February 10, 2013
Commentary on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe
Topic #7: Questions Concerning Christian Freedom, 1 Corinthians 8.1-11.1



Lesson 7.8: Christian Freedom and Table Fellowship
 Scripture: 1 Corinthians 10.16-22

1 Cor 10.16-22 (KJV)

16 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?
17 For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.
18 Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?
19 What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing?
20 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.
21 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.
22 Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?


16 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?

The cup of blessing which we bless,
The “cup of blessing” to which Paul refers is the giving of thanks. The love of God abiding in the heart of the believer always causes the heart to praise God. Peter declares, “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8; KJV). As Christians we have a present joy already wrapped up with glory. The "glory" is partly a present possession, through the presence of Christ, "the Lord of glory," in the soul; partly in assured anticipation of the future glory we will share with Christ. The Christian's joy is bound up with love for Jesus: it is grounded in faith; it is not therefore either self-seeking or self-sufficient.

When Paul wrote this, he probably had in mind the third cup drunk at the Passover meal over which prayer and thanksgiving was expressed. At the last Passover with the disciples, Jesus used the third cup as the symbol of His blood shed for sin. That cup became the one used to institute the Lord’s Supper. He set the cup apart as a token of salvation blessing before He passed it to the twelve. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper and spoke of this communion with Him through the cup and the bread in Matthew 26.17-30 (see also Mark 14.12-26; Luke 22.7-23). Sharing in this meal signified participation in the blood of Christ and in the body of Christ. Since the early days of the church, believers have celebrated this special meal.

is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?
The Greek word translated “communion” is koinonia; it signifies “to have in common (partnership, fellowship)” and denotes, in its most common usage, the share in which one has in anything. It is used to express our relationships on both a human level and divine level. The meaning here has great significance in that it points to the fact that the believer shares in the effects of the blood of Christ shed for the remission of sins. We are covered by the blood, redeemed through the blood, and cleansed by the blood—and every believer shares in the shed blood, being crucified with Christ, buried with Him in baptism, and raised to walk in newness of life. All that we are, all that we have and enjoy, are because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

We learn in Leviticus 17.11 that “the life of the flesh is in the blood.” The blood was offered on the alter for the remission if sins.  Jesus shed His blood, and He gave His life. He said, “My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life for the sheep.” The basis of all spiritual blessing is the shed blood; it is the blood that makes atonement. Without shedding of blood there is no remission.

No one should participate in the Lord’s Supper unless he has been truly born again, thereby becoming a partaker of divine nature (spiritual life) through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. An unsaved person should never receive the bread and the fruit of the vine in Holy Communion. The truth which Paul declares here is that all believers have fellowship in all that the shed blood of Jesus Christ has made possible; we all share in His shed blood.

The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
“The bread which we break...” The fact that Paul uses the personal pronoun “WE” suggests that each believer broke the bread himself. It also conveys the idea that the congregation as well as the minister blesses (consecrates with blessing) the cup. The minister or priest does not have any special authority to bless the cup. The consecration is a joint action of the minister and congregation, and their drinking of the cup together is what constitutes communion. The distinct mention of the bread and wine disprove the Roman doctrine of “concomitancy” which is the belief that the bread becomes the actual body of Christ and the wine His literal blood.

The communion with (the fellowship in) the Lord’s body is fellowship in what the believer receives from or through the offering of the body of Christ in His death. His body was prepared for Him by his heavenly Father: “Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me” (Heb 10:5; KJV). It was a body made by God that was predestined to be given up to death as a sacrificial victim. During the Lord’s time spent on earth, His flesh was the tabernacle of God. God was in Christ “to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses, and having committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:19; ASV). God was united to Christ, and manifested Himself by Him. Jesus was the God-man. Throughout the days of His life on earth the flesh was the instrument in which He fulfilled the Father’s will in every respect. The cross was the final step. He willingly went to the cross, and on the cross proclaimed, “It is finished!” Jesus is the living, glorified, Christ—the bread of life for the souls of believers.

