This sermon is number 25 in a series of 46
1 Corinthians - Part 25
"The Saint, The System And Sin"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2003 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I Corinthians 10:12-23
We didn't finish our study last Monday night, but we're going to finish that one off this evening - but it all flows into really one theme which is throughout the whole of this chapter, and I'm sure that it'll flow over into next week's study as well. We're going to take up our reading at verse 12, and I've entitled our study this evening 'The Saint, The System and Sin', the saint, the system and sin.
Verse 12: "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he? All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not".
Now if you're with us this evening and it's your first night, or you haven't been here in a while, you may not know that in the last few chapters - from about chapter 8 or so right through to the end of chapter 10 - we are contextually in a portion of this book that is dealing with the question of whether it's right or not for the Christian in Corinth to eat of meat that was sacrificed to idols. Now Paul has already gone into a very detailed theological discourse as to the fact that there is no particular sin in the eating of meat that is sacrificed to idols because: one, there is no such thing as another god apart from Jehovah, there is only one true and living God; therefore to eat meat sacrificed to false gods means that that god is a nonentity and it doesn't figure at all, so it cannot be a sin in that sense. His second main argument why it is not a sin particularly was that meat and drink does not commend us to God - you can't get to God by eating and drinking certain things or, for that matter, not eating or drinking certain things - but we come to God by grace through faith in our Jesus Christ alone.
So you see the basic, naked, black and white theological discourse and argument that Paul has already given. But Paul is answering some believers in Corinth who believe that because they are free and they don't live by law and rules and regulations, they have taken their liberty in Christ and their freedom to an extreme, so much so that it has become what we could call licence. Their liberty has strayed into the realms of licence, and they have failed to regulate their liberty, and that's why Paul had to come in in these few chapters and tell them that there are certain principles as Christians that must regulate their liberty. One principal was the principle of the weaker brother, that is that although you may be able to handle eating meat sacrificed to idols, some people who have come out of that sinful background mightn't be able to handle it, so you've to take them into your consideration. Really what Paul was saying was: your liberty ought to be regulated by love, and I hope that every time I've reminded you of that it's starting to sink in. Although we are free in Christ, we're not free to do as we like, there are certain regulations, and one of the regulations is the love that we must have for the weaker brethren.
Of course we saw last week as well, not last week but the week before, we were off last week, but we saw that it's also love to God that must regulate our liberty. We ought not to do something that will take us further away from God, even if in itself it's perfectly legitimate, if it doesn't bring us nearer to God or [brings us] further away we must ignore that thing. If we're in doubt about something with regards to our conscience we should, if in doubt, cast it out. That's really what he says in the last verse that we read, and he's repeating it from another portion we've already studied: 'All things', verse 23, 'are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient', that could be translated 'helpful'. In other words: 'All things, I can do them, theoretically, in Christ and through grace, but all those things are not helpful for me in my faith, they don't bring me nearer to Christ and make me more spiritual and holy' - 'all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not'.
That's important to see that. Now I love, when we're going through this epistle, to see Paul's pastoral balance as he answers these very difficult questions - I couldn't have answered the questions that he had posed to him. So he's told them theologically: 'Ah, you're correct, you've dotted your i's and crossed your t's', but now he's coming into this passage and he's telling them that there are dangers in following your freedom and liberty to the excess that you have done. Remember, please, that this wasn't just the case of people going to the marketplace where this meat that had been sacrificed to idols was being sold cheaply, it wasn't just a case of that; but what Paul is addressing is people who have been invited actually to dinners and banquets and festivals in the temple of the false god. So they're not just buying this meat and eating it with a clear conscience, they're actually going to the temple on the Acrocorinth and they're sitting down with pagans who worshipped these other false gods, and maybe even in a pagan festival they're eating and celebrating - maybe their heart isn't in it - but yet they are there and identifying with this false pagan system.
Now Paul is coming in, and he says: 'Listen, although you might be able to do this in good conscience, and you're not theoretically in your heart worshipping this false god, you've got to see first of all the dangers there are in this thing for you spiritually, and also you've got to see the idolatrous nature of association - guilt by association'. Now we're going to see the tremendous relevance to this today for us as believers in our contemporary age, because many people - especially younger people today - are asking the question: 'What ought the Christian's attitude to be towards the world system about us? How do we react towards things, grey areas in scripture that the Bible doesn't speak categorically about, that maybe weren't even invented in Bible times?'. Well let me say that the word of God, although it doesn't mention certain things specifically by name, the word of God is always relevant, because in the iniquitous realm there is nothing new under the sun, and also in the realm of righteousness God has given to us within His holy word all the answers that we need for any problem that perplexes us in our 21st-century age. Everything is there: the problems of paganism in Corinth's day are exactly the same as the problems in the world today - and, praise God, the answers that Paul gave them then are the answers that we need and the answers that work still today!
