I want to explain what I plan to do for the next few Sunday nights. I will use both Old Testament and New Testament scriptures to increase our understanding of a first century problem among those Christians. First, I will build some background from the Bible. Second, I will focus your attention on the New Testament's declaration of the problem. Third, I will call your attention to God's solution to the problem. If we understand the problem and God's solution, that understanding should change the way Christians treat each other. That understanding should increase our patience and kindness toward each other.

Allow me to begin by focusing your attention and challenging you to think. Frequently, as individuals, all of us encounter a major spiritual problem. Spiritually and religiously, sometimes we learn information from scripture that contradicts what we were told scripture taught. Every time that happens, we face an important decision. Some times those decisions create huge personal crises.

Let me give you a specific example. Back in the 1950s it was popular to preach against smoking tobacco. Articles were written, tracts were written, and sermons were preached about the wickedness of smoking. Many arguments were made against the evils of smoking. The most common argument from scripture made was this: "If you smoke, you destroy your body. If you destroy your body, God promises that He will destroy you." The conclusion was simple: if a person smokes, produces health problems, and dies as a result of those health problems, God will destroy that person in hell.

The proof text scripture used to "prove" this conclusion was 1 Corinthians 3:16,17. That scripture reads:
Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

But using that scripture to condemn smoking tobacco creates a huge problem. This scripture is not concerned about smoking tobacco or any problem similar to smoking tobacco. This statement was written by Paul about the internal division within the congregation at Corinth. In context, the temple of God in this scripture is the congregation at Corinth. "You, the congregation at Corinth, should realize that you collectively are God's temple." Paul told them that allowing internal division to destroy the congregation guaranteed God's wrath. If they allowed internal division promoted by maintaining differing loyalties to destroy the congregation, God would destroy them.

I do not smoke. I do not think smoking advances God's purposes in my life. I am not advocating smoking. My point is simple: this scripture has nothing to do with smoking tobacco. It concerns internal division in a congregation. It is not about an individual Christian's physical body. In this scripture, the temple is the congregation at Corinth, not a human body. In 1 Corinthians 6:19 Paul does call the individual Christian's body God's temple, but not in 1 Corinthians 3:16,17. We cannot "rightly divide the word of truth" and force 1 Corinthians 3:16,17 to say something Paul did not say.

When I understand that, I have a choice to make. (1) I can maintain my ignorance and defend my ignorance by strongly affirming my ignorance is the truth. (2) I can use my ignorance to draw conclusions from uninformed speculation. Example: "Smoking involves no moral issues!" (3) I can acknowledge my ignorance and resolve to become better informed. (4) I can dedicate myself to better understanding God's will and purposes regardless of where He leads me.

We can talk all we wish about being Christ's church and being dedicated to God's will. But this is the truth of the matter: it is demanding and difficult to open our minds and hearts to valid, in context information from scripture when that information contradicts what we were taught and we accepted. That is demanding and hard for every single one of us. All of us have a desire to force scripture to support what we believe. No one wants scripture to radically change our understandings.

  1. This evening, I want you to see and understand one fact from scripture. I want you to develop a single awareness.
    1. Though this fact is obvious in scripture, it is likely you read right past it.
      1. Bible students, you read over it, by it, and through it a thousand times and likely never pay any attention to it.
      2. There is a reason few pay any attention to it: this fact seems so strange to us, it seems so foreign to us, we simply do not think about it.
      3. Yet, as strange as it seems to us, it was not at all strange to people in Old Testament Israel or Old Testament idolatry, and it was not at all strange to people in New Testament Israel or New Testament idolatry.
    2. When I say "worship," what do you automatically think?
      1. The word "worship" does not bring the same understandings and images to all of us.
        1. Some hear the word "worship" and immediately think of "correct forms."
          1. Worship occurs if the forms are correct.
          2. Not matter what is in a person's heart, if the forms are not correct there is no worship.
        2. Some hear the word "worship" and immediately think of what we commonly call the five acts of worship: singing, praying, preaching, communion, and giving.
          1. Worship is a matter of procedure.
          2. If the correct things are done, worship occurs.
        3. Some hear the word "worship" and immediately think of the glorification of God.
          1. If the right forms are observed but there is no deliberate, conscious glorification of God, worship does not occur.
          2. If the right procedures occur but there is not deliberate, conscious glorification of God, worship does not occur.
        4. Those are not the only three things that Christians immediately think about when they hear the word "worship," but those are three very common things.
    3. No matter what we specifically think when we hear "worship," we all regard singing, praying, and communion [when each comes from our understanding and hearts] as expressions of worship.
      1. I think I can be reasonably certain that none of us think of eating a meal as an expression of worship.
        1. That is so foreign to our experience or our practices or our approved expressions of worship, that eating a meal as an act of worship never enters our minds.
        2. It is so foreign to our thinking and our experiences that we would say that anyone who considers eating a meal an act of worship misses the whole point of worship.
      2. Yet, scripture confirms, without doubt, that the most significant occasions of worship in Israel [and in any form of sacrificial worship] involved eating a meal.
        1. That was true in Israel in the Old and New Testaments.
        2. That was true in most forms of idolatry in the Old and New Testaments.
        3. The vast majority of people who became Christians in the New Testament were converted from religions that ate meals as expressions of worship on some of the most significant occasions of worship.
        4. Christians in the New Testament knew the experience of worship by eating a meal.

