Run away (part 1)

Monty Python and the Holy Grail finds King Arthur and his knights trying to sneak into a fortified city using the ruse of a Trojan Rabbit.  The plan fails–because they forgot to hide inside.  When the giant wooden rabbit is hurled back over the ramparts, threatening to crush them, Arthur shouts a strategic response to his men: “Run away!  Run away!”

They may be silly, but they’re not so foolish as to disobey that command.

How foolish are we as Christians, when dealing with temptation and the spiritual realm?

Paul is winding up the long and circuitous argument he began in 1 Corinthians 8:1–“Now concerning food sacrificed to idols…” (NRSV).  As suggested in earlier posts, many of the Corinthian believers, converts from paganism, were still frequenting the pagan temples, participating in the feasts.  They know Paul wants them to stop, but don’t see why they should.  One of the occasions for this particular letter is to answer that question.

Using numerous stories from Israel’s history, Paul has warned them of the consequences of taking grace for granted, perhaps even of presuming that their ritual participation in baptism and the Lord’s Supper conferred some magical cloak of protection.  Heed the old stories and don’t be arrogant, he insists.  You think you’re standing firm, but have no clue how easy it would be for you to fall (1 Cor 10:12).

Paul then comes directly to the point:

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols.  I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.  The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a sharing 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 partners in the altar?  What do I imply then?  That food sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?  No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners 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.  Or are we provoking the Lord to jealousy?  Are we stronger than he?  (1 Cor 10:14-22, NRSV)

Flee idolatry; run away.  Earlier, Paul had reassured them that a faithful God would not let them be tempted beyond what they could endure; he would provide a way out (10:13).  But being caught by temptation is not the same as naïvely subjecting yourself to it.  In that case, the “way out” is the front door: run back out the way you came.

Better yet: don’t go through the door in the first place.

In some parts of the letter, Paul gets a little testy, even sarcastic.  But here, he seems to be pleading with them, calling them “dear friends,” or his “beloved,” asking them to be sensible (especially given their self-assured pride in their so-called “wisdom”).  Their argument had been that they had the right to eat in the temple and that doing so was of no spiritual consequence whatsoever.  But Paul answers that they are compromising their very identity as Christians by consorting with demons.

We’ll see his argument in the next post.