1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1
September 16, 2018
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 17:05 in the audio file.
Or, Raising the Right Questions
There is little need for love and wisdom to make decisions when all is law, when “decisions” are made for you already. Likewise there is little need for maturity and sacrifice to make decisions when there isn’t much of anything to decide. It’s when we’re free and when there is an abundance that we really run into a need for self-control.
In the Old Testament God told His people what they were allowed to eat. Other things were not just out of season, they were unclean, and so prohibited by God’s law. In the New Testament, those dietary laws were done away with; believers were and are free to eat as long as they do it with thanks. That freedom, however, caused new (potential) problems. As just one example, what about meat that had (possibly) been offered in worship to an idol?
This also would not have been an issue if there simply was no meat to buy and/or eat. No one could choose wrongly if there was no choice, and no one could be offended that someone chose wrongly because, again, no choices were on the table.
But God didn’t bless the Corinthians with limitations and scarcity. He blessed them with liberty and plenty, which also meant that He blessed them with the possibility of messing it up and also with the possibility of showing theological maturity and affection for others. He provided them with all kinds of ways to fail, which actually were all kinds of ways to love on the body and to glorify Him. He gave them ways to imitate Christ.
We come to finish Paul’s section about eating meat offered to idols, the subject of 1 Corinthians since the beginning of chapter 8. Next time we’ll switch to the apostle’s thoughts on head coverings and hair length, which ought to be fun. For now we get counsel on how to receive all the good things.
The apostle quoted this true but easily misused motto already in 6:12. Some of the Corinthians used it to declare their liberty and to justify their sins in the body with other persons. Now they may be using it to justify their sins with what they put into their body regardless of other persons. “All things are lawful,” and here it’s in the context of what is lawful to eat, but not all things are helpful. The NASB translates, “not all things are profitable,” and we might ask, Helpful or profitable for what? The second half of verse 23 clarifies, but even the word helpful could be translated as “bringing together.” It might not disobey a specific verse for you to do something, but freedom to do something doesn’t automatically make that something good.
“All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. This is more edification talk, and the context is the building up of the body not the building up of one’s own spiritual life. So, Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. What is the priority? The priority is proactively and freely choosing not to argue for your own way.
The right question is not just is it lawful, but is it beneficial for building up?
In the previous paragraph Paul laid down the law that “you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (10:21). It’s not right to eat meat as worship to an idol. But that’s not the only place of possible contamination. In verses 25-30 Paul gives counsel for a couple other situations.
Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. The alternative would be if you raised your own cattle, but those living and worshipping in the city of Corinth probably weren’t ranching for themselves. So they got their beef the old fashioned way: they bought it from the butcher.
Paul says there is nothing wrong with that, and, you don’t even need to scrutinize the history of the meat. You don’t need to know the cow’s name, or how it was treated, or if it may be left over from a temple party. There weren’t stickers on the shrink wrap informing the consumer that the shoulder had been offered to Shamash or the tenderloin sacrificed to Aphrodite. Paul assumes that some of the meat had been connected in some way with idols and that some hadn’t, and that the Christian didn’t need to worry about it. You are not required by Christ to watch all the documentaries before you purchase.
The food-fussing anxiety-killer is Kuyperian-thankfulness. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof,” quoting Psalm 24:1. It’s a revealed truth, a legal truth, and a complete truth. Buy and be thankful for whatever you find at the store. There is no demon’s meat. Demons don’t possess meat; meat can’t catch demon cooties. The Father owns the cattle on all the thousands of hills, and the bull of heaven. He has the meats.
The right question is not what was this meat doing last Tuesday, but Who made this meat?
What about when you didn’t buy it but you’re being served by someone else, even if that someone else is a possible or probably idol worshipper? Should Christians share a meal with non-Christians?
If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, there is an invitation and inclination. If you want to go, go, and eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. Again the default is, don’t bother about the beef’s biography. The right question is not has this steak come directly from alter to table?
That said, 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. Knowing the nature of man, I can imagine a variety party-poopers. We don’t know if the someone is a Christian, perhaps the kind of Christian who just can’t eat without investigation, who now feels it her duty to alert everyone to stay away from this tainted meat. Or perhaps it is a non-Christian, maybe even the dinner host, who knows the Christian position on idol food better than many Christians, and wants to see if he can put the Christian on the hot seat and get the Christian to compromise. Maybe there is a non-Christian who really is concerned for the Christian. If that happens, use your liberty not to eat.
