Old Testament Types (1 Corinthians 10:1-14)
If I were to choose one verse out of these fourteen as a text, it would be verse 11: “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples [types]: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.”
I learn a number of things, two in particular, from this verse. In the first place I learn that all that is recorded concerning the nation of Israel in the Old Testament is sober, reliable history. The Word says, “All these things happened.” This is the testimony of the Holy Spirit and therefore I believe it without a question. I believe the Genesis account of the origin of mankind because the account was given by the only One who was there, and that is God Himself. The history of mankind as further unfolded in that early book is all true. “All these things happened.” After the calling of Abraham and the separation of the Hebrew people from the Gentile world, the story of God’s dealings with these people, as related in the rest of the books of the Old Testament, is true history and there is nothing imaginary or legendary about it. “These things happened.”
The second thing I learn from this verse is that in the preparation of the Holy Scriptures, the Spirit of God guided and directed the human writers to eliminate anything extraneous, anything not particularly helpful to us, and therefore the incidents recorded are there for a definite purpose. These incidents took place literally just as we are told they did, but their significance was something beyond their place in history. The nation of Israel is a typical (that is, pre-figurative) nation; the redemption of Israel is atypical redemption; the sacrifices offered under the law were typical sacrifices; the sanctuary of the Hebrew people was a typical sanctuary. And so we may profitably read all of the Old Testament with the light of the New Testament shining on it, revealing marvelous pictures, wonderful types, of the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ and of the people of God today. There are both encouragements and warnings for us in the history of Israel.
Before writing verse 11, the apostle referred to some of the Old Testament narratives. He reminded us how a great multitude went out of Egypt and headed for the land of Canaan, the land of promise, but many of them failed to reach that land because of unbelief, which led to other kinds of sin. “Moreover, brethren,” Paul began, “I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” As that great company of hundreds of thousands of Israelites left the land of Egypt, it would have been impossible for anyone to have drawn any distinction between those who were genuinely faithful and those who because of sin and unbelief would have to be destroyed.
And so the warning comes home to us: It is one thing to profess to be a Christian—to participate in the ordinances of Christianity, to be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, to take part in the Lord’s supper, to receive the consecrated elements that speak of the precious body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ who was given up to death for us, to associate outwardly with the people of God. It is quite another thing to prove oneself to be genuine by living for God and by bearing a faithful testimony right on to the end. Of course where there is a real work of the Spirit of God in a man’s soul, that work will be continuous, but alas there are many of whom it can be said, “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead” (Revelation 3:1).
A number of years ago I was invited by a very godly minister to address his congregation on a certain Lord’s day. Never having preached from his pulpit before, and not knowing what kind of congregation I might be expected to face and therefore being rather at sea as to the nature of the message that would be most suitable, I said to him, “Doctor, when I come to speak to your people, what kind of an audience will I address? Will they be mainly your own members, all Christian people, or many strangers and possibly unconverted people?” I can still see the look of sadness that came over his face and the tears that came into his eyes as he answered, “Well, my brother, I think that most of them will be our own people; we do not get a great many strangers in our place. But I am afraid that very few of our own members are Christians. After having been with them for a number of years, I greatly regret to say that I fear that the majority of them are like the foolish virgins. They have no oil in their lamps and therefore I hope you will come to us with a clear, definite gospel message. I shall be praying that God may use it for the awakening and the salvation of many of our people.”
What a solemn thing to have to make a confession like that! Yet is that not the case in many places today? We take too much for granted when we suppose that membership in a Christian church and participation in Christian ordinances and outward fellowship mean that one is really a child of God. Often there has been no second birth; there is no personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Israel there were two groups: those who had true faith in God and those who simply had an outward relationship to the people of the covenant. Those who had that outward relationship went with the rest through the Red Sea—and the apostle likened that to baptism. They were all sheltered by the pillar of cloud and fire—and Paul compared that to the gift of the Holy Spirit. They all ate of the manna that came from Heaven—and that speaks of participation in Christian fellowship at the Lord’s table. They all drank the water that came from the smitten rock—and that was a picture of those who drink today of the water of life that flows from the side of the wounded Christ.
Some of the Israelites who drank from the rock had no true faith in God; there was no reality in their hearts, no genuine work in their souls. Those who were real “drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” In other words, it was not enough to drink of the water that came from the smitten rock. Those whose relationship was not just outward drank of the stream that flowed from the “Rock that followed them,” or as another translation reads, the “attendant Rock”—and “that Rock was Christ.”
It was Christ who led the people of Israel across the desert into the land of Canaan as the Angel of the Lord. Jehovah said, “My name is in him” (Exodus 23:21). And in every dispensation all who have been saved have been saved through the Lord Jesus Christ. All who have been genuine in their profession at any time and at any age have been saved because they have put their trust in the revelation that God gave concerning the Seed of the woman who was to bruise the head of the serpent.