  2. By now some of you are saying to yourselves, "David is nuts! Why is he talking about this? Where in the world is he going?"
    1. It is okay for you to think I am nuts; all I ask you to do is to think with me.
      1. What you may consider crazy right now may prove to be very important.
      2. I just ask you to follow me until I can show you from scripture the importance.
    2. Let me begin by asking you something many of you know and understand.
      1. In Israel what was Passover?
        1. It was, and to the orthodox Jew still is, the most important religious day in the history of the nation of Israel.
        2. It commemorates the day when God released the Israelite people from their slavery in Egypt.
        3. The very first time the nation of Israel observed this special day was the night they left Egypt.
      2. By God's instruction, what did they do? (Exodus 12)
        1. Every family killed a lamb; small families combined and killed a lamb.
          1. The lamb was to be the best lamb they owned.
          2. The lamb's blood was smeared on the outside of the door frame.
          3. The lamb was roasted over the fire without dressing the lamb.
        2. With the roasted lamb as the center of a meal, they were to prepare a meal, eat it as they were fully dressed and be prepared to leave.
          1. That night they were to eat the roasted lamb with bitter vegetables and bread that had no yeast in it.
          2. The only way the lamb was to be cooked was by roasting.
          3. What they did not eat at that meal they were to destroy by burning.
      3. Listen to Exodus 12:14
        Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.
        1. Passover was the most important day and act of worship in Israel.
        2. Passover still is the most important day and act of worship among orthodox Jews.
        3. And how do you observe the occasion of Passover? How do you honor and glorify God on this most important occasion of worship of the year?
        4. One of the things you did, and many still do: you ate a meal.
        5. By eating the meal you glorified God for what He did in delivering Israel, and you recommit yourself to dependence on God.

  3. Most of us are not at all familiar with sacrificial worship that included sacrificing an animal.
    1. That kind of worship is foreign to our culture and foreign to our personal experience.
      1. We are far more likely to associate animal sacrifice with witchcraft than with worshipping God.
      2. Many of us have little idea of what all was involved in worshipping God through animal sacrifice.
    2. Not in all animal sacrifices, but in some animal sacrifices, the person who provided the animal to the priests for sacrifice ate part of the meat.
      1. What occurred when the animal was killed? Worship.
      2. What occurred when the man who offered the sacrifice ate the meat as a meal with his family? Worship.
      3. Consider a specific example found in 1 Samuel 1:1-5.
        1. Each year Elkanah took his family which included two wives to Shiloh for sacrificial worship. [Shiloh was the location of the tabernacle at this time.]
        2. After he offered his sacrifice, he gave portions of the meat to his family for the sacrificial meal.
        3. To Hannah, the wife who had no children, he gave a double portion of the meat from the sacrifice.
        4. At Shiloh immediately after the killing of the animal, the families who came for sacrificial worship prepared and ate a meal.
      4. Consider a second example found in 1 Samuel 2:12-17.
        1. Sacrificing a animal as an act of worship in Israel required the priests who offered the sacrifices to perform specific procedures.
        2. After the sacrifice was offered, and after those who brought animals were cooking the meat for their sacrificial meal, this was the custom: the priests walked among the people who were cooking their meat by boiling it, thrust a three pronged fork in the cooking vessel, and whatever stayed on the fork belonged to the priests.
        3. The priest, Eli, has some sons who assisted him, and they were worthless, evil men.
          1. They told those who offered a sacrifice, "We want you to give us meat before you boil it. We want roasted meat, not boiled meat. We want our meat before Eli performs his procedures."
          2. "If you do not give us what we ask for, we will take it by force."
        4. Notice a part of the worship involved a meal.
    3. Eating a meal as an act of worship was common among those who offered sacrificial worship, both in Israel and among idol worshippers.
      1. That was common in the Old Testament world, and it was common in the New Testament world.
      2. Most Christians tend to think that people have always worshipped in ways that were very similar to our acts of worship.
        1. Not so.
        2. In fact, to the Christians of the New Testament, worshipping without offering an animal sacrifice on special days was strange.
        3. Worshipping when there was no sacrificial meal to eat on special holy occasions was strange.
        4. Eating a meal as an act of worship was a practice hundreds of years old, and prior to becoming Christians, most of them had that experience.

The one fact I want you to remember is this: there was a time when worship included eating a meal.

If we are Christians, we have a sacrifice. Jesus Christ is our sacrifice. He was offered one time for everyone (Hebrews 10:10).

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 7 October 2001
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