1 Cor 10:14-22
The Lord's Table

Sermon Discussion Questions:

1. "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight," (C.S. Lewis, Screwtape). Do you think you tend to lean more towards the "materialist" or "magician" when it comes to thinking about the spiritual realm?
2. Read through 1 Cor 10:14-22 together. What questions do you have?
3. What should Christians with "strong consciences" learn from this section?
4. What blessings of the Lord's Supper do you think you have taken for granted?


When you woke up this morning, what problems came to mind?

What should you cook for breakfast?

Maybe you need to get groceries for the week?

Need to fill up the gas tank?

That project your boss has asked you for hasn’t been finished yet?

Your child’s attitude has been off—maybe there is something they haven’t told you?

That unexpected bill—how is it going to get paid?


We all are aware of problems, of needs, of tasks to be done.


Here is a problem that I’ll wager most of you didn’t think about as you woke up:

How will I resist the dark and demonic powers that are seeking my destruction today?

What spiritual resources do I have available in Christ so that the evil intelligences that are hell bent on my demise will not sink me?


I wonder if churches like our own—Reformed, Baptist, Evangelical—are in danger of becoming functional materialists: people who deny that there is such a thing as the supernatural realm.


In C.S. Lewis’ book Screwtape Letters he points out that Satan is happy with us becoming either “magicians” or “materialists,” – people who are so enamored with spiritual forces that we become slaves to them, or those who deny that they exist.


One indicator that you are tilted more towards the “materialist” extreme is if the spiritual realm only matters to you to the degree that it creates measurable results. Here is a little test to gauge where you are at: if you are feeling anxious about some event, and pray about it, but don’t feel any different after you pray, do you think: Well, that didn’t work. Or if you attend a church service, but do not learn anything new, do you think: What good did that do for me? Or if you attempt a new spiritual discipline, but it doesn’t stop the bad habit in your life right away, do you think: Pointless.


The Christian worldview is not limited to what our senses can experience, to what our mind can rationally grasp, to what our emotions can fully feel, or to what can mold and shape our behavior. All of those things are massively important. God wants us to think rightly, feel rightly, and behave rightly! But the Bible also points us to a dimension of reality that exists on another plane that we may be tempted to downplay or ignore entirely. A reality that Paul invites us to consider in our text from 1 Corinthians 10 this week.


14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

  • 1 Cor 10:14-22


What Are We Talking About, Again?


Back in chapter eight, we learned of a group of people who have been eating meat that has been offered to idols. The group in the church believe that they have a right to do this because they know two things: (1) idols have no real existence, and (2) there is only one true God (1 Cor 8:4-6). And Paul agrees with them; idols have no real existence and there is only one God.


There are those in the church, however, who lack the knowledge that these other Christians possess: “However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled,” (1 Cor 8:7). So, Paul wants the more knowledgeable Christians in the church to be willing to abstain from their rights for the sake of their brothers (1 Cor 8:9-11).


Paul then goes on to talk about his own freedom and rights that he sets aside for the sake of the gospel (1 Cor 9:1-23) before turning to the example of Israel, who received many blessings from God, yet fell away, and didn’t persevere in their faith (1 Cor 10:1-13). In all three chapters, Paul brings up the issue of eating and drinking in the Corinthians, himself, Israel, and then back again to the Corinthians.

  • The Corinthians are eating meat offered to idols (1 Cor 8:1-13).
  • Paul too has a “right to eat and drink” though he doesn’t utilize it (1 Cor 9:4).
  • There is a special food and drink that Israel experienced in the wilderness: “all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ,” (1 Cor 10:3-4).
  • Nevertheless, Israel abandoned Yahweh, so Paul exhorts the Corinthians: “Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play,” (1 Cor 10:7).
  • Then Paul commends the benefits of eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 10:15-16).
  • And then warns of eating and drinking the meal of demons (1 Cor 10:20-21).


In these three chapters, sometimes Paul seems to treat what you eat and drink as being inconsequential, and sometimes being something of ultimate importance.


