We love our freedom in America. It is our heritage. In today’s culture, there is the exaltation of freedom even in areas like gender identity and relationships. And Christians who dispute the biblical veracity of these expressions and see a definition of immorality within some of these relationships are viewed as judgmental prudes who want to inhibit individual freedom.
But everyone believes in drawing some limits to freedom. Even an anarchist does not want his home ransacked because someone else feels they have the rights to do so. So where are lines to be drawn?
As we wrote in the previous devotional when setting up the context for this latter portion of 1 Corinthians chapter 10, the background question being addressed by Paul has to do with the freedom to eat meat offered to idols, as most marketplace meat available at that time had been. The previous passage (verses 14-22) gave the first of three answers. Paul said that the Corinthians should flee idolatry and not be eating meat in pagan temples, thereby becoming one with the demon entities behind the idol worship.
The Corinthians were very excited about their freedoms that they believed came to them by association with the gospel and their new faith community. And Paul quotes them in their exhilaration …
10:23 – “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
Paul jumps on their assertion immediately by giving a “yeah, but” … stating that not everything they have freedom to do is constructive. There is a higher principle of being cognizant as to how actions affect others.
Answer #2 gives an affirmative to their own personal freedom to buy and consume meat bought in the marketplace…
10:25 – Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” [from Ps. 24:1]
Paul acknowledges their freedom in the context of their own homes. This is indeed a liberty that they do have. But answer #3 comes quickly on the heels of this granted liberty, setting up another scenario …
10:27 – If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29 I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?
The setting is this: if you are in the home of an unbeliever, along with other Christians also there as guests, feel free to eat whatever is set before you. But if another Christian of weaker faith speaks of being troubled by participating because the food had been offered to an idol, then – for the sake of the weaker brother – don’t eat the food. Paul is not saying that they needed to change their viewpoint to match that of the weaker brother, but they should yieldingly change their behavior.
Paul summarizes …
10:31 – So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. 11:1 – Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
Again, it is all about the big picture. Food and drink are really not that important, there’s always more of it that causes no issues. The larger picture involves other people, both those yet to come to faith and those who are earlier along the path of growth and sanctified maturity. You don’t want to be an obstacle to those who need the Lord or to those who need to mature in faith. Don’t demand your rights, rather, seek the good of others.
Paul is not arrogant in concluding this section of thought in 11:1 by saying, Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. This has the same spirit as that great passage in Philippians 2 about the humiliation of Christ in taking on humanity to the extent of dying for our sins. This was the ultimate in others-oriented service. There, Paul said to the Philippians to have this same attitude as Christ Jesus. And here to the Corinthians it is much the same; don’t demand you own rights. As Paul was doing, set them aside for the greater good of serving others.
It is not unhealthy for each of us as Christians to ponder where we might have the very public exercise of some liberties that are harmful to either the salvation or the growth of others. And relative to whatever issue the Spirit may bring to your mind, be it alcohol consumption or something else, the question is not so much IF you have the freedom to participate. The pertinent question is if it is WISE to insist upon your liberty.
Regarding 1st Corinthians 10:28: Why do you assume that Paul is concerned about conscience only of unbelievers when Paul is clearly concerned also with how those outside the church perceive the situation since he wrote in verse 31 that the principle under discussion expanded to groups not in the church of God: “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God.”
And after your sermon yesterday I brought up another issue as pertains to alcohol with another brother at church… while some in the church stumble over any alcohol use … some outside the church feel the same way who even though they drink might see it as sinful as exemplified by how my spiritual brother was offered a beer and accepted it from an outsider who gave him the beer and then said to the brother “I thought you were a Christian” which of course means that the brother might have been seen as setting a bad example … unless the unbeliever didn’t believe drinking was “wrong” and was only remarking that it was incongruous with what he knew about Christianity … still, in any case, Christians need to be concerned about the example and message that they might set even drinking alcohol in the presence of unbelievers, and this also pertains to those who have some religious beliefs that differ from ours, Mormons, Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists, perhaps Jehovah Witnesses and any other sects that might be habituated to think of alcohol as inherently evil even in the most moderate amounts — all of whom we should want to bring into a better understanding of the truth of God without laying stumbling blocks before them.
Never-mind responding — you already answered the question I posed at the end of your blog, though earlier in your blog I was perplexed that you seemed to be concerned only about the weaker Christian.
In a later context you wrote, “It is not unhealthy for each of us as Christians to ponder where we might have the very public exercise of some liberties that are harmful to either the salvation or the growth of others” and since you said “either the salvation or the growth…” it appears you recognized that point in which case my remark didn’t add any new framework to what you wrote but just exemplified a point you were making.