Some of that company of Israelites were genuine believers, but with the others “God was not well pleased” and these were overthrown. Why? Because of sin. And so the warning comes home to us now to learn from God’s dealings with this typical people the importance of being right with God today. Turn from everything unholy; judge every tendency to impurity and uncleanness in yourself so that God may be glorified in you.
There are five more warnings in 10:6-10. Introducing the first of the five, Paul wrote, “Now these things were our examples [types], to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.” Christ is the portion that satisfies the heart. The only way that one can be delivered from “the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4) is by finding satisfaction in the Savior.
O Christ, in Thee my soul hath found,
And found in Thee alone,
The peace, the joy I sought so long,
The bliss till now unknown.
I tried the broken cisterns, Lord,
But, ah! the waters failed;
E’en as I stooped to drink they fled,
And mocked me as I wailed.
The pleasures lost I sadly mourned,
But never wept for Thee,
Till grace my sightless eyes received,
Thy loveliness to see.
Now none but Christ can satisfy,
None other name for me;
There’s love and life and lasting joy,
Lord Jesus, found in Thee.
When people claim to be Christians, when they openly declare that they belong to the church of the living God yet give every evidence that their hearts are still in the world, one may doubt their professions of faith. When people give no evidence of separation from the world, when they do not break away from the things that dishonor our blessed God, when they are still taken up with “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16), one may stand in grave doubt as to whether they have ever really drunk of that spiritual “attendant Rock,” which is Christ.
In his second warning Paul cautioned us against putting anything in the place of God. “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.” The apostle was referring to the making of the golden calf that the Israelites set up in the wilderness when Moses was up on the mountain. Their leader who had brought them out of Egypt was no longer visible, just as our blessed Lord is at the Father’s right hand in Heaven and our eyes do not now see Him. Therefore the people turned to Aaron and said in effect, “We cannot see this man Moses; he has disappeared from us. Make us gods that will go before us, tangible gods that we can see and worship.” And so Aaron told them to bring all their gold ornaments, and he would make a god out of them. And the people brought their earrings and he melted down all the gold, poured the metal into a mold, made a calf, set it on a pedestal, and even gave it Jehovah’s name; he said, “To morrow is a feast to the Lord” (Exodus 32:5). Then the people danced around the golden calf and sat down to eat a sacramental meal in the presence of the image.
Because of this the judgment of God burned fiercely against them, and you remember the dreadful results. Many of them died under the hand of God and those who were spared had to drink the golden calf! Moses took the calf, ground it into fine dust, and poured the dust into the water that the people drank. That was the “gold cure” to show them the folly of worshiping any other than the one true and living God. The lesson for us is that if we dare to put anything else in the place of God, no matter how precious it may seem to be, the time will come when we will rue it.
Yet the golden calf is still worshiped. Many worship money, wealth, or pleasure though they claim to be followers of the lowly Savior, “who though in the form of God, thought equality with God not something to be grasped after: but emptied Himself, and became obedient unto death, and such a death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:6-8, literal rendering). How can I be a consistent follower of Him if I put self or anything that this poor heart of mine can crave on earth in the place of the true and living God? “Little children,” warned John, “keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
The third solemn warning is against every kind of uncleanness: “Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.” We are living in a day when uncleanness is everywhere. Our modern novels are reeking with it, our newspaper stands are filled with vile pornographic literature that comes from Hell, and men are enriching themselves by poisoning the minds of our young people. Many of the pictures they see and the songs they hear are filled with suggestions of impurity. How sternly the Christian church needs to set its face against everything of this kind!
We should not compromise. Pictures, books, and songs all have their effect on the flesh, and before people know it, they are drifting off into unholy things because of the constant incitement in the music and literature of the day. Let us give everything like that a wide berth. As Paul wrote in another Epistle, “Ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh” (Galatians 5:13).
I am reminded that 1 Corinthians 10:8 is a verse that unbelievers and modernists like to point to as an evidence that the Bible cannot be fully inspired. We read there that there “fell in one day three and twenty thousand,” and in Numbers 25:9 we read that “twenty and four thousand” were destroyed because of the sin of fornication. Therefore the objectors say, “There is a contradiction in your Bible; in one place it says twenty-four thousand were destroyed and in another place it says twenty-three thousand.” But it is not difficult to harmonize the two accounts. In Numbers the complete account is given: there were twenty-four thousand destroyed during that particular period in which God was dealing with His people. In 1 Corinthians the Holy Spirit was stressing the fact that twenty-three thousand died on the very first day of that period of judgment; the other thousand of course died later on. Paul was inspired to emphasize how indignant God was when His people fell into the sin of uncleanness; He was so indignant that in one day He destroyed twenty-three thousand.
Notice the fourth warning: “Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.” How did they tempt Him? They limited the Holy One of Israel when they said, “Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?” (Psalm 78:19). We too limit God if we say, “Can God take care of me? I am in very difficult circumstances. Is God able to see me through?” When we doubt, we limit the God of all grace who gave His Son for us. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) Faith never tempts God; it believes God and goes forward in obedience to His Word.
The fifth warning reads, “Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.” The reference here is to the destruction of Koran, Dathan, and Abiram in the wilderness when they murmured against God, against His servant Moses, and against the high priest Aaron. Those rebels said to Moses and Aaron, “Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?” (Numbers 16:3) They were practically saying, “We do not need a mediator; we do not need a high priest. We are good enough for God as we are.” They found fault with God’s provision for them and destruction was the result.
Let us heed the warning and be grateful to God for the provision He has given through His Word and the Holy Spirit for the salvation of our souls and the building up of our lives in Christ. Let us never allow ourselves to become self-confident and imagine that we can get along without the daily ministry of our risen and glorified Lord, who is our High Priest in Heaven.
In view of all these types and the accompanying admonitions, let us walk carefully and “let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” Let him test his foundation, make sure that he is taking the Word of God as his guide, and be certain that he is resting on the testimony that God has given so that when the hour of trial comes, he will be confident that there is abundant grace to sustain him.
Having warned the Corinthians, Paul offered these words of assurance: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” God did this for Israel in Old Testament times. As we read the story of His dealings with them, we find instance after instance of His wonderful intervention when they were at their wits’ end. The God who sustained His people in the wilderness, fed them on manna from Heaven, quenched their thirst with water from the rock, and drove out their enemies from the land of Canaan is living still. In the measure in which we learn to depend on Him, to count on Him, we too will find deliverance in the hour of difficulty and trial.
The passage closes with another reference to idolatry. Solemnly emphasizing his earlier warning, Paul wrote, “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.” This and all the other admonitions are serious, so let us take them to heart, remembering that it is one thing to have made a profession, but it is another thing to prove that profession to be real by backing it up with a godly life.
Undivided Devotion (1 Corinthians 10:15-30)
This passage contains very important and solemn teaching regarding the celebration of the Lord’s supper, which has been maintained in the Christian church throughout the centuries. Earlier Paul warned us against compromising with the world and here Paul continued that warning, particularly in reference to idolatry and the Lord’s supper.
In civilized lands we do not come in contact with idolatry in the sense that the apostle primarily referred to here. We are more concerned about the pleasure-seeking, godless world around us. Second Corinthians 6:17 seems more relevant to us today. There we read the challenge of the Spirit of God: “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” If we are wise, however, we will apply the principles of both passages to the conditions under which we live.
Idolatry is still a very live issue in pagan lands. There it is necessary to separate converts from absolutely everything of a heathenish or idolatrous character, because if there is any compromise, any fellowship with pagan practices, these things tend to drag the converts back to the old way of life.
Since as Christians we are associated with the table of the Lord, let us see to it that we “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11). Paul asked the Corinthians, “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?” With these questions the apostle showed us that the Lord’s supper, as we commonly call it, proclaims the foundation principles of Christianity. It is a rallying point, as it were, where God’s people come together to confess openly their adherence to great fundamental truths.
Notice the order here: the cup is mentioned first, the bread second. When we participate in communion, we follow the order instituted by our Lord: we thank for the bread first, and then for the cup. But the apostle mentioned the cup first because it represents the precious poured-out blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and there can be no relationship with God for those who by nature and practice are lost sinners, until they have been cleansed by the blood of Christ. Every time the communion feast is celebrated, the great fact is emphasized that it is the blood, the blood of Jesus alone, that cleanses from sin and gives access to the presence of God. That is the reason for Satan’s antagonism against this ordinance.
The ordinance of the Lord’s supper has suffered in two ways. Some people have added to it many unscriptural, superstitious practices, making it such a strange and weird mystery that many Christians are almost afraid to approach the table of the Lord. On the other hand there are those who, pretending to have a deeper spirituality and a greater Bible knowledge than ordinary Christians, have put the Lord’s supper to one side; they claim that we have no need of ordinances of any kind in the Christian era since it is a spiritual dispensation.
We need to remember that baptism and the Lord’s supper were given not so much to be helpful to Christians—though both ordinances are helpful to them—as to be a testimony to the world outside and to form as it were a line of demarcation between the church and the world. We have already seen how baptism does that: I trust the Lord Jesus Christ in my heart, I accept Him as my Savior, and by my baptism I say to the world, “I have identified myself with the Christ that you have rejected; henceforward I am dead to the world.”
Dead to the world and all its toys,
Its idle pomp and fading joys;
Jesus, my glory be!
If baptism does not mean that to me, it is really nothing more than a mere empty form; but if I see that by my baptism I am confessing my identification with the rejected Christ, it becomes a sweet and precious ordinance and is a testimony to the world outside.
The Lord’s supper is also a testimony. While baptism speaks of my death with Christ, the Lord’s supper speaks of Christ’s death for me and the fact that it is only because of Christ’s death that I can approach God and have fellowship with Him. Paul told the Corinthians, “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (11:26). The word translated “shew” here is exactly the same word that is translated “preach” in many places in the book of Acts and the Epistles. So the verse could be rendered, “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do preach [or proclaim] the Lord’s death till he come.” By participation in the Lord’s supper today we are preaching to the world around us the fact that Christ has died and that His blood alone can cleanse from sin. That is why Paul put the emphasis on the cup.
