family.
In the USA, millions of unborn children have been aborted and others are being killed every day. They are being denied the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness simply because of a choice someone else made. Today, thousands of unborn children are literally being sucked out of what should be the safest place in the universe, the mother’s womb. Parts of the baby are torn from their body while a powerful vacuum tries to pull the child from the mother’s body. This process is excruciatingly painful and real and the unborn child experiences it until they finally die. The baby is then dissected and some of its body parts are used for scientific purposes, i.e. sold for profit, while the rest are bagged and discarded as if it were unwanted garbage.
The vast majority of these unborn children are being sacrificed on the altar of Convenience! Each year nearly 1.2 million American women choose to end an unwanted pregnancy by having an abortion:
The #1 reason for an abortion today is: their contraceptive method failed
The #2 reason: their inability to support or care for a child
The #3 reason: they simply don’t want the baby
Let’s not overlook the obvious here folks Satan has been working hard at destroying the institution of marriage and the family since the LORD God joined the man and the woman together in the first official marriage (Genesis 2, 3), and he’s been successful because the tactics he employs work. Let’s face up to the truth; we keep repeating the same sad mistakes, don’t we…?
One of Satan’s schemes is to keep us busy as bees; too busy to spend time with God and with our loved ones. The fact that we live in a fast-paced culture is not accidental. Admittedly, it’s challenging to raise a family in this environment. But, as Believers, we are commanded to train our children carefully and strategically (Proverbs 22:6). Placing our children in front of the T.V. set, while we “get er’ done,” doesn’t solve any immediate problem; it creates larger problems. Using video games as baby-sitters instead of engaging children in constructive activities is also common but not helpful.
Case in point: there’s a car commercial circulating promoting its Wi-Fi feature. Children, sitting in the backseat, are being shown as “disruptive” in a non Wi-Fi automobile. But in the new car with Wi-Fi, once the children are “isolated” with headphones and their electronic devices this “problem” disappears. The parents enjoy a quiet journey. Really? This looks like one of Satan’s schemes to me. “Everybody grab your own electronic device and stop annoying mommy and daddy and your siblings” (2 Corinthians 2:11). What happened to interacting with your children; playing car-games like I-Spy or sing-a longs? How about getting to know your children? There’s time for one more: it’s easy to snag dinner at the local burger-dump on the way home from work. But the blessing and the reward is in preparing a nutritious meal at home and enjoying quality-time with your family around the dinner table. The kitchen in our home was the friendliest room in the house, especially while my mother was preparing the meal. I spent a lot of time with her there, talking to her about all sorts of things, and when I was old enough she allowed me to help her prepare the meals. I not only learned how to cook from my mother but I grew very close to her through those intimate moments we shared in that kitchen…
The Idol of Consumerism
Before a child enters 1st grade they will have absorbed 30,000 advertisements, primarily for T.V. ads. Little wonder, then, that parents face a challenge in countering that negative influence. Our children wind up craving the coolest toys, the trendiest clothes, the hottest sounds from their celebrity idols, and the latest electronic gadgets. Parents feed this frenzy by giving in to their children’s constant plea for “more.” Rather than teaching their children the wisdom of saving and budgeting, and being content with what they have, parents bow to the altar of consumerism, surrendering to their children’s constant plea for more stuff, which only breeds greed and excess. Our children today know the price of their toys but do not value them.
The Idol of Instant Gratification
In many Christian homes today our children are so accustomed to getting what they want, when they want it, they have no idea what postponing gratification means. They have become like us their parents. Please hear me out. Don’t we “give-in” to our impulses? Don’t we purchase items on credit simply because we want them now? Aren’t the children watching as their parents give up when they fail to see rapid results in dieting or in their exercise programs, studying to advance themselves, or in saving for their future? Aren’t adults prone to take short-cuts in decision making? Christians opting to engage in pre-marital sex and deciding to live together instead of getting married are examples of this principle, as is the current Christian divorce rate.
Therefore, let him (or her) who thinks he (or she) stands take heed that he (or she) does not fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Please open your Bible at 1 Corinthians 10:16.
1 Corinthians 10
16: Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread we break a sharing in the body of Christ?
17: Since there is one bread, we who are many are (what) one body; for we all partake of the one bread.
18: Look at the nation of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar?
19: What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?
20: 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.
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: Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we?
23: All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.
While verses 16-17 don’t necessarily mention idolatry, they are bordered on both sides by Paul’s wise counsel to avoid idol worship and those sacrifices and ceremonies associated with them. Paul contrasts “the cup of blessing which we bless” (v16) with “the things which the Gentiles sacrifice” (v20).