On the one hand eating and drinking, whether it is a spiritual meal from God or meat offered to idols, is not magical. When meat is offered to idols, the meat itself does not automatically become sinful and ruin anyone who eats it. And when Israel eats the spiritual meal that Christ provided in the wilderness, it did not automatically save them (1 Cor 10:5). What you eat and drink is not ultimately important (1 Cor 8:8).


But, on the other hand, these spiritual meals—whether from the Lord or from pagan temples—are not meaningless. And, in fact, in the right setting and context, they convey enormous spiritual realities, to our great blessing (the table of the Lord) or our great detriment (the table of demons).


You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons,” (1 Cor 10:21). There are two tables—you cannot sit at them both.



The Table of Demons


What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. (1 Cor 10:19-21)


The Corinthian Christians who have “knowledge” believe rightly that idols have no real existence, and that eating food offered to idols is permissible. Yet, Paul is apparently concerned that this confidence may actually lead to something inherently idolatrous. He warned those “who think they stand” to “take heed, lest they fall,” (1 Cor 10:12) and commands them in vs. 14 to “flee from idolatry.” Now, what is going on? I thought Paul said that “idols have no real existence,” yet here is warning them to flee from idolatry; I thought he said eating food offered to idols was permissible, and then says that when pagans make sacrifices, they make offerings to demons!? How do we fit that together?


There is only one God. Zeus, Baal, Jupiter, Allah, Krishna, Buddha, the world spirit—they are all false gods. And the idols that represent them; the statues, icons, figures—they don’t do anything, they don’t possess magical powers like some kind of talisman. But that doesn’t mean that there is not a real spiritual reality behind them. Paul says that in that temple to Demeter, there is a real, legitimate spiritual experience happening—it is just demonic. Which tells us that there are real, spiritual experiences that can take place in the world that are not of Christ. There may be lots of hucksters out there peddling false spiritual experiences (smoke and mirrors), but that does not mean that every spiritual experience out there is an illusion. Which means that Christians should never participate in a spiritual activity that is outside of Christ. We should not enter into prayers, worship services, meditations, drug-induced visions, or rituals that are aimed or directed at anyone other than the triune God, or that do not come directly from Scripture.


But, you may say, would the Corinthians really be tempted to do that? Well, in the ancient world, there was no secular public square—everything was religious. One commentator said that the ancient world ran on religion the way our world runs on electricity. It was just how everything worked. Your city had a god, your household had a god, crops had a god, your artisan guild had a god, everything in society was populated with gods. So, for Christians to reject all those gods made it increasingly difficult for them to interact in society at all, and presented lots of thorny, murky questions about how to be involved in your community. So, you could see how some Christians could be led to think: Well, we know that Zeus isn’t god, that the idol statue of him has no real substance to it, Yahweh is God…so I can go to the feast in the temple, even participate in the sacrifice itself, and be okay—this ceremony is meaningless.


And maybe they also thought: Plus, I take the Lord’s Supper, that will provide a magical protection over me.


And Paul says, Well, remember Israel was baptized, they had a spiritual meal too, but they were destroyed. The Corinthians seemed to have overestimated the power of the Lord’s Supper to be a kind of spiritual panacea (magical), while downplaying the danger of idolatry (meaningless). Eating food that has been offered to idols AFTER the offering has taken place, is permissible according to Paul—but that does not mean that you can join in the pagan offering.


Briefly, this illustrates for us a principle: a “strong” conscience should never have 1 Cor 10:12 far from their mind: “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall,” (1 Cor 10:12). Don’t overestimate your strength. Don’t let your freedom become a ramp towards sin.


The Table of the Lord


“16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16).


Obviously, the cup and bread Paul is referencing here are the Lord’s Supper, the final meal that Jesus inaugurated the night before He was crucified.


But notice the specific word that Paul uses in this verse: The cup and the bread are a participation in the blood and body of Christ. The word for participation is where we get our word “communion” from; it is the word most frequently translated as “fellowship” in the Bible (koinonia), as in, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers,” (Acts 2:42). And if you are wondering, “What is “the fellowship”?” Just keep reading: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,” (Acts 2:44-46).


To commune with someone, to have fellowship with them implies not only a relationship, but a commitment; it is saying, “What I have is yours, what you have is mine.” So, the early church’s “fellowship” looked like sharing their material possessions, opening their homes, sharing meals, sharing burdens.


