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In our study of 1 Corinthians chapter ten, we will answer the question: Why doesn't a Christian do anything that they want? There are many who say that you must follow a strict set of rules (legality) while others say that we are free to do anything (liberty). We will look at the fact that a Christian voluntarily limits their freedom for the good of others.
"For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers 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." NIV translation
Paul begins this look at freedom in Christ by taking a look at the history of the Jewish people. When he says that they were all "under the cloud", he is saying that they all had instruction from God as He was with them as they travelled out of Egypt. He reminds the Corinthians that Israel also witnessed the provision of God as He made a way for them to pass through the Red Sea. When Paul says that they were all "baptized into Moses", he is saying that those people were identified with the faith of Moses.
"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." NIV translation
They did not have the Law when they came out of Egypt but instead had the very presence of God with them as they traveled. God provided for all of their needs including food and water.
"Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert." NIV translation
The Jews were brought out of their slavery in Egypt and were made free to walk with God. Most of them abused this freedom as they rebelled against God's leading them through Moses. They were still God's chosen people but their rebellion had consequences (physical death in the wilderness).
"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 pagan 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 the Lord, 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." NIV translation
The Jews would have remembered these events from the history of their people. As Paul says, they were an example to God's people then as well as for us today. They remind us that our actions have consequences while we are here on this earth.
"These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall. " NIV translation
The phrase "if you think you are standing firm" speaks to the issue of pride which is usually at the root of sin. Those who think that way do not see a reason to study God's word and to pray. This, in turn, leaves them open to effective attack by the enemy which is Satan. Pride caused his fall and it can cause us to stumble as well. That is why Paul urged the Ephesians (and us as well) to put on the armor of God which includes the "belt of truth" (see Ephesians 6:14). What does Paul mean by "be careful that you don't fall"? In chapter 9, Paul compared the Christian life to running a race with a trophy (reward) at the end of the race for the winner. Many times, there are prizes for different places and often everyone who finishes gets something. Many have used this passage to justify their concept of someone losing their salvation but that is not the prize that Paul is talking about. There have been famous cases of runners who are in a race and they stumble and fall down because of another runner getting in their way and their feet getting tangled up. They usually get back up and finish the race but they do not get the trophy or medal. Likewise, the Christian who stumbles under the temptations of the devil (gets their feet tangled up) can get back up and continue with the race. They will still have some type of reward but they will have missed out on the greater reward that goes to the winner.
"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. 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 stand up under it." NIV translation
The Greek word used here for temptation is "peirasmon" and it can be translated as "trial" or "test". This has caused some confusion in the faith but, as we see here, there is a big difference. God allows our trials but He does not do the tempting. Satan is the tempter and his goal is to get us to sin against God. A trial is allowed by God because He knows that we will stand strong and grow in our faith. It is important to see that all of our temptations are "common to man" in order to stand strong against the devil. Many times the devil will try to tell you that your sins are unique to you and kind of try to separate you from the rest of mankind as being worse than others. This is the same tactic that a wolf will use in trying to attack a herd of sheep. The wolf will first try to isolate a sick or wounded sheep from the herd and then devour it. When Satan tries to isolate you, remember this verse and trust in God because He has provided a way for you to overcome and stand strong.
"Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry." NIV translation
There are fourteen Hebrew words for idolatry and some apply to external objects of worship while some refer to internal things. Paul urges us to flee from all of them but that does not mean that we run and hide from the world. Instead, we listen to the prompting of God through the Holy Spirit and focus our minds on Him. We are in the world but we keep in mind the fact that the things of this world are temporary.
"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." NIV translation
Now, Paul begins to address the issue of eating meat that was offered to idols. He reminds the Corinthians of the fact that we are all saved by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and that there is no other way.
"Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar?" NIV translation
The answer to Paul's question is yes as the priests were allowed to eat of the offerings and the people were allowed to eat of the peace offerings. The sacrifices were not performed by those who were not God's people and so they could not have eaten of them.
"Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered 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." NIV translation
Paul goes on to show us that any offering that is made and is not made to God is dealing with demons. The idols and the sacrifices mean nothing but they can draw people away from God.
"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?" NIV translation
The concept of sharing a meal with someone is one of intimacy and so, Paul tells us that we cannot have an intimate relationship (dine with) the Lord and also with demons. He reminds us that God is a jealous God because of the fact that He loves us (see Zephaniah 1).
"'Everything is permissible' - but not everything is beneficial. 'Everything is permissible' - but not everything is constructive." NIV translation
Now that Paul has reminded us that Jesus has saved us, he goes on to tell us more about what that means. This salvation is freedom as we see that he says two times that "Everything is permissible". This is freedom from worry about our eternal home and we do not have to worry about breaking some rule and losing our place with Christ. It does not matter what you have done or will do because Jesus Christ has paid it all. But, Paul goes on to remind us that not everything is good for building us up in our walk with the Lord. We can do anything without fear of losing our salvation but there will be consequences for everything. One of the biggest problems with doing whatever we want is the distance that it brings between us and Christ.
"Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others." NIV translation
Now, we are introduced to the reason for the restraint of our freedom. We see that, if we are in Christ, our focus shifts from self to others and the fact that our actions can have a big impact on those around us.
"Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, 'The earth is the Lord's and everything in it.'" NIV translation
This passage refers to the fact that the choice meats were offered at the temples of the false gods in Corinth. After they were presented at the temple, they were then taken and sold in the market. Paul reminds them from the Psalms that everything is God's and these false gods are really nothing. Therefore, it is permissible to eat these choice meats that were sold in the market.
"If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, 'This has been offered in sacrifice', then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' sake - the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?" NIV translation
Paul uses the example of a meal and this meat that had been sacrificed in the temple of the false gods to make his point about legality, liberty and love. We see that, as believers in Jesus, we are free to eat whatever but we limit our own liberty because of the love that we have for the unbeliever. Paul brings up the matter of conscience and that is simply defined as a guiding voice or feeling to tell a person what is right and wrong. This is from God and, for a Christian, this is the Holy spirit speaking to our soul and sanctifying us. Paul asks a simple question that needs to be asked more today than ever before among the "churches" when he asks why his freedom should be judged by another's conscience. The answer is quite simple in that we are all responsible for listening to the Holy Spirit and for what is said to our hearts not what is said to another person's heart. This judgment by so-called "super saints" has caused much damage within the body of Christ and the lives of individuals.
"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God - even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved." NIV translation
Since we are free in Christ, we should exercise that freedom by letting people see the love of God through us. When Paul speaks of not causing someone to stumble, this has often been misunderstood. Paul is talking about trying to apply the law to people that are saved by grace. He is speaking of the fact that we are saved by grace and nothing that we can do or not do can add to the work that Jesus did on the cross.