Saturday, 11 December 2004 17:29

Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (26)

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Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (26)

1 Corinthians 10:23-30

Broadcast: August 16, 1998; Message Number 1485

Doing all to the glory of God

"What is the chief end of man?" the Westminster Catechism asks in its opening statement. The answer is very beautiful: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." We were created to glorify God and to be happy in Him. This is also what the apostle Paul emphasizes in I Corinthians 10. The key verse is verse 31: "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."

The apostle mentions man's duty of glorifying God in connection with some very ordinary activities: eating and drinking. There is a reason for this. In the previous section Paul has dealt extensively with the issue of food sacrificed to idols and with the question whether Christians should eat this kind of meat. Here he sums it all up by laying down the fundamental principle that in everything we are to promote God's glory and the well-being of our fellow believers.

In verses 23 to 30 Paul lists four basic principles to guide us in the proper use of our Christian liberty.

The first one is edification. Before deciding whether I should make use of my freedom in Christ I need to ask: will it edify? The apostle says: "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient or profitable." All things are lawful, but all things do not edify. With "all things" Paul means the adiaphora or things indifferent--those grey areas of Christian living that are not specifically forbidden in Scripture. Paul says he is at liberty to do any of those things, but he adds, all things are not beneficial or helpful. If it is not conducive to the well-being of others I shouldn't do it.

"Let no man seek his own but every man another's wealth," Paul continues. Don't think only of your own good, but also of other Christians and what's best for them. Here we have the second principle: I must be concerned about my brother in Christ who is upset with me if I drink a glass of wine, light a cigarette, play a game of gin rummy or whatever. I have to consider his scruples and not insist on my rights if it causes hard feelings between us.

The third principle for using Christian liberty is to keep a healthy balance. We must consider the convictions of others, but not to the point that we allow them to intimidate us. Some Christians are so legalistic and set such high standards for themselves and especially others that if we are not careful we end up in bondage again. Paul says in verses.25 to 27, "Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience' sake; for the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof." Paul quotes Psalm 24 to support his contention that everything comes from God, including meat that has been sacrificed to idols. It is food that the Lord provides from the earth, so it can be eaten with a clear conscience and with thanksgiving. As he writes to Timothy, "Everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the Word of God and by prayer."

So enjoy your meal, but make sure you say grace, even in the house of an unbeliever, and ask no questions that might embarrass your host. That is your freedom which you have in Christ and which you should never give up unless it is for the edification of a fellow believer. Even then you should not do it because you feel intimidated, but simply because you want to build up your brother who might otherwise be offended.

This brings us to the fourth guiding principle for exercising Christian freedom, namely the principle of solidarity. This is illustrated in the next section where Paul envisions the situation of some other dinner guest saying, this is meat sacrificed to idols. What to do then? Paul's advice is: do not eat for the sake of him who told you and for conscience' sake. I don't mean your own conscience, but the conscience of the other man, not your own.

If that happens Paul means, do not argue or insist on your rights. Give up your liberty so that the other person's conscience will not be violated. It seems clear that this other person is a fellow believer because the pagan host is not likely to divulge that the meat he is serving has been sacrificed to idols. Perhaps the other guest has found out somehow that the meat about to be served is sacrificial meat-and now he has real qualms about eating his meal. In that case, Paul suggests, the stronger brother should support the weaker one out of a sense of solidarity.

But there is also another reason for acting in this self-denying way. As Paul explains in verses 29 to 30, "Conscience, I say, not your own, but that of another, for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience? For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?" What Paul is saying is this: why should I let my freedom be judged by another man's conscience? If I partake of food for which I have given thanks why should I expose myself to his criticism?

If your weaker brother objects to your eating this kind of food, you should give up your right to eat it, because otherwise he may question your spirituality and spread rumours about your conduct and you don't need that. Paul is not only concerned about the weaker brother and his scruples, but also about the strong brother and his good name. Weaker brothers, in those days as well as in ours, have a tendency to slander the reputation of stronger Christians. Because they themselves are in bondage to legalism they resent seeing others enjoying their freedom in Christ, so they may try to discredit them. So-and-so worships idols, they may say--I saw him eat food that was sacrificed to idols.