For us in the 21st century world it's no different, and if we were to go down this passage and substitute some of our modern words into the text for some of the ancient words that we find in the portion, we would find that it doesn't change it one iota - the problems are still the same, and the answer is also the same that the Holy Spirit gives to us. Now the reason that this is so applicable and contemporary and relevant to us today is because, I believe more than ever, the church of Jesus Christ in the West is mimicking the church of Corinth. The problems that you find with regards to sin in this church are the problems that we find in the Western church today - because it seems in modernity that Christians in the 21st-century have gone to the extreme of valuing their liberty more than their holiness.
I think a casual reading of many of the Christian paperbacks on our Christian bookshop shelves will be able to tell you that right away - that there is this attitude that, because we're saved by grace, that we can flaunt our liberty and even go to the extent of flirting with the world. So much so that I would say to you that in many quarters within Christendom the demarcation line between the world and the church seems to be almost invisible. We are meant to be in the world but not of the world, and as one wise man said on one occasion: 'The problem is not when the boat is in the water, but when the water starts getting into the boat'. Compromise with the world is the danger that the church has always faced and is still facing today, yet many Christians - and I would have to say many young Christians - betray in the questions that they ask that they do not see the real danger that there is in the world, and I would have to say that many of those young Christians have grown up in Christian homes. They have never felt the bite and the venom of the serpent of sin in the world system. Compromise with the world affects not only the witness of the church worldwide and panoramically, but it affects you individually as a spiritual entity. You've got to know this: that if you flirt and flaunt your liberty in the world, you will be affected spiritually.
Let me read to you what C. S. Lewis said in his book 'The Joyful Christian' - let me say that there's somethings that C.S. Lewis said that you couldn't quote, and many things we would disagree with him on, but he said many profound things. In this book he speaks of the shocking similarity between sins of actions and sins of thought. Remember the Lord in the Sermon on the Mount, He likened the sin of lusting after a woman in your mind with your eyes to the actual sin of adultery; He likened the sin of hatred in your heart and mind to the sin of murder - they weren't a million miles apart. So C. S. Lewis tells us how sin, comparing these two different things, how sin can affect the Christian internally. Now follow with me in this, he says: 'Christian writers seem to be so very strict at one moment, and so very free and easy at another. They talk about mere sins of thought as if they were immensely important, and then they talk about the most frightful murders and treacheries as if you had only got to repent and all would be forgiven'. Have you ever found that? He goes on: 'But I have come to see that they are right, what they're always thinking of is the mark which the action leaves on that tiny central self which no one sees in this life, but which each of us will have to endure or enjoy forever, that little mark is there. One man may be so placed that his anger sheds the blood of thousands, and another so placed that however angry he gets he will only be laughed at - but the little mark on the soul may be much the same in both! Each has done something to himself which, unless he repents, will make it harder for him to keep out of the rage the next time he is tempted, and will make the rage worse when he does fall into it. Each of them, if he seriously turns to God, can have that twist in the central man straightened out again. Each is, in the long run, doomed if he will not! The bigness or smallness of the thing seen from the outside is not what really matters, what matters is the imprint that it leaves on the soul'.
So why can a tiny sin of thought that seems so harmless and innocent be just as dangerous as a blatantly malicious sin? The reason is because there is progressiveness in sin, and if something on your heart and mind is left unerased, that little mark on the soul, it will eventually smear from your mind in your heart to your character and your very personal being will be permanently stained. What did James say in chapter 1 and verse 15? 'Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death' - so what is Paul saying in the light of what we have just said, and what James has testified in his book? It is simply this: you're better to stay away from something that could potentially lead you into trouble, you're better to stay clear of it than court spiritual disaster - even if it's only an association.