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?” Communion is the expression of fellowship that is based on the blood of Christ. Therefore you can readily see that no one ought ever to participate who does not put his or her trust in the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. I cannot understand how anyone who denies the atoning efficacy of the blood of Jesus would even desire to take part in the celebration of the Lord’s supper, and yet I am told that in places where men ridicule the thought of salvation by His blood, the ordinance of the Lord’s supper is still observed in a formal way. It seems to me that such a hypocritical observance is an insult to God, an insult to the blessed Savior whose death is being commemorated. Christ died for sinners; He poured out His blood to redeem us to God and therefore from time to time we come together to remember Him as we drink the cup.
The bread used in the Lord’s supper has, if I may say so, a double significance. It speaks of the literal body of our Savior, which was offered for us on the cross, and in another and wider sense it speaks of the mystical body of Christ to which all believers belong. “The bread which we break, is it not,” Paul asked, “the communion of the body of Christ?” The breaking of bread expresses our fellowship with the church as the body of Christ.
Using the bread as a symbol of His literal body, Christ said, “This is my body which is given for you” (Luke 22:19). That precious body came into being in a unique way. It was the direct creation of the Holy Spirit of God in the womb of the virgin Mary. When Christ came into the world, He said, “A body hast thou prepared me” (Hebrews 10:5). It was a human body, a body in every respect like ours except that it had no sinful tendencies whatever. Our Lord Jesus Christ was from the moment of His birth, as He had been in all eternity, the Holy One of God.
In that prepared body Christ went to the cross and died for our sins; in fact He assumed that body so that He might die. Deity as such cannot die. God, no matter how much He loved us, could not die, but God becoming man, God taking humanity into relationship with deity could die, as Christ died on Calvary’s tree. Every time we participate in the Lord’s supper we are again announcing the fact that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3). The communion service preaches—preaches loudly—salvation only through that vicarious sacrifice offered on the cross.
The wider meaning attached to the use of the bread in the communion service is evident in these words, which the Spirit of God inspired Paul to write: “We being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.” Of course “we” means “Christians.” The apostle was speaking of believers, not mankind in general. Let us never make the mistake of thinking that all men are included in this “we,” or that all believers in all ages have been included in the body of Christ. If I read my Bible correctly, the church came into existence on the day of Pentecost. There were believers in the world before that. One hundred twenty of them were gathered together that very morning, but they were one hundred twenty individuals, separate units. Then the Holy Spirit came according to the Savior’s promise and in a moment baptized those one hundred twenty individuals and made of them one body of which the risen and glorified Christ is the Head. That body exists in the world today and includes all who through the years since Pentecost have put their trust in Christ.
The body as presented in Ephesians takes in all saints, living and dead, from Pentecost to the rapture. The body as presented in 1 Corinthians takes in all saints on the earth at a given moment of time. They are all members of the body of Christ. The body of Christ on earth is in the place of responsibility; the body of Christ in Heaven of course is in the place where praise and thanksgiving alone prevail. In Heaven there is no longer the need of prayer because saints have passed beyond the bounds of responsibility. But while we are in the world, how blessed it is to realize that when we partake of the Lord’s supper, we are recognizing our unity with every fellow believer on the face of the earth!
There is only one Lord’s table in all the world. Wherever bread and the fruit of the vine are placed on a table in commemoration of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, that is the Lord’s table, and Christians are responsible to behave themselves accordingly. The apostle emphasized that when he pointed out that there are only two other tables: the table of Judaism, which is the fellowship of Israel; and the table of demons, which is the fellowship of idols. A person can only feast at one of these three tables.
Paul had the table of Judaism in mind when he wrote, “Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?” He was referring to the peace offering. All in Israel were entitled to participate when the peace offering was offered; that identified them as a special communion.
The fellowship of Gentiles, on the other hand, was at the table of demons. The apostle wrote, “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.” Idolatrous feasts and heathen festivals were all expressions of fellowship, just as the Lord’s table is an expression of fellowship and the peace offering in Israel was an expression of fellowship. But those idolatrous festivals expressed fellowship with demons, whether the participants realized it or not.
Some people say that we make a great mistake in sending missionaries to heathen lands. As previously noted, they contend that instead of drawing a line of demarcation between heathenism and Christianity, we should get all the good we can out of pagan religions and then share what we have with the heathen. These critics may not realize it, but behind the heathen idols and images are demon powers controlling the hearts and minds of the worshipers. Christians are to be separated from everything like that.
Paul said, “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.” And let me say, you cannot be living for the world, the flesh, and the devil and be a partaker at the table of the Lord. You can sit in a church pew and when the bread and wine are passed you can eat and drink of them, but you have not partaken of the fellowship, for that you cannot do. You can in an outward sense take your place with Christians, but there is no real fellowship if you still love the world and its ways. It is the heart that is occupied with Christ that enjoys the sweetness and preciousness of fellowship at His table. To attempt to partake of both tables is to “provoke the Lord to jealousy.”