17 For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.

This verse points out the oneness of the members of the body of Christ. The Greek word translated “one bread” really means “loaf” (one loaf alone was used in each celebration). Paul’s concept of the unity of the body of Christ is clearly expressed through the analogy of one loaf, a symbol preserved by many churches at the Lord’s Supper (Paul will write in more detail about this ceremony in 1 Corinthians 11.17-34.

“…we are all partakers of that one bread.” The Greek word translated “partake” means “to have a share in that which is being partaken of.” In this case the bread is Christ, and so we share in Christ—in His death, in His burial, in His resurrection, and in His life. It is in Him that we live, and move, and have our being.

There is only one true church, and Jesus is the head and foundation of that church. We are members of that body; all believers are baptized into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit; all believers have been made to drink into one Spirit. We partake of one loaf: we are one in Christ. The one loaf of which all partake, pictured their unity as members of the one body of Christ; they are not only in fellowship with one another, but with the Lord also.

18 Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?

Behold Israel after the flesh:
The nation of Israel wandering in the wilderness has a spiritual application, and we should not forget that the things which happened to them happened for examples to us as believers; but Paul is pointing here to the people in their natural state.

are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?
What Paul is saying here is simply this: “They are in fellowship with Him whose alter it is—and the alter is the Lord’s.” Even the Israelites after the flesh who ate the sacrifices were partakers (fellowshippers), that is, they were fellowshipping with God, to whom they had brought their gifts. In the Old Testament sacrifices, the offering was on behalf of all who ate. By eating part of the offering, the people were identifying with the offering and affirming their devotion to God to whom it was offered. Paul was, by this, implying how any sacrifice made to an idol (see vv. 7, 14) was identifying with and participating with that idol. It is inconsistent for believers to participate in any such worship (v. 21). There are certain offerings in the Old Testament era, which after part of the offering had been burnt on the alter and part had been given to the priest, the remainder of the offering was eaten in the court of the tabernacle (see Leviticus 7.15-21; Deuteronomy 12.5-7). We are told in Leviticus 10.10-15 that in Israel’s worship the priests eat portions of some sacrifices and the people eat portions of others. “And Moses spake unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons that were left, Take the meat offering that remaineth of the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and eat it without leaven beside the altar: for it is most holy: And ye shall eat it in the holy place, because it is thy due, and thy sons' due, of the sacrifices of the LORD made by fire: for so I am commanded. And the wave breast and heave shoulder shall ye eat in a clean place; thou, and thy sons, and thy daughters with thee: for they be thy due, and thy sons' due, which are given out of the sacrifices of peace offerings of the children of Israel. The heave shoulder and the wave breast shall they bring with the offerings made by fire of the fat, to wave it for a wave offering before the LORD; and it shall be thine, and thy sons' with thee, by a statute for ever; as the LORD hath commanded” (Lev 10:12-15; KJV). In this sense people and priests are partners in the alter upon which the sacrifices are made. But it is also true that both priest and people share together in the spiritual benefits that come from offering sacrifices to God. They believed that by eating part of the sacrifice they were restoring their unity with God, against whom they had sinned. Those who share in the sacrifices, also share in the benefits.

Paul is not trying to prove that the Lord’s Supper is a sacrifice. He is using an analogy drawn from the Jewish sacrificial system to show the reality of spiritual participation or communion at the Lord’s Table. To participate in the sacrificial feast meant fellowship with the living God who instituted the feast. As members of the assembly partake of the bread and wine at the Lord’s Table there is established the closest possible relationship with Christ. He is the host at this table. When food is offered to heathen God’s, they (demons) participate along with the worshippers. So, likewise at the Lord’s Table, there is a sharing by Christ and by the members of His body. The bond between them is sealed in the common meal. But the bond is severed with any member of His body who joins in an idol feast, because that establishes the same kind of bond with demons. A believer cannot partake of the Lord’s food (the Old Testament sacrifices, the New Testament supper) and the devil’s food (the idol’s table) without exposing himself to danger and provoking the Lord.

19 What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing?

The idol is dead and is therefore nothing; the idol and the offering are lacking in reality; they have no spiritual reality or power in themselves, therefore they are nothing. There are no such beings as gods and goddesses, like those that existed in the minds of those who offered these heathen sacrifices. Both Christian communion and the Jewish system of sacrifice provided a mystical relationship between God and the participants, then, by expansion, to take part in a pagan sacrificial feast would provide a similar mystical union—not with idols (for they are nothing but wood and stone), but with the demons that the idols represent (see commentary on 8.5, 6). Paul will explain this further in the following verses.

