TITLE : " Do all to the glory of God
DATE : The Lord's Day , 22nd May 2011
In this section we find Paul's final statement on how we ought to use our Christian freedom . One of the great problems in the church of Corinth was that they argued that Christ had set them free (and that is entirely true) but they took this to a ridiculous conclusion , maintaining that this meant that they were free do whatever they wanted (including sexual sin) , without expecting to be judged for their actions .
Well , its time for the apostle Paul to respond . You may remember that he began this argument in Chapter 8 , and here he now brings all his thoughts on this matter to a conclusion.
It has been more than a month now that we had last considered this letter to the Corinthians . I am thankful that I can speak to you one more time on this important subject - how to handle our Christian liberty in a responsible manner by always keeping the glory of God before our eyes.
We need to know how to deal with our freedom in Christ . We are living in an age where freedom means ‘do what you like ‘ . Our age is ‘me centered’ ; many will not consider whether their actions might please God , or whether they might help their fellow man . The effect of self centered thinking always leads to divisiveness in the church – which is precisely what we are seeing here ( 1 :10-17; 3:1-23 )
This passage will help us to understand the true boundaries of Christian freedom , and if properly understood and applied it will bring about wonderful peace in the church.
The key verse is found in v. 31 : “ … whether you eat or drink , or whatever you do , do all to the glory of God . “ Our exposition will be structured around this text which draws our attention to the fact that our lives ( whatever we do) ought to be lived for the glory of God . Whether you appreciate this at this stage or not – the Bible says that every human being is created by God in His image and for His own glory . You were made for God . If this is so , then our deepest joy in the Christian life is experienced when we serve God in this world with all our hearts , souls , bodies and minds . With that in mind let us now pursue our text :
10:23 : “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. You have seen this assertion “all things are lawful “ once before – in 6:12 . It seemed to have been a repeated saying in this church. It was an assertion of what they believed to be their fundamental Christian right. It was however a deeply flawed understanding of freedom and we have already seen what an outworking this sort of thinking had in the life of the church . It led to division , sexual immorality and idolatry .
Freedom ! Where did they get this understanding of freedom from ? Well , they got it from Paul . He was the champion of Christian freedom. He intensely resisted the legalists ( the so called ‘Judaizers’) – Jews who had embraced Christ , but who taught that Christ as well as the demands of the law had to be embraced in order to be saved . It became in effect a “ Christ –plus” system of salvation and not a “Christ only” way of salvation , as Paul had taught so clearly in the letter to the Galatians and to the Romans . In fact , Paul’s most intense battle with the “Christ- plus- law” approach is found in the letter to the Galatians. Please note that Paul never denounced the law as such . It is good and proper and holy . But the law as a way of salvation is utterly insufficient . This the Judaizers challenged.
So , here the Corinthians were. They had heard the message of free salvation by believing in Christ’s finished work on the cross . They had understood that no amount of law keeping could save. Christ had set them free from slavery to the law as a means to earn salvation. But they did not understand that the practical outworking of the life of a converted man or woman would issue in a profoundly practical love for God and fellow men and women . You will remember that Jesus taught us that the sum total of the law could be put into two propositions:
(i) Love the Lord your God with all your heart ,soul , mind and strength , and
(ii) love your neighbour as yourself . ( Mark 12 :30,31)
But they did not understand that and they therefore did not do that ! They were profoundly self centered and self indulging in their expressions of liberty . They insisted : “ I am free , therefore all things are lawful for me “. Now hear what Paul says to the Galatians ( who are in the opposite camp to the Corinthians) in Gal 5:13:14 : 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”
So , yes , in Christ you have become free . But does that mean that we can do what we want ? “All things are lawful”…That is a true statement from the perspective of Christ’s freeing work , 'but', says Paul , 'not all things are helpful … not all things build up'.
You see, we are saved in relationship to others . And so Paul continues to press this point home :
v.24 “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. “ This is a principle which Paul has already discussed in Ch 8 where he has warned the Corinthians not to eat in pagan temples, lest by this they should become a stumbling block to the weak (8:9) . Being a man of principle , who also leads by example , he tells them that he also limits his own freedoms for the sake of others – and ultimately for the sake of the gospel!
Vv 25 -27 Now we are getting to some application in the matter of eating food: 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” 27 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.