These Christians in Corinth could be saying: 'Oh, what's wrong? I'm just sitting in the temple, I'm not worshipping the god, I'm eating a meal; they aren't worshipping the god' - but it is the association, Paul is saying, that may not be sinning in and of itself, but could lead you and lure you into an awful spiritual catastrophe. We might say to ourselves sometimes: 'Well, thoughts are harmless', but harmless thoughts can lead to heinous sins. In the same way what we think of as harmless associations can also lead to spiritual disaster - and if there's anything that Paul is saying to us tonight, it is exactly that. He comes to them as he's come to them so often, and in verse 14 we see the heart of a compassionate pastor, and he says to them appealingly: 'Dearly beloved, flee from idolatry'. It as if he sits down beside this young Christian and puts his arm around them by pen and paper, and they're struggling with sin and temptation and backsliding, and the attraction and magnetism of the world; and he puts his arm around them and he says: 'Dearly beloved, flee this idolatry'.
He gives them good godly counsel, and I'll tell you that is what we need in this day and age. Young people, this is what you need to hear, what God's word is saying here - I've got nothing to impart to you, only what is in the scripture - what is it? What is it that Paul said to them? Well, here it is, fourfold - the first thing is that in this world temptation is unavoidable, temptation is unavoidable. Verse 13: 'There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it'. What Paul is saying is that Christians experience all temptations - now mark that! 'There is no temptation taken you but such as is common to man', and across the body of Jesus Christ, the church of the living God, there's not one temptation that is in existence that a child of God has not experienced - even the sin of idolatry!
Now there's two aspects to that to my heart, the first is that it brings an overwhelming sense of liberty - it's liberating to me to think of this! I'm not on my own! I'm not the only one facing this hurdle and this mountain of sin! I'm not the only one with this problem! Although at times I feel I could be, and although no one puts their arm around me and says: 'I have that problem too', nevertheless God's word stands forever - I can't be the only one! Does that not liberate you tonight if you're struggling with this particular problem, whatever it may be? To know that you're not odd, you're not some kind of freak! But what is liberating is also frightening, because it warns us, doesn't it? The negative aspect of it is that there is no temptation that is beyond us - and that's why Paul came and said in verse 12: 'Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall'. Every Christian is in as much danger of falling into sin, even the awful sin that he's talking about in this passage of idolatry. You might say: 'No! That's not possible! I would never stoop to bow down to a god of stone or an idol of wood or jewels!' - listen, these Corinthians were heading for exactly that, the disaster of idolatry, and it was tragically in the name of celebrating their own liberty! Isn't that remarkable? The sinfulness and wickedness of sin, how we could actually be pontificating a spiritual idea and principle, but that very thing is idolatry in some kind of Christian clothes. They participated in this idolatry and Paul explains to them that it was just one more step further down the staircase into the very pit of demonism!
You might ask the question, and you would be right in doing so: 'What leads to such a massive fall?'. There are two things that will lead - a Christian now - to such a fall as this, into the very demonism that Paul talks about later on in these verses. The first is this: over-self-confidence, and the second is lack of God-confidence. He speaks to two types of Christians in Corinth, the first are the self-confident - these proud Corinthians who proudly and pompously had their nose upturned, stuck in the air, felt that they could never fall down the manhole of sin into the sewer of iniquity. They felt that they were above the rest, they were mature, they could handle the Acrocorinth and the temple, and meat sacrificed to the idol - they could stare the devil himself in the face and come away pure, unaffected.
Paul says to them: 'Take heed' - the word 'heed' means you need to look at something, and what he's implying is that if you're so sure that you'll stay standing after temptation, you need to take a closer look, you need to realise that you - yes! Even you - might be heading for a fall! There's no temptation that is not common, and you're not so big that you can't fall, and you need to guard, he says, against this haughty spirit. You need to see ourselves not in over-confidence and pride, but you need to be realistic. I think one first early step on the road to holiness and a deeper life of God, in one sense, is a step backwards. It's a step backward from yourself, not from God, but it's a real deep-dyed dose of realism, where you realise that you are vulnerable, that you are dependent - even as a child of God - totally and utterly upon God, and that you are able to fall! Is that not what he told us in verses 1 to 11 when he went through the history lesson on the lack of holiness in the life of the Israelites, to show them that they had all the blessings and privileges of God, but what happened? They took their supernatural heritage for granted and they fell into the most diabolical sins imaginable. We saw in that last study that the reason, one of them at least, was because they took supernatural things as ordinary things - they became familiar with the things of God. You know, that can happen in our lives too, as Christians we struggle with overexposure to things that God has told us through the Word, through church and all the rest, and we can get so comfortable in this type of Christian atmosphere that we let our defences down - and when we go out into the world, we're so over-confident that the first dart the devil sends to us, it gets us right in the heart!
