Week of November 14

Free to Serve and Pleased to Do It

Read: Psalm 122; 1 Corinthians 9-11
"'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.”
1 Corinthians 10:23-24, ESV


“Come let us reason!” I cannot help but think of Paul whenever I consider the use of solid reasoning to convince people of Christian truth. One of Paul’s wonderful attributes, and there were many, was his use of argument. By this term, I mean rhetoric. For example, there is a key thread of reasoning that he weaves throughout 1 Corinthians 8-10. In our focal verses, he reaches back to 1 Corinthians 8 and the discussion about meat sacrificed to idols in order to step forward with the coming portions of the letter. Despite his careful development of a line of thought, we must not overlook the fact that, while he uses good reasoning to present the truth, he goes directly for the hearts of believers to bring about the desired change in their lives. Let’s follow along with his line of reasoning, then apply God’s truth to our lives.

Let's See What the Bible Says

Setting the Stage
The “watchword” for Corinthian Christians, who were puffed up with pride over their knowledge, was “spiritual liberty.” We will miss the point that Paul makes if we fail to see what led him to address this particular problem in Corinth. He was likely responding to those leaders who questioned his authority with an accusation something like this one: “If this man were a true apostle, and enjoyed an apostle’s authority, he would not allow himself to be restricted in this way—and in other ways, which we have observed in his behaviour [sic] in Corinth itself” (BNTC).
Calling for the Proper Application of Christian Liberty
Paul throws in a bit of a different perspective when he teaches the Corinthians that even though the moral concern of meat sacrificed to idols is largely a non-issue, he adds that it can be hurtful (cf. ch. 8; 10:23-11:1; EBC). He does not seek to confuse us; instead, he lays down before us a couple of principles in the passage.

First, we have an individual freedom to choose, but we need to choose wisely (10:23). You may recall how I teach folks to “frame their moral actions.” One side of a moral decision is the proper use of our autonomy (Galatians 5:1a). I mean our freedom which comes with the responsibility to choose our actions wisely (Galatians 5:13; “don't use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh”). “Lawful” means an action that is possible without hindrances. We are to ask ourselves if a particular action will strengthen or weaken our spiritual growth.

Secondly, we are to do good. Paul states that our freedom should be used to “edify.” We are, literally, to “build up” the spiritual house that is in Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27, “you are the body of Christ”). Paul expands on the idea when he says, “not to seek one’s own good, but the good of his neighbor” (10:24). Church members, for example, should never consider their churches to be, what I will term, all-inclusive resort hotels that have been built for their personal comfort. Church leaders need to be reminded that church members are not a personal “maid service.”
God’s Glory above All
A Christian ethic, as you know, is based upon the nature and actions of our holy God (Exodus 34:6ff.) Therefore, we should look at moral choices through the lens of the Scriptures. Paul has placed such a “lens filter” on moral decisions related to meat sacrificed to idols and ministry compensation (8:4; 9:6; cf. ethics in the Sermon on the Mount). Make no mistake, Paul wanted the Corinthians to look through the “God is Creator” lens when making their moral choices (10:31). Let’s consider how to apply Paul’s principles to our lives.

Let's Deepen Our Walk

I imagine that most of us will be able to quote the famous American revolutionary, Patrick Henry, who famously said, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” His fiery speech, which was delivered to Virginia’s second convention on March 23, 1775, called for the formation of armed militias in Virginia, if British troops attempted to control the area. The basis for the speech was his vigorous opposition to oppressive British rule over the American colonies. I find it interesting, however, that Patrick Henry partly grounded his claims in natural law that was governed by God. Henry’s call for “liberty” (i.e., freedom) was not because he was anti-authority but because he was anti-oppression. He opposed unbridled authority because he cared about the welfare of ordinary people. Sadly, the words that were attributed to him too often become the rallying cry of Christians who rabidly cling to their individual freedoms in Christ.

Here are a few thoughts for our spiritual growth. Paul’s actions throughout his Christian life were grounded in behavior that stemmed from God’s character and actions. The Spirit empowered him to live this Christian life (cf. Galatians 2:20). Chapters 8-10 provide us with some principles that will strengthen our daily Christian interaction with others. First, the principle of sanctity of life stems from the fact that all life—unborn and born—has value (9:20-22). The entire section reflects respect for all people. Therefore, you and I do well to see each person as having inherent value that cannot be lost by anything they say or do. All people have been made in God’s image.

Secondly, God models respect for human life, so we are to serve the deepest need of our fellow human beings. Notice “who” Paul uses to illustrate the principle of service. He mentions Jews, pagans, and those who are conscience-stricken (“weak”)! We all love to employ the path of least resistance and like to begin with people just like us. Paul does not allow for that here. Sanctity of all life means love and service to all.

Finally, Paul introduces here a principle of sacrifice for the gospel that resembles all that Christ modeled in John 13 when He washed the feet of the disciples and on the cross. Paul, who was free, had himself encountered the dilemma about what to do when faced with a moral decision to eat the meat that had been left over from idol sacrifices. The principle? He laid down his rights in order for his brother and sister in Christ to have a clear path to the Savior.

Let's Think and Discuss

1. We are all building something and someone. Examine a recent moral choice that you made, then examine it to see how many of the 1 Corinthians 8-10 principles were at work in your actions.

2. For families: We do well in our families when we see every person as valuable and made in the image of God, no matter what they look like, or what they do, or who they are. Perhaps we need a secret family signal to help each other speak of others with respect, even when we are unhappy with another’s behavior, or driving behind a slowpoke on the freeway, or watching the nightly news, or waiting in a store line behind someone taking too much time at the counter.

If one of our family members begins saying something disrespectful, then another family member has the right to share the symbol, whatever the family chooses and agrees to use. There is bound to be much laughter! But this practice could also heighten our sensitivity to our own biases and language about other people. When we notice that we have crossed a line of respect toward another, we can stop and pray, and ask God to change our hearts and attitudes.

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock