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An Address Summarising a Conference on 1 Corinthians 10

Martin Vedder

The unity of the body and the unity of the Spirit

Almost 2000 years ago a remarkable event took place on earth. It was 50 days after the Lord's resurrection and ten days after His ascension to heaven. Believers were gathered together at Jerusalem and the Holy Spirit descended upon earth, personally, in order to indwell them. Furthermore, He joined them together in one body. We can read about this in Acts, chapter 2.

In the first epistle to the Corinthians this is regarded as an event of the past: "For also in [the power of] one Spirit we have all been baptised into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bondmen or free, and have all been given to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13). Therefore, this was an event that took place once, and since that day of Pentecost there has been this one body. It is a wonderful unity-the unity of a living organism. The Holy Spirit uses this picture of the body so that we might understand this well.

It says in Ephesians 4, verse 4: "There is one body," but men, even Christians, sometimes do not seem to understand this. They see Christians divided into many groups and then, possibly with the best intentions, they say, "We must bring all the Christians together." They use human means and want to organise something, but organisation is not the same as a living organism. We thank the Lord that He has made it clear to us that there is one body. It has existed since Pentecost and still exists today. The important thing is to live in accordance with this truth.

When we speak about this one body as mentioned in Ephesians 4, verse 4, we have its unity before us, that of the body which has always existed since Pentecost. From that time, whenever persons have received the Lord in faith, they have been added to this body by the Holy Spirit. Nobody can be taken out of this body, for what the Holy Spirit has done can never be reversed. This is the unity which exists. God views all believers in whom the Holy Spirit dwells as one body. It is a wonderful world-wide unity, the unity of the Spirit

But we do not know all believers. We may not even know all the believers in our home town. God wanted and the Lord Jesus came in order to, "gather together into one the children of God who were scattered abroad" (John 11:52). God wants us to take common ground but do you think He wants us to try to preserve the unity of the body?  This would not be correct. The unity of the body is preserved by God Himself. If we had to preserve the unity of the body then we could only gather unto the Name of the Lord in our town if we could make all the believers there come together in one place. But God, who knows that due to our disobedience and unfaithfulness, and perhaps ignorance, this is not possible, (although He would like to see all believers truly gathered together unto the Name of the Lord) says you can still follow the Spirit and preserve the unity of the Spirit.

The unity of the body and (under another aspect) the unity of the Spirit, is the same unity, embracing all believers. But the unity of the Spirit is to be preserved by us. What does this mean?  The unity of the Spirit is connected with our responsibility. We have understood that there is one body and this one body should find its expression in each particular locality. If we do this, acting accord­ing to the mind of God, then we preserve the unity which the Holy Spirit wants to put into effect practically. He wants all believers to come together but there may be only two or three, or two or three hundred who do so, out of a thousand or more. If those few gather on the principles concerning the one body then they preserve the unity of the Spirit.

God preserves the unity of the body, but He expects us to respect this practically by expressing this unity and by following the operation of the Holy Spirit.

Expressing the unity of the one body

If the body of Christ comprises all believers, how can we then say that it is possible to give expression to this body in a locality?  To answer this question we must bear in mind that the one body com­prises all believers from Pentecost until the rapture. This is how the body will be seen in eternity (Eph. 1:23). At present we see the body as consisting of all believers now living on earth (this is proved by the fact that those who are now with the Lord no longer suffer and are therefore not seen as part of the body: 1 Cor. 12:26). The believers in one locality are not "the body of Christ," but "body of Christ" (1 Cor. 12:27, J.N.D. Trans.). Scripture is very exact in its usage of language. Believers in a locality are part of the one body (and should bear the character of it) but they are not the body. It is all believers now living on earth who form this wonder­ful unity. You may say: "But I do not see this unity. I see many believers, whom I love, gathering in many different groups." Regrettably, this is true. But there is one occasion on which we can express, I do not say preserve, the unity of the body. There may be a few only who say: "I understand that the body consists of all believers and I can only gather with a heart embracing all the dear believers on earth." This is the unity the Holy Spirit wants to pres­ent to us. Even if not all are there, even if many seats are empty, the Spirit pleads with us: "Do come together. I want to show you from Scripture the principles on which to act. If you do this you preserve My unity, the unity of the Spirit."

This leads us to the passage before us: where is the place where the unity of the body can be expressed and what is the occasion on which this happens?  The place is the Lord's table (verse 21) and the occasion is the gathering together for the breaking of bread (verse 16).

"Wherefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry" (v. 14)

When we are at the Lord's table in order to express the unity of the body then our Lord, God, is the centre and focus of everything. This means that, when coming to Him, we have to separate from whatever is not in accord with Him.

Idolatry, in the "Corinthian" context, was a service where meat was sacrificed and dedicated to heathen idols. This might lead us to conclude that this warning is no longer relevant for us. But just read 1 Samuel 15, verse 23: "And selfwill is [as] iniquity and idolatry." How terrible if I do not own the Lord as my Lord, if I do not respect His claims over me, if I do not ensure that my actions comply with His will and, instead, I do my own will. I should depart from what is contrary to His will. It even says "flee" here, implying the danger which results from staying there. In the first part of this chapter we find five examples of how Israel, His earthly people, went their way in self-will and were strewed in the desert. These things happened as types of us.

"I speak as to intelligent [persons]: do ye judge what I say" (v. 15)

The apostle says here that he speaks to those who have intelligence. This is why I felt I should speak about the unity of the Spirit and the unity of the body first, because this is a topic which is very little understood among Christians. Otherwise we would observe all believers walking together

No sinner can understand the passage we now have before us. He has no spiritual intelligence, for only the Holy Spirit, who indwells the believer, can enlighten us and enable us to understand the Word of God. The expression "intelligent persons," therefore, does not mean those who have great natural intelligence, such as university professors or intellectuals, but simply those who have accepted the Lord Jesus and in whom the Holy Spirit dwells.

"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not [the] communion of the blood of the Christ?" (v. 16 a)

Now you will notice that here the cup is mentioned before the bread. But when you read the Gospels you find that the Lord took the bread first, and then the cup. The thought in our passage is not the chronological order of events but the basis

Before we come to the cup of blessing we should remind our­selves of a few verses that deeply move our hearts. We read about the Lord Jesus in Matthew 26, verse 39: "... He fell upon His face, praying and saying, My Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from Me; but not as I will, but as Thou [wilt]." This is the cup of sufferings. This is the cup of the wrath of God which the Lord was aware of here in Gethsemane. He knew that He would have to be made sin. He knew that He would have to "restore" to God (Psa. 69:4) what the sins of many had taken away. Could One who was pure desire to be made sin?  Do we understand His anguish, do we look at Him with adoring hearts?  And then He says in verse 42: "My Father, if this cannot pass [from Me] unless I drink it, Thy will be done." Here the Lord is before us in His perfect purity as He, nonetheless, identifies Himself in His will with the will of His Father. He was willing to endure the judgment for you and for me. This is the cup of His sufferings for us which we must know first. God cannot ignore any evil thought or word. The judgment for all this was poured out on the Saviour

The cup we have before us now in this verse is the cup of blessing. What does this mean?  The cup of blessing illustrates that the Lord has given His blood, His life. By His giving His life we have received blessing from God. If the Lord had not given His blood, we would not have any blessing. We read in Revelation 1, verse 5, that we have been "washed. from our sins in His blood." We read in Revelation 5, verse 9, that we have been "bought" by His blood. We read in Romans 5, verse 9: "having been now justi­fied in [the power of] His blood." We learn in Hebrews that we have "boldness for entering into the [holy of] holies by the blood of Jesus..." (Heb. 10:19). All blessings which we receive are based on the blood of the Lord that was shed

We would like to ponder this subject: the riches and the bless­ings that are made available by the death of the Lord. All those who have taken refuge in this blood of the Lord now know about a cup of blessing. It goes on to say, "The cup of blessing which we bless." This does not mean "consecrate" but simply, "we give thanks." We can prove this from Matthew 26, verse 26: "Jesus, having taken [the] bread and blessed..." The marginal reading there is simply, "given thanks." In 1 Corinthians 11, verse 23, we read of this event: "that the Lord Jesus, in the night in which He was deliv­ered up, took bread, and having given thanks broke [it]... In like manner also the cup." So we give thanks for the cup of blessing

This passage, comprising verses 14 to 22, speaks of fellowship, communion. We now read of this cup of blessing that it is the "communion of the blood of the Christ." Do you see that it would be entirely inappropriate for unbelievers to take part in this privi­lege?  It says here that you must be one, that you must have fellow­ship, with the blood, which must have been given for you. Other­wise it is impossible to have fellowship with the blood of Christ, but it is exactly this which is expressed at the Lord's table.