Mature Christians, therefore, should be careful not to offend their less mature brothers and so run the risk of being misunderstood. Rather, they should abstain and sit down with them to instruct them in the glorious doctrine of Christian liberty with patience and in love.

What lessons can we draw from all of this? The issue of meat offered to idols has no relevance for us, of course, but the principles Paul sets forth in dealing with this issue are of permanent value. We don't have to look far for modern equivalents of the situation that so troubled the Corinthian church.

Let me mention just a few issues that face the modern church, issues that divide many Christians. Take smoking, or alcoholic beverages, going to shows, watching TV or videos, what Christians should wear or not wear to church or wherever. These are just a few of what I would call adiaphora or things indifferent about which Christians tend to differ.

Maybe some of you would rather not talk about such a touchy subject. But don't your kids ever ask questions about these things? I'm sure that the topic of meat sacrificed to idols was discussed a lot in the homes of Corinthian believers. That's why they raised the issue with Paul and sought his advice. The church may not be silent on such matters. Well, what about movies? As such, movies or films are amoral. That word means neutral, neither good nor bad. It all depends what the subject matter is, what is being shown and what kind of language is used, clean, filthy or profane. I'm afraid that most commercial movies today are not amoral but definitely immoral. With the virtual abolition of censorship in recent years, 90% of movies shown in theatres and on TV are not fit to be seen by any decent person, let alone Christians. Even many worldly people are upset with the gratuitous sex and violence that TV viewers are exposed to every day. So much so that there is growing support for re-imposing some form of censorship. If even non-Christians are upset about this should Christians be less concerned? Yet statistics show that TV watching among evangelicals is as indiscriminate as in the rest of society. This is serious.

I'm sure that if Paul were alive today and if you'd ask him for advice on this matter he would say, like eating meat in pagan temples, Christians should never watch films which violate Biblical norms and principles. I realize that not all are agreed whether this should be seen as a grey area. Some Christians remain opposed to films of any kind. Others will allow documentaries but no films which involve acting. Still others will allow acting but they draw the line at Biblical subject matter which they feel is not fit for acting out. I happen to agree with that position, certainly when it comes to portraying Christ, as is done in so many Hollywood films and even Christian productions.

Christians will no doubt continue to disagree on issues such as these and rightly so. There should be room for disagreement on secondary issues within the parameters of Scripture. Like buying meat in the Corinthian market, we should feel free to watch any film, provided it does not conflict with the clear teachings of Scripture. The same applies to music, reading novels and a host of other forms of recreation.

The list of doubtful or amoral issues in today's churches is a long one. Some items affect us more than others, depending upon where we live and what church we belong to. But the principles set forth by the apostle Paul in this chapter will serve as a guide for us, whatever the situation. One of those guiding principles is, as we saw, the requirement that our freedom in these matters should be balanced by our consideration for fellow Christians who differ with us on any given issue. Of course, here too there are limits. It is impossible to please everybody, but if we err at all, let us err on the side of caution and concern for fellow Christians.

What we should realize above all, however, is that there are no limits when it comes to pleasing God. Whether we eat or drink, work or relax, dress for work, play or church, whether we watch TV, listen to music, or read a book-all should be done to the glory of God.

We either live a life that honours God or that dishonours Him. There is no in-between, no neutral area, even when it comes to the things described in this chapter of 1 Corinthians. They may be things indifferent, they may be grey areas, but the way we deal with these things either brings glory to God or dishonour.

Paul closes this section by setting himself up as an example. "Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many that they may be saved. Be ye followers or imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ." Paul's goal was to bring as many people to Christ as possible. Therefore he was willing to waive His rights as a Christian in matters of indifference if it helped to win sinners for the Gospel and build up believers in the faith.

Paul could not do this in his own strength, no more than that we can do this. He was able to live such a self-denying life only because he was a disciple of Christ, as he himself testifies. Paul was an imitator of his Master Who is our supreme Example. Of Him we read that He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant and humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even the death of the cross (Phil.2:7-8). May this also be our ambition, to be like Christ and his faithful servant Paul, so we may bring glory to God's holy name and be a blessing to others

Additional Info

  • Audio: 1205155159
  • Speaker: Rev. C. Pronk
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