When we take the Lord’s Supper, we are saying: Jesus, what is mine is yours and what is yours is mine. What does Jesus offer us as we come to the table?




“…for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins,” (Matt 26:28).


As we come to the Table, we bring our sins, and Jesus brings His broken body and shed blood to forgive them. Taking the Lord’s Supper is not the means of our forgiveness. Again, Paul’s point here is that the spiritual meals we partake of are not magical. Taking the Lord’s Supper does not impart forgiveness the way a vitamin imparts nutrients. It is not the means but the symbol of forgiveness, and the symbol is meaningless without faith. What do the symbols symbolize?


God is the source of Life. Sin is to push the God of Life away from us, and to push away Life brings Death—which is why God warned Adam in the Garden that if he were to sin, he would die. And it was through eating that Adam and Eve first rebelled, as Satan whispered, Take and eat…And he ate death, and we do. We eat and drink death every time we sin. But what does God do in response? He comes to have fellowship with us.


Jesus came to us and said: What do you have? And we said: sin and death…What do you have? And He said: Life and righteousness. And we had fellowship. He took our death, we took His life; He took our sin, we took His righteousness. The God of Life came to us who were dead, and swallowed death Himself, so that we may become alive.


When you come to the Table, you come to the intersection of death and life. The symbols of a broken body and spilled blood convey death. The death sin brings, the death we deserve, the death which our first parents brought into the world through their own taking and eating. But the symbols also convey life. Because the death is not our death, but Jesus’; Jesus says “This is my body, which is for you,” (1 Cor 11:24). His body was broken for us, His blood was spilled for us—Jesus ate and drank death so we may eat and drink life. Jesus has taken Satan’s words and twisted them on their head, the words Take and eat once led to death, but now through Jesus, they bring life. That’s the symbol. But it is not magical. Simply eating this meal without trusting in Christ yourself, without believing that you yourself are a sinner who needs Jesus’ death and life, will do nothing for you. But it is not meaningless, and in fact, there is more meaning as well.




When Paul says we have fellowship with the body and blood of Jesus he means that through the meal we enjoy the presence of Jesus in a way we do not enjoy any other way. This passage has been a classical proof text for a number of different views about the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. The Roman Catholic Church, for instance, believe in something called “transubstantiation”: the bread and wine become the literal body and blood of Jesus in substance. This has very troubling entailments—confusing Jesus’ divine and human natures; implied that Christ is being sacrificed again; and the meal imparts grace, whether you have faith or not (ex opere operato).


But for many people in our tradition, the notion of the communion meal being literally the body and blood of Jesus seems so bizarre that we don’t even think about it. We assume that the Lord’s Supper is primarily a place where we remember what Jesus has done. It is a cognitive event. We think about our sins, we think about what Jesus has done for us, and we think about our hope of heaven. And we should! But let me gently suggest to you that there is more—out of a desire to avoid viewing this meal as magical, we may run the risk of veering towards the meaningless trap. Jesus did not hand us the bread and wine and say: These are the symbols of forgiveness. He said: This is my body; this is my blood.


Paul said when we take this meal, we have fellowship with the body and blood of Jesus, we commune with Him. When we have fellowship with Jesus, we don’t merely receive His forgiveness separated from His person; we do not get a check in the mail from a distant relative we do not know—we are drawn into His very presence. Paul said we were made alive with Christ (Eph 2:4-5). To receive grace from Jesus is to receive Jesus, to be in Jesus. This is why Jesus sent the Holy Spirit after He left, so that we could be indwelt with Spirit of Christ (cf. Phil 1:19; Acts 16:7). Which means, where Jesus is, we are.


“…and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Eph 2:5-6).


How do we do that? Jesus’ body is in heaven, we are on earth. How do we enter His presence? How are we here, yet also, somehow, seated in the heavenly places? Well, if you think of heaven existing some place behind Jupiter, then this won’t make any sense. Heaven is not really, really, really far away. Heaven is where God dwells, and God dwells in the unseen, spiritual realm—and we see all throughout the Bible that the spiritual realm overlays the earthly realm, we just cannot see it. But because we have been united to Christ and God has poured the Holy Spirit into our hearts, we have, in a sense, been able to put a foot into God’s space, heaven.


