An Outline of 1 Corinthians (Part 20)

M. A. Rudge

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

"Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table and the table of demons."

(v. 21). Primarily, the "cup of the Lord" represents the truth of God’s portion in Christ and what He enjoys and appreciates in a unique sense but allows us to share in. Cp Psa. 16:5,6; 11:6c. To drink "the cup of the Lord" is to have fellowship with God in that which He delights. The "Lord’s table" is not a term which is used in connection with the weekly remembrance of the Lord in the breaking of bread. It is representative of all that Christ ministers to the heart of God, and His provision in Christ, which we partake of daily. The expression is used in this sense in the Old Testament, where the altar first met the claims of God and then furnished His table; Psa 23:5; 78:19; Ezekiel 41:22; 44:15,16; Malachi 1:7,12. Cp. 2 Sam. 9:7,10,11,13 - "did eat continually at the king’s table." The "cup of demons" and "the table of demons" is representative of all that the world provides and caters for, the whole range of cultural and social life.

The apostle makes a final application of the principles which have been established. It is impossible to have fellowship with God and daily enjoyment of His provision in Christ and fellowship with the world and what it provides for, the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. Fellowship in the assembly and fellowship with the world and what it caters for, are incompatible and inconsistent. This includes the inconsistency of breaking bread, as an outward expression of fellowship in a local assembly and then being associated with the world’s religious system at other times.

It is possible to be associated with assembly fellowship and to participate outwardly in the breaking of bread, and at the same time to be worldly, but it is impossible to do this and have fellowship with God. Paul says twice, ‘You "cannot" do it.’ God will not allow it. He is a jealous God. (v. 22). If there is a formal participation in the circle of fellowship, it is only a formality and not a reality. We cannot have fellowship with God and the local assembly and at the same time have fellowship with what is inconsistent with its principles. It is a moral impossibility. This is where the principles which Paul has laid down, become a live issue for today.

There is a very real sense in which we still live in an idolatrous world, even if it does not take the same form which it took in the Gentile world of Paul’s day. There are the icons of the religious, social and political, world-system. There is the idolatry of Rome and the Papacy and other world religions. There are the idols of the world of sport and the entertainment world, the idols of television, the cinema and the theatre, the idols of the fashion world and business world, where materialism is worshipped. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols."

(10:23-11:1) "All things are lawful for me but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me but all things edify not." There is a renewed emphasis on the need for consideration of others in the final paragraph of the section on Christian Liberty. The highest consideration of all, is "the glory of God" (v. 31) and the whole context is extended to "whatsoever ye do". This is only possible in the measure in which we follow the example of Christ, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." (11:1).

"All things are lawful...all things are lawful...’ (v. 23), must be understood in a relative sense rather than an absolute one. Cp 6:12. All things are not lawful in an absolute sense and Paul has already made it clear that fornication is not lawful. Idolatry and participation in idol feasts is not lawful. There are two questions which need to be considered. Is the use of my liberty "expedient," "profitable?" Does it "edify"? The answers to these questions must take into consideration the way in which the use of personal liberty affects the well-being of others (v. 24). The prohibition against acting purely in self-interest is absolute.

In verses 25-30, the apostle gives guidance for three situations, in which the principles of vv. 23, 24, are applicable. It is interesting that he prefaces his instruction with a statement which affirms the principle of liberty in a situation where no one else is involved (v. 25). Christian liberty is something to be enjoyed in a positive way, where there are no conscientious scruples and no conflict with Divine principles.

(i) If a believer purchased meat in the market-place ("shambles" AV) for personal consumption at home, his conscience was not to be troubled unnecessarily. Over-scrupulousness is as much to be avoided as insensitiveness. Verse 26 (Psa. 24:1), makes it clear that everything that God has created is for the good of His creature man and should be received with thanksgiving (Cp. 1 Tim. 4:3-5). There was nothing inherently wrong in meat purchased at the market, even though it may have been used at idols feasts. This is a different situation to attendance at an idol-feast.

(ii) If a believer received an invitation to a meal at the home of an unbeliever, and he was "disposed to go", he was to "eat, asking no question for conscience sake." The words, "and if ye be disposed to go" shows that care needs to be taken before the invitation is accepted and also that there is liberty to go, if it is necessary. It might provide an opportunity for witness but would not be entertained lightly, if something was questionable.

(iii) If another believer is also attending the meal, and points out that the meat has been "offered in sacrifice unto idols", and that he has a conscience about eating it, the guidance given here, is "eat not, for his sake that showed it and for conscience sake. . .conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other..." (vv. 28, 29a). It is now a question of consideration for "another man’s conscience." The words of Psa 24:1 (v. 28, AV) appear to be an interpolation and a repetition of verse 26. The repeat of the quotation would not provide a reason for not eating.

Paul concludes his guidance with two questions (vv. 29b,30). "For what advantage can there be in my liberty being condemned?" Cp Rom 14:16. In this situation, nothing was to be gained by insisting on liberty to eat, if it was judged to be wrong or condemned by the weak brother. A great deal of harm could be done to the weak brother and also in the matter of witness before the unsaved.

The second question, "For if I by grace [‘with thanksgiving’] be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?" shows the contradiction involved if a brother decided to go ahead and eat. There is an obvious disparity between giving thanks and partaking of meat and the occasion it gives for his action to be condemnatory. Although he can give thanks for the meal, it does not justify what he is doing, if full consideration is not given to its effect upon others.

In all matters of Christian liberty and especially where it is a matter that is relatively immaterial, the question should be asked, whether it will glorify God and secondly, it should be considered in the widest possible sense, to include "whatsoever ye do" and whether it would be a stumbling block, either to unbelievers or the church of God. Christ is the only perfect example of not pleasing oneself, in order to serve the highest interest of others. We are only expected to follow the example of others in the measure in which they also follow Christ (11:1).