Consider the case of a young man who is engaged to a beautiful young woman who does not yet know that his ways are very careless. By and by she learns that although he comes to visit her on some nights and treats her with kindness and affection, on other nights he is out with other women and is just as affectionate with them, and then he comes back to her as though nothing has happened. After she makes this discovery, do you think she will still accept him on the same good terms? No. She will say, “You cannot go out with others if you expect me to be devoted to you alone.” Likewise our Lord has called us to proclaim our wholehearted devotion to Himself and thus our separation from the world that has rejected our Savior. When we look at the Lord’s supper from this standpoint, how important its frequent celebration becomes!
The early Christians used to call communion “the sacrament.” Where did that term come from? The word translated “sacrament” referred to the oath of allegiance that emperors required soldiers of the Roman legions to take. By using the term, the Christians were saying, “In a similar way, every time we gather at the table of the Lord we are renewing our allegiance to our Lord; we are confessing our devotion to Him who in grace gave Himself for us.” That is what makes this ordinance so precious in His eyes.
The believer, remembering that he is always associated with the Lord’s table and that his behavior is to be in accordance with that communion, should be careful about his participation in things that worldlings think nothing of. “All things are lawful for me,” Paul wrote, “but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” In other words, although the believer is not bound by rules and regulations, although he is at liberty to do whatever he believes is right, he should stop and ask himself some questions about any activity: Will it edify? Will it bless? Will it help me to love Christ more? Is there a possibility that it may cause anyone else to stumble? If an activity will not edify, he should turn away from it, for he is not bound to do it. He is here to seek the blessing of others, not to do his own will.
So the apostle, writing to the Corinthians of his day, said, as it were, “When you go to the market, purchase whatever meat you want and take it home and eat it. If you are invited to a meal, feel perfectly free to accept the invitation and eat what is placed before you. But if when you go to the market and are about to purchase your meat, the butcher says, ‘This has been dedicated to idols,’ you should refuse it. If you go out to dinner and your host says, ‘We are eating this meat today in recognition of such and such a god,’ you must say, ‘I cannot eat this meat with you because I am a partaker at the table of the Lord.’“
We are not to make objections unnecessarily, but we are to be very careful of the consciences of other people. For instance Paul did not want the butcher in Corinth to be able to say, “I had some meat dedicated to Apollo and I sold it to that Christian, so he evidently recognizes that there are other gods.” Paul did not want a host to be able to say, “We used to think that Christian was very narrow. We used to think he recognized only Christ as God, but he took part in the recognition of our god. He has so much more liberty than we thought.” The apostle said in effect, “Flee all that kind of liberty; be out-and-out for Christ; do not give anyone the wrong impression.”
Paul continued, “If I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?” In other words, although a Christian may feel perfectly free to partake of something, he should not allow himself to partake of it if doing so would mislead those who are weak in the faith. He should use his liberty responsibly “for conscience sake.”
The conscience of a young person may be more active than some of us older folks think. Often we get in the habit of speaking disparagingly of the young and forget to give them time to grow in grace. We should not expect too much of new believers. We had to grow; we had to learn little by little what a poor wretched thing this world is. We had to learn how Christ could more than make up for everything else, and they have to learn it too. We should give them credit for being just as honest as we were when they say they want to live for God.
Young people come to me and say, “What do you think of thus and so?” It is generally some kind of amusement. They ask, “Do you think that it is all right for a Christian?” And I always say, “My dear young brother, or my dear young sister, don’t you think that you are turning that around? Instead of asking, ‘Is there any harm in it?’ you should ask, ‘Is there any profit in it? Will it really do me good? Would it be a blessing to me physically, spiritually, and in other ways? Will it help me to be a better testimony for Christ?’ If it will help you, do not be afraid of it. But beware if your conscience says, ‘It would not be profitable and it would not be a good testimony to others. It may mislead the weak and it will not lead you toward a deeper knowledge of Christ.’ In such a case you should decide, on the basis of the principle that the apostle laid down in 1 Corinthians 10, to avoid the amusement. The guiding principle is to let Christ be the one supreme object of the devotion of your heart.”
Consistent Living (1 Corinthians 10:31-33)
The words of this passage form a fitting conclusion to the previous portion in which Paul emphasized the behavior that should characterize those who are linked with the table of the Lord. A table is an expression of fellowship; there is no place where we enjoy one another’s companionship so much as there. As we sit down to partake of the good things provided, there is a feast of reason and a flow of soul, and we find ourselves enjoying fellowship together.
As we have seen, in the spiritual sense there are three tables, representing three fellowships in this world. First, there is the table of the Lord, and that represents Christian fellowship. The loaf and the cup on that table speak of the body and the blood of our Lord Jesus. All who have been redeemed to God by the blood of our Savior are members of one body and so partake together of that one communion feast.