But, you may wonder, don’t we have that whether we take the Lord’s Supper or not? And the answer is, yes, of course. But our kind Lord, knowing how frail and easily discouraged and doubtful we are, has given us a physical symbol of His presence, has decided to uniquely commune with us with truth we can touch. The English reformer, Thomas Cranmer, acknowledged that we cannot see our spiritual life, wrote:


“For this reason our Savior Christ has not only set forth these things plainly in his holy word that we may hear them with our ears, but he has also ordained one visible sacrament of spiritual regeneration in water, and another visible sacrament of spiritual nourishment in bread and wine, with the intent, that as much as is possible for man, we may see Christ with our eyes, smell him with our nose, taste him with our mouths, touch him with our hands, and so perceive him with all our senses,” (Thomas Cranmer).


Our baptism is like a new birth. It is the formal ceremony to celebrate us entering the covenant family with God. It is something we do once to declare our new status as a child of God. But, like any child may experience, our subjective feelings of love and belonging can fluctuate. A child may know that, by virtue of being their father’s child, the father loves them. But what happens when the father scoops his child up and tosses them in the air, hugs them, and tells them how much He loves them? The child now knows the Father loves them in a new way. He can sense the love in a way he could not had his Father not picked him up.


Are there times when it feels like God is distant? Are there times when you don’t feel forgiven? Then feel bread! Feel the cup! Your spiritual senses may be dull, so you use the means of grace God has given you. In the words of Cranmer, here at the Table Christ is put “into our eyes, mouths, hands, and all our senses.”


A Church


Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread,” (1 Cor 10:17).


It is interesting that Paul only mentions the bread, not the cup here—we all partake of the same cup. Why just mentioned bread? Because the bread represents Jesus’ body, and Paul knows that we too are the body of Christ. The blessings offered at the Lord’s Table are not only vertical, but horizontal. They do not only affect our individual relationship to Christ, but our relationship to each other as a church. Paul states that because there is “one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” In baptism, the one individual joins the many—we are baptized into the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13). In the Lord’s Supper, the many become one; one body. As we take the meal and enjoy entering God’s presence, we do so together as a church. This is why, as we will see in time, Paul is outraged that the Corinthians failed to wait for one another while taking the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:17-34)—and by failing to wait, Paul says, “It is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat,” (1 Cor 11:20). If we attempt to come to the Table and do not see the implications of how taking this meal affects our relationship with others in this church, then we eat this wrongly.


So, we want to set up helpful practices and patterns (liturgies) around how we celebrate this meal that emphasize and aid the meaning of what the Lord offers us at this meal: forgiveness, Himself, and one another.


This leads to us making practical decisions about how we celebrate this meal. But we would like to also move our church to a few new practices that further underline these meanings. The elders would like to move our church in the coming weeks to a new practice of having a mixture of pastors and members serving the Lord’s Supper to the members of our church, where we physically hand you the elements and say to you what this meal is: Christ’s body, broken for you; Christ’s blood, shed for you. We believe this more closely follows Jesus’ own practice of serving the meal to His own disciples, further giving us the opportunity to embody Jesus as we come forward to take the body of Jesus. And as we serve you the bread, we would like to pull it from a single loaf to further underline the unified nature of the spirit of 1 Corinthians 10:17 where Paul twice emphasizes the “one bread.”


These patterns are like blocks that help shape wet cement. Week after week, meal after meal, God nourishes our faith.



Do you see how earnestly the Lord is laboring to keep your eyes set on Him? To taste and see that He is good? God is not indifferent towards us; His heart is set upon us. Which means, for the Corinthians and for us, God does not sit passively by while we fall in love with other false gods. “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” (1 Cor 10:22). Imagine a husband who labors to lovingly serve his wife, and she joins him at his table to eat the meal he has prepared…but then she goes out to consort with another man? If that husband remained passive and indifferent, would that be a sign of his love or virtue? Or would it reveal a lack of it?