We’re still in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and when we began studying this last week I asked you to lay aside for a moment, the first presenting issue that we see when we read this passage – namely the head coverings and discussion of male female relations. Instead, we looked at the roots of the passage, the foundation on which the teaching is built. And, if you recall, there were 5: Apostolic Authority, The Trinity, Creation, Biology, and Common Church Practice.
And then I asked you to do some heart work this week in asking yourself if you are willing to submit yourself to God’s authority or not. Essentially, if you are a Christian today and have accepted Jesus as your Saviour, are you also willing to accept Him as Lord, even if His commands go against your feelings or upbringing? Are you willing to humble yourself before your Creator, your Saviour, your Lord and your God?
It’s still amazing to me that Jesus leaves this open as an option to humanity. We read part of Philippians 2 last week and I think it would be good to read part of it again because it really drives home our need for humility, the example of Christ’s humility, but also His absolute Lordship over all creation.
It says in Philippians 2:3-11, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
That’s all about humility, right? Humble before others, humble and obedient to God, following the perfect example of Jesus. But even though Jesus laid aside His divine majesty and took on the form of a servant, even to the point of dying in our place on a sinners cross, the passage doesn’t leave Him there, but continues from His humiliation to his glorification:
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
It should amaze us that Jesus gives us the option to disobey Him. It’s amazing to me. He is Almighty God, Creator, Lord of all, worthy of all worship and praise – and one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Christians are merely the ones who get to do it first, of our own volition, by our own choice – but one day, everyone who has ever lived, every creature, every country, every leader, will bow before Jesus as Lord – His glory and His power will make them bow, will make them confess.
Part of the Christian life is acknowledging that fact today. It’s in the prayer Jesus taught us: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed (or worshipped or held high) be your name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Christians claim God as our highest authority in all areas of our life, our King, And we acknowledge this every time we pray the Lord’s prayer! And then we ask Him to submit all the world, including us, to His divine will, causing everyone to worship and obey Him, just as they do in heaven. Because we believe His Kingship, His leadership, His way, His Will is the best plan for joy, peace, happiness, and justice that that humanity could ever hope for.
This was the main topic last week: Will you, in all areas of your life, submit yourself to the will of God? The answer to that question will dramatically affect how you respond to the Bible. So let’s read 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and see what it says:
“Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.”
As with all passages, it’s important to start with the context. Last week I said over and over that this passage isn’t rooted in culture. Whatever God is telling us through the Apostle Paul goes beyond hair and clothing styles or historical understandings of gender roles. It’s deeper than that.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t take the cultural context into consideration. In the city of Corinth, in Greek culture, and like many Middle Eastern countries today, most men and women wore something on their head like a veil, turban or headscarf to protect against the sun. But like today, they were more than a practical fashion accessory. What they were made of and how they were decorated would tell you a lot about how wealthy or important someone was.
And, like today the women’s version was way more complicated than the men’s. The fabric was of different quality and the veil could be was pinned to a stiff hat and set with jewels and ornaments. If the woman was married, the headdress got very complicated with even more decorations, even putting important coins in the front to signify her dowry. And of course, as the head covering and veil got more complicated, so did the style of the hair. Competitive fashion is nothing new and this status symbol competition had gotten so out of control that the Apostle Peter actually took time in his letter to warn Christian women about this (1 Peter 3:3-4).
Like today, it was common practice for a man to take off their head covering during a worship time to signify their respect for and submission to their deity, like we do when we take off our hats for prayer or to sing the national anthem. It’s a sign of respect. For a man to choose to cover his head during worship showed there was something wrong with his attitude. It was the opposite for women. At that time in Greece, only immoral women would be seen with their heads uncovered. 
We understand this concept today because we have the same fashion issues, right? Certain styles of clothes signify certain events. A man’s hair, beard, and clothing signify something about them. Some guys are very concerned about this, some are less concerned, but none of us get dressed by accident. Our clothing choices reflect something about us.
