Freedom and Responsibility
Text: 1 Cor 10:23-11:1
Theme: We have freedom to be responsible.
Doctrine: freedom in Christ
Image: stumbling block or stepping stone
Need: consideration of others
Message: consider others before you act
Burdett CRC- July 31 am, 2005
Hillcrest CRC- February 26 pm, 2006
Ideal Park CRC, GR—Oct 29, 2006
Freedom and Responsibility
1 Cor. 10:23-11:1
The Corinthian Church was one of the most infamous churches in history. It was located in Corinth, which seemed to be the centre for all wickedness in the world. Corinth was located on a little land bridge that connects the Peloponnese peninsula and the Greek mainland. It controlled all the land trade north and south. It was also the main connection between the Adriatic Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean. Since this town controlled so much trade, it seemed to collect all the riff-raff from the rest of the world. It was also the administrative centre for the Roman province of Achaia. As a result it became the fashionable place for the elites to live. The culture within Corinth contained a wide range of religious cults. Part of the practices of these cults was to serve the meat which had been sacrificed to the idols in dining rooms directly below the inner sanctuary of the temple. This was the Corinthian equivalent to our going to a restaurant. It was common for the people to join together and celebrate a feast after a major sacrifice, and it was considered an honour to be invited to one of them. Many of the Corinthian converts were used to participating in these feasts. Some of this meat was also sold in the marketplace as common meat.
Do everything to the good of your neighbour.
These feasts did not happen everyday, yet sacrifices were performed everyday. This meat was sold in the marketplace as common meat. It was hard to distinguish between what was sacrificed to idols, and what was not. In the first bit of ch 10, Paul addresses the issue of the idol feasts. He tells the people that they are not to participate in them because then they are participating in idolatry. This left the question of the meat sold in the marketplace. There were many new converts who were worried about eating any meat offered to idols, but there were also others in the church who believed that “everything was permissible”. There were even some who decided that their freedom in Christ meant that they were under no moral code, whatsoever. Some were even joining themselves with temple prostitutes. Some of the people in Corinth thought that there was no reason to stop them from doing whatever they wanted to. They were free in Christ. Others were appalled at what these members were doing.
Not only were these people eating meat sacrificed to idols in their own homes, but they attended gatherings at others homes, and ate the meat there. These gatherings were magnificent affairs. It was the rich and powerful people who hosted these events, and the Corinthians felt like big shots when they were invited to these gatherings. More often than not, the people who hosted the event were not Christian. They did not care if the meat they served was dedicated to idols. They were simply content to show off their wealth and finery to the guests. Sometimes some of the Christians who did not think it was right to eat that meat where at the party. They would approach the other Christians and say, “Did you know this meat was dedicated to an idol? You guys are sinning by eating that meat. You should stop.” Those who thought they were free said, “I do not care what you think. I am free to do it, and if you were stronger in the faith, you would do it to.” They did not care what the others thought. They said, “If you don't like it, then you can just leave.”
Sometimes we ignore another person's objection and say, “I don't really care what you think. I am going to do it, and you can just lump it!” Have you ever heard someone else say that? I have. Some people I knew in college were like that. They used to go out to a party and have a little something to drink. They would usually not get drunk, but just enjoy some beers with friends. This was not bad, in and of itself, but there were some at the college who did not think that it was right to drink any kind of alcohol. Well, one day the people who drank occasionally decided to rub it in the faces of those who didn't. They were all invited to the same party. It was kind of an end of the year bash. It was put on by a person who did not know the tensions between the groups. Well, the people who thought it was OK to drink took a keg along to the party. Those who thought it was wrong had arrived early and were hanging out, enjoying each other's company. They all turned to look at the door as it swung open and a couple guys walked in with the keg. They stood there shocked. They went up to the Christians who thought it was alright to drink and said, “You should not drink, its not right. Please take the keg away.” But the others did not care, one of them took a long swig from his beer and went, “Ahh, now that's tasty.” Those who thought drinking was wrong were deeply offended, and they ended up leaving the party. Both groups were Christians, but they did not act in a Christian manner. Those who thought it was alright to drink had the wrong attitude. This is not the attitude which God tells us to have. God, through Paul, says, “Do everything to the good of your neighbour.”
There is nothing wrong with having a beer every now and then, but if there is someone who says to you, “It is wrong to do that,” then you are supposed to abstain from it in their presence. You are supposed to stop yourself from doing it for their sake, and for the sake of their conscience. If you do it, and you urge the other person to do it, then you are causing them to sin. If they think it is wrong, and they do it, then they sin. If you cause them to do something they think is wrong, then you are causing them to sin. When you do this, you place a stumbling block in front of them. It would be like taking one of those concrete dividers from the highway and placing it directly across their path. You make it that much more difficult for them to continue in their walk of faith. You hurt them, and cause them to stumble and perhaps even fall.
This passage deals with more than meat sacrificed to idols, or having a beer every now and then. It addresses the more serious issue of separation in the church. It addresses people who do not take the concerns of others into proper consideration. If you have hurt your brother or sister in the faith, for whatever reason. If you have made it difficult for them to come here and worship with you. If you have caused them to stumble. Then you are in the wrong. There may not be a justified reason for them to be hurt, or to have difficultly worshipping with you, but if they do, then it is on your head. If you cause them to hate you because you refuse to address whatever issue is at hand, then you are the one responsible. They should come to you, and hold you accountable, and you should work it out together. We all have a duty to the other person's conscience. We do not have to alter our conception of what is right and wrong. My friends did not have to begin to think that drinking was wrong, but they did have to change their behaviour. They should not have drunk in front of those who thought it was wrong. We are supposed to make sure that we do not do things which are against the conscience of those around us. We are to do everything for the good of our neighbour.