The cup of blessing (v16) - are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? (v18) The point Paul is trying to make with these two comments may not make much sense to us today, but it made perfect sense to the Corinthian church. Just as when Believers come together to share in the communion service commemorating the last Supper of the Lord, the pagan banquets, given in honor of idols, spoke of unity with demons – to dine at a pagan temple was to have fellowship at the altar of idols.
Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? The word sharing in the Greek language is Koinonia (pronounced: koy-nohn-ee’-ah), Noun Feminine, and it means – fellowship or sharing. In that part of the ancient world, to eat at the same table with someone indicated friendship and fellowship with that individual. Since you ate of one bread, this made you one body, simply because you both shared of the same food from the same table.
My mother wisely instructed us, when we were quite young, to choose our friends carefully. She often repeated these phrases: “Birds of a feather flock together” and “If you lie down with dogs, don’t be surprised when they share their fleas with you. “ I wasn’t smart enough to decipher the importance of her words at 10 years of age but life taught me their meaning soon enough. If you hang around with the “wrong people,” even if you’re not doing anything wrong, people’s perception of you may be negative simply because you decided to partner with them. Paul is basically saying the same thing, choosing to eat at a pagan temple dining hall was not as innocent as it seemed.
The cup of blessing Paul speaks of was the third and last cup presented at the end of the meal at the Passover ceremony accompanied by a prayer of thanksgiving for blessings received from the LORD God. This is the cup Jesus Christ used to institute the Lord’s Supper and the one interpreted as “the new covenant in My blood” (Matthew 26:27-28; Luke 22:20).
Many people in the church today are familiar with the term Koinonia Groups, which are small groups that encourage fellowship amongst Believers and sharing, of course. Turn in your Bible with me to the book of Acts at chapter 2:42 and we’ll find an example of this teaching: They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to (what) fellowship (Koinonia), to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
In using this word, Paul speaks of the fellowship all true Believers experience in Jesus Christ, saying, “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship (Koinonia) with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Corinthians 1:9).
Is not the bread we break a sharing (Koinonia) in the body of Christ? Likewise, the sharing of bread brings true Believers into profound fellowship with Jesus Christ and His Passion. Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. Today we go to the store to purchase a loaf of bread or two, but there is no “loaf of bread” in the Greek language. It is just Eis Artos, “one bread” – (Strong’s Greek #740) – Jesus said: I am the bread (Artos) of life; (John 6:35).
This is an important distinction. At the Last Supper, Jesus broke off a piece of bread from one loaf of bread and gave it to each one of His disciples, and they shared it from the same table.
At communion services today your church may use crackers or wafers instead of sharing a single loaf of bread but you all share the same table of the Lord. I attended communion service where one loaf of bread was taken around the congregation by the pastor. He broke off a small portion and handed it to each person before moving on. It was a small assembly, so this was possible. I also attended communion service where the pastor opted to use Oreo cookies in place of the usual cracker. We questioned him about this change of pace and he said it didn’t matter what agent we chose to use at the Lord’s Supper, what mattered was the state of one’s heart during the observance.
When we eat the bread and drink from the cup this act unites us; it should remind us that God means for us to be one body, as He intended (Romans 12:5, 15). What does this mean? It means what affects one Believer affects us all just as when you stub your toe you feel the pain all over your body (1 Corinthians 12:26-27). Paul is also saying our participation in the table of the Lord puts every true Believer into a unique fellowship with Christ Jesus and His Passion. Our sharing in this commemorative observance should remind us that He suffered terribly, He died on the cross for our benefit; He shed His blood for all mankind, for all have sinned (Romans 3:23). But, bringing this a bit closer to home, Jesus died for you; therefore, this is very personal.
What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? They sacrifice to demons and not to God… In other words, Paul’s saying, “Let’s be real.” “By my reasoning an idol means nothing to a Believer.” “Likewise, the meat offered to an idol is meaningless.” Awhile back Paul stated there is no such thing as an idol in the world… (1 Corinthians 8:4). He’s not saying the idol or false gods are actually demons. But he does mean to say Satan uses mere blocks of wood, stone, and other subtle means to take advantage, to deceive, and to enslave those folks who are blind to his tactics (2 Corinthians 4:1-4). Paul wants these Believers to know whether they are aware or not, idol worshippers are glorifying demons (evil spirits) in their sacrifices and God has spoken; He doesn’t want Believers participating in pagan ceremonies for they have been set apart (sanctified) unto Him (1 Corinthians 1:2).
Without the lost letter it’s difficult to surmise, but the Corinthians may have held a couple of viewpoints on this subject, which caused Paul to respond:
1) The Corinthians thought: “Since an idol is just a hunk of wood or stone, it doesn’t matter what we eat or where we eat.” Paul answers this by agreeing with them, in part, when he said an idol is nothing in itself (8:4), but explains that Satan waits to take advantage of man’s ignorance and self-serving worship (1 Peter 5:8).
