GOD’S WORD FOR YOU
1 CORINTHIANS 10:19-20
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19 Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons.
Paul has two thoughts here that almost overlap one another. First, the idols of the world are nothing at all. There is no power behind any of them. There is no mind, no heart, no compassion; nor is there any will or any justice. The gods that pagans worship are empty. The prophets were right when they said that the men who make them have to nail them down so that they won’t tip over (Isaiah 41:7; Jeremiah 10:4). Therefore, nothing offered to them has any real value. It does not appease the god, or stir anything in the god’s heart because there is nothing there. A man may as well offer a hamburger to his car. The car will rust, the engine will become obsolete, and the day will come when it will be nothing but junk. No sacrifice will stop that from happening.
But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a danger from idols. Not from the idols, but from what happens in the human heart. When a man opens his heart to an idol, he has closed it to Christ, and then the door is flung wide for demons to come in, like dry leaves blowing in through an open door on a windy day. That’s why Paul says that the sacrifices offered to idols are really offered to demons. They are not offered to God.
“Demon” to an ordinary Greek-speaking person in Paul’s day could be an evil creature or a good spirit, but Paul means the word in the way we think of it today, a wicked fallen angel that is part of the devil’s hoard. The demons described in the Old Testament were just as Paul depicts them here: idols in the minds of certain people, but gateways to wickedness, sin and unbelief (Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 106:37). Whenever anyone sacrifices to an idol they are sacrificing to a demon and not to God.
Luther says: Paul “speaks of sacrifices to idols, and calls them demon-offerings, and he treats the subject of eating the sacrifices to idols. Whoever eats the sacrifice of demons is in partnership or communion with the devil. This is certainly a bodily partnership, for it is a devil’s sacrifice, a material sacrifice of which many persons partake and eat, and thus they are physically in a bodily partnership with the devil, i.e. with the devil’s sacrifice, which is offered to the devil. Just as we might say that both the worthy and the unworthy among us are in communion with God when we physically receive the body of Christ, for we share and partake physically of the body of Christ, which is a divine sacrifice offered to God.”
This doesn’t mean that we need to avoid every idol that appears in the world. The devil tries the same experiment over and over again all over the world, and he almost always produces the same result (good scientist that he is). He tempts men and women to hold up their own opinions as being superior to God, and then he gives them the idea of masking their self-worship behind reverence to an idol of some kind, and then many are misled. It is the nature of sinful man to want to be told what to do and what to believe just so that he has something to rebel against, something to argue about. Because of this habit in man, everything in the world ends up being an idol to someone or other, and therefore we can’t run away from every idol; we can’t avoid them all. And we have comfort in the Scriptures that Paul didn’t object to being carried in a ship with the figurehead of a god (Acts 28:11).
Let’s apply this to the Second Commandment:
1, We want and are commanded to give glory and worship to God alone with our words as well as our actions.
2, There are wicked spirits unseen in the world, the demons and the devil, who are already condemned by God and are unworthy of any reverence or praise. God sends his elect holy angels to defend us from them.
3, God forbids us from the misguided worship of swearing or cursing by anything in creation, “either by heaven, for it is God’s throne, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black” (Matthew 5:34-36). It is better not to swear an oath unless God commands it or unless it is required by our obedience to the Fourth Commandment (oaths of office, of marriage, etc.), and better never to curse anything or anyone, allowing God to judge (Romans 12:19; Psalm 50:6).
4, We should avoid superstitions, and therefore contradict them when we have an opportunity, like a good painter who is unafraid to walk under a ladder and does so to profess his faith in Christ and dispel superstitions among his co-workers.
5, Yet we must avoid offending the weak, as Paul has been teaching us in this letter, “which could result from the untimely use of something that of itself is an adiaphoron,” that is, something neither forbidden nor commanded by God.
Therefore we may dwell among the wicked and the heathen without fear (or temptation to sin) and without causing any suspicion of collusion but showing that we live here only out of necessity. In this way, we openly bear witness of our separation from idolatry. This is what Naaman was concerned about and about which the prophet gave him comfort (2 Kings 5:19). But if a man chooses to live among the wicked and the heathen out of choice and not necessity, and who makes no attempt at all to witness to his faith or make any contradiction about his neighbor’s idolatry, he becomes an idolater himself. God has said: “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips” (Exodus 23:13). So we give all of our worship and devotion to God even though we are unworthy worshipers. We proclaim his name as we live good lives that please him, and serve him with each daily task.
Unworthy though I am, O Savior,
Because I have a sinful heart
Yet you your lamb will banish never
Nor will your faithfulness depart
Lord, may your body and your blood
Be for my soul the highest good.
(I Come O Savior, To Your Table)
Pastor Timothy Smith
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Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota
God’s Word for You – 1 Corinthians 10:19-20 participants with demons