"The bread which we break, is it not [the] communion of the body of the Christ?" (v. 16 b)

In connection with the Lord's table the Lord presents two signs to us: the cup and the bread. These are separate. This reminds us immediately of His death. The blood speaks of His life which He gave for me, but the cup and bread as separate items speak of His death. Now there is this bread which speaks of communion with the body of Christ. What do we understand by this expression?  Is it the physical body of the Lord?  No, here the bread speaks of the communion of the body, i.e. of all believers. The next verse makes this entirely clear:

"Because we, [being] many, are one loaf, one body;" (v. 17 a)

This is what the bread, in its unbroken condition, speaks of. Thus one bread is before us. In it, we see all believers: in our locality (if we do not see all of them we are a sect), and world-wide, for all believers make up the body. There are not "tables" but only one table of the Lord. There are not many bodies, but only one body. But then we break the bread, and then the bread speaks of the Lord's body which He gave for us. But in chapter 10 we do not have the Lord's supper (that is in chapter 11) but the Lord's table. Here, the emphasis is on the spiritual place where we take the Lord's supper: it is the place of fellowship where the unity of the body is realised. This is a unity that comprises all believers. Dear brother, dear sister, do not be deceived by anybody. Our hearts are going out to you!  We will soon be together in heaven. There is no exclusivism, no elite group of Christians here. According to the thoughts of God, there are not Open and Closed Brethren, or this or that denomination. There are only believers, members of the body of Christ, and they find themselves at the Lord's table when they realise the spiritual principles which their Lord presents to them. Do you think in terms of groups?  Perhaps you think that you belong to the best of all groups and that in your group things are done the right way and in other groups they are not. Please remove these thoughts from your mind and heart. Just pray: "What does Thy Word say, Lord?  This is what I will do." Now you ask: "What about all the others?" Well, our hearts embrace them in love. There is only one place of fellowship. There is only one body, one Lord, one table

"Because we, [being] many...", who are these?  These are the believers who live on earth at this time, i.e. they do not comprise those who have already departed to be with the Lord or those who will come to Him in the future. Every believer is entitled to take his place at the table of the Lord. This is, if we may put it this way, the inclusive aspect of fellowship. On the other hand, there is also an exclusive aspect (namely exclusive of evil) which we will consider later.

"...for we all partake of that one loaf" (v. 17 b)

After the bread has been broken (and the broken bread speaks of His death) we eat thereof. We take and eat. Doing this we express that we are part of this body and that we have part in the Lord's death.

"See Israel according to flesh: are not they who eat the sacrifices in communion with the altar?" (v. 18)

What we have said so far has made clear that those who have spiritual intelligence are able to comprehend the truth of the one body with their hearts-communion with the blood; communion of the body. But they express this wonderful truth outwardly. Their hands take of the bread and their lips drink from the cup. Do you think it is therefore of little importance, supposing that only the heart matters?  Of course the heart matters, but the whole point here is that the one who partakes of these tokens, outwardly, by this very act, identifies himself with the table of the Lord. If I break bread at the Lord's table that outward action implies that I have part inwardly in the matter. You cannot say, "Well, some matters are not scriptural here, but I come with a worshipping heart, and that is the only thing that matters." By breaking bread in a particu­lar place you identify yourself with every matter relating to the "altar," the table of the Lord, in that place. Outward partaking implies inward communion with the altar!

In order to illustrate this point, the apostle now reminds us of Israel: "they who eat the sacrifices." The people ate of one offering only, and that was the peace offering. We read in Leviticus 7:19 of this peace offering: "all that are clean may eat [the] flesh." The one who ate of the peace offering was in communion with the altar. It follows that the only answer we can give to the apostle's question here in 1 Corinthians 10:18 is the affirmative. The apostle keeps asking these questions because he wants you to say, "yes, it implies communion." He could just have stated these things, but he wants us to see this point. Those who are spiritually intelligent should understand this. It then says in Leviticus 7:20-21:

"But the soul that eateth the flesh of the sacrifice of peace-offering which is for Jehovah, having his uncleanness upon him, that soul shall be cut off from his peoples. And if anyone touch anything unclean, the uncleanness of man, or unclean beast, or any unclean abomination, and eat of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace-offering, which is for Jehovah, that soul shall be cut off from his peoples."