2) The Corinthians thought: “As long as we participate in the Lord’s Table, we are safe in Him.” Paul’s response to this notion is this act disgraces the Lord’s Table when they fellowship with idols (1 Corinthians 6:16).
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. Paul’s not saying this is a physical impossibility, but he is saying Believers should refrain from doing this. Believers were solemnly bound to serve and to obey the Lord Jesus Christ; hence the word “Lord;” they had devoted themselves to Him (Romans 12:1-3). Therefore they could not or should not join in the worshipping of demons.
The cup of demons – in the feasts in honor of false gods, wine was poured out as a libation, or drank by the worshippers. The custom of “drinking toasts” at these feasts or celebrations arose from the practice of pouring out wine, or drinking it in honor of the pagan god. A prayer to the idol usually accompanied this act and the worshipper expected the false god to grant them their desire. From that custom the habit of expressing a sentiment or proposing a toast, uttered before drinking wine or some other “spirit,” has been derived and continues to this very day. But here’s the thing - who’s this prayer being offered up to; the god of wine, the god of the air, or the god of the feast? It certainly is not the one true God. Therefore it is considered immoral behavior and unacceptable to God, which is why Paul said: You cannot drink the cup of the Lord at the communion table and the cup where a prayer is offered to a false god.” Would you mock the table of the Lord, scorning the Lord’s Passion and the cross?
Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? This is another rhetorical question from Paul. Please turn with me to Deuteronomy 32:21a in your Bible and I’ll show you what Paul is talking about here. The nation of Israel had a bad habit of angering God and making Him jealous. They were persistently displacing the LORD God with false gods even though they knew this was a major sin; to which the LORD God responded: They have made Me jealous with what is not God; They have provoked Me to anger with their idols.
Similarly, some of the Corinthian Believers were unwise in deciding to fellowship with demons. Their participation in the ceremonial dinners at the pagan temples provoked the Lord to jealousy. Here’s the thing – the Lord has sole right to our devotion and worship and the right to be offended if Believers opt to fellowship with demons (1 John 2:15). Put another way, if a man is dating a woman and is serious about this relationship, what would happen if he decides to take up the same kind of relationship with another woman? What will the first woman think? What will she say? The man cannot simply say to her, “Well, don’t I spend time with you too…” expecting all to be well and good. She will be offended, don’t you think; won’t she be angry and jealous?
Are we stronger than He? Paul offered this comment because the Corinthians believed themselves to be spiritually strong, and therefore they could handle eating at pagan temples. But Paul wants them to know they are not stronger than God and by this means to say Believers should not expose themselves to the effects of His ire, as did the Exodus Generation (10:5), for they too provoked His righteous anger and displeasure and were disqualified.
23: All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.
Lest we forget this divisive assembly of Believers was arrogant and boasting of their spiritual knowledge, in effect saying, “I know my rights,” and asking the question, “Since I know an idol is nothing; what’s the harm?” They were asking the wrong question, my friends. They should have asked, “What good can come of this?”
Paul wants these Corinthian saints (and us) to know just because something is permissible doesn’t mean it’s beneficial. The practical, spiritual test is will this thing, whatever it is, edify the Believer and the body, the believing community, for they are one. Our liberty in Christ Jesus must not harm or hinder another Believer or group of Believer’s for whom Christ died (Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:9).
The next verse indicates how Paul chose to put all he just said in one sentence:
24: Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.
Paul is saying, there’s no room for arrogance and selfishness in a Believer’s life: For not one of us lives for himself (or herself), and not one dies for himself (or herself); for if we live, we live for the Lord; (Romans 14:7-8).
Just because I understand something I’m currently doing is not going to harm me does not necessarily mean it’s good for me or for others who may be watching. Quietly declaring, “I know my rights” to no one in particular, or what I know I’ve permitted for myself (let’s say it’s having a couple of beers with friends at our favorite place on Friday night) is not the standard by which I judge my behavior. I need to consider my brother and sister in the Lord and if you want the truth I need to consider the unsaved as well; what impression am I leaving with them?
Jesus Christ put all of mankind first and Paul is telling us we are to consider others; it’s not always going to be about us. Therefore, before you act consider is what you’re about to do likely to cause another person to sin? For Paul has given us this command: Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:3-5).
Simply said, mature Believers put the spiritual welfare of others to the forefront, especially when their example has a greater influence on another person’s life-choices. The first example that comes to mind is believing parents and their children. I don’t think I need to expound on this except to say most people are aware children learn quite a bit from mom and dad; their good habits as well as their bad habits.
(To be continued)
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GJ Heitzman’s Ministry
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