Last Sunday evening I emphasized a single fact, and I asked you to remember that one fact. I asked you to remember this fact: in both the Old Testament and New Testament world, people often worshipped by eating a meal. The faithful in Israel commonly worshipped by eating a meal. I called to your attention Israel's Passover meal. I called to your attention Elkanah's worship meal in 1 Samuel 1:1-5. I called to your attention the evil acts of the priest's sons at worship meals in 1 Samuel 2:12-17.

Just as many of Israel's animal sacrifices involved a worship meal, so did the animal sacrifices of those who worshipped idols.

A major crisis existed among many first century Christians because of the worship meal. Virtually all who were Christians worshipped before conversion by eating a meal. That was a common practice in many animal sacrifices for both Jews and those who worshipped idols. Virtually everyone converted to Christ was either a Jew or a person who worshipped an idol. Virtually everyone converted to Christ had worshipped by eating a meal.

Christians in Corinth lived in an idolatrous city. Many of those Christians worshipped idols prior to conversion. Becoming a Christian did not eliminate the influences of pagan practices in a convert's every day life. City politics and idol worship were so intertwined it was impossible to separate them. Religion and state were very much joined together. Government simply did not function without the direct involvement of the gods. It was impossible to separate business and idol worship. Every business guild had a patron god or goddess. To assure that business went well, guild members honored that god or goddess. Guilds had much in common with today's labor unions in some places. If you were not a member of the guild, you could not do business.

For first century Christians, the world of the Roman empire was in extreme contrast to the world of the American Christian. We can live in isolation. They could not. We can restrict our meaningful involvement and activities to association with other Christians. They could not. Their lives were affected by idolatrous practices every single day they lived.

  1. How should Christians live when they are surrounded by idolatrous influences?
    1. That was a huge question they had to answer--it simply could not be ignored.
      1. Different Christians had different answers for that question.
        1. Some had the attitude, "That is reality. Christ freed us, so we are free to live the way we choose doing as we wish."
        2. Some had the attitude, "There are some things Christians can do and some things Christians cannot do." Just as today, their opinions and past experiences often determined what could and could not be done.
        3. Some had the attitude, "You cannot do anything that has the appearance of honoring a false god."
      2. Just like today, Christians had some serious arguments among themselves about what could and could not be done.
        1. Those arguments affected their fellowship.
        2. Those arguments affected their respect for each other.
    2. Few questions brought disagreements into conflict as quickly as did worship meals.
      1. Because all of them ate worship meals prior to becoming Christians, that practice raised enormous questions.
        1. When does a meal become an act of worship?
        2. If you eat meat that you know has been sacrificed to an idol, does eating the meat automatically make the meal a worship meal?
        3. If you do not know that the meat you eat was sacrificed to an idol, is it still a worship meal in spite of your ignorance?
        4. Should Christians be vegetarians just to be safe?
      2. There seemed to be two central issues:
        1. What makes a meal a worship meal?
        2. Does eating meat from an animal sacrificed to an idol honor that idol?
      3. To understand the difficulty of these questions, you must remember some facts.
        1. Fact one: everyone had the past experience of worshipping by eating sacrificial meat; from past experience, they understood such worship.
        2. Fact two: this was a common understanding from past experience: the act of eating the meat from a sacrifice honored the god (God) to whom the sacrifice was offered.

