Only foolish believers think that they cannot be tempted, or that they can manage to fight the attraction of Satan's lies in their own strength. God's anger against the sins of Israel in the wilderness is a warning to believers at any time in history, and especially for us who know that Jesus will soon return. He will call us to account for our sins and to reward faithful discipleship.
Taking part in something is not just an activity; it is a statement about what you value. Idolatry was rife in Corinth; not just the ceremonies at the pagan temples, but acceptance of the associated immoral culture. When people believed in Jesus, some brought their past culture into the church; in much the same way that the Israelites who left Egypt took some of the pagan Egyptian ethos with them into the wilderness.
Paul wrote extensively about the problem of new believers still being influenced by pagan worship, which was normal in Corinthian culture. Temples dedicated to Greek or Roman mythical gods functioned as community centres, restaurants and business meeting places; they were also socially acceptable centres of immorality. Meat and wine offered to the idols were served in the restaurants, posing a dilemma of conscience for some who did not want to go back to their old way of life (1 Corinthians 8:7). Others thought there was no problem.
Corinth, like many cultures today, had a liberal approach to personal ethics. If something was possible then it was ok to do it. You could do almost whatever you liked as long as you stayed clear of the Roman authorities. That approach enabled corruption to thrive in business: slavery was accepted, women were often treated as property and immorality was normal in pagan worship.
We all hold values according to our background, knowledge and experience; by what we are taught is right and what we feel is right. Our conscience is the automatic guardian of what we believe is right. But in a confused world which despises God's Word, we may not be sure of what is right and wrong.
The Apostle Paul faced all kinds of criticism from people who did not understand his motives. The issue of how to deal with the problem of meat which had been offered to idols, had polarised the church. That is why Paul spent so much time in this letter helping the church to understand what was important and how to be caring of others whose consciences were troubled (1 Corinthians 8:1-13, 10:14-33).
Despite the immaturity of the Corinthian church, its divisions, quarrelling, acceptance of immorality, confusion about marriage and how to live in a city dominated by pagan worship, Paul knew that many had held on to what he had taught them during his 18 month stay (Acts 18:1-18) and in a previous letter (1 Corinthians 5:9). Although he had to rebuke them, he also wanted to affirm those who had remained faithful to the truth.
The immorality surrounding pagan worship in Corinth led to confusion about the way in which men and women ought to relate in marriage, and in the church. Introducing this teaching, Paul defines the principle of headship. This is not to rank people in order of importance or merit, but to establish where responsibility lies. Even though the Lord Jesus Christ is as equally God as the Father and the Spirit, the Father has headship over the Son (1 Corinthians 15:28).
Paul had been teaching about headship in the home (1 Corinthians 11:2-10), but in these verses wrote that the male 'head' is not superior or designed to be independent of the woman. He strikes a culturally unsettling note. Most societies give a superior place to one gender, or allow the dominant partner to have the right to rule. But Paul gives the Lord's view that although headship is male, neither gender has everything and that both were designed to be complementary to each other. Both have come from God and neither has the right to dominate the other. They must work together.
The church of Jesus Christ has seen all too many divisions in the past 2000 years. It has not just been a gradual fragmentation over centuries; the problem was present in Corinth. While Paul tried hard to find some reason to praise the church before applying criticism, in the matter of worship and the Lord’s Supper he had none. The Apostle had heard reliable reports of the church which justified his strong reproach that their meetings did more harm than good. Their worship services were an offence to the gospel and to the Lord.