Second, there is the table of demons, as the apostle solemnly designated it. He was referring to heathen festivals, the kind of feasts that were held in his day and are still being held in pagan lands today. Devotees of idolatry gather together for fellowship in their mysterious and unspeakably evil rites and ceremonies. Behind all this is the power of Satan. “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice,” Paul said, “they sacrifice to devils, and not to God” (10:20).
Third, there is what might be called the table of Israel. “Are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?” Paul asked (10:18). That used to be the table of the Lord, but when the Lord Jesus was rejected, those Jewish forms and ceremonies became void and empty. Yet today we recognize that there is that fellowship in the world, a fellowship which is neither Christian on the one hand nor pagan on the other—the fellowship of the house of Israel.
Now verses 31-33 show us that as Christians we are to be aware of the different fellowships and seek to be a blessing to everyone in each of those circles. First, however, we have our individual responsibility to order our own lives for the glory of God. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do,” Paul said, “do all to the glory of God.” How far-reaching is this commandment! I wonder whether we always keep it in mind as we should. I am quite certain that many of us would live very different lives if we always remembered it.
That admonition takes in my entire life. A great many people try to live their lives in sealed compartments, as it were—one compartment for the church, another for the family, another for business, and another for pleasure and recreation—and the same man may seem to be an altogether different person in each one. When he comes to church he is the essence of sanctimoniousness, for he has a long face and reverent mien as he sits in his pew. We might think that an unholy thought never passed through his mind. His eyes are either uplifted to Heaven or closed as if in rapt meditation. But when that same man goes out into the business world, his eyes are never closed and certainly never lifted heavenward. He looks about him furtively in a most anxious way and is always interested in how he may make a dollar—honestly or dishonestly. In fact he sometimes does not make the dollars at all; he simply gets them.
There is a great deal of difference between making money and getting money. We make money when we give a legitimate return for it; we get money without giving a legitimate return for it. In their efforts to get money, even professing Christians often engage in nefarious schemes that would not stand the test of the Word of God or even a close application of the law of the land. When they are questioned they answer, “Well, you know what the Bible says: ‘Not slothful in business.’” That Scriptural saying (Romans 12:11) has made quite an impression on many minds.
When the same man goes home, he is another altogether different person. In business he is so affable, at church so reverent and solemn, but in his home he is sometimes anything but affable and solemn. There, where he feels he is best known, he is a boor; he shows a miserably bad temper and makes everyone around him uncomfortable. You may have heard the story of the wife who said of her husband who was a preacher, “When I see him in the pulpit, I think he never ought to come out of it, and when I see his behavior at home, I think he never ought to go into it.” There are many people like that; they live one way at home and an altogether different way outside. They are like the man John Bunyan spoke of as a “devil at home and an angel abroad.”
It is amazing to see how the compartmentalized person who looks so serious on a Sunday morning acts during his leisure time. On a weeknight he may make his way into some unholy place of amusement. I wonder how people can attempt to combine the two, how they can show any respect whatever for the things of God if they indulge in the vile, wicked pleasures that so many are running after today.
We are not to live our lives in these air-tight compartments; we are to do everything “to the glory of God.” If we gather with the people of God in church services, we should do it so that He may be glorified; if we go out to take our place in the business world, we should do it so that we may bring glory to His name. A straightforward, upright, godly businessman may be a far better testimony for God than a preacher. Men expect the preacher to unfold the Word of God, but they are pleasantly surprised when they see a businessman living out the Word of God. Such a testimony appeals to them and proves to them that what the preacher declares is true.
The home is the place, perhaps above every other, where a man may show what a Christian really should be, as in the presence of his wife and his children he demonstrates the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and seeks to lead those who are young in His ways.
And how can a Christian glorify God in his leisure? A Christian needs recreation; he has a body and a mind to take care of and he needs to get out in the open and give a certain amount of time to that which is not so serious. But in his recreation he will say to himself, “I am still to have this in view, that I am to live to the glory of God. Whatever I do, I must be careful that I do not allow myself to participate in anything that would not have the approval of the Lord Jesus Christ.” We can easily test our plans by asking ourselves, “If I do thus and so, would it disconcert me in the least if the Lord Jesus would suddenly appear, if He would look down on me and say, ‘What are you doing?’”
I had never been in a theater before I was converted, but seven years after my conversion I fell into a backslidden state and I said, “I am going to find out what the theater is like.” I felt like Moses when he looked this way and that way to see if anyone was watching before he killed the Egyptian. I looked to the right and to the left, but I forgot to look up, for there was One watching me from above, the blessed Lord Jesus Himself. I paid for my ticket and went in and the miserable movie began. I had not been sitting there long when I seemed to hear a voice say, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” and I thought, Where does that come from? Oh yes, I remember. That is in the Bible. I was so stirred that I got up and ran from the place.
