Text: 1 Corinthians 10: 23-11:1
This is Paul’s summary of what we've been looking at the past six weeks: How to deal with meaty issues.
"All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
We’ve already seen this time and time, again and again through this series. The Corinthians were really excited about their presumed freedom in Christ. They got things entirely wrong. We’ve been forgiven! We’re going to heaven! We can do anything! We don’t have to follow laws like the Jewish people did! We’re free! So they had the slogan – all things are lawful. They were looking for Paul to validate them and say, yep, you’re right, anything goes. Guess what? Paul’s not going to do that. Yet at the same time, Paul is no legalist either, so he doesn’t rebuke their motto. Paul does something else, he conditions their motto within a moral framework – the golden rule. Yeah – go ahead, all things are lawful, do anything you want – accept you have to remember one little thing. Love your neighbor. As Paul states in Galatians 5:13-15 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (ESV) And notice that this love builds up. Paul is not saying simply refrain from doing this that might hurt others, he is saying that you should use your freedom in Christ to build others up. In fact, that is why the Christian is not under any law. Laws are given to restrain evil. They serve as a external motivation for one who would not naturally do good. But if one’s heart is changed, and that person by the power of the Holy Spirit does what is right and loving, than that person no longer needs to be under any way because he will be more than fulfilling what the law requires. Galatians 5:16-25 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law . . . But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. This is the true nature of Christian freedom and what the Corinthians were so confused about. If you are in Christ, God gives you the Holy Spirit and a new heart, a new nature. If you live in step with that new nature, than the law is meaningless to you because you will be motivated internally, not externally. So this is what it means to be free from the law – not that you get to do whatever you want for your own sake for your own happiness and benefit. This is freedom.
Don’t be self-righteous
The opposite of the above. Instead of declaring my freedom in all things, free to love, free to live under the guidance of the spirit, free to bless others, I am going to see just how miserable I can make myself and others.
The meat market: Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For "the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof." This is the person who walked into the market and asked, excuse me, do you know if this meat has ever been sacrificed to any god? Do you know if the cow was ever blessed by any religious figure not a Christian? Did it ever sneeze and someone said “bless you” around it? Do you know if it was a free-range cow or was it exposed to any cruelty in its upbringing? Was it fed well, in a manner appropriate to a beautiful member of God’s creation? Did the farmer ever utilize unethical hiring practices? Pretty soon the butcher is going to throw you out of the store and go home to his wife and say those Christians are self-righteous nuisances! Isn’t it important to know whether my chickens are free-range or not? What if I don’t know if my tennis shoes were made in a sweatshop or not? How far should I go? Is Paul saying that it is better to just be ignorant of the process by which this commodity has come to me, don’t ask questions? Should I just consume any thing without worrying from where it came? I struggle with applying this today, because this has been a charge against Christians in our culture – it seems that the outside world is more concerned with some of these issues than Christians are and it hurts the testimony of Christ. I think that is where we can find an answer. Remember, the overall principle is that we are trying not to put stumbling blocks in people’s way. If I’m trying to reach an environmentally-minded young adult, I should probably try to use recycled paper, because he is going to ask me, where did this come from and it’s going to do no good for me to say, “Well, Paul said to not ask questions.” So the principle is not: don’t ever ask questions about the origins of the products you consume, but it is this, don’t be a self-righteous nuisance.” Find a proper balance between being a responsible consumer and a self-righteous activist. If you are an activist, make sure you are one for the gospel. Don’t just be a self-righteous nuisance.
The unbeliever’s house: We find this expounded on in the next scenario, being invited over to an unbeliever’s house. If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. Paul is saying, be a good guest, show love, respect their hospitality. Don’t be all like, are these napkins recycled? Is this chicken free-range? Was this organically grown locally with no pesticides in a politically correct way that harmed no animals plants or farmers? Dude, settle down and eat what’s on your plate. Someone give you a gift, you don’t refuse it and say, I’m sorry do you have any documentation that this was free-traded and not produced in a sweatshop and that the material caused no harm to any living thing? Try it on and say thank you. Don’t be a self-righteous nuisance. Somebody invites you over to watch a movie, Thank them for the hospitality.
But if someone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience-- I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? Okay, here’s where it is appropriate to stand up. They have made it obvious to you that to partake in the gift would go beyond the boundaries of what Christ wants from you. Then you say, no thanks. So they give you a tee-shirt with a Marijuana leaf on it. You say, no thanks. You’re not being a self-righteous nuisance, you are following your informed conscience. Say, yeah, that’s a nice -looking shirt and thanks for thinking of me, but you know, I’m not really all that into that and I probably won’t wear it around much because its just not me. Maybe you’ve got another friend you could give it to who would appreciate it more. So don’t be a self-righteous nuisance.