And I think that whatever pressures men feel must be a hundred-fold for women. Every day, no matter what country they are in or what job they do, women are judged more by how they look than almost anything else. Judged by everyone – men and women are all very hard on women for their clothing choices. And whether we like it or not, those choices reflect something about us to the people around us. A high skirt and crop top sends a different message than a t-shirt and jeans. A sweatshirt and pair of leggings gets a different societal reaction than a cocktail dress. When a woman leaves the house, whether they like it or not, even though it’s not fair, they are forced by society and their own inward drive to consider every part of their appearance – hair length and style, jewels, pants or skirt, length, tightness or looseness, how deep the V neck goes – even their perfume is going to be judged.
All of this is not new and has been happening forever.
Now, what was happening in the Christian church in Corinth was that, because of their newfound freedom in Christ, some people were breaking from societal norms – especially the women. The Christian church was different than all the other religions around them. Christians taught that women and men are equal in dignity and worth, both worthy of the same respect and honour. Both men and women have the same level of access to God through Jesus Christ, and the same Holy Spirit within them. No longer were women considered inferior, unfit for teaching or learning – as they were in the rest of society – now they were invited to sit alongside their fathers and husbands and listen to the same teacher, ask questions, and even, after some time of maturing and study, to teach! There were even times when God would show up in a special way and give a message, a prophecy, through one of the women in the church.
This was amazing to everyone! The women in Corinth were obeying God and were praying publically and prophesying in church, speaking out words from scripture and explaining passages to people, right in front of everybody, and it was an awesome thing to witness. This was all approved of by the Apostles and the scriptures, Old and New Testament, give examples of women prophets and teachers all over the place (Exo 15:20-21; Luke 2:36; Acts 2:17-18, 21:9) This level of freedom and respect was unlike anything they had ever experienced – and being human, they took it too far.
When they spoke during the worship times they were, apparently uncovering their head, like the men did. This was a problem. In their freedom, they were “flaunting social convention and sending ambiguous signals” to everyone around them. Remember, their head covering was more than just a hat to keep the sun out, but was like a billboard with all sorts of information. To take it off in church, during a worship time, was to send a signal about your sexual freedom, your marital status, your religious commitment, your respect for your husband and family.
Without question, the head covering was a cultural convention, neither commanded nor prohibited by God, but it still had very important meaning. And remember, one of the most important messages that keep coming up in 1st Corinthians is that the church needs to take other people into consideration when we do things – we just covered this over and over in our study of the last few chapters, right?
To disregard the social conventions and expectations of their culture wasn’t a small thing. They were experiencing an intoxicating level of freedom in Christ. To learn they are as loved by God and as useful to God as any man was an awesome thing. So, some of them figured, “Why do I have to wear this head covering, then? Jesus doesn’t command me to, and He’s my Lord. I don’t have to listen to anyone else, so forget this thing, I’m going to be like the men and uncover my head during worship.” And herein lay the problem. For them to do that showed there was something bigger going on in their hearts.
Their fashion choice wasn’t just about the fashion, it was about the heart. Casting aside their head covering was doing a lot of damage. It disrespected their fathers, husbands, and family, flaunted their sexuality, and hurt their testimony before all of the new believers and the watching world who would be utterly shocked and unable to understand what was going on. It also blurred the biblical distinctions between males and females, something very important to God in scripture, and something we will cover next week.
So, when we read this section, we aren’t really reading about head coverings, are we? This section, on the first pass, ends up reading like an oppressive command that tells women they always need to wear hats and veils. And some people get that far and stop. Certainly, some religions demand this, but there are also Christian churches that still require all women to wear a head covering during church. Someone told me this week that some women took this so literally that they would even wear hats to bed because they would often pray before they went to sleep. But that’s not what this is about. This isn’t about head coverings, it’s about what’s happening in the heart of the women and the church.
The Heart of the Issue
With all that in mind, the historical and literary context of the passage, let’s go through it together and take it apart so we can better understand it. Verse 2-3, “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”
One of the questions that was sent to Paul was evidently about this head covering issue that was dividing the church. We talked a little about the root of this passage last week, in that it is rooted in Apostolic Authority, as important as the teachings about the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, but look at where it goes. Paul says, “You do well to ask me, and thereby ask Jesus, about what He thinks of everything you do, but you need to understand something important when it comes to head coverings: it’s not just about the fabric covering a woman’s head but what it represents is going on in the woman’s heart.”
