Paul’s letter to the Corinthians continues with a look at the history of Israel. There’s an important side fact here: one does not comprehend the New Testament fully without knowing the Old Testament. Seriously—you don’t have to memorize the list of kings, but you should know the flow of the narrative. Paul draws an important lesson from the history of Israel and, unfortunately, it appears that we may need a refresher course.
The events Paul narrates are primarily from Exodus, though some of them are recounted in Numbers as well. It is the story of a people rescued from slavery who then, in all practical ways, turn their back on the God who delivered them.
Paul is warning the Corinthians that they are walking down the same path that Israel took. That they, though they have been joined to the same rock and draw from the same well, are drifting away from the Lord. The hammer comes down hard in 1 Corinthians 10:21-22: “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons.” Mixing up the two, serving two masters, is to be avoided.
The structure of this chapter puts the argument throughout the chapter with the payoff at the end. 1 Corinthians 10:31-32 are the seal for the end of the argument, the call-to-action upon the evidence presented. What is that call?
That rather than pleasing self, either in the rebellious Israelite or the Greco-Roman idolatrous fashion, everything the believer does should be for the glory of God. Everything.
How you eat? What you eat?
For the glory of God.
Rather than doing it all for our own glory or for the glory of anything else, it should come back to glorifying God. The God who sent His one and only Son, Jesus, to die in our place.
Everything we do is to be for the glory of God. That’s great and would look good on a t-shirt or a bumper sticker (both of which, by the way, are about as bad a source for communicating theology as Twitter is). But what do we actually do about it?
To answer that, work back through the chapter and contrast what had happened with what should have happened. The people of Israel should have worshipped God with the liberty they had been given. Instead, they chased their own pleasures and debauchery. We should, then, focus on worshipping God instead of chasing the stuff of earth. But it should be done “to the Glory of God,” not for the glory or approval of men.
I’ll give you a direct example: 1 Corinthians 10:8 refers to the people falling into immorality. How do we as Christians teach sexual ethics? Usually as a combination of self-help and fear, actually. Don’t do this because you’ll hurt you or you’ll hurt others. If we apply 1 Corinthians 10:31-32 to the issue of sexual ethics, the relevant question narrows to this question: is what I am doing with myself within the glory of God? Proverbs and Song of Solomon speak of the grandeur of love and romance within a Genesis 2 type of framework, between husband and wife. God can be glorified through romance—living in that is a choice we make. One motivator, the glory of God, provides a far better idea than making a thousand do and don’t lists.
So, do whatever you do—and eschew what must not be done—for the glory of God. Let others see that your one passion is that God is glorified in what you do.
Beyond this, there are some great things in this chapter in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 that speak to the Lord’s Supper. That’s the reference in “cup of blessing” and “bread” in this context. Paul speaks of the idea of the many being one body, for they partake of one bread. Two things:
1. Most churches don’t do this. We partake of a multitude of individually made pieces of bread for the sake of convenience. We might be missing the point.
2. Paul is not at Corinth when he writes this. But he still uses first-person plural phrasing. Why? Because the church is more than one local body, it is all the redeemed of all the age (as BFM2K puts it.) One point of celebrating the Lord’s Supper is the communion with all the saints.