“I’ve got to go to church this Sunday; I did some bad stuff lately.” That’s “Christian Magic”. As if going to church makes up for sin.
The Corinthians believed in Christian Magic (they didn’t call it that), especially when it came to the Lord’s Supper. Somehow the Lord’s Supper would protect them from any harm eating idol-food in a pagan temple.
1 Corinthians 10:1-22 concludes Paul’s reply to the church regarding “food offered to idols” (begun in 8:1). Here he absolutely bans eating idol-food in pagan temples.
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness (10:1-5).
Lots to speculate about here. But this much is clear: Paul warns the Corinthians of dreadful consequences if they, like old Israel, persist in idolatry.
The church and Israel share similar blessings. The Christian life begins with baptism, so Israel, delivered from Egyptian slavery, underwent a kind of baptism in the Red Sea. The Lord is present among the church by the Spirit; so he was present among Israel in the cloud. The church is cared for by Christ; Christ provided for Israel in the wilderness.
“Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.” Why?
Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it (10:6-13).
Why bodies in the wilderness? Idolatry. Paul quotes Exodus 32:6b where Israel ate in the presence of the golden calf. “ . . . got up to indulge in revelry”–a nice way of saying sex-play-worship. So Paul admonishes the Corinthians, “We should not commit sexual immorality”.
All these things, Paul explains, “ . . . occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did . . . These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us . . .” See those bodies in the wilderness? Take heed!
IDOLATRY BAN AND WHY
Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf. Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he (10:14-22)?
Paul’s command is absolute: “ . . . flee from idolatry.” Escape. Run away. Since they pride themselves on their knowledge, he appeals to their reason for obeying his command.
The Lord’s Supper isn’t just a religious ceremony. It’s a “participation” (Greek, koinonia—fellowship) in the blood and body of Christ. By the Spirit, God is present. As fellow believers, they celebrate their common life in Christ. How can they think it okay to fellowship with Christ at the sacred meal, then fellowship at the table of idols?
True, an idol is nothing. “But the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons . . . ” So, eat idol-food in idol temples, and you fellowship with demons. Demons? Satan’s minions that oppress? An idol may be nothing, but lurking behind them are spirits meant to do you evil.
But their harm isn’t the worst. The Lord’s jealousy is. “Will you continue to eat at both the Lord’s Supper and the table of demons and so kindle the Lord’s jealousy, as Israel did in the desert?”
Well . . . no idol-food in pagan temples for us! But how about “Christian Magic”? Or, as bad, a “ceremony view” of the Lord’s Supper?
When I led the Lord’s Supper, I’d often remind everyone, “This is ordinary bread and juice. Nothing special about it.” No “power” comes from chewing the bread-cube and swallowing the juice-thimble.
Yet the Lord’s Supper is far more than ceremony. It’s where we commune with the crucified Christ. How? By the Holy Spirit. With his help, I envision myself at the Last Supper. I hear Jesus say, “This is my body. This is my blood.” I see myself at the cross. Jesus agonizes in pain. I hear him cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I can almost feel him breathe his last. And I remember . . . I remember he’s bearing my sin. He’s loving me. I can almost smell death–the cost of giving me life.
How can I get involved with any kind of “idol” after that?