It is for the other person’s benefit, and for the sake of conscience–I do not mean your conscience, but for his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If it’s a believer sounding the alarm, their conscience is weak and, “through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled” (1 Corinthians 8:7). If it’s a non-believer, their conscience is ruined in one of two ways. Either they think that their idol worship is okay since the Christian is knowingly associating with it too, or he thinks that Christians are hypocrites who do what is convenient rather than consecrated to the “one God, the Father.”
So in that situation, Christian, don’t eat. “The food’s history matters only when it matters to someone else who considers it sacred” (Garland). Make a point by not eating, which is not that you fear contamination but that you can’t support their idolatry.
Verse 30 summarizes the overall point that we don’t need to find out the origin story of every piece of meat. If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? With the extension of Psalm 24:1 in mind and the intention of building up the body also in mind, adding thanks is the trifecta of good eats. Thankfulness makes food more clean than bleach. Thankfulness makes food more clean than dipping it forty times in Passover wine, though that might make a great marinade. “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4).
What makes some mad is that they aren’t thankful no matter what is on their plate. Your gratitude irritates them, and they think they’ll be happy if they can at least ruin your meal.
Paul finishes the section with three commands.
First, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. This is the mother of imperatives, at least in the current paragraph. Eating has been the subject for three chapters, and in particular eating is a way to either love oneself the most or consider others. Drinking has not been named in connection with idols, but it’s a normal part of feasting, and including it also shows that God loves for us to show that He’s great in the most mundane of things we do. He loves for us to show Him glory in all the things, whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
What glorifies God? What makes Him shine? Not selfishness. What glorifies God? Thankfulness for His abundance generosity and consideration of others like His Son.
Second, Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God. We’re to love God and then love our neighbor, and loving our neighbor is a way we demonstrate our love to God. We’re to glorify God and not cause needless offense to our neighbor, which is a way we glorify God. The three categories of people could all be offended in different ways. Jews could be offended that you ate with Greeks and/or that you were conceding to idols. Greeks could be offended that you were too fussy to eat what they offered you for dinner. And Christians could be offended that you ate spiritually-tainted meat that might cause them to return to idolatry (see 8:7).
Paul already said that he sought to avoid irritating others for the wrong things (9:19-23), and again he said 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. Those in the church are already saved, but the many outside the church needed to be saved. He refused to put an obstacle in their way to Christ (other than the word of the cross, 1 Corinthians 1:18).
And third, Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. He just reminded them of his priority: he sought the advantage of others so that they would come to Christ. He used himself as the example in chapter 9, a particular instance of Paul not seeking his own advantage, even of something that was rightfully, lawfully due to him (getting material goods from his spiritual work). He gave it up for their growth in Christ. He modeled the gospel, not because he could atone for anyone’s sin, but because he could live like Christ who took our place.
People get bent out of shape by this way of talking (“It’s man-centered”), but Paul wasn’t looking for a way to get more power over others. That’s the opposite of his example. For that matter, if we cannot call others to do what we’re doing, then we’re not doing it right. Besides, we’re all to be following in the steps of Christ, this is the word of the cross Paul’s been proclaiming since the start of the letter. The cross is our message and our model.
What is the “controlling factor” in our choices (Garland)? Ultimately it should be worship, and as part of our worship it should be witness. Something may be good, but that does not make it the best. What is best is what is beneficial for others, and what is most beneficial is building them up.
Is there anything that you need to give up for sake of someone else? Is there anything you need to receive in thankfulness for sake of others? Paul mentioned that some might be offended if they watch us eat when we shouldn’t, are there others who are maybe not offended, but disinterested, as they watch us eat with disinterest?
The right questions:
Three chapters about loving others more than satisfying our every want, and there is more to come from a different angle, including chapter 13. Paul writes about associations again in 2 Corinthians 6. Daily dying to self requires repeated reminders and tenacious self-control, and both of these are reasons to look to Christ.
Love is always lawful. Love is helpful, love builds up. Love receives from God all that He gives from His fullness, love likewise gives out of generosity for the other’s good. Find someone who loves like that, who loves like Christ, and imitate him. Beloved, be those that others can imitate.
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9–11, ESV)