I was thinking about how much time of my life I spend in front of a table. If you were in any way impacted by the pandemic, your table probably took larger prominence than it has in the past. In my house, for instance, our dinner table became a classroom, an office, and a craft station. It became a place where we played together and occasionally, shared a meal or two! But when we come together around a table, particularly when we share meals, something more is happening. Tables are sacred spaces.
As we look to Acts 2:42-47, Luke describes the new community that is formed after the day of Pentecost. Luke tells us that they were devoted to two things. The was the apostles’ teaching, which means the New Testament. Second, Luke tells us that they devoted themselves to fellowship.
Fellowship is an important word in the New Testament—the Greek word is koinonia. It is one of those words has incredible depth to it; it is like a prism. When you shine a white light through a prism, it explodes into a rainbow of colors. There are different facets, dynamics, and different textures to koinonia. In fact, when Christians were first discovering the doctrine Trinity, one of the words that they used to describe the mystery of the Godhead was koinonia.
Luke says that the disciples devoted themselves to intimate fellowship and community that was expressed by sharing meals together. They gathered around a table in response to what God was doing in their lives. In fact, this is a very powerful biblical idea in the Old Testament. In Psalm 104, the psalmist says that God gives wine to gladden the hearts of men and bread to make them strong. In Exodus 24, the elders of Israel see God face to face and it says they came down the mountain. I like how the ESV says they “beheld God and they ate and they drank” together. Psalm 23 famously says, “you set a table for me in the presence of my enemies.”
When we come and have a genuine encounter with God. He brings us to a table. And this is precisely what we see in the fellowship and in this community of early Christians. We all seem to know that there’s more to a meal than just consuming calories. There’s a spiritual dimension to what happens around a table.
But have you ever noticed that tables can get messy—with dishes, and crafts and science projects gone awry? Lots of times, having dinner with your extended family, reveals conflict and tension. In fact, as we see the church expand and grow in the Roman Empire, there’s a particular church in Corinth that is experiencing problems around their shared table.
I invite you today to turn with me to 1 Corinthians 10. We’ll begin in verse 14, where Paul confronts a difficult situation that also shows us the power of what happens around a table. Paul says, “so, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols.”
Isn’t that a strange statement for someone to make addressing a Christian community? Apparently, idolatry has become a part of this community to the extent that Paul feels it is necessary to expend valuable time and energy addressing this problem. When Paul says the worship of idols, what does he mean? Are Christians bowing down to figures, statues and false representations of deities? No. Actually, the way that pagan Roman idol worship was practiced was through celebratory meals, feasts, and banquets.
But like many things, we know that dinner is just the beginning. In fact, in Roman banquet culture, the dinner was oftentimes a prelude to debauchery that would come later in the evening. But what Paul is addressing is the idol worship that began with feasting and banquets. His argument is very simple: Where you sit down is where you will bow down.
In verse 15, Paul says, “you are reasonable people. Decide for yourselves. If what I am saying is true, when we bless the cup at the Lord’s table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ?” This is a rhetorical question but let me draw your attention to the word “sharing.” The word “sharing” is in fact, derived from the Greek word koinonia. Paul is drawing a comparison between idol worship and love feasts.
What are love feasts?
The central activity of Christian worship was sitting down around tables and participated in what was called a love feast. They were gathered at a table and would begin to eat, celebrate and share food with one another. Usually, someone would lead a song or hymn. Then they would ask if there were people struggling to meet their needs in that community. It says that they would sell their possessions and make sure that everyone’s needs were met in the community. At the end of this gathering, they would come back together, and share in a symbolic meal where they broke bread and shared a special cup of wine in observance of the Lord’s Supper.
Paul says, think about what you do at these love feasts; when you come together to bless the cup. He says when you’re participating in that cup, aren’t you in koinonia with the blood of Christ? Then he says, “when we break the bread aren’t we sharing [koinonia] in the body of Christ?”
Remember, Paul’s argument here is that where you sit down is where you bow down, so when you sit together in Christian community and koinonia, you are really bowing down at Jesus’ feet. Then he continues in verse 18. He says, “think about the people of Israel. Weren’t they united by eating the sacrifices at the altar?”
“United,” wouldn’t you know, is derived from the word koinonia! As a part of that sacrificial system, the Israelites would take certain parts of the sacrifice and eat them together.
(verse 19) “What am I trying to say? Am I saying that food offered to idols has some significance or that idols are real gods? No, what I’m saying is that these sacrifices, these foods and feasts and banquets, are offered to demons, not God.” In other words, when you’re gathering at these Roman banquets, you are worshipping demons!
You see, when Paul teaches Christian freedom to these Corinthians, they think, “Well, that sounds fantastic; I am now free to do whatever I want to! Therefore, if I want to go to a pagan love feast or a pagan idol worshipping feast, I can do that because I am just there to eat.” But the reality is that when we participate in these types of fellowships or sit at these types of tables, you are really paying homage and giving your spiritual attention to demons.
He says, “I don’t want you to experience fellowship with demons” because ultimately idolatry will cause pain and damage in your life. The table you sit at is so important because it ultimately defines the object of your worship.
He further drives it home for us in verse 21. He says, “you cannot drink from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of demons too. You cannot eat at the Lord’s table and at the table of demons too.” Because where you sit down is where you will bow down.
If I could try to read your mind, you might be saying, “Well, this is all fine and good. If I were going to pagan feasts in honor of pagan gods bowing down and worshipping demons, then there would be problem. But I’m not doing that, so what’s your point here, Pastor?” My point is that we do this without knowing it.
There is a tradition in our culture where we come together on a consistent basis and we gather, usually in a home. We oftentimes wear special garments to show our honor and our allegiance to this deity. We gather around an altar and give our undivided attention to this bright display. At times during this this celebration, people will come together screaming, yelling and hugging each other. What I am describing to you, of course, is a college football game. It’s funny, until you really start to think about it.
But you didn’t just show up on a Saturday morning to watch your favorite football team, you probably spent a few hours this week watching SportsCenter about the said college team, probably keeping keep track of how your sports team was doing. Statistically, we spend more hours focused on sports than we do on Scripture. Then what’s the problem here? We are devoted to the wrong thing!
The church in Acts was devoted to the apostles’ teaching and then they were devoted to the fellowship. This means they were giving their mind, attention, money, thoughts, hopes, and dreams to Jesus.
So, as we come together each week as a community, we are shaping our worship. That’s why we celebrate communion. It helps us remember that Jesus is the one that we want to bow to, so we must sit at his table.
Let’s pray: “God, we thank you for fellowship. We thank you that because of Jesus, we can have a deep and intimate connection with you through his death and resurrection. We each realized today that we are prone to wander, we’re prone to sit at the wrong tables and therefore eventually give our worship and our attention to the wrong things. Help us to be a community today that is focused on you, help us to come together in the context of a family and a community that is centered around one thing and one thing only, which is Jesus and worshipping him. We thank you that we come together, we have an opportunity, a small reminder each and every week of Jesus’s body, his blood in the cup and in the juice. We thank you for his body and his blood. It’s in his name, we say amen.