As a Shepherd and Bible teacher, I can tell you that one of the truths for which I am most thankful is this one: An unchanging Holy God has given much direction about traveling life’s journey. We need not live in clueless uncertainty concerning morality, family, integrity or purity – along with a host of other issues. We can learn the precepts of the Word, and deliberately live a journey whose end is joyfully falling into our Father’s arms for life after this life. His Word is not brief; some truncated index card collection of “how to” instructions that are short on detail.
Don’t be misled by those who try to tell you that God gave tons of detail but never intended His people to actually follow Him by observing what He said. Some argue, for instance, the Law was given to Israel, merely to show people they cannot keep the Law – as if God was on some busywork creative writing exercise that had no real purpose but to prove to men how inept and sinful we are. That isn’t true. The Torah says it was given to be observed:
Deuteronomy 30:11 “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ 14 But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.”
Increasingly, modern believers treat God’s Word the way our schools have treated sexual purity – “It is WAY beyond what we can expect students to abide by, so we must teach them safe ways to do what they should not engage in.” That kind of thinking isn’t Biblical, but it is invading the hearts of believers. If people are trained to believe the rules do not apply to them, the rules become meaningless. I suspect we can agree that purity standards have nearly reached that point in modernity.
Let me say it plainly: God made standards that were right. When we ignore them, we hurt ourselves and hurt our walk with Him, period.
Now, when we take the Bible as a whole, not all of it is a RULE BOOK. In fact, we recognize a small part of the Bible is about finding God – sections about salvation and rescue from sin. Many spend all their time in those passages, but on the whole, the greater balance of the chapters in the Bible are about specific points of truth to help each of us in our journey of following God.
The section for this lesson from Scripture offers something just a bit unusual. It offers direction to believers about handling our brothers when expressing OPINIONS that are not specified truths of Scripture – but rather our best personal conclusions concerning some issue we embraced by connecting the principles of scripture as we individually understand and apply them to daily life.
It is possible that some of our most dearly held conclusions are not universally embraced by other believers – particularly about participation in activities that some found acceptable and others do not.
In 1 Corinthians 8-10 God laid out some “ground rules” about expressing our liberties in Christ, and living in an inoffensive way with one another in spite of what are sure to be disagreements. Let’s say it this way:
Key Principle: God offered proper ways for believers to disagree on issues of liberty and opinion.
Paul made a simple point that must be understood, renewed and restated to every generation of believers when he spoke about things for which we have differing opinions: The welfare of our brothers and sisters should be more important than our argument unless the argument is about eternal truth clearly stated in God’s Word. Our opinions, especially about personal license issues, must not be more important to us than our family in Christ. Unless you are defending clear principles of the Word, we must recognize that if winning the argument is more important than genuinely helping our brother – something is wrong with our heart. Even closer, we can be right on the issue but destructive to God’s bigger purposes for His people. Being right about an issue isn’t the only criteria for pleasing God.
Fortunately, even before Paul’s instruction, Jesus offered principles by example. From the beginning, followers of Jesus came from differing places in the political spectrum. Matthew was a tax collector. Simon the Zealot came from a party that saw tax collectors as collaborators with the oppressive pagans of Rome. Surely there were camp fire discussions Jesus had to settle with stern looks or clear words. When people get on some subjects, it seems there are no simple ways to quiet them – and some will not be distracted from making their point.
Politics seems to be one of those subjects that have a way of polarizing people in our time. Each side of a debate seems to have its own media outlets, its own talking points, and (worst of all) its own “set of facts”. In the first century, the “issue du jour” wasn’t terrorism, liberalism or climate change – it was about meat that was offered in front of an idol at the “macellum” – the food market – and then sold at a discount to shopper. Some believers thought the mere association of the meat with a pagan altar violated Christian truth – like a Christmas tree that came from a pagan practice. Others didn’t agree and thought that God left the choice to get cheap meat to them.
Doubtful things, like the “meat offered to idols” are those things that some associate with a lifestyle that is characteristic to non-believers. It is not that which has been specifically prohibited by God for a believer, it is that which is “guilt by association”. Gentiles believers were instructed to leave idolatry to follow Jesus (Acts 15), and some made the prohibitions about the meat, and not about the idolatry. The issue was not meat in God’s eyes, for He created the meat!
When I first came to Christ, I was told that Jesus hated drum sets. He couldn’t stand them. He especially hated them if you played them with long hair. I got my hair cut, gave up drums and got rid of them. Now I speak in front of a drum set on the platform of a local church. I have scanned the Scriptures and found that Jesus did NOT hate drums, the culture of believers in the time and place where I grew up hated drums and thought surely Jesus agreed with their ideas.