20 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.

they sacrifice to devils, and not to God:
The idolaters thought they were offering a sacrifice to a god, but they were not; they were offering sacrifices to demons. (Where the plural is used the rendering should always be “demons,” not devils. There is only ONE devil, but there are many millions of demons.) Some of the verses where we read about demons are:
• “And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit of an unclean devil, and cried out with a loud voice, Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God” (Luke 4:33-34; KJV).
• “And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?” (Acts 19:15; KJV).

There were demons who lead unbelievers to practice idolatry; and there are demons who seek to inhabit human bodies, or the bodies of animals (see Luke 8.29-32). They are disembodied spirits, and they operate most effectively when they dwell in a body, whether it is human or animal. Someone has defined idolatry with these words: “The ritual of sin—the ceremonial of the rule of evil spirits over men.” Those who offer sacrifices to idols are worshipping a god that does not exist, and they are fellowshipping with demons. When Paul says, “to devils, and not to God” he is possibly quoting from Deuteronomy 32.17, which says, “They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not…” (Deut 32:17; KJV).

and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.
Paul points out here that believers who visited the feasts in idol temples and ate the meat that had been offered to idols—even though the idol was nothing—were nevertheless worshipping in the temple of pagan gods, and therefore they were aiding and abetting idolatry. Although they might have been free from evil motives and their consciences might have been clear, they were fellowshipping with demons, nevertheless. It is a very dangerous thing for a believer to fellowship demons. Born again people today should not attend services that deal in spirits. No believer should attend a spiritual séance where “spiritualists” are supposed to contact the dead. Satan and demons are behind all idolatry, because idolatry turns people away from the true God. That is always Satan’s goal. Demons use people’s openness and willingness to believe to deceive them. Demons are fallen angels who joined Satan in his rebellion against God and are now evil spirits under Satan’s control. They help Satan tempt people to sin and have great destructive powers. That is why Paul called for a sharp break from the surrounding society. “What agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16; KJV). Nothing could appear more abominable to a Jew than an idol in the temple of God; the worship of the two is entirely incompatible. An idolater never worships the true God; a Christian never worships an idol. If you join in idolatrous rites, it may be that you are not a Christian.

Paul’s advice here seems to focus on believers taking part in actual religious celebrations (not mere social functions) at an idol’s temple. Paul wanted the Corinthian believers to “flee from idolatry” (10.14) and never set foot in an idol temple in order to take part in a religious ceremony or eat food offered to that idol through such a ceremony. He reiterated that this was not because the idols had any reality or that the sacrifices are of some value. Instead, when people sacrificed to idols, they were actually offering their sacrifices to demons, not to God, whether they are or are not conscience of it. Therefore, taking part in such a ceremony was not a neutral activity; it amounted to them becoming partners with demons. Friends, when an offering is made to an idol, demons are present.

21 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.

Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils:
Sharing food and drinks means sharing fellowship. You cannot participate in anything that commits you to two different lords; you must make a choice. It is a moral impossibility to partake of the cup of the Lord’s Supper and then to participate in that which is associated with demons. You must not suppose that because you are a Christian and you have followed the appropriate methods, that that insulates you against moral dangers.

ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils.
The “table” here stands for that which is placed upon the table; for example, the blood of Christ stands for the giving up of His life in atoning sacrifice. The life is in the blood, so when Jesus gave His blood He gave His life—and His blood is the atoning sacrifice.  Here then the table stands for the bread and the cup which are placed upon it. The “bread and the cup” express the fellowship believers enjoy with Christ because of His broken body and shed blood. In the same way the “table of demons” stands for the things which the table provides for the partakers at the feast and expresses fellowship with demons and the powers of darkness. Believers in the assembly at Corinth who were attending these feasts in the temple of idols were in danger of partaking of that which was supplied from the alter. It was a very dangerous thing for them to do.

Christians are always at the table of the Lord—we partake of the benefit of His death every moment of every day; but we are not always at the supper where His death is proclaimed in His appointed way, by the breaking of the bread and drinking the fruit of the vine.