So Paul uses the question about heads to talk about real and true headship as it’s presented in the Bible. “You think this is about a fashion accessory and cultural conformity, but it’s about so much more.” “The head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” “So, women”, Paul seems to be saying, “When you cast aside your head covering, are you still obeying Christ as your head, your Lord, and still respecting your husband? Probably not, right? You’re making it all about you, your freedom, your choices, your desires – and completely forgetting about Jesus, your husband, (or father if you’re unmarried), and all the believers around you. When you come to church dressed the way you are, what message are you sending about yourself, your marriage, your faith, and your submission to God’s order? Instead of bringing glory to God and to your husbands, you bring them shame and that isn’t good.”
Imagine the picture there, right? A man brings his wife to church. They attend for some months, grow in God, learn some scripture, tastes freedom in Christ. She learns that her sins are forgiven and she is free from all the horrible things the culture around her has been telling her about women. It’s a big adjustment, but they learn to live as equals, share with each other, learn from each other, serve together. Eventually, they become deacons in the church. He administrates and she has a talent for singing and reading scripture.
But then one day she comes to church – and I’m grasping for a modern equivalent here so bear with me – and she’s wearing a short, strapless party dress, heels, and a huge, gaudy necklace. She proceeds down the aisle and as she nears the front, she takes off her engagement ring and tosses it into the offering plate, declaring that since men don’t have to wear them, neither does she anymore. She heads up to the platform, grabs the mic and says,
“Before we do our opening song and read scripture, I just want to let you know about the freedom I’ve found in Jesus. For years society, even my husband, has told me how to dress, and I realized that I don’t have to anymore. God gave me this body and I can decorate it however I want. And I encourage you to join me, ladies. Take off those oppressive diamonds, change those drab, uncomfortable clothes and let’s worship God the way we all want to! Why should the world have all the fun! Let’s bring the same energy as we would on a Friday night with our friends! This is a place without judgement, without fear, where men and women are free to do whatever they want because Jesus has freed them from the Law and from culture! So either sit or stand or whatever you want and let’s sing and really dance together!”
That’s as best as I can do to give a modern equivalent to what was happening in the Corinthian church – except to remind you that in their culture worship and sex were completely tied together and most of the church would have had a very messed up, sexualized history. Basically, it was like a church full of former sex and porn addicts.
Everyone in the church, including the husband, is shifting uncomfortably in their seats. Why? What would you think in that situation? What would go through your head as she walked the aisle and spoke? She’s technically not altogether wrong with what she’s saying. Men and women are equal before God. Society does oppress and judge women, and the Christian church isn’t supposed to. Engagement rings are not in the Bible. God did give her that body and there’s a lot of freedom in how Christians can dress.” So is she wrong? What’s going on there?
The reason we have a reaction to that situation is because it’s not about the dress or the shoes or the jewelry. It’s about the effect on the people at the church. It’s about disrespecting and embarrassing her husband. It’s about the example being set for other believers and the message that is sent to any non-Christians. Are you going to that woman for marriage advice? If you walked into a church and saw everyone dressed the way they would dress in a night-club or at a rave, what would you think? That’s a lot of what’s going on here.
Our scripture addresses it this way. Look at verse 4-7:
“Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.”
It says to the men and the women: you can’t dress and comport yourself, or conduct your life in an irreverent, rude, disrespectful way, while at the same time saying your marriage, family, and spiritual life is ok. What is happening on the outside shows what’s going on on the inside. If you are disrespecting yourself and your spouse in public, dressing with a great, prideful concern for your looks or for how seductive you are – your relationship with God and your spouse is probably quite a mess.
It says, in effect, “Showing up with your head uncovered should have the same effect on you as if you were to show up bald. The shame you would feel if all your hair fell out is the same shame you should feel if you are disrespecting yourself, your spouse, or your church.”
In any culture, your hair and your clothes mean something. It shows how much you respect yourself, your culture, your spouse, your family, and your church. To break cultural convention because it’s sinful or wrong or because it goes against your conscience is perfectly fine. But to do it simply because you want some shameless attention or declare yourself better than everyone else, is sin. You are stealing God’s glory and disrespecting those around you. Recall what we said in Philippians 2.