A believer might touch something unclean. Can he take his place at the Lord's table in that condition?  No, that is impossible. We have affirmed that, as a matter of principle, every believer has a right to eat, but here we find there are reasons for exclusion. I will try to make this even clearer with the help of Numbers 5:2:

"Command the children of Israel, that they put out of the camp every leper, and every one that hath an issue, and whosoever is defiled by a dead person..."

What does it mean for us today, to put such persons "out of the camp"?  In the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 5 we learn that one who lives in moral evil, where the flesh has been active, must be removed from among us. When someone has an issue, then such a person is a source of defilement. This is a picture of one propagat­ing false doctrines/heresies. Therefore we find the statement:

"If any one come to you and bring not this doctrine, do not receive him into [the] house, and greet him not" (2 John 10).

Just greeting him would imply fellowship:

"for he who greets him partakes in his wicked works" (v. 11).

Then we find that an Israelite would be defiled by touching some­thing unclean, in the instance referred to, a dead person. In this world there is death. 2 Corinthians 6 shows us that fellowship between a believer and an unbeliever is impossible.

It has therefore to be stated that a believer who has received a heresy, or who lives immorally, or who would be in fellowship with the world, cannot take part in the breaking of bread. I hope this is very clear for all believers. But now there is a fourth point. We read in 2 Timothy 2:

"Let every one who names the name of [the] Lord withdraw from iniquity" (v. 19b).

This is a matter of departing from, of not touching, what is unclean. Having read these verses in the Word of God you could never say: "In our midst there is someone who takes part in the breaking of bread who holds a heresy. But that is his responsibility. I do not hold the heresy myself. It is nothing to do with me. I want to worship my Lord." If you break bread with the one who holds the heresy and claim there is no fellowship between him and yourself you simply ignore the verse before us!  There is fellowship in the breaking of bread. Outward partaking implies inward communion. We must not associate, in the breaking of bread, what is holy with what is defiled. This is the teaching of the Scriptures. Many believ­ers say: "I can accept the first three points, but how can I be held responsible for what somebody else does?"  But still, it is true, we are one body. Those who eat of the altar are in fellowship with all that relates to the altar. If you can really say, "In our midst there are none who live in these things" then we can thank the Lord for this (place). But how many are there who would have to admit that there is somebody among them who is involved in one of the evil matters mentioned. Can this then be the place that Scripture calls "the Lord's table"?

The altar is called "the table of the Lord" in the Old Testament too. On one occasion it is the altar of burnt offering (Malachi 1) and on the other it is the golden altar that was in the sanctuary (Ezekiel 48). But in Old Testament times communion, or fellow­ship, at the table of the Lord was not known. It is the communion of the body and this thought occurs here for the very first time. Many things had been said about the blood, but the communion of the blood did not exist previously. We learn of it only here, in connection with communion at the table of the Lord.

May I emphasise again that the table of the Lord as well as the illustration of the altar, speak of a place where spiritual principles are to be realised. Ezra 3:1 underlines this. The situation described there is very instructive for us. Judah had been brought into the Babylonian captivity and when a remnant returned 70 years later they set up the altar. We read: "And. the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem." God does not sanction assembling in groups. He wants to gather into one. Do not seek the place among groups, but ask yourself where these Scriptural principles are put into practice. The Word of God does not allow you to gather here and there. It only allows you to be gathered into one. And then we read: "And (they) built the altar of the God of Israel to offer up burnt-offerings on it, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God." There they found the thoughts of God. Human thoughts are not relevant or admissible. What matter are the thoughts of Scrip­ture. These are the principles relating to the Lord's table as we have them before us. We read in Deuteronomy 12, "The place which Jehovah your God will choose." Where two or three (or more) come together unto the name of the Lord, there is the place. They, so to speak, set up the altar. If they do not set up the altar, the table, then this is not an assembly. We can only represent the assembly according to the mind of God if the altar is central. Only then is it "church of God," with the Lord in the midst.

"What then do I say?  that what is sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything?" (v. 19)

From chapter 7:1 onwards the apostle deals with the questions about which the Corinthians had written to him. Here in chapter 10 the line of thought is still the matter of sacrifices to idols, which Paul began to address in chapter 8:1. And so he asks here, "What then do I say?  that what is sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything?"  That which was sacrificed to the idols was meat. It was merely something material and there was nothing more to it. The idol was made of wood or stone and therefore was nothing either. But when you eat of the offerings made to the idols you are in communion with idolatry. You may protest, "But we do not want to worship Zeus, we do not want to worship any heathen idols. We are simply there to eat some meat. Inwardly, our hearts belong to the Lord Jesus, and He will forgive us these outward things." No, the one who takes part outwardly in idolatrous sacri­fices is in inward communion with the "altar." The Corinthians had to know this. The apostle instructs them and he instructs us as well.