If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
Paul here gets to the crux of the matter, and it is very appropriate to the holiday we are celebrating today. Enjoy all things with thanksgiving. Don’t exercise your freedom in Christ begrudgingly. Take everyday as a gift, a blessing. And in doing so, you won’t be focusing on what you don’t or cant’ have, you are thanking God for what he has given you. Remember, gratitude is an attitude not an emotion. What I mean is this, emotions are fickle things that come and go. Sure, at times you may feel a grateful emotion, but if you wait for that feeling to arise, you will probably be waiting for some time until some unique event happens that triggers that emotion. To say that gratitude is an attitude is to recognize that you can intentionally cultivate it by training your mind to receive things gratefully. Thank the Lord for everything he allows you to partake of and if you are not free to partake of something because you intentionally limit yourself for the sake of someone else, thank the Lord for the grace to do so. You know what you’ll find? A thankful heart is a happy heart. Research has shown that people who take steps to strengthen their gratitude attitude actually live healthier, happier lives. So many Christians live miserable lives and are miserable to be around simply because they have not understood how to exercise their freedom in Christ with gratitude. They are self-righteous nuisances who only consider themselves and their own happiness rather than others. No wonder why non-Christians don’t want to have anything to do with us. The only Christians they have been presented with in the media or in their experience has been the joy-killing, finger-pointing, moralizing, self-righteous ingrates. You know who in the NT that description describes? The Pharisees. Great. That’s the message that non-Christians in our culture have of us. Here’s a cartoon. We need a different model. You know what we need? We need to
Be Jesusful Yeah, that’s right, I just made up that word. But it’s a good one. Let’s read and I’ll explain.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
Here’s the difference between a Pharisee and a Jesusful Christian. The Pharisee piles onto God’s moral principles by adding to each one saying do this, do that. A Jesusful Christian like Paul says, yeah whatever you do, if you eat, great, if you abstain, fine, whatever, you figure it out and when you do it do it to bring glory to God. There are good reasons for you to abstain in certain situations, and there are good reasons for you to participate in other situations – we’ve gone through them over the past month, so whatever you do, do so with a clear conscience, not bringing others down, being thankful at all times and being a good picture of Jesus. Because that’s the bottom line: We glorify God when we reflect his Son. This is why we have the gospels, to remind us that Jesus wasn’t a joy-killing, finger-pointing, moralizing, self-righteous ingrates. Otherwise we would become Christians and think that the Pharisee way was the way to go. Then you read the gospels and you see that Jesus was no Pharisee. Ellen White, in a book entitled “Heavenly Places” writes: "Jesus was a perfect pattern of what we should be. He was the strictest observer of His Father's law, yet He moved in perfect freedom. He had all the fervor of the enthusiast, yet He was calm, sober, and self-possessed. He was elevated above the common affairs of the world, yet He did not exclude Himself from society. He dined with publicans and sinners, played with little children, and took them in His arms and blessed them. He graced the wedding feast with His presence. He shed tears at the grave of Lazarus. He was a lover of the beautiful in nature and used the lilies to illustrate the value of natural simplicity in the sight of God, above artificial display. He used the occupation of the husbandman to illustrate the most sublime truths. . . (54)”
You know what the proper religious people said about him? Matthew 11:19: The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds." Now did that mean that Jesus never stood for anything? Of course not! He told adulterers to “go and sin no more”. He told tax collectors to pay back what they swindled. The central thrust of his teaching was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. But he spoke that message in a way that always found him a welcome reception among every type of person, so that, as Paul says here, “that many may be saved.” It seems the only people that Jesus didn’t care about offending were the religious hypocrites, whom he saved his harshest rebukes for. This was Paul’s missiological principle as well. Go to the people. Love them. Eat with them. Work with them. Play with them. And tell them about Jesus who came into the world in the same way, because he loved us.
Are you living Jesusful Christianity? In what ways are you drawn to Phariseeism?
People need to see a grateful, freeing, Jesusful Christianity. Isn’t that an awesome picture? Some of you here need to experience it first. Your Christianity has been reduced to black and white enslaving rules that you selfishly follow to look good on the outside while the inside rots away. Can’t you see that Jesus is calling you to something greater. Something that makes you open your eyes in the morning and say, Thanks. Thanks. Thank you God for your indescribable gift! Something that makes you excited to be his follower again and make you walk around with a goofy smile ion your face and when people ask you why your wearing such a grin you simply reply, “He loves me!” Something that makes your friends say, you know, I had this picture in my mind of what Christians are like, but you’re different. That’s what we need. If you don’t know that, you need to reexamine where you stand with Jesus. Repent of your Phariseeism and ask Jesus to come into your life and make you Jesusful once again.