Your Look Says a Lot
I want to get into the male headship aspect of verses 8-16, but hopefully you see how this ties to last week and many of our other studies. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
Christian, it’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus. And Jesus commands us and gives us the example of humbling ourselves before God and each other. So, in your clothing styles, in your hair styles, are you being humble?
And this doesn’t just have to be expensive or seductive clothes, or strange and complicated hair styles. This attitude can be conveyed with any type of clothing. There are people who dress like slobs and never shave because they want to declare to everyone how little they care about themselves or what anyone else thinks. There are people who only wear certain brands or have a certain beard because they convey a certain message – that they’re tough, cool, smart, trendy, sexually liberated, or counter-culture. There are women who put on skin-tight clothes in the morning and think, “I don’t care what anyone else says, this is comfortable.” and head out not giving and regard to how it affects those around them. Or men who put on the same shirt every day, the one that their wife begs them to change and is so embarrassed by, even wearing it when company is over, and keep doing it because they like it. They don’t care what anyone else thinks.
Clothing can say a lot about the heart: There are men who wear suits to church simply so they can judge those who don’t. There are women who wear conservative clothes because they have a real fear of the men around them. There are men who hate women simply because of their clothes, and women who look at their closets and hate themselves. There are beautiful people that try to cover their beauty because they have been told it’s shameful. And others who have been treated like commodities and objects for so long that they feel their only worth is in how they look. It’s a mess.
So, this isn’t a prescription for how to dress. I’m not telling you how to dress at all, nor should I. I’m not saying wear dresses or don’t, have a beard or don’t, wear tights or don’t, wax your mustache or don’t. That’s between you, your spouse, your parents, your culture, and God. But, when you get dressed, when you choose a hair style, when you buy that piece of clothing, will you submit that choice to God’s leadership? Will you see that decision through God’s lens, asking yourself, “What does this say about me? How does this reflect on my spouse and family? How does this affect my testimony? How will this affect others today? What does this say about my faith in God? Is God honoured by this choice? Does this bring glory to Him? Will this help my witness and encourage people?”
Let me close with the words of 1 Corinthians 10:31-33, only a few verses before our passage today: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”
 Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Head Covering. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 936). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
 NIV Archeological Study Bible, Pg 1875
 NIV Archeological Study Bible, Pg 1875
Part two of our Word Study episode. Steve’s away so Chad and Al get their nerd on with some talk about some free tools for doing Bible Word Studies.
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We don’t know many names of people who were pastors of churches in the time of the Apostles. But we do know who the pastor of the church in Smyrna was. He was a man named Polycarp. Pastor Polycarp. He was born in about 70 AD, in the days of the Apostles, and studied under the apostle John, probably in Ephesus. When Jesus addresses this letter to the “angel of the church in Smyrna”, he is most likely addressing it to Pastor Polycarp.
In the year 155 AD, when pastor Polycarp was 86 years old, he went to visit Rome and when he came back to his church in Smyrna, he had the misfortune of returning during the time of a great festival that was attended by the proconsul. Part of the festival was to be a series of great sporting events in the arena – including the spectacle of watching Christians being torn apart by lions for the entertainment of the crowd.
Eleven Christians had already been put to death in the arena, but bloodlust of the crowd was so high that they longed for a fresh kill. The cry was raised out, “Let us search for Polycarp!” As pastor of the church, he was well known to the community and they wanted to see what would happen if he were to face the lions.
Polycarp, at first, was persuaded by his friends to hide from the pursuing soldiers at a local farm-house, but in their search the soldiers tortured two of the farm boys until they gave up Polycarp’s location. Escape was still possible, but after seeing the suffering his pursuit was causing, the old man refused to run away. He walked out to the soldiers and asked them to wait while he had a short time of prayer. They allowed it, and Pastor Polycarp actually ordered food for the men while they waited.
When he was brought to the arena, surrounded by thousands of spectators, the Proconsul actually tried to spare Polycarp’s life. He made it as simple as possible and said to the old pastor, “All you must say is, ‘Caesar is lord’ and ‘Away with the atheists’. And you will be spared. (Ironically, one of the accusations against Christians was that they were atheists because they wouldn’t worship the emperor or in the temples of Rome.) The charge brought against pastor Polycarp was treason.