Is it not true with, I would say, most of us that like Peter our strongest points can often be our weakest? You know what happened to him: he was so strong in testifying Christ, he was the one to come to the fore and say: 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God', and God had revealed it - but it was he too that kept sinning with his mouth and his boldness. What about Abraham, the great man and father of all the faithful, the father of faith - yet he failed in what? The very opposite of faith, unbelief. Moses was said to be the meekest man that ever lived, apart from Christ of course, yet his sin was in presumption, in striking the rock in anger. Samson, the man of great strength, and what did he fail in? Great weakness at the feet of a woman. And this is not immune from the church, you go into the book of Revelation, the first few chapters: the church at Sardis, they had a great reputation, they had a name, Jesus said, that they lived - yet they were dead! Jesus told them to repent or He would come and judge them. Thyatira was the self-confident, in chapter 3 verse 17 they thought they were rich and increased in goods, had need of nothing, but Jesus came and told them they were blind, they were poor, they were wretched, they were naked!
Can I just fire a warning shot across your bow tonight? If you ever get to a certain spiritual peak and mountaintop where you feel satisfied, where you feel 'I've got there, I've arrived' - you are in big trouble! This verse that we've been looking at, verse 12, tells you that you are the prime target for a fall! If the devil's looking for any bait, you're the one! You might say: 'Well, how can you be secure?' - here's the lesson, oh, that we would all take it tonight: the only way to be secure is not to stay where we are, but go on to higher heights. Keep on moving! During a military campaign a young captain was recommended to Napoleon the Emperor for promotion to a higher rank. Napoleon asked: 'Why do you suggest this man?'. They answered to say that through unusual circumstances he had courage, and his cleverness had won a great victory several days ago. Napoleon said: 'Good, that's tremendous, but what did he do the next day?'. That was the end of the matter - what do you do the next day? Where do you go from your spiritual victories, your spiritual mountaintops?
Don't misunderstand us: from a divine standpoint our security rests in our position in Christ, there's no doubt about that - we cannot be moved! 'Time the bond shall never sever', but from a human standpoint our personal security rests in our condition! The Corinthian position was excellent in chapter 1, they were sanctified, they were called into Christ, they were washed, they were cleansed; but their condition here now is another thing, isn't it?
Temptation is unavoidable, but this is the good news: sin is escapable. In this world, yes, this world that you're living in, sin is escapable. He not only came and spoke to the over-self-confident, and indeed any self-confident person is over-self-confident, but he came and spoke to those who have a lack of God-confidence. If you like, they were discouraged. To this person this verse 13 comes: 'There's no temptation that has taken you but such as is common to man, and God is faithful'. Some of them were overwhelmed and overcome by temptation, and to them Paul didn't bring a word of caution he brought a word of comfort. James 1 tells us, I hope you know, that God doesn't tempt anyone with evil - it's not God that tempts you. God never solicits a person to sin, but God allows the devil and his forces to tempt us as an effort to strengthen us when we overcome our temptations. There's no doubt about that, that there are two sides to the coin of temptation - and this is what we're getting here with Paul: God's sovereignty and plan and providence in our temptation. What a comfort it is to us: that whenever you feel completely alone in your temptation that you're wrestling with - you're not alone, there are others wrestling with it, but there is that God and He is the Almighty God, and He is faithful!
Did you ever think: 'If I face that temptation one more time I'm going to crash and burn'? My friend, we're all in the same fire, we all have similar temptations - but praise God, if you're one of His children, He is faithful and He will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able. This is what this Christian church needs to hear in this day and age, bombarded with such an effulgence of filth: He provides a way of escape, that you may be able to bear your temptation. He gives the strength to the child of God to endure the searing licks of temptation's white-hot flame. In chapter 1 verse 9 we saw that God is faithful, in chapter 2 verse 9 it says: 'The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation' - and this is what we didn't get to last week, the practicalities of our Christian liberty. What are they? Don't be overconfident and don't lack God-confidence.
