An Outline of 1 Corinthians (Part 19)

M. A. Rudge

Christian Liberty: Its use and abuse (6:12-11:1)

There is a noticeable connection with the exhortation, "Wherefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry" (10:14) and the earlier exhortation, "Flee fornication" (6:18). This not only shows that there is a close link between idolatry and fornication but also shows the link between the subject of Christian Liberty (6:12-18), and the one which now closes it (10:14-11:1). The immediate connection in verse 14, draws a clear line between association with idol temples, the eating of meats offered to idols, and fellowship with God and the local assembly, where it is expressed in a special way in the breaking of bread (vv. 16,17). This is the principle which makes Paul’s teaching a live issue for today.

The apostle is dealing with the truth of fellowship (vv 16-18,20,21). A false application of Christian Liberty, would argue that the enlightened Christian has freedom to associate with things which are in reality, inconsistent with fellowship in the assembly, that there is no harm in it, that it is merely a physical thing with no moral implication in the spiritual realm (Cp. 6:12-20). The teaching was appealing and calculated to gain a following among those who did not wish to be restrained by the truth of separation or restricted in social activities. There were obvious dangers in this attitude which called for instruction and warning and which give the words of verse 14 real significance. The exhortation forms a connection with the proceeding passage (10:1-13). "Wherefore, my beloved..." (i.e. precisely on this account, because you can reckon on God’s help in the temptations which He appoints you Himself but not in others), "flee (far) from idolatry." Godet.

"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?..." (vv 16,17). The normal order of the loaf and the cup is reversed in verse 16 (See also v. 21). The cup is placed first, because the blood symbolises the death of Christ and is basic to the idea of fellowship, where it meets the claims of God and fellowship is enjoyed on that basis (Un 1:7). The cup was also prominent in the idol festivals, where cups were poured out in honour to the gods, with which Paul is drawing a contrast. In chapter 11:23-29, the loaf is placed first, because it is the order of the breaking of bread. The "one" loaf (v 17), is basic to the idea of unity in assembly fellowship, which is developed in this verse.

The truth of the Peace Offering is in view with prominence given to the blood as the basis of fellowship. The sacrifices provided a portion for God, the officiating priest and the offerer. Initially, the Peace Offering envisages fellowship with God in the widest possible sense (Lev. 3), but stringent conditions were laid down in the law of the offering for those who ate the flesh of the sacrifice (Lev 7:11-27). In order to encourage the widest possible partici pation, allowance was made for the offering to he "a male or female" (Lev 3:1,6), but no allowances were made for failure to observe the specific conditions laid down in the law of the offering. The conditions of fellowship illustrated in the Peace Offering are important in the context, in their application to assembly fellowship.

"The cup of blessing which we bless. . .the bread which we break..." (v. 16). The apostle uses the words "bless" and "break," which corresponds with the two acts of the Lord Jesus, "as they were eating" the Passover meal. His taking the loaf and what followed, were significantly distinctive acts, which distinguished the loaf and the cup from the Passover feast (Matt 26:26). It is what the Lord did on that memorable night, that He commanded to be done "in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:20-24). The imperative present, "This do," (do and continue to do), gives the force of command and continuance, which must surely be taken seriously by every child of God. Praise and thanksgiving for the loaf, the breaking of the bread and "in like manner the cup," before they are distributed, are commemorative and collective acts. Those who take part in this, act in accordance with the Lord’s command and on behalf of the company. The idea that the act of breaking the bread is individual and not collective cannot be sustained with the words, "the cup which we bless" (10:16), where it would have required "which we drink." Taking, eating and drinking (Matt. 26:26,27; Mk. 14:22,23; 1 Cor. 11:26-29), are individual acts.

The "communion of the body of Christ" (v. 16), is obviously a reference to the loaf being representative of the Lord’s body and His self-offering, in the same way that the cup symbolises His blood. Both are basic to the idea of fellowship with God and with one another (1 Jn. 1:7). But in verse 17, the loaf represents the unity of fellowship expressed by those who take part in the breaking of bread, "For we being many are one bread (loaf) and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread." Verse 17 is a reference to the local assembly, as "body of Christ" (12:27, RV).

"Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?" (vv. 18-22). Paul has spoken of communion with God, on the basis of the sacrificial work of Christ and the unity of fellowship expressed in the collective act of breaking bread. He now commences his application of the practical implications of assembly fellowship (vv. 16,17), by referring to the corresponding truth of Israel after the flesh, where those who ate of the sacrifices, were "partakers of the altar," (in communion with the altar) and all that it represented of their relationship with God and distinctive national unity (Cp 1 Kings 12:25-13:5). He then takes the principle a stage further and applies it to those who ate of the sacrifices in idol-temples, where they were offered to demons and "not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with demons." (v. 20). The application is clear. Association with the idol-temples, was incompatible and inconsistent with fellowship with God and in the assembly.

- to be continued