Polycarp smiled and said, “Well, if that’s all you want me to say, I can say that.” He looked at the stands where the throngs of citizens and representatives of the Romans state and pagan religions were seated, raised his hands towards them and said yelled, “Away with the athiests!”
This isn’t what the Proconsul had in mind, but he tried again to get Polycarp to deny Jesus Christ to save his life. He said, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar. Take the oath and I will release you. Curse Chris and live!”
Polycarp replied, “Eighty and six years I have served the Lord Jesus Christ, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who has saved me?”
Hearing this, that Jesus was Lord and King and not Caesar, the onlookers in the arena demanded that the lions be loosed on him then and there. There was nothing more treasonous!
“Swear by the fortune of Caesar”, the Procunsul insisted.
Polycarp stood firm. “If you vainly imagine that I will swear by Caesar, and pretend that you do not know who I am, listen plainly: I am a Christian.”, came the reply.
“I have wild beasts”, the proconsul warned. “If you do not repent, I will have you thrown to them!”
“Let them come, for my purpose is unchangeable”, Polycarp said.
“If the wild beasts do not scare you, then I will order you to be burned alive!”, the Proconsul shouted.
“You threaten me with a fire which will burn for an hour and then go out, but you are unaware of the fire of the judgment to come, and the fire of eternal punishment which is kept for the ungodly. Why do you delay? Bring on the beasts, or the fire, or whatever you choose; you shall not move me to deny Christ, my Lord and Saviour.”
When the Proconsul saw that Polycarp would not recant, he sent the herald to proclaim three times in the middle of the stadium, “Polycarp has professed himself a Christian.”
As soon as they heard these words, the whole multitude of Romans and Jews furiously demanded that he be burned alive. Though it was Saturday, even the Jews ran out of the arena to gather timber and scraps of wood, breaking their laws of the Sabbath, so they could watch the Christian burn alive.
Polycarp was bound and placed on top of the pyre. “This is the teacher of Asia,” the it was announced. “This is the father of the Christians, this is the destroyer of our gods, this is the man who has taught so many no longer to sacrifice, and no longer to pray to the gods.”
The old pastor looked up to heaven and prayed, “O Father, I thank you that You have called me to this day and this hour and have counted me worthy to receive my place among the number of the holy martyrs. Amen.”
As soon as he had said the word “Amen” the officers lit the fire. The fire burned around him, rising high above his body, but burned away from him. Then someone called for a soldier to finish him off quickly with a dagger, and Polycarp was stabbed to death and left to burn.
Polycarp was charged with treason and his punishment was a terrible one. Why wouldn’t he just relent? Why not just tell them what they wanted to hear and then ask God’s forgiveness later? Why not simply sidestep the persecution and then go on with his life? Because there was a greater treason, far greater than treason against Rome or Caesar.
Let’s open up to 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 and read together: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 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. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”
In this section, the Apostle Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is making a very clear point: idolatry is a big deal. We talked a little about this last week, but I want you to remember the context. Throughout all of chapters 8-10 Paul has been answering the question: What about food offered to idols? The situation in the church was that some people were still buying and eating the foods that were being offered as sacrifice to the pagan gods of Rome. If you recall, the temples were like a mix of churches, grocery stores, restaurants, and meeting halls, and it was common practice to buy and eat the food that was leftover from the rituals.
The Christians were torn on this issue. Part of the church thought this was no big deal. Paul said as much throughout and again here when he says, “That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No…”. That was one side of the argument, that it was no big deal because it’s just meat, just drink, just food, and as long as you know that who cares.
The other part of the church thought it was a HUGE deal. They didn’t want to go anywhere near the pagan temples and sacrifices! Every time they did their conscience started freaking out. And this created a rift in the church because both of them had a really good point.
It really was just meat and any Christian could eat it with no problems. But it is also unwise to go against your conscience or put yourself in a place where you will be tempted to sin. It’s similar to the conversations that Christians still have about going to the movies, or to a bar, or reading certain books, or playing certain video games. Half the church says it’s totally fine and the other half is waving the big, red warning flag. Which is right?