So what do you need then? One: you need a humble realism. You need to know your own weaknesses, and you need to know your strengths, and know at times that even your strengths are your weaknesses, and your problems aren't greater than anybody else's. We live in a world of common experiences, and you need to realise that you're humble - you mightn't feel it, but you are! The other side is that you need divine optimism, knowing that nothing is taken and come across your path that is not human, and that you can never be tempted that millions of others have not been tempted with that same thing - and praise God, you can never be tempted by anything that a child of God has not overcome! No believer can never claim when overwhelmed by temptation: 'The devil made me do it, God didn't give the strength, He didn't come in when I needed Him', for He says He will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able - and is that not, I wonder, the response to the prayer: 'Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil'. He's saying that He'll never lead you into a temptation that you can't handle. 'A way of escape' here should be translated: 'the way of escape', and you know what the way of escape is - it's not out of the situation, it's through the situation! 'When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; they shall not overflow thee. When thou passest through the fire, it shall not kindle upon thee'.
Oh, I tell you, there's a warning here for us all, is there not? These Corinthians chose to live dangerously near to the edges of this pagan word of idolatry and sin, and even surrounded themselves with many of the temptations, they flirted with it; and Paul is coming across their path and sticking a stop sign in the road in front of them and warning them that this very celebration of their liberty was going to lead into lamentation of disaster! The command he brings to them is categorical, you cannot misunderstand it, verse 14: 'flee from idolatry'.
In this world, thirdly, compromise is inexcusable - you must flee from idolatry. I hope we've defined an idol for you in previous weeks, but really you know that it's not just some form of a god, but it's anything that constantly pulls your heart away from the Lord, that constantly wants to be enthroned in His place on your heart. There's something here to think about for us: Israel's false gods and idols were made out of gold and wood and stone, I wonder what your idol is made out of? Is it the flesh of another person, is it the paper of banknotes and checks, is it the warm wooly security blanket of a happy home and environment, and luxuries and materials? Don't misquote me, I'm not saying these things are sin in and of themselves, because they may even be legitimate things that there's nothing evil in, but yet they can come into our hearts and take the place of exaltation above our Lord Himself! They can become idolatrous, and he had already told these believers in chapter 6 verse 18: 'flee from fornication', and now he's coming and telling them to flee from idolatry. Although he says later on, and has done already, the idol's nothing, the idol isn't a real god, yet his whole point here is that although you're theologically correct in saying there's not a god there, that idol can be used of the devil to lead you into sin and to take a hold upon your life. Oh, that was something they hadn't thought of.
Paul is telling them: 'You know, idolatry is demonic'. It's not something to fiddle with, it's not something to play with, it's not a toy that you can flaunt your Christian liberty in front of and think that you'll come away unaffected and untainted - it is demonic, it is a plan thought up from the very caverns of the evil. For that reason, fourthly, he tells us that in this world danger is inevitable - especially if you go down that road of idolatry. He tells us in verse 16: 'The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion', now mark that word, 'the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion', there it is again, 'of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers', there's another word, 'of that one bread'.
You go down this chapter and you find that after reading all these verses, reading about communion and partakers, and one this and one that and one the other, and unity and all the rest, that the theme of it is fellowship - fellowship. That the reason why the order of the usual order of the Lord's Table, the bread and the wine, is reversed here. The cup is mentioned first because it primarily speaks of supping with each other, of communion. What Paul is saying here is that if you go up to the temple and sit down at the idol's table and eat of the meat sacrificed to the idol, you're fellowshipping with the idol the way that we fellowship with one another when we sit at the Lord's Table to remember Him in His death. Communion, you're partaking of that thing. The awful thing is, he says in verse 20: 'But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils' - and he is implying - 'I would not that ye should have' - what? - 'fellowship with devils'!
What he's doing is laying down the doctrine of separation that we have, of course, in 2 Corinthians and chapter 6 verse 14: 'Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion', there's the word again, 'hath light with darkness? what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?'. He uses, surprisingly, the Lord's Supper as an illustration. Now let's think about the illustration that he's bringing, and the import of it: he's saying that when a believer takes of the Lord's Table, in a spiritual way he's having fellowship with the very body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. The word 'fellowship' is in the Greek literally 'sharing in', he's sharing in the body and blood of the Lord. Now what this is not is what the Roman Catholic Church teaches of transubstantiation, they teach that the very body and blood of Christ are in the bread and in the wine; that when the priest with his priestcraft prays over these emblems that they change into the literal flesh and blood of Christ, and you consume it in your own body! That's not what Paul says, or what the word of God is teaching, neither is it what's called consubstantiation, which many of the Lutherans believe and Martin Luther himself believed; that although the bread and wine didn't turn into the literal body and blood of Christ, that the body and blood of Christ literally were alongside of them when they were taken, just beside them. Others believe that when you take the emblems they change into the literal body and blood of Christ. But that's not what Paul is saying, in fact the illustration testifies that that's not the case, but rather these emblems are like sensitive things that motivate us after the body and the blood of Christ. They sensitise to us His sacrifice at Calvary 2000 or so years ago.