If you want to be the kind of Christian who grows “in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), you must order your life according to His Word. You must heed 1 Corinthians 10:31 and the similar admonition in Colossians 3:17: “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” If you call yourself a Christian, the next time you think of going to some ungodly place of worldly amusement, get down on your knees first and say, “Blessed God, in the name of the Lord Jesus I am going to the theater [or whatever other place it may be] to see some of those Hollywood stars cavorting on the screen and I pray that the movie may be for my spiritual blessing and that I may be enabled to glorify God at the theater.” If you can pray that way without biting your tongue for being a hypocrite, you may go; but if you find that you cannot pray like that, you had better give the place a wide berth. If you do not sense the Lord’s approval of an activity, you should avoid it.
Before World War I, Pastor D. H. Dolman was giving some addresses in a palace in Russia. He had been invited to come from Germany by a Russian princess who was an earnest evangelical Christian. She had gathered together many of the old Russian nobility and it was to them Pastor Dolman was speaking. At one of his meetings he was talking of the Christian’s attitude toward the world. A grand duchess was there and she was a professed Christian. Being a strong-minded lady, she spoke up at the close of the meeting and said, “I do not at all agree with some things that Pastor Dolman has said today.”
He turned to her and said, “Your Imperial Highness, what have I said with which you disagree?”
“You said a Christian should not go to the theater, and I do not agree with you. I go to the theater, and I never go without first getting down on my knees and saying, ‘I am going to the theater today, and I want Thee to go with me and protect me from all evil,’ and He always does.”
“Your Imperial Highness, may I ask you a question? Where did you get the authority to decide what you were going to do and then ask the Lord to go with you? Why do you not wait until the Lord says to you, ‘Grand Duchess, I am going to the theater tonight and I want you to come with Me’? Then you could follow Him to the theater.”
She threw up her hands and said, “Pastor Dolman has spoiled the theater for me, for if I wait for the Lord to bid me go, that time will never come!”
That is true of a great many other worldly places. Give the Lord the opportunity to guide you and He will lead your steps in the right way. You may say, “Oh well, whose business is it how I behave?” That is something like the question Cain asked: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” If you profess to be a Christian, there are a great many eyes fixed on you. People are watching you to see what a Christian should be and they are judging your Master by your life. If your life is worldly, mean, and ungodly, they decide that your Master is not the blessed, glorious, holy Christ that your lips tell them He is.
Reminding us that there are three classes of people looking on, the apostle said, “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God.” Paul did not mean that we are not to offend anyone, for it is impossible to keep from offending somebody. For instance, if I preach the Lord Jesus Christ, I offend my unbelieving neighbor. If I try to live for God, I offend people who do not want to live for God. If I stand against the liquor traffic, I offend all those who are engaged in that abominable business and are interested in it from the standpoint of revenue. It is impossible for a Christian to live as he should without offending somebody.
The English word “offence” had an altogether different meaning in King James’ day. In more modern terms, Paul was saying, “Give no occasion to stumble.” We should not allow ourselves to do anything that would seem inconsistent to other people and thus cause them to stumble.
Christians should live consistently before the Jews, God’s covenant people. They are the people to whom He gave the revelation of His Word, which they preserved for us down through the centuries. They are the people to whom the Savior came; in fact He was one of them. Romans 9:5 speaks of the Israelites as those “of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came.” But the Jews fulfilled their own Scriptures when they condemned and rejected the Savior, and because they condemned and rejected Him, God has set them to one side. Christ went out to die, sadly saying to Israel, “Your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 23:38-39).
Because of their awful sin in rejecting their promised Messiah, the Jews are scattered everywhere among the Gentiles today. With yearning and longing for the salvation of the Jews, every honest Christian heart goes out in tender sympathy toward Israel. We realize that as a result of Israel’s having been set aside, great blessing has come to the Gentile nations to which we belong, but we desire that God’s ancient people may share this blessing with us.
A Jewish lady once said to me, “If Jesus is the Messiah, the One predicted by our prophets, why is it that it is you Gentiles who enjoy the blessings that Jesus brings while we are bereft of them?” I answered, “My dear friend, the Lord came and spread a table laden with all good things and said, ‘I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ And He invited the people of Israel to come and partake of those good things, but they turned away and did not come; they rejected the Savior and the blessings He brought. It was then that He threw open wide the door to the Gentiles and told them to come in and partake of the good things that Israel had refused, and that is why we have come in. But we still recognize Israel as God’s ancient covenant people and know from the Word of God that the day is coming when their eyes will be opened and ‘they shall look upon [him] whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.’ In the meantime ‘blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.’” (See Matthew 15:24; Zechariah 12:10; Romans 11:25.)
We as Christians are to live carefully before the Jews. We are to be considerate, remembering that judicial blindness has come upon them, and we are to commend our Christ to Israel by our godly lives. I am afraid that some Jews might well be excused for rejecting Christ Jesus because of the behavior of those who profess to belong to Christ. It is a shame it ever should be so.