The table of the Lord is also found in the Old Testament: “Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the LORD is contemptible” (Mal 1:7; KJV). The table of the Lord is an expression well known in pagan circles. The meals to which Paul is referring in these verses involve religious rites. They are acts of worship. A Christian cannot worship Christ at the Lord’s Table and then attend with immunity a religious service infected with demons. While Greeks believe one may belong to any number of cults, Christians must remember that there can be only one ultimate loyalty.

Behind this passage there are three ideas; two of them are peculiar to the age in which Paul lived; one is eternally true and valid.
i. As we have seen, when sacrifice was offered, part of the meat was given back to the worshipper to hold a feast. At such a feast it was always assumed that the god himself was a guest. Moreover, it was often held that, after the meat had been sacrificed, the god himself was in it and that at the banquet he entered into the very bodies and spirits of those who ate.
ii. At this time the entire world believed in demons. These demons might be good or bad, but more often they were bad. There were spirits who were intermediate between the gods and men. For the Greek every spring, every grove, every mountain, every tree, every pool, every rock, every place had its demon. For the Jew there was the shedim. These were evil spirits that haunted empty houses, who lurked “in the crumbs on the floor, in the oil in the vessels, in the water which we drink, in the diseases which attack us, in the air, in the room, by day and by night.”

Paul believed in these demons; he called them “principalities and powers.” His point of view was this—an idol is nothing and stood for nothing; but the entire business of idol worship was the work of the demons; through it they seduced men from God.
iii. Out of these ancient beliefs comes one permanent principal—a man who has sat at the table of Jesus Christ cannot go on to set at the table which is the instrument of demons. If a man has handled the body and blood of Christ there are things he cannot touch.

22 Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?

Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy?
“The Lord” is almost certainly a reference to Christ. When a believer attempts to fellowship with the world, and at the same time fellowship with the Holy Spirit and with Christ, he may experience the Lord’s holy indignation and fiery judgment. Christians should not provoke God’s jealousy, because he wants our sole allegiance. He will not share our commitment with others.

When ancient Israel turned to idols, God punished them severely: “Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand” (1 Cor 10:7-8; KJV).

are we stronger than he?
Paul asked “are we stronger than he?” This is a solemn warming given in the form of a question that demands a negative response. The believer should have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. We are to come out of the world and be separate. We are “to love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” Followers of Christ must give Him total allegiance. They cannot, as Paul explains, have a part in “both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.” Eating at the Lord ’s Table means communing with Christ and identifying with His death. Eating at the demons table means identifying with Satan by worshipping or promoting pagan (or evil) activities. Are you trying to lead two lives, following the desires of both Christ and the crowd? The Bible says that you can’t do both at the same time. Do we imagine that we can do this and not receive His judgment? Because believers are not stronger than God, they should not think they can withstand the Lord’s anger for their sin of idolatry: “They made him furious because they worshiped foreign gods and angered him because they worshiped worthless idols. So I will use those who are not my people to make them jealous and a nation of godless fools to make them angry” (Deut 32:21; GW). Israel could not stand up before the might of Jehovah (see vv. 6-10). The Corinthians have yet to learn their essential weakness (v. 12). The stronger Christians there believed they could enjoy their liberty in the pagan temple and not be harmed. “You may be stronger than your weaker brother, Paul intimated, “but you are not stronger than God!” Did the strong Corinthians require the same discipline that the Israelites did? It is dangerous to play with sin and tempt God.

We do not hear much negative preaching today, but when we receive the positive (salvation by grace through faith) we should practice the negative—“lust not, be not, touch not.” There are many negative commands in the Word of God.


Do you have any questions or comments?

 The horrors of war are accentuated by the use of deception. In World War II, one of the German ploys was that of switching road signs. The pursuing Allied forces could not depend on the signage because it generally pointed in the wrong direction. The same spiritual craftsman of that worldwide crisis continues to use his dated tactic. Satan is the angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) who still intentionally changes the guideposts of life to confuse and hurt anyone who will fall for his deadly deceptions.

Minister’s Family, Winter 1999–2000, Frank Pollard, p. 8