We’ve talked for a long time about that, so I’m not going to retread it here. It’s also continuing from last week where Paul is giving warnings about how serious this is. He says, flat out, that the meat is just meat, the idols are just statues, and the pagan gods aren’t real gods, but demons – but then wants to impress the church with just how serious the situation is.
Remember last week we talked about how someone in the church can think they are a Christian because they hang around other Christians, but not actually be saved? Paul drives that point telling them to really, really check their heart about this. Are they going to the pagan temple as a mature Christian, with a good conscience, or are they just people who take communion on Sundays and then do whatever they want during the week, assuming that they are going to be saved by their religious Christian actions. There’s a big, big difference between participating in the Christian religion and actually being a follower of Jesus, so he gives the warning via the example of the Israelites who left Egypt under Moses. They all thought they were saved, but in truth their hearts were far from God. They weren’t followers of God, but sexually immoral idolaters and grumblers who didn’t trust God at all. And they were banned from the Promised Land because of it. We talked about that last week.
And so here, God, through Paul, wants to make abundantly clear that going to the pagan temples and participating in their events has huge, spiritual consequences. It needs great consideration. So he gives the direct warning, again, in verse 10, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” and then gets into the spiritual reality going on around them. He says in verse 16-18, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?”
He’s talking about the Lord’s Supper, or what we call Communion. He says that when we participate in Lord’s Supper we are doing something extremely special and it’s all wrapped around that word “Participation”, which is the Greek word KOINONIA or “fellowship”. This word is used all over the New Testament.
It’s used in Acts 2:42 when it talks about the very first Christian church formed after Pentecost. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship (KOINONIA), to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” We have fellowship, unity, sharing, participation with each other as the church, the body of Christ.
It’s used in Philippians 2:1-2 which says, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship (KOINONIA) with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” We have fellowship, unity, sharing, participation with the Holy Spirit who binds us all together.
The Apostle John, in 1 John 1, says that the proclamation of the gospel was “so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (vs 3) KOINONIA is a big, biblical concept.
God created man to be in fellowship and participation, KOINONIA with Him. But we sinned and broke that bond. God cannot be associated with sin and our sin made it so we could no longer be with Him, and became, in fact, His enemies. He is life, sin brought death. He is good, sin brought evil. We were created to be rulers and stewards of His Kingdom of light, sin made it so we would be bound as slaves to Satan, the prince of darkness. God created KOINONIA, our sin brought division.
The gospel is that Jesus came and saved those who had been made dark, dead, enemies of God. He entered the world that he might save sinners and restore the KOINONIA between God and man, for anyone who would believe.
One picture God gave us to remind us of all this is the Lord’s Supper, or Communion. We show all these truths every time we celebrate it together. We take one loaf and break it. We take one bottle and pour it. Then we take our own little cup and our own little piece of the bread and we recognize them as symbols of our KOINONIA with God and our fellow Christians. When we drink and eat together the symbols representing the body and blood of Jesus, we are eating and drinking in memory of Him and all he has done to bring us back into KOINONIA with Him and each other. We once participated or fellowshipped or shared in Adam’s sin (Rom 5) and Satan’s rebellion (Eph 2), but now we participate or fellowship or share with Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, his holiness, sufferings, and glory.
Taking communion is for Christians. Eating the bread and drinking the cup shows that we have changed fellowships, changed teams, and are now totally with Jesus. We are His because He bought us with His blood shed on the cross. He is our Lord, King, Saviour, Master, God and Friend, and we are his people, his body, his church.
This is why it says in verse 18, “Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?” The word “Participants” is a form of the word KOINONIA. Remember all he just said about Israel. The altar in the Old Testament was a table on which food was regularly sacrificed to God. The priests ate from the offerings, sharing the table with God, as a representative of the rest of Israel. It was a symbol of their desire for KOINONIA with God. In the same way, Christians also have a table on which food is served as a symbol of our KOINONIA with God – the Lord’s Supper.
And so, he continues in verses 19, “What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 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. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”
Why was it such a big deal to simply go into a temple and eat the food there? Because, what is happening in that building, at that table, at that altar, is a reflection of the fellowship, the KOINONIA those people have – not with Apollos or Aphrodite or whatever made up god, but with demons. Just as we are fellowshipping with, united with, participating with, sharing with, bound to, God in the Lord’s Supper, so they are fellowshipping with, united with, participating with, sharing with, bound to, demons.