"But that what [the nations] sacrifice they sacrifice to demons, and not to God" (v. 20a)

The idols are nothing, but behind them there are demons. These are the fallen angles, and they want to seduce us and turn us away from the only true God. How can we be in communion with such a system?  But we are, just by taking part in it outwardly. The stone and wood are nothing, but the demonic power behind the idol is what matters. And now an important thought follows:

"Now I do not wish you to be in communion with demons" (v. 20b)

 This was the result of what they were doing. Had you asked them about it they would have been astonished and would have said: "Excuse me?  Idols?  Zeus does not even exist as far as I am concerned." Well, ask a sinner in this world: "Are you a servant of Satan?"  "No," he would say, "I would never serve Satan." But you either belong to the Lord Jesus, or you serve Satan. Nobody can serve two masters. If you do not belong to the Lord you serve Satan, whether or not that is your intention. If you are not at the Lord's table you are at a different table. You follow different prin­ciples. There is no mixture. You can't say: "Well, at times I am here, at times I am there." Christians cannot take part here and there. It says "Ye cannot." in the next verse.

"Ye cannot drink [the] Lord's cup, and [the] cup of demons: ye cannot partake of [the] Lord's table, and of [the] table of demons" (v. 21)

It is not possible to combine the two. Now you may say: "We have spoken about the table of the Lord and the table of demons. We have mentioned a number of things which Christians cannot do. Are you saying that Christians who are not at the Lord's table automatically find themselves at the table of the demons?"  That is certainly not the case. The tables of demons are found in heathen systems. If we think of Satanic "churches" and other movements that may even have some sort of Christian confession, they may well be cases of unmixed idolatry. But perhaps we do not know about these things and it is good if this is so.

In the Christian sphere there are many true believers whom we love. When they come together this is certainly not a place that could be called the table of demons. But is there anything else, apart from the Lord's table and the demons' table?  Yes, there are also the tables of men. We have read in Ezra 3 that the altar had to be built. They had to practice the principles they had learnt from God. When Moses was on the mount he received the pattern of the tabernacle and it had to be built according to the thoughts of God. If we want to find ourselves at the Lord's table we have to ask the Lord to show us His thoughts and mind, and then we have to put these things into practice.

If somebody comes along and says: "Let's forget about this matter of defilement. How can I judge other Christians. I am only responsible for myself," then that is clearly not Scriptural. That would be a case of a human principle being set up, even a human principle that is against the Word of God. I am not speaking in favour of any group that forms a special sect and could be distin­guished as such from other groups. Please take the Word of God and examine what has been said. We long to observe more and more Christians understanding this and taking their place at His table. May I emphasise here that I am not saying "with us." That would not be a viable principle. But I have looked for this place and I have found it. And I can tell you out of a pure heart that I am no longer looking for it. I invite you to come along. And if you tell me, "But there is something in the Scriptures which is not practised in the right way" then I want to correct myself at once. The broth­ers and sisters with whom I gather are all weak, but we do desire to live according to the principles we discover in the Scriptures. The idea is not that we systematically isolate ourselves from other believers. We only separate from such as hold evil doctrine, or who walk in evil morally, or lead a life in the world, or who wish to remain associated with those who live in one of these evils. I hope you understand this.

Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? (v. 22a)

Now a lovely picture is before our hearts. The Lord is jealous. He is linked with the assembly as His bride and there are intimate feelings. In 2 Corinthians 11:2 we learn that the bride is "a chaste virgin." Purity is what the Lord Jesus wants. And when defilement is there, association with what is evil, then the Lord is jealous. This is also in God's heart, but it is a jealousy of love. He wants to be sure that His bride is guarded. Which bridegroom would not want this?

Do we still want to say, "But I have a different view"?  Do we want to set up a table according to our own thoughts?

Are we stronger than he? (v. 22b)

If you are stronger than He, wiser than He, then I must tremble. We have contemplated very serious matters. This passage, verses 14-22, speaks of the Lord's table. It is directed by God to all believers. What would it be if, according to the Lord's desire, we could be one even here on earth?