Perhaps there never was a day when it was more important for real Christians to confirm their love toward Israel, for at the time I am writing there seems to be a rising tide of antisemitism sweeping all over the civilized world. Some writers give the impression that the Jew is responsible for all our national and political ills. But we know who is responsible. Professing Christian people have turned away from the living God, spurned His Word, rejected His Son, and dishonored His Holy Spirit, so God is teaching the Christian nations of the world that it is an evil and a bitter thing to forsake the Lord their God.
But Israel is blinded and many of them have turned away from the God of their fathers, and instead of being a blessing to the world, they are a curse. However, the great majority of Jews today are simple, kind, earnest people. How dare we try to blame on them the ills of the nations? We as Christians should show that our hearts are compassionate toward them and that we desire to have them share with us the blessings which we have found through the One who came from them, Jesus of Nazareth, the rightful King of the Jews.
Christians should also live consistently before the Gentiles, the Christless nations all about us. Most of us are Gentiles by birth and at one time we were outside “the covenants of promise” and “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel” (Ephesians 2:12). Today the greater part of the Gentile world still remains in its ignorance, darkness, and sin although centuries have elapsed since the Lord Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). At the time I am writing, there are over a billion people in this world who are still without God and without hope. What a tremendous responsibility rests on us to proclaim the gospel to them! We do not need to go across the sea to find Gentiles, for we work with them day by day. How careful we should be not to cause them to stumble!
I have said to some Gentiles, “Are you a Christian?” When they have answered, “No,” I have asked, “Wouldn’t you like to be?” To that they have replied, “Well, I have sometimes thought so, but I have seen so many hypocrites among people professing to be Christians that I do not have much interest.”
That of course is a very foolish rationalization. It is like the response of a man who, when offered a ten-dollar bill, said, ‘Thank you, but I have seen so many counterfeit bills that I don’t like to touch it.” I do not excuse anyone for such foolish reasoning, for no one will talk that way on the day of judgment. When the Lord says, “Why didn’t you trust Me?” no one will dare to look up and say, “I would have, but I saw so many hypocrites among those professing to be Christians.” On the other hand, you and I are to behave so carefully that it will be impossible for people to get a wrong conception of Christianity because our lives are not what they should be.
Christians should also live consistently before the church of God. What is the church of God? There was a time when the church of God had no existence. After Peter made his confession, our Lord Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). There was no church of God existing on the earth during the period covered by the four Gospels, but the book of Acts records that after the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, a new company, the church, came into existence. Paul’s Epistles also refer to it. For instance the apostle, speaking of what he was in his unconverted days, said, “I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it” (Galatians 1:13). Speaking to the Ephesian elders, he said, “Feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Writing to Timothy long years afterward, Paul told him how he ought to behave “in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
What is the church of God? It is not the building in which we meet. When we speak of a church in that sense, we use the word colloquially. The church is the company of people who have been redeemed to God by the precious blood of His Son. In the beginning the great majority of these people were Jews and then God began to work in power among the Gentiles, and the two together constituted the church of God. Ephesians 3:6 speaks of the mystery “that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.” It was the Jew first and then the Gentile, and now all who believe form this wonderful company called the church of God.
Let me ever remember as I walk down the street that I am a member of the church of God. As I meet with fellow Christians, let me remember that I am a member of the church of God. In my home life and in my business life, let me ever be mindful of the fact that I am a member of the church of God. I cannot get out of the church, so I always have to behave as one who is in the church. Some people behave one way when they are in what they call a church building and another way when they are outside of it. Parents say to their children, “You must be good in church,” and let me say to every Christian that you and I must always be good, for we are always in church! We are members of the church of God and we are to behave ourselves accordingly.
The apostle said, “Give none offence,” and then added, as it were, “I am not asking you to do something that I do not ask myself to do.” That is what he meant when he said, “Even as I please all men in all things.” Of course he used the word “please” in the sense of seeking to profit all men. You cannot please people in the sense of doing what each of them wants you to do. If you did, you would not please God, but we are to behave ourselves properly toward others.
Why is it so important that I should behave myself properly as a Christian? “That they may be saved.” Others who are not saved are watching me, and if I am not careful, my behavior will perhaps turn them away from the Lord. They will say, “I have no use for God or Christianity or the Bible. I have been watching that man who professes to love God, to love Christ, and to honor the Bible, and I do not see anything in his life to commend either God or Christ or the Bible.” We Christians have a responsibility to behave ourselves so that people looking at us will see Christ.
Paul was seeking “the profit of many, that they may be saved.” Those words indicate that there are many people who are not saved. Scripture divides all mankind into two classes: the lost and the saved. Who are the lost? Second Corinthians 4:3-4 explains, “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” The lost are those who reject the gospel, who live on in their sins, who do not come to Christ. Who are the saved? They are those who put their trust in Jesus, who believe the gospel, who come to Christ.
I would ask each reader, Are you lost or are you saved? If you have not trusted Christ as Savior, you are not merely in danger of being lost; you “are lost” now. But if you are lost, you may be saved, and you may be saved now.