12012 51st Ave NE, Marysville, WA (Meeting at the Seventh Day Adventist Church) Worship services: Every Sunday at 10:00am / 6:00pm (1st, 3rd and 5th Sunday)

Competing Communions

*1 Corinthians 10:14-22
September 9, 2018
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins

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The sermon starts at 14:35 in the audio file.

Or, The Two Types of Participation Tables

Because there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist (see 1 Corinthians 8:6), the world works the way He wants it to. Paul reminded, agreed even, with the Corinthians about this creational reality at the beginning of chapter 8, and we are still dealing with the implications of this halfway through chapter 10.

Chapters 8-10 are about love and idolatry, about food and associations, about sacrifices and selfishness. We love one another by avoiding food associated with idol worship. This isn’t surprising; we become like who or what we worship. And this issue is important for how we love one another because all idols are selfish. As we’ll see in 10:14-22, behind every idol is a devil, and devils are defined by self-serving. This is why, when we cause a brother to stumble, we are acting more like demons than like Jesus. It’s a big deal.

But when we give up our rights for the benefit of others we are imitating Christ. Paul used himself as an illustration in chapter 9. He reminded them that he refrained from his rightful claim to receive material things from them as part of his ministry strategy. He was living out the gospel rather than getting his living by the gospel, as lawful as the latter would have been. His sacrifices were his way of running the race, a race which all Christians are called to run (and win) by giving rather than grabbing.

Then he reminded the Corinthians at the beginning of chapter 10 how almost an entire generation of Israelites lost their race. Though they had received clear and abundant and gracious blessings, they kept choosing to grasp for themselves. These are examples…written down for our instruction (verse 11). There is a particular, though not unique, temptation that comes upon blessed people to presume that they can’t fall. But in their pride they keep serving self. This is the way of devils, not the way of the cross.

Starting in 1 Corinthians 10:14 Paul admonishes the church to reckon with two competing communions. There are only two, and they can be seen at two altars, two tables. We can either fellowship at the table of grace, a table set with Christ’s sacrifice for our blessing and unity, or we can fellowship at the table of demons, a table of demands for self.

Exhortation to Flee Idolatry (verse 14)

Verse 14 starts a new paragraph especially with the address of my beloved. But it still is meant to follow the preceding paragraph, and especially verse 13; it is a Therefore.

There is a common temptation, and it is to worship whatever god will give us what we want, or even to worship the true God in self-selected ways or for self-indulgent ends. The Israelites gratified themselves in God’s name (10:8). The Israelites grumbled (10:9) not as Arminians, but as Calvinists; complaining is only as good as you complain against someone who has power and authority to change the situation but isn’t doing it.

Their temptation was idolatry (10:7). This is every man’s temptation, isn’t it? It’s why John Calvin wrote that the human heart is an idol factory. And what should our response be? What is the way of escape? Run away! As in 1 Corinthians 6:18 and “Flee sexual immorality,” so here, Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

Expectation of Sound Judgment (verse 15)

The Corinthians have not shown great wisdom, certainly not the greatness of wisdom that they claimed for themselves (hence 10:12). But verse 15 does not seem to be sarcastic or ironic, especially after calling them his “beloved” in the previous verse. As fleeing idolatry should be obvious, so the reasoning is reasonable.

I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. What follows in verses 16-22 includes at least seven rhetorical questions, some expected YES and some expected NO, but all the answers were expected. Through the teaching they previously received, and it seems based on the reality of how things work in the world, Paul urges them to put it all together.

Explanation of Participation Tables (verses 16-22)

As I already said, there are two communion tables, not just one, but any man may only appropriately commune at one. The options are “the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (verse 21). One is a table of blessing and the other a table of confusion and selfishness.

There are not many extended passages about the Lord’s Supper in the Bible, and even this passage is more about the principle of participation than the practice of the Supper itself. Yet there are some great encouragements for us who eat and drink at the Lord’s Table each Lord’s Day.

The Principle (verses 16-18)

Both elements are included, though in a different order than usual, probably because Paul has some extra to say about the bread.

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? This ties the sacrament of communion with the feast of the Passover. Interpreters disagree about whether this refers to the third cup or the fourth cup in the Passover meal, but for believers drinking the cup of wine is a koinonia with the blood of Christ. The one who drinks in faith has a share in all the blessings of deliverance purchased by the blood, and that “determines the identity and lifestyle of that in which Christians share,” “his life becomes our life” (Thiselton).

Likewise, the bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? We drink and eat fellowship. We have a participation in Christ’s sacrifice as we partake of His body by faith.