You can’t have both. Polycarp knew this, which is why he faced lions and the pyre instead of simply uttering those few words, “Caesar is lord.” It would be, as one of my favourite theologians RC Sproul says, “cosmic treason”. This is what Adam committed. Cosmic treason is the ultimate definition of sin.
You can’t have it both ways. You can’t play for both teams. You can’t eat from both tables. You can’t have two lords. You must, must, must choose. Jesus promises a separation in the end and we’d better be on the right side of it.
Which is why we read, “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” Or more colloquially, “What are you, nuts? Are you trying to bring God’s discipline upon you? Do you not remember what happened to Israel when they set up idols in their nation or worshipped Baal? Do you want that to happen to you? Do you think you are the one person who can play both sides, acting like a Christian sometimes and playing with demons the rest, and that you won’t get burned? Do you think that you can take God’s plan, His righteousness, His gift, and His concern to protect the truth that He alone is God and the only way of Salvation, and stomp all over it by also worshipping the ‘gods’ of human invention? Do you think that God is going to share praise and worship and his people with demons? If you do, you’re insane! He has promised that those who worship idols will provoke His jealousy and his wrath – just as we saw Israel experience over and over.” Polycarp knew this and had a right fear of God.
Modern Equivalents and Conclusion
Now you may be thinking, “Ok, Pastor Al, I promise that if anyone ever invites me to a Greek temple to worship Apollos, I definitely won’t go, ok? If anyone asks me to come over and eat meat offered to idols, I will definitely decline. Thanks for the warning.” But how often will that kind of thing come up these days?
Let me give you four ways that idolatry still comes up today:
First, there still are pagan religions out there and Christians still often tempted to mix their beliefs and practices with them. The horoscopes and psychics and crystals and chakras and angel worship and other new age stuff we have around us are demonic and some Christians are tempted towards them. Some churches try to incorporate pagan rituals like prayer labyrinths into their spiritual disciplines. Some people try to use God as a good luck charm by going to church and having communion on Sundays, but then try to incorporate Wiccan rituals, Buddhist meditation, Islamic prayer times, and other religious thinking into their relationship with God. God is clear that we can’t do that.
The Second, way is what I’ll call, Blending. This isn’t purely pagan or demonic, but it’s something that Christians need to strongly consider in light of what we have learned here today. Think about how much spiritual blending there is during holiday times like Christmas and Easter – and of course Halloween.
We celebrate the birth of Jesus, but we also have holly, ivy, mistletoe, Christmas trees, yule logs, lights, gift giving, fruitcake, and Dec. 25th, which all have pagan origins! We celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus with bunnies, candy, chicks and coloured eggs. And Halloween is just a mess that I won’t get into now. Even our church has some of this blending. The fact we are meeting in a special church building and called Christians came from pagan origins. The days and months on our calendar are based in ancient pagan mythology. Birthdays also have pagan origins.
Does this mean we declare anyone who eats fruitcake or colours eggs or has a birthday party to be anathema from the church? No, that’s not what this is teaching us. What it’s saying is that we need to think about this stuff. There’s a website online called GotQuestions.org that I really like that tries to answer a lot of these questions with biblical wisdom. Just a quick scan of their topics comes up with things like: Should a Christian play Pokemon, use Facebook, go to parties, do jury duty, watch mma, read Harry Potter, practice feng shui, do cosplay, and much more. Christians care about the truth and about what God thinks of things. So we ask, what does the Bible say? What does our conscience say? How does it affect others? We’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth remembering that some of the traditions and practices we hold so dear need to be carefully thought through.
The third I will call, Cultural Corruption. This is a big deal these days as it comes up all the time. There are some churches that are claiming that God has sanctioned things, or is celebrating things, that He does not. They take a biblical teaching, corrupt it, and then invite people to celebrate it. Here’s a couple examples.
The blessing of pets or giving pets communion. Some churches do this as an outreach and invite people to come to make sure their pets get into heaven. This is wrong and a corruption of the Lord’s Supper, of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and of the teachings of the Bible, and therefore Christians cannot participate. For us to go to that event would be saying that we agree with what they are doing. Our presence gives our blessing to their sin and error.