Let me illustrate it to you like this: you maybe go way for a few weeks, away from your wife or husband or children, and you take away with you in your wallet or in a frame a little photograph. Now and again, especially as the time gets longer that you're apart, you lift the photograph and you look - now the photograph is not the real article, sure it's not? But what happens when you look at the photograph? The real love that you have for the real article is stimulated and stirred - you don't grab and kiss and hug the photograph, but you go into another realm whereby you actually, in your heart, love and embrace that person that is absent. When we break bread, don't just say it is nothing - I hate when people treat the bread and the wine with disdain - they're holy things! In and of themselves they are bread and wine, but when they are taken there is something spiritual happens in the heart of a believer, when we are to come out in communion fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
By remembering Christ's death the believer enters into communion with his risen Lord, and Paul is saying - listen, here's the illustration: when you eat meat offered to idols in an associated place with idols, you actually enter into a spiritual communion with demons. In verse 18 he mentions Israel after the flesh, the nation who ate the sacrifices and were partakers of the altar - it's the same illustration, the application is clear, that a believer - whether in the Old or New Testament - cannot partake of the Lord's food, whether it's Old Testament sacrifices or the New Testament supper of the Lord, and devil's food - you can't do it, because you cannot serve God and mammon! You cannot serve two masters! He is implying, and this is the tremendous thing that we need to grab hold of today in our world, that fellowship with evil in some way, with these supernatural beings, is implied, that it effected some mysterious spiritual union with them in their heart. And if you don't believe that, read a few chapters back when he's talking about fornication with a harlot, and he says that the body of Christ is united to it.
Spiritual union - is not the Breaking of Bread the Christian's identity? It's what marks him, and the same results in participation at the Lord's Table happens in participation at an idol's table where you're identifying with it in fellowship. The one who has been made one with Christ, think of the awful thought, is being made one with the demonic spirit. The sacred relationship with Jesus Christ is now being transformed and swapped and substituted for a relationship with the deepest dyed damnable evil! Now that is idolatry! It was one thing to eat meat brought to a temple market, it's another thing to eat such meat in an idol temple with temple idolaters. Our problem today is not paganism in a sense, it's not idols as Paul knew them, or idolatry and practices of his day, but it's the world. It's the same thing, the same demonic spirits in a different form, it's found in personal habits, personal pleasures, personal practices that relate to this old world, the system in which we live - and essentially they're wrong, but this is the import of what Paul is saying: they can actually open us up to spiritual demonic forces!
I'm not saying that believers can be possessed, I don't believe they can - but I know that with Ananias and Sapphira the evil one had entered into their heart. They became wrong when the practices that they were involved in lost their identity of Jesus Christ. Have you got it? Is it right to do this, is it right to do that? Is it right to go here? Is it right to drink that? The Bible has very little to say about any of those specifics, but I'll tell you this: if any of it causes you to lose your identity as one of Christ's ones in the eyes of the world, you can be sure that it is wrong. When on one day we sit at the Table of the Lord, and the next day we join ourselves with those who are godless in places associated with sin, we are fellowshipping with demons. In verse 22 he asks the question: 'Are we stronger than God?'. It's directed to the strong Christian who thought he was sure to enjoy his liberty without falling into sin and never being harmed, he's saying you may be stronger than your weaker brother, but you are not stronger than God and it's dangerous to play with sin and tempt God! Remember, this is the history that he's already gone through that Israel tempted God to jealousy, and God judged them!
What's the progression that we have seen? It's this in three things: one, association with idolatry leads to participation in idolatry - the two cannot be separated, association is participation. Two: participation in idolatry leads to involvement with the devil. There's nothing behind the stone or the wood, he says, there's no real god there, there's nothing in the meat offered to the idol - but what is dangerous to the Christian is the force of darkness, the demonic world that hides behind the visible stuff of idols. How do we apply that? Now listen, please listen, especially the young people among us: when you get too deeply entrenched into a certain sin, an idol is created in your soul, and once an idol is carved out in your heart Satan has gained a foothold in you! Do I need to tell you that Satan is alive and well? Some people are atheistic with regards to God, but more Christians perhaps are atheistic with regards to the existence of the evil one - but he is brilliant in his scheming attacks on believers, and perhaps that's the greatest lie that he has sown: that he is not real. He is a roaring lion, Peter says, going round seeking whom he may devour. Paul says in 2 Corinthians, 'Do not be ignorant of his devices, do not give him a foothold'.
