What does 1 Corinthians 10 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
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).
Verse Context:
First Corinthians 10:1–13 describes how the generation of Israelites who escaped from Egypt were blessed by God and yet fell repeatedly into idol worship. God severely punished many of them, including the fate of wandering the desert until death. The Corinthians should read their example as a warning unless they, too, fall at God's hand for participating with idols. Their standing in Christ does not mean that God will not act against unfaithfulness to Him with false gods. Still, such temptations are common, and God always provides His children a way to escape from sin.
First Corinthians 10:14–22 describes why it is essential to run away from idol worship of any kind. Participating in communion by taking in the representations of Christ's body and blood brings us into participation with Him. To be involved with idolatry causes people to participate with demons. Nobody can remain in participation both with Christ and demons. Paul uses questions to warn the Corinthians about stirring up the Lord's jealousy in this way. He is stronger than us and willing to act when betrayed.
First Corinthians 10:23—11:1 shows that merely asking, ''Is this lawful?'' is the wrong question for Christians. Instead, we must continue by asking, ''Will this glorify God?'' and ''Will this build up our neighbors?'' Paul instructs them to act on this by refusing to eat meat they know has been offered to an idol. The reason is to avoid causing anyone to think Christians approve of idol worship in any way. They are free, though, to eat any meat they don't know to have been offered to an idol, with a clear conscience, and with thanks to God. The key message of this passage is that our intent, and the effects of our actions on others, are more important than the physical things involved.
Chapter Summary:
Idol worship is an extremely serious sin. Paul reminds the Christians in idol-saturated Corinth of that by referring to the history of the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness. Though blessed by God, they worshiped false idols. God killed many of them for it. Paul commands his readers to flee from idol worship. To participate with idol worship in any way is to participate with demons. God always provides some way to avoid sin. So, they must avoid giving anyone the idea that they approve of idol worship, even by knowingly eating food offered to idols. Their first question must always be, ''Will this glorify God?''
Chapter Context:
The previous chapter concluded with Paul's commitment to continue to control himself. He exercises discipline so he does not become ineffective in his ministry. He begins chapter 10 by reminding the Corinthians of how the Israelites brought consequences on themselves in the wilderness. Among their many sins was worshiping idols, and God killed many of them for it. The Corinthians must flee idol worship and any appearance of supporting the demonic practice. They are free to eat meat if they don't know that it is idol food. However, they should be ready to set aside their own freedoms and rights whenever doing so will glorify God and win others to Christ.
Book Summary:
First Corinthians is one of the more practical books of the New Testament. Paul writes to a church immersed in a city associated with trade, but also with corruption and immorality. These believers are struggling to properly apply spiritual gifts and to resist the ungodly practices of the surrounding culture. Paul's letter gives instructions for real-life concerns such as marriage and spirituality. He also deals with the importance of unity and gives one of the Bible's more well-known descriptions of love in chapter 13.
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