I’m back to complete Part II of the series on fellowship and salvation. The first part introduced the so-called issue of fellowship and salvation and how many believers take fellowship and salvation to be two different things. When a person says “you can lose fellowship but not salvation,” what they are doing is assuming that fellowship can be lost, in addition to their assumption that fellowship and salvation are two different things. Now, if their assumption (that fellowship and salvation can be divided) is proven true, then very well; however, if their assumption is proven wrong, then when they say “a person can lose fellowship,” they are really saying, “a person can lose salvation.” If fellowship can be lost, and fellowship and salvation go hand-in-hand, then a person can lose salvation.
But don’t take my word for it; let’s allow the Scriptures to show us all the truth. In light of our need for the Scriptures, today’s passage will come from 1 Corinthians 10:14-22.
In verse 14, Paul tells the church, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (NKJV). The “therefore” in this verse is a sequence word which serves here as the culmination of Paul’s argument from 14:1 forward. In verse 7 he writes, “do not become idolaters as were some of them”; in verse 8, “nor let us commit sexual immorality as some of them did”; in verse 9, “nor let us tempt Christ as some of them also tempted”; and in verse 10, “nor complain, as some of them also complained”. In verse 11, Paul explains why he exhorts the congregation to not practice the evil of the Israelites: “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and THEY WERE WRITTEN FOR OUR ADMONITION” (14:11). And in verse 12, Paul tells the Corinthians, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” In other words, the Corinthians (and believers today) are no stronger than the Israelites in the wilderness. We are prone to the same sin, possess the same strong tendencies to indulge in our sin.
Verse 13 becomes one of the more promising verses of Scripture. “With every temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” The Lord never allows us to face temptation without providing the divine strength we need to overcome it. In other words, God is ALWAYS for us (even in moments of temptation and weakness). Such temptations and weaknesses are not brought our way because of God (James 1:13); instead, He leads us in the paths of righteousness because of His name and character (Psalm 23:3).
Verse 14 brings us then, to further development in Paul’s argument. In verse 15, he tells the Corinthians, “judge for yourselves what I say.” He leaves it to them to weigh his argument. Verses 16-22 present the reader with some serious language regarding immorality and sin. In verse 16, he asks, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” For Paul, verse 16 establishes that, by virtue of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion), we are participants in the work of God. We identify with Christ by eating and drinking in the Lord’s Supper; as Paul says in verse 17, “we all PARTAKE of that one bread” (the bread being “the body of Christ”).
In verse 18, Paul gives another example to confirm our participation in the Lord’s Supper: “Observe Israel after the flesh; Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?” (1 Cor. 10:18, NKJV) From the Levitical Law, the priests were to eat of the sacrifices from the altar as compensation (Leviticus 6:14ff; 7:1ff). Only the “sons of Aaron” could eat from the sacrifices at the altar (since Aaron’s line was designated as the priestly line in the nation of Israel).
In verse 20 Paul gets to the heart of his argument: “Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have FELLOWSHIP with demons.” The word for “fellowship” used in verse 20 is a noun form, “koinonous,” meaning “partakers” or “fellowshippers” (to use a noun form of the verb “fellowship”). The point being made here is that, to eat from the food of idol worship is to become a participant in idol worship. The one who does so declares that his allegiance is with idols (even if he claims he is “Christian”). Verse 21 shows how illogical it is to claim one thing and live out another: “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.” If we are participants in the work of God, we cannot participate in the work of demons (which is opposed to God). To claim participation in the work of God and the work opposed to God at the same time is a living contradiction.
Not only is it not possible to be on “both sides of the fence,” but “straddling the fence” provokes the Lord to jealousy: “Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? ARE WE STRONGER THAN HE?” (1 Cor. 10:22) Such a statement should never be forgotten in our minds. One who does such a thing provokes the Lord to jealousy; and if the Lord becomes jealous, He will avenge Himself on the person who lives this way.
Paul spent much time on idolatry in his letter to the Corinthians; however, idolatry is no greater a sin than any other. In fact, all sin ultimately stems from “the sin of idolatry.” When we sin, we transgress against God’s commands because we “idolize” whatever the prize is (or gratification) that we think the sin will give us. In other words, everytime you and I sin, we take God off the throne of our hearts and put ourselves on the platform instead. Can you imagine how that provokes the Lord to jealousy? He is supposed to be the Lord who rules and reigns in our lives. How can He rule and reign if we’re gonna exalt ourselves to take His place? In our sin, we become like our foreparents Adam and Eve. We still have Adamite blood...
The reason behind studying this passage of Scripture was to look at the idea of “fellowship” (Grk. “koinonia”). What does it mean to have “fellowship”? According to Paul, to even eat food sacrificed to demons was to have fellowship with the demons (see 1 Cor. 10:20) and make the Lord angry (10:22). If eating idol food was as heinous a sin as Paul makes it out to be, then what about the other sins you and I commit everyday? Do they not ALSO make the Lord angry?
For Christians, “fellowship” with God and the saints is a privilege/benefit of salvation. To eat and drink at the Lord’s table is to have fellowship with Him (and only those who are believers experience this fellowship). Fellowship with Christ for believers only is a view that most evangelical churches possess; it is the reason why, at my church, for example, a person cannot partake of the Lord’s Supper until he or she has believed on His Name and been baptized to publicly identify with our Savior.
How then, can fellowship be separate from salvation? How then, can one lose fellowship and still be saved? After all, does the apostle John not say “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, GOD ABIDES IN HIM, AND HE IN GOD” (1 John 4:15)? The abiding (the fellowship) comes only through faith in Christ (which brings salvation). And if one can lose fellowship and still be saved, what about the man who slept with his stepmother (1 Cor. 5)? Why was Paul so concerned about the church putting him out “so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5)? The fact that the individual lost fellowship with the saints was to indicate the man’s final end (loss of fellowship/salvation with God) unless he would repent and turn from his sin. I will continue with more work on fellowship and salvation in my next post.