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1 Corinthians chapter 10

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What does 1 Corinthians chapter 10 mean?

Did the Christians in Corinth believe that God would not respond if they dabbled in idol worship? Paul's warnings in this chapter suggest some of them might have believed that. These comments continue his teaching from the prior chapter, where he pointed out his own practice of setting aside his "rights" in favor of what was best for others. When it comes to associating with idols, there are no "safe" ways. While the specific topic is idolatry in ancient Corinth, the principles given here are important for all believers as we navigate our Christian liberty.

Paul begins by making a connection between the Corinthians and the generation of Israelites that escaped from Egypt in the Exodus. That same generation died in the wilderness over the next 40 years. The rescued Israelites received significant blessings from the Lord. He led them by a pillar of cloud, and through the parted waters of the Red Sea. In a sense, they were "baptized" into Moses as their head and given spiritual food—manna—and supernaturally-provided water, both symbolic of Christ. Despite all of that, they were unfaithful to God. Paul writes that God was not pleased with most of them and killed many of them (1 Corinthians 10:1–6).

What did they do to earn that level of condemnation? Primarily, they betrayed their relationship with God by worshiping false idols. They indulged in other sins as well. Paul summarizes these corporate sins and God's extensive judgment of His people in His wrath (1 Corinthians 10:7–10).

These examples should cause the Corinthians to pay attention. Failing to do so would risk them falling, as well, at the hand of God on account of idolatry. Like the Israelites who came out of Egypt, the Corinthians were also raised in a culture that normalized the worship of false gods. Idolatry was an everyday experience in their upbringing. As Christians, they knew to stop worshiping idols. And yet, they may not have recognized how closely their daily practices brought them to participating in it again. Thankfully, God never allows people to face temptation they cannot possibly overcome. There is always a means to avoid sin by some form of "escape" (1 Corinthians 10:11–13).

With that in mind, Paul tells them to run away from idolatry. In more literal terms, they ought to separate themselves completely from anything even close to idol worship. This echoes the reaction of Joseph who literally bolted from a woman attempting to seduce him (Genesis 39:7–12). It's not that the man-made idols themselves have any power, Paul continues, but demons lurking behind them do. Participating in communion by taking the bread and cup of Christ connects Christians to Him. In the same way, partaking in the altar of idols causes people to participate with demons. Why provoke the Lord to jealousy (1 Corinthians 10:14–22)?

Paul specifically addresses the issue of whether a Christian should eat food that has been offered to an idol. In the context of that era, this might have even included food served in an idol temple itself as part of a civic meeting or family gathering. To completely separate from such things would be difficult. The position of the Corinthians seems to be that, if idols are nothing, then what's the harm in being seen around them?

Paul's final words on the matter boil down to Christians avoiding any food they know to have been offered to an idol. This is for the sake of the consciences of those watching, both believers and the unsaved. Paul urges the Corinthian Christians to set aside their freedom to eat this food, even though it is not really "anything." The main purpose of this, established in chapter 8, is to avoid giving any appearance that they approve of the worship of idols. On the other hand, Paul says clearly that they are free to eat any meat if they do not know whether it has been offered to an idol or not. They don't need to be paranoid. The meat itself is just meat and, in fact, God's good creation and a gift from Him for which they can be thankful (1 Corinthians 10:23–30).

In the end, every choice a Christian makes should hinge on whether the activity will bring glory to God. And, it's necessary to consider whether it will build others up. Paul urges his readers to follow his practice of restricting his own rights and freedoms in order to avoid putting any stumbling block between unbelievers and faith in Christ (1 Corinthians 10:31–33).
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