Do everything for the glory of God.
The church in Corinth was not only to do everything for the good of their neighbour, but they were also to do everything to the glory of God. Paul anticipates an objection when he says, “For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?” They are denounced because they are no longer doing it to the glory of God. Paul tells them, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” The Corinthians were not glorifying God by causing divisions in the church. They were not glorifying God by causing their brother to sin. They were not glorifying God, because they are being a bad example to those outside the church.
By eating the meat sacrificed to idols in front of their brother or sister, they are not exhibiting a Christian attitude and they are being a stumbling block to their brother or sister, but they are also being a stumbling block to others who might wish to come to Christ. The Corinthians were not to be a stumbling block to either Jew or Greek, those outside the church, nor to the church. They were to follow Paul in this. He says in ch 9:20-22 “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”
When people began to add things to the gospel message, Paul stood up and took his stance. He would not circumcise Titus, because some people were saying he had to be circumcised to be saved (Gal 2:3). But at another time, Paul had Timothy circumcised before his second missionary journey, just to avoid dissension with the Jews he would be visiting (Ac 16:1-3). Paul stressed over and over again that the Gentiles should not be required to follow Jewish customs. But he never once said that it was wrong for Jews to practice their old customs, so long as they did not begin to trust in them.
Paul told the Corinthians that they were allowed to eat of the meat in the marketplace, without asking any questions because “the earth is the Lord's and everything in it.” They were allowed to eat food which was dedicated to idols, because the idols were nothing and Satan could not hurt them through the food. As long as they ate the food with thanksgiving in their hearts to the gift God had given them, then they had nothing to worry about. If they were doing it to the glory of God, then it was allowed. The problem was, some of the stuff they did was not to the glory of God. Joining with a prostitute was not to the glory of God. Joining in the idolatrous feasts in the temples was not to the glory of God. Causing your brother or sister to stumble was not to the glory of God.
Giving your brother or sister a boost in faith, is to the glory of God. Saving someone for Christ is to the glory of God. Paul wanted the church to be a good witness of God's love and of Christ's sacrifice. He wants the people to be a stepping stone, not a stumbling block. Instead of placing a big concrete barrier in the path of a fellow believer or someone seeking Christ, he wants the people to place a stone over the creek of difficulty that person may be facing. If they have come to a rough spot in their walk of faith. If they had come to a wide and deep stream which they were scared to cross, Paul is telling the Corinthians to help them across the stream, not make them fall in.
We must not make people fall into the waters of their troubles either. We must be a servant to them, and help them across whatever difficulty they are facing. We are to be a bridge, not a barrier; a stepping stone, not a stumbling block. If my friends from college had not brought a keg along to the party, or if they had brought some non-alcoholic beverage along, then they would have been imitating this type of service. They would have respected the other person's conscience and their actions would have been to the glory of God. They could have shown God's love and encouraged their brothers and sisters in Christ and any non-Christians at the party. They could have been a blessing to the others there.
To be that blessing to others we are to mimic Paul, just as he mimicked Christ. We are to be all things to all people, not seeking our own advantage, but the advantage of many, so that they might be saved. It is to God's glory when people come to Christ. When the Holy Spirit works through us, when we share the gospel with someone else, and when the Spirit brings them to Christ, it is to God's glory. God gives us the ability to be shining lights to others, be they Christian or not. As Paul says, “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” (2 Cor 4:15). When we lead people to Christ, we add to the glory of God. When we live in harmony with each other, we add to the glory of God. When we love each other, and bear one another's burdens, we add to the glory of God. When we serve one another, we add to the glory of God.
Christ came down from earth, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28). The Word, who was God before the beginning of time, through whom all things were created, he came down to be our servant (Jn 1:1-3). He came to save us. He is our Lord and master, but he comes to serve. He came to administer to all our needs. He came to provide us with what we need. God gave us the opportunity to share God's light with those in darkness. God gave us the opportunity to help each other grow in the faith. God gave us the opportunity to share in the way he blesses others. God gave us the opportunity to be a blessing to others. God gave us the opportunity to be servants to each other. There is nothing more rewarding than helping to lead someone to Christ. To know that God used you to reconcile that person to himself. Christ has saved us, not so that we can hide our light under a basket, but so that we can let our light shine to all men, so that they might be saved through us. God has chosen to work through us. He has given us treasures of immense worth, inside our cracked clay pots. God gave us the most valuable thing ever to have been found. God gave us the message of salvation by faith in Christ Jesus as our atoning sacrificed. We have been baptised into Christ so that we may live for him. That is why Paul urges us to test our actions.
Here are some practical ways to see if something you are going to do is something you should do. 1) Is it to the good of your neighbour? Does it build them up, or tear them down? Does it make you a stumbling block, or a stepping stone? 2) Is it to the glory of God? Does it glorify Christ? Does it lead others to Christ? Does it help someone along in their faith? These are questions we can ask ourselves before we do something, because we are to do everything to the good of our neighbour, and to the glory of God.
Let us Pray
Lord God, thank you for loving us so much. Thank you for using us to be lights to people in darkness. Thank you for using us to bring people to you. Help us to be stepping stones to others, and not stumbling blocks. Help us to do everything for the good of our neighbour, and for your glory.