Dead Men Walking

Paul had raised the ante of his accusations against the Corinthian leaders from sexual immorality to idolatry. Note that Paul did not recommend that the faithful Corinthian Christians make the effort to save those who had been captured by idolatry. He did not recommend that they maintain fellowship and try to convince the idolaters about the truth of the gospel. Rather, he told them to “flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14) They were to separate themselves from the idolaters.

He knew that not all of the Corinthians would hear him. Not all had “ears to hear” (Matthew 11:15). Some of those who had been baptized would not hear, would not heed his words, and would not be saved. He was speaking “as to sensible people” (1 Corinthians 10:15) — “wise men” in other translations. But the wisdom of those to whom he spoke was not the wisdom of intelligence. He was not speaking of intellectual or academic wisdom. Rather, he had in mind the wisdom of Christ, which he had been preaching from the beginning of this letter. He was speaking to those who had ears to hear, to those who had the ears of the Holy Spirit, to those who had been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. He was not speaking to all who were listening, but only to those who were actively and actually in Christ, to those who could hear him.

But Paul did not know exactly who that was. He didn’t know who was really born again and who wasn’t. He didn’t know who would be able to hear him. That knowledge belongs to God alone. We don’t have access to the hearts and minds of others. Knowing this, Paul told them to “judge for (them)selves” (1 Corinthians 10:15) what he had to say. Each person would have to judge — distinguish or decide — for himself whether Paul spoke the truth, and whether or not to heed the truth that Paul spoke. Understanding was not sufficient, Paul called them to action, to flee from idolatry.

Was Paul asking them to rely upon their own resources to make such a determination? Was he assuming that they had sufficient ability in-and-of-themselves to be able to hear him, to be able to correctly understand him, and to be able to make the right decision?

No. Paul knew that they would not be able to do any such thing because he knew that he had not been able to do it on his own, and he knew that he was much smarter, much more committed and better trained in religious disciplines than they were. He couldn’t do it himself — and he didn’t do it himself. Neither could they.

Actually, Paul had been saved against his own will, at least initially. He had been blinded and thrown in the dust while he still hated Christ. Once the Lord had his attention, Paul willingly conceded, of course. But the point was that Paul had not been called to rely upon himself or his own abilities in order to be saved — no Christian is. Rather, we are called to rely upon the ability and the reliability of God’s Holy Spirit. We are called to rely upon Jesus Christ, not ourselves. We are called to regeneration, to rebirth. People do not cause their own birth, nor their rebirth. It is the power of God through the Holy Spirit who regenerates people, and it is upon that power that we must rely — before, during and after, 24/7.

When Paul said, “judge for yourselves” (1 Corinthians 10:15) he meant that he was teaching them how to make determinations about faithfulness and faithlessness — and that the principle application would always be to themselves first and foremost. His purpose was to teach the Corinthians about the characteristics of faithfulness. He would lay out the characteristics of faithfulness and contrast them with the characteristics of faithlessness. We will watch for this pattern as his letters to the Corinthians unfold. By laying out the characteristics of faithfulness he would teach them how to judge themselves, and how to grow in faithfulness. His intention was that Christians should judge themselves against the characteristics of faithfulness, and make necessary adjustments by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

A better translation of this phrase is “you judge what I say” (Modern King James Bible). He was asking them to rely upon the Holy Spirit, who indwells believers. The Holy Spirit would evaluate the gospel that Paul taught and apply it to each believer’s own life. With that in mind Paul immediately turned his attention to the sacrament of Communion. What has Communion to do with all of this? Everything.

Paul called upon the sacrament of Communion to illustrate what makes Christians Christian. At the heart of Communion and of Paul’s illustration is the mystery of the Trinity. Paul’s purpose in this letter to the Corinthians was to teach the difference between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of Christ. That is the theme that he now illustrates with the sacrament — the mystery of the trinitarian nature — of Communion.

He mentioned earlier in this chapter about the role of baptism as a distinguishing mark of a Christian. Christians are baptized people, he said. But not all baptized people are faithful Christians. We discussed that previously. Now Paul turns his attention to the other mark of a Christian — Communion. Christians are baptized people who participate in the Lord’s Supper. By speaking about these two things — Baptism and Communion — Paul was identifying the central characteristics of Christians, the building blocks of the church. A Christian is a person who has a new identity in Jesus Christ. And the Trinity is at the heart of our Christian identity.

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