I don’t think they meant to do wrong, but they misrepresented Jesus. They added words to God’s Word and I believed them until I found out they weren’t in the Bible. They could have gotten me to do things another way – but I suspect they didn’t know how. Let’s see what the Bible says about handling things we don’t all agree on…
First, God offered general principles in the beginning of 1 Corinthians 8:1-9. We looked at these last time, but let’s remember… When dealing with things that are not clearly expressed in Scripture, there are some thoughts we need to keep in mind:
• We all have opinions and we have come to believe they are greatly informed (8:1).
• It is easy for our opinions to become more important than sensitivity toward our brothers – this leads to indifferent arrogance (8:1b).
• If we were mature and honest, we would recognize we don’t know as much as we think we do (8:2).
• When we love God, that is what “gets His attention” (8:3). This implies that loving will win more of my brother’s attention as well!
• The argument isn’t as simple as its component parts – because not everyone can see it that clearly (8:4-7).
• My brother is more important than my opinion. Not everything I think needs to be expressed (8:8-9).
Next, Paul applied the principles in three specific settings (in public where other believers will be, in private, and in settings at the invitation of non-believers) where the use of doubtful things required some instruction to the Corinthians in Paul’s letter. The three settings are:
First, Concerning Disputed Things In Public Places: Eating meat offered to idols in a Temple owned restaurant where other believers can pass by and observe (8:1-13).
Can I engage in the disputed activity in public? Paul answered it with sensitivity:
1 Corinthians 8:10 “For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12 And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.”
Notice Paul wrote about two specific things: WHERE I participate in the activity, and WHO sees me when I do it.
In 1 Corinthians 8:10-13, Paul outlined the following idea:
• I must be careful about what I do if it is able to be seen by people who may not understand my liberty (8:10a).
• My care is about one who is WEAK, and will be RUINED by my participation (8:10b-11).
• The weak one in view is a BROTHER in the Lord – another believer (8:11b). The issue in the text is not evangelism, but about family matters between believers.
• My participation in public causes them to stumble, wound their own conscience and renew participation in the thing from which God has told them to abstain. When they start participating, they distance themselves from God and fall back into an old life (8:12).
• Maturity demands I conclude the weaker brother is more important than any liberty I may feel I can exercise (8:13).
Lest a believer grab the idea that they always have the public right to do what God has permitted them in private, Paul offered a whole chapter on the way he personally applied truths about liberty.
If you took the time to explore 1 Corinthians 9, you would find Paul’s argument in three parts:
• First, as an Apostle, Paul had great freedom to do a variety of things he decided not to do as a leader (9:1-2).
• Second, Paul recognized people were watching and evaluating his life (9:3).
• Third, though he had the right before God he made a conscious choice not to exercise some of his liberties.
He said he had the right to eat and drink whatever he chose within the standards of God’s Word (9:4), to marry or not as God led him (9:5), to work outside the church planting mission or to take money from that work as God led him (9:6-14), Paul summed up his approach:
1 Corinthians 9:15 “But I have used none of these things.”
He went on to carefully explain that he wasn’t asking for anything, he was making a point… It came with the WORK of establishing churches, preaching the Gospel and discipling believers (9:15b-16). In particular, he worked in self-support by choice because he felt it offered him a greater reward in Christ (9:17-18). He eloquently expressed his heart and said:
1 Corinthians 9:19 “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.” Lest anyone would think all that was easy. Paul made plain it took great discipline and restraint: 1 Corinthians 9:26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I [l]discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
In summary, Paul made clear that his MISSION was more important to him than his FREEDOMS, and that is what made him self-curb his liberties. We will fold these truths into the whole context in a few moments – but for the time being, it is enough to recognize this truth.
Let’s say it plainly: God may press a believer to lay aside public use of things for which he has private permission – because other people are watching. Mature believers will care about the mission so much, they will be conscious of leading a weaker brother back into their former fallen lifestyle. This isn’t the only rule, but it plays a great role in the public exercise of liberty.
I may be personally allowed by the Spirit of God to practice something, but I should choose to deliberately NOT make it a public issue if at all possible – in fear that I could cause a weaker brother to stumble. He or she is more important to me than my “right” to participate in anything!
Second, Concerning Disputed things in the privacy of our own home: Purchasing meat that may have been offered to idols for private consumption from the public meat market (10: 23-26).
What of our private lives, then? If God has given us His Spirit and discernment, can we not have freedom in our private lives to do things that we limit from view of any weaker brother? Watch how Paul began with principles, and then moved to applications.
The Principles (10:1-22)
Paul made clear that Israel was an example of the fact that those who BEGAN a walk with God and experienced His rescue, didn’t all please Him. In fact, most didn’t (10:1-6).
He offered a word of “caution” based on Israel’s example, that hungers to do what the world was doing often led the people in the wrong direction at critical points of their journey (10:7-8). He cited the hungers in areas of sexual morality (10:8-9), complaining spirits (10:10) and personal pride (10:11-12).
