Wednesday, May 25, 2011

1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1 Do all to the Glory of God

TEXT :  1   Corinthians  10:23-11:1
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 helpfulnot 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 ?

  1. 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 .
  2. 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 .
  3. 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.

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