I read of an African missionary saying once that there are three beasts in the jungle that lay wait on their prey: one is the lion, one is the leopard, and one is the hyena. The hyena doesn't devour its prey, it attacks only the vital organs and it only takes a few mouthfuls and leaves. The leopard doesn't eat its prey, all it's interested in is the desire for the blood of the victim. But the lion completely devours the victim and doesn't leave one portion. Do you realise, Christian, that that's what the devil wants to do with you? Just as the forces of heaven are active in your life, so are the forces of hell, and he will stop short of nothing but the destruction of your spiritual testimony until it lies in ruins and shipwrecks - and whatever association you are involved in, that little mark within your heart, if he can put his foot into your soul he will exploit that thing to bring you down!
Satan delights in Christians who love to live on the 'no trespassing' borders of carnality, those who value their liberty to push into such extremes that it compromises their loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. They camp so near the enemy territory that they make themselves vulnerable to the lion. Can I ask you tonight: what sins, what associations have given Satan a foothold in your life? What idols are crowding out the Lord from the throne of your heart? My friend, if God is speaking to you this evening, if you renounce that sin, that association, and you turn and repent from it and turn to God, He will give you the strength to overcome it, for - praise God - this is a victorious passage. God is faithful. John could say in 1 John 4:4: 'greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world'!
The greatest lie, I think, that the devil sells believers, one of them at least is: 'You can't overcome that, you'll never have victory, you'll never be what you ought to be'. Can I tell you this story as I close, I was reading it today. Carl Armading (sp?) wrote of a recent experience he had some years ago when he was standing before a cage in a zoo in one of the biggest cities of the United States. As he was standing before the cage of the Wildcat, whatever it was, I'm not sure exactly what species, but he watched and out of a door at the back of the cage came the attendant, the zookeeper, with a brush. He had nothing in his hands but this broom, and carefully closing the door behind him quietly, he proceeded to sweep up all the dirt on the floor of the cage. Carl says that as he watched this scene shivers went up and down his spine, because he realised that this old man was alone with this Wildcat in the cage. So far as he could tell he didn't have a weapon, he didn't have a radio to call for help if he got into difficulty. He had nothing to protect himself in the case of an attack. As Carl looked on his countenance he didn't seem to be afraid at all, in fact he was just going about his work. He spoke of the keeper's composure, Carl said: 'I supposed that when he got to where the cat lay he would treat him with the utmost respect, but nothing of the kind! When he got near to the beast he give him a shove with the broom to make him get out of the way. The Wildcat made no response except a disapproving hiss, after which he lay down another corner of the cage'. 'You certainly are a brave man', he said, when the keeper got out of the cage. 'No, I ain't brave', he said, continuing to sweep away. 'Well', I said, 'that cat must be tame'. 'No', he answered, 'the cat ain't tame'. 'Well', I said, 'if you aren't brave and the cat ain't tame, then I can't understand why he doesn't attack you'. The man chuckled, 'Mr', he said, 'he's old and he ain't got no teeth!'.
James said: 'Submit yourselves unto God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you'. And just before that he said: 'God resists the proud, and exalts the humble'. If you're tempted, there is an Almighty God who can cause you to overcome. If you're overconfident take heed, for you're in for a fall.
Father, we say to Thee tonight thanks be unto God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Father, we bless Thee that the great Physician, bleeding on Calvary's cross, took every sabertooth of Satan from his jaws for us, so that if we submit yourselves to Thee and resist him who is the enemy of our souls, he has no power over us - Hallelujah! Christ has defeated sin, this world system, death and hell, and He is alive. He is our companion, and by His Spirit He is our helper, and He is in us, our hope and our glory. May each saint of God who lives in the system of the world tempted by sin, know that there is a Saviour who does not only save from the consequences of sin but the very power of it down here on earth. We thank Thee for Him, for we love Him, and we worship at His feet, Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the twenty-fifth tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "The Saint, The System And Sin" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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