The same sort of thing happens with where we give our money or work. Sometimes the groups that are sent to help during a crisis also promote evil practices. For example, there are some organizations that not only fund education and healthcare, but also abortions. A Christian simply cannot willingly give their money to a group that funds abortions. Or consider personal, financial investments in companies that are known to use child or slave labour. There have been Christians who have been put in the position where they would be forced, by their employers, to do something unethical and unbiblical. They refused to compromise their integrity or disobey God, so they have had to quit.
Another example is attending or participating in the wedding of a gay, adulterous, or ungodly couple. In one sense, it’s a good thing to be friends with anyone who cares for you enough to invite you to their wedding. Jesus ministered to and befriended all kinds of people and that’s a good thing you are like Him in that way. And we know that being a Christian doesn’t make us better than anyone else, so it’s not about that. Some Christians think that they should attend any kind of wedding because it’s a celebration of love and even if the couple is in sin, at least they can extend Christ’s love to their friends without judging them. This isn’t true.
As a pastor, I have quite a long marriage policy that covers a lot of ways that I will not marry a couple – and there’s way more on it than just gay marriage. I won’t marry people who aren’t active Christians attending the same, sound, evangelical church. I won’t marry people who don’t have the blessing of their families on their marriage. I won’t marry people who have prenuptial agreements. I won’t marry people who are having sex before marriage. I won’t marry people who refuse to have premarital counselling. I won’t marry some divorced couples if their situation is still unbiblical. Why?
Because marriage is something God has spoken very clearly about. He says in Hebrews 13:4 that “marriage should be honoured by all” because it’s not a human construction, but a divine one. It’s His idea, not ours, and therefore we must do it his way, not ours. And if the couple isn’t going to do it God’s way, then I will not stand before God as the official who tied them together. In the same way, every Christian needs to know that their participation – as in making the cake, taking the pictures, attending, or being in the wedding party, is you saying that, by your presence, you agree with and support this union. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say you believe and obey what God says in scripture about marriage and then also celebrate people that are disobeying what God has said.
And finally, the fourth way we do this is simply by being a leading two different lives. Following Jesus and the world. Trying to balance God’s priorities with your own. God’s plan with your own. God’s ways with the world’s. Simply put, this is hypocrisy. It means that out of one side of your mouth you say you believe that Jesus is God and the only one you will worship, while out of the other side of your mouth you worship and prioritize all sorts of other things. It means saying that you believe God answers prayer, but never actually pray. It means you say that God’s word is true, but then disagree with it when it commands you to do something difficult like submit to authority or forgive someone. It means that you say that generosity is important, but then live like a miser. It means that you say you trust God, but then build materialistic walls out around you out of money and stuff and put your faith it them. It means you say that you trust in God’s plan, but then pursue the worldly version of success all week long.
You can’t have it both ways. Jesus says in Luke 16:13, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” He says in Matthew 12:25, “a house divided against itself will not stand.” James 1:6-8 says this person “is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind… a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
I implore you to ask God to reveal the ways that you are trying to stand on both sides of the fence, or play for both teams. The ways you are trying to serve two masters is causing you to be unstable. Ask God’s forgiveness for having these idols and for him to you, restore you back to KOINONIA with Him.
Steve’s away so Chad and Al get their nerd on with some talk about the pleasures and perils of Bible Word Studies.
How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?
1. Pray for us!
4. Send a donation to help us pay the bills.
It’s our 100th episode* so we’re having some fun and taking a trip down memory lane, but we’re also talking about the impact that fads like fidget spinners and WWJD bracelets have had on Christians. Should Christians participate with these things? Listen for details about how to win our 100th episode giveaway and how to get some awesome CT merch!
*Just a reminder that this season we are breaking the episodes into 2 parts.
How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?
1. Pray for us!
4. Send a donation to help us pay the bills.
It’s our 100th episode so we’re having some fun and taking a trip down memory lane, but we’re also talking about the impact that fads like fidget spinners and WWJD bracelets have had on Christians. Should Christians participate with these things? Listen for details about how to win our 100th episode giveaway and how to get some awesome CT merch!
How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?
1. Pray for us!
4. Send a donation to help us pay the bills.