  2. Allow me to call your attention to two paragraphs found in a letter Paul wrote to Christians at Corinth. The two paragraphs are joined. The first paragraph is 1 Corinthians 10:14-22.
    1. "You must understand that idolatry is spiritually destructive."
      1. "A Christian must run from idolatry."
        1. "Idolatry represents everything you seek to escape by being a Christian."
        2. "Idolatry involves a false god and an ungodly lifestyle."
      2. "You are wise enough to comprehend this, so listen to understand."
        1. "When a Jew eats part of his sacrifice, it is worship offered to honor God."
        2. "When an idol worshipper eats part of his sacrifice, it is worship to honor a god."
    2. "Does that mean an idol is a real god? No!"
      1. "Sacrifices made to idols are sacrifices made to demons."
      2. "A Christian cannot worship God and worship a demon."
      3. "To knowingly attempt to do so insults God."
      4. "You cannot take communion with Christians and make sacrifices to idols with people who are not Christians."
    3. Some Christians did not agree with Paul's instructions, and Paul knew it.
      1. In the city of Corinth people were free to live as they pleased.
      2. Additionally, Christians argued Christ did two things.
        1. He freed the Christian.
        2. His sanctification eliminated do's and don'ts.
      3. Paul said freedom and sanctification were not the only legitimate concerns when considering a meat that came from a sacrifice to an idol.
        1. "Christ did set the Christian free."
        2. "Christ did sanctify every food."
        3. "God is the source of all food."
        4. "But you must not forget that you are servants; when you do things that are spiritually destructive to other people, you are not serving God."

  3. I call to your attention the second paragraph: 1 Corinthians 10:23-33.
    1. "When you buy meat from the meat market, buy the meat but do not ask questions."
      1. The common supplier of meat for the meat market in most cities (outside of Palestine) were the temples dedicated to idols.
        1. Some Christians asked at the meat market, "Where did you get this meat?"
        2. They were shopping for meat for a meal.
        3. They were not preparing for a worship meal.
      2. Problem number one: meat sold at the city's meat market.
        1. "Eat anything that is sold in the meat market."
        2. "God is the creator."
        3. "It all came from God."
        4. "Eat the meat and give God the honor."
      3. Problem number two: a person who is not in Christ invites you to a meal.
        1. First, when he obtains meat for his meal he will not ask where the meat came from--to him, it never matters.
        2. Whatever he serves, eat it.
        3. Do not ask questions; do not insult his hospitality.
      4. Problem number three: the host volunteers to you that the meat he is serving comes from a sacrifice offered to an idol.
        1. I do not understand this to be a confrontational statement but a sensitivity statement.
          1. The host knows the Christian holds different beliefs.
          2. The host does not want the Christian to unknowing eat something he would otherwise not eat.
          3. I regard the host's information to be shared in kindness.
        2. Do not eat the meal.
          1. For his sake, do not eat the meal.
          2. For his conscience sake, do not eat the meal.
        3. Why? Why should a man's conscience (who is not a Christian) determine what I eat?
          1. If I know God is the creator, why not eat?
          2. If I give thanks to God for the meat which He created, why not eat?
        4. Because if you eat, in that man's conscience God will not be glorified.
          1. Christians do nothing that does not give God glory.
          2. Christians are God's servants.
          3. Others honor God because of their actions and attitudes.
        5. If you eat, the host will lose respect for your God and you will lose influence for your God.
          1. "I will do nothing among Christians or among those who do not believe in Christ to make them think less of God."
          2. "My objective never changes: cause more people to accept the salvation God presents in Christ."

With far too many Christians, there are two huge spiritual questions. Question one: by what authority? Question two: is it right? This is the thinking: "If I can show that I have God's authority for what I do, and if I can show that what I do is right, it is okay. What people think who are not Christians is irrelevant. What people who are Christians think is irrelevant. I can prove it is authorized and right, so its okay."

Paul said those two questions are not the only relevant spiritual concerns. This same Paul answered both of those questions. He said that the meat came from the God who created it (1 Corinthians 10:26), so there is authority. He told the preacher Timothy (1 Timothy 4:3,4) to teach people they cannot eat meat is teaching the doctrines of demons. Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received by gratitude. That satisfies the "right" question.

But Paul told the Christians at Corinth more is involved. "We are God's servants. There are two things I will never do as Christian. One, I will never knowingly be spiritually destructive to another Christian. Two, I will never knowingly cause a person who is not a Christian to think less of my God."

As a Christian, are you a servant? Do you live with those objectives in mind?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 14 October 2001
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