The koinonia creates solidarity; “one bread” brackets the verse, and we share whatever happens to that bread as a single entity. Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake one bread. The bread is Jesus’ body, not that it is only one loaf from the bakery. We are a small enough local body that it is probably just one batch, one lump, one baking from which our bread gets divided and shared. But since the bread that we all individually eat is Jesus, we are all–at TEC, at Christ-loving churches in Marysville and around the world and since Jesus’ was betrayed–partakers and participants in one body.

This is by grace.

The wonder of the Christian faith is that our participation in Christ (i.e., in his blood and body) is not based on a sacrifice that we make to please the god (as in the Greco-Roman and other pagan religions), but on Christ’s own sacrifice of his body and blood, that we might indeed participate in the life that only he can provide for us through that sacrifice. (Ciampa & Rosner)

The elements are consecrated, set apart; the cup is blessed. The elements are distributed, given out; the bread is broken. Through these we share a covenantal connection. It is not due to the molecules in the yeast or flour but the mystical uniting work of God.

When we share this meal and are one body, how then could we selfishly seek our own at the expense of another member in the body?

This principle of communion has been in effect for more than the two-thousand years since the last supper. It has been a worship reality for even longer. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the alter? Not all the offerings were eaten, but the peace offering was. The smoke ascended to heaven as the meat roasted over the fire, but rather than consume the flesh as in the burnt offering, the meat was taken off the altar and shared by the priests and those who worshipped. One wasn’t required to prepare or put the offering on the altar, to eat was to participate in the worship, and so to expect to share in the peace of the offering. If you didn’t eat, you didn’t associate with the offering.

The Danger (verses 19-22)

The Corinthians knew the principle, hence the rhetorical questions. But Paul needs to confirm why it is so important related to food and idols because he previously agreed there really are no “idols” (chapter 8). His summary takes us behind the altar.

What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? He previously denied that there really are other gods (8:4). No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. This is critical. So there aren’t actually gods and goddesses, but there are demons masquerading behind and taking the worship and sacrifices of men as if they were gods. While the stone and wood are worthless, the worship and communion with demons is real.

Paul quotes, or at least alludes to, Deuteronomy 32:17.

“But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked;
you grew fat, stout, and sleek;
then he forsook God who made him
and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
with abominations they provoked him to anger.
They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
to gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
whom your fathers had never dreaded.
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,
and you forgot the God who gave you birth.
(Deuteronomy 32:15–18)

See also Psalm 106:37, as Israel sacrificed their own kids to demons.

What we know about these so-called gods, from the Old Testament and from extra-biblical literature, is that they are ruthless and selfish. They are not consistent or gracious, except maybe they are consistent in seeking their own benefit. By nature those who sacrifice to demons, whether they realize it or not, are participating with the demons. In so doing they are sharing in a table of selfishness. No wonder Paul writes,I do not want you to be participating with demons.

Which gets back to the competing communions: 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. The “Lord’s table” is used in Malachi 1:7 as a reference to the altar, and “table” is used a few other places in the OT to reference a place for sacrifices.

The spiritual reality of communion prohibits dual participation. Just as a man can’t be joined to a prostitute and joined to Christ (1 Corinthians 6:15-16), so he can’t be joined to love and hate. Communion is exclusive. The two options of communion are participating in the pattern of serving the weak, like Christ, or the pattern of serving oneself, at the expense of others. We can’t casually commune at both, because we can’t identify with both principles at the same time.

Don’t we know better than to try? Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? The final two questions are obvious, and biblical based on Deuteronomy 32:21.

They have made me jealous with what is no god;
they have provoked me to anger with their idols.
(Deuteronomy 32:21)

The Lord is jealous, rightly so, for His own glory. He does not share with competitors.


The remaining part of chapter 10 finishes the section, so there are some more inspired conclusions to come. But we should be encouraged to realize that more than a remembrance happens at the table of the Lord. A real koinonia, a true union both on the vertical and horizontal planes takes place. Such fellowship around a table of mutual concern is glorious, and it also reminds us to draw lines and refuse fellowship with idols that would harm our fellow members. We are to be building up the body, and that happens as we share in the one who gave rather than grabbed at His liberty.


God called you into His presence and has set you apart for His purposes. He has communed with you, speaking in His Word, hearing your prayers and songs, and sharing a meal of deliverance and peace. He has identified You as His own, marked you out from the world, filled and strengthened you. The world is full of alternatives to Him, but you have sat at His Table. Live accordingly.


We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:19–21, ESV)