You are free to eat whatever is set before you . In Ch 8:8 Paul has already established that food in itself does not bring us near to God . And if you should eat meat bought in the market which was offered to idols , then eat it without allowing your conscience to condemn you . Meat is meat . It cannot be “spiritually contaminated” . It can carry maggots and harmful bacteria , but it cannot carry spiritual contamination . So when you buy kosher or halaal meat – don’t worry. You won’t become a Jew or a Muslim by eating it . Eat it with a free conscience . So, when your Muslim neighbour invites you , eat what is set before you. Remember that food is food; it all comes ultimately from God who created all things .
But now the scenario changes slightly . You are in this home of a pagan worshipper , and with you there is another Christian brother or sister , and they whisper in your ear , “Did you know that this meat was offered to idols ?” You gather that they sound rather horrified at the prospect of eating this food . What now? Here is the answer.
v.28 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— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his.
Do you see what is happening now ? You are free to eat the meat , because your conscience does not accuse you . But you now see that your weaker brother / sister is horrified . So which is the bigger priority ?
Your priority is your weaker brother – and not your liberty ; not your tummy . This is where the Corinthians went horribly wrong !
And what exactly is at stake in your brother’s mind ? It is his conscience ! You see , if he ate this food he would feel that he would violate his conscience before the Lord. It would be sin to him . Again it is helpful to be reminded what Paul says elsewhere concerning this matter . To the Romans he writes “… whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Rom 14:23).
So , for the sake of his conscience, (not yours) you must hold back , because your brother is much more precious to you than your liberty. You are not thereby crucifying your conscience, and you may pray for him that he would mature in his thinking concerning these things . You have freedom in the matter of eating and drinking. When you are in a different circumstance , where there is no offence , you sit down and eat ( even if it has been sacrificed to idols) and in your heart you give thanks to God for what you are about to receive . The earth is after all the Lord’s !
But in this circumstance you are now letting a bigger law determine your freedom – love for your neighbour !
All this sort of thinking and living out of our faith is based on this primary truth which I have drawn your attention to right at the beginning : 31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 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.
Please note :
1. Your prime motive for doing anything is the glory of God. If you eat , you give thanks and glory to God for the food provided . If you don’t eat this meat because of your brother’s sensitivity , then you are also doing it for the glory of God . In every way God gets the glory !
2. The good of others ( particularly their salvation) is your second biggest desire . You don’t have to crucify your conscience to put others first , but the fact of the matter is that others are more important than your personal priorities . You want to give no offense to anyone (Jews , Greeks or the church of God) . You want to fulfill the second commandment . In this the apostle Paul set the standards for us , so that he can say in conclusion : 11:1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
Paul invites us to imitate him in the way that he exercises his freedom .
The Corinthian problem , which is a modern problem is that there was no ‘other centeredness’ in their “ freedom theology”. Their freedom theology was self centered. They first asked : “ what is best for me ? What is in this for me ? “
The Christ centered and the cross centered method is this : “ What glorifies God ? What helps my neighbour to see Christ more clearly through the way I live ? “
What we have read and learned here again is utterly profound , because it is so far from where conventional human thinking would take us . Conventional humanistic thinking teaches us that we are at the center of things . We love the concept of freedom – to be able to live our lives as we please , without boundaries and without any reference to anyone . But that is not quite what God’s Word envisages . It envisages complete freedom , but it is freedom from sin and from an accusing conscience. That is what Jesus has achieved for us .
But Christians are called to follow Christ in His life . Christ lived to serve God and man . He calls us to imitate him . Paul calls us to imitate Him as he also imitates Christ .
The Christian faith is always other centered .
So what does this mean in practical terms ?
It means that we must keep this first principle always in mind – “whatever we do” : “…whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. “ This takes practice and constant discipline … whatever you do !
How would this solve the problem of this deeply divided church ?
- It would truly become a worshipping church . The Father would be exalted through Christ centered worshippers who worship in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit .
- It would become a loving church . In a church where we esteem others better than ourselves , there is no place for division and personality cults . There is no place for sin .
- It would become an evangelistic powerhouse . Such a church draws people to Christ . In a context of God centered worship and biblical love and orderly worship , Paul reckons a little later in 1 Cor 14:24, 25 that “ if an unbeliever or outsider would enter this fellowship he is convicted by all…. The secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so falling on his face , he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.”