He noted that God provided other ways to avoid falling into the age old traps of temptation, but they required paying attention to our walk, disciplining our desires and staying away from lifestyle choices of compromise (10:14-22).
Many believers don’t seem to really get the point of favoring distance from the world’s temptations in areas of Christian liberty. They think that liberty allows them opportunity, so they suspend any other faculty that would warn them to avoid private participation in these slippery areas. They keep leaning further and further into activities which have led others toward a fall in the past. Think about it: Wisdom demands that we discern carefully where participation may lead us PRIVATELY. Just because no one else sees what we do doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous to participate. We aren’t as strong as we think we are, and we aren’t free of the spiritual forces of the world like we pretend we are. We are tempted. We will be tempted. We need to be careful. As with our spiritual “older brother” Israel most fellow followers of God won’t take such care, but that is no excuse to silence God’s conviction in us. We need to listen to His warnings.
Application Standards of Private Participation (10:23-25)
Paul tuned inward and made clear some standards he used when governing his participation in disputed things:
1 Corinthians 10: 23 All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. 25 Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake; 26 FOR THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S, AND ALL IT CONTAINS.
He offered four standards:
• “The Profit” standard: Just because I am allowed does not mean it will help me become what God wants me to be (10:23a) – and that is my goal.
• “The Strengthening” standard: Because I can do this, it may not help me grow strong in the Lord or help me offer strength to others (10:23b).
• “The Humility” standard: Though I can do this, will it help me to appreciate others more, or is it all about me? (10:24).
• “The Peacefulness” standard: I should not go on a “witch hunt” to find trouble and connections to trouble, for God has graciously cared for my life and given good things! (10:25-26). If I don’t knowingly engage in it, I shouldn’t worry about it.
When I am considering personal participation in things that are disputed among believers, I should use caution. I shouldn’t let the sole judgment be “if I would like to” or not. I can accept the good things God gives me and I am allowed to privately use them, but I must measure if these things will mold me into a more godly and growing believer, sensitive to others. I should not look for trouble, but I should be careful about the effect of participation in anything that won’t help me grow in Jesus.
Third, Concerning Disputed Christian things before the Unsaved neighbors: Eating meat that may have been offered to idols when invited to an unsaved person’s “picnic” (10:27-33).
Paul moved from the setting in the “general public” and the “private home setting” to a third locale – the home or party of the unsaved in your community. Note the primary focus wasn’t on the weaker brother here (though it was lurking in the background) but of the approach to the lost. He wrote:
1 Corinthians 10:27 If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake.
The Apostle made the point that believers are to be both hospitable and not suspicious, using our liberty to participate fully without question – limited only by your testimony for God (10:27). Yet, it could be that another brother was also invited, and he or she has a problem with the menu. Only a believer would care about where the meat was sacrificed, but suppose the situation unfolded like this:
1 Corinthians 1028 “But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; 29 I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience?
Because the other believer would be offended, I move to a position of watching out for that other believer, not defending my liberty at their expense. Why? Because Paul wasn’t interested in making THAT LOCALE a place where a dispute would arise between followers of Christ. He wrote:
1 Corinthians 1030 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? 31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.
Here is the point: Differences between believers should not be played out in front of the world, and should always demonstrate that people are more important to us then anything we may want to do (10:29-33). We should be inviting and friendly people, not looking for offense or trouble. We must also be careful to turn back on any behavior that is offensive in the public arena when someone who is legitimately offended (because of their weak conscience), demonstrating to them that they are more important than anything we do.
That leaves us with some practical questions concerning liberty:
In the days in which we live, some walk through life perpetually offended.
How do I handle the “perpetually offended” or the “legalist” who wants me to follow his convictions?
Paul didn’t leave this a “free for all” where we are “led by the lowest common denominator” and can only do what everyone agrees they like. He corrected people for such a spirit throughout his letter. Remember, there is a difference between someone who is upset because he disagrees, and someone who is a genuine “weaker brother”. To be a weaker brother there are conditions:
• He is a believer (“brother” – 8:11)
• He will “stumble” in his behavior because of the offense (8:9).
• He does not truly understand the item is not an “intrinsic evil” (8:7-8).
The Bible offers NO words on the legalist that are positive. A legalist is:
• One that desires to get people to conform to his code, believing himself to understand God’s Word better than the others.
• One who is strong enough to continue to act on his own apart from others “violation” of the code he feels is important.
• One that measures others by a self made set of external standards he believes to be equally derived from God’s Word.
• One whose offense is more important to him than the other person, and he shows this in HOW they handle offense (gossip, pouting, etc.)
God told us to be careful not to offend, but also cautions us not to seek to be offended easily – because that isn’t other person centered either. If we have a long standing walk with God, the acts of others should offer us opportunities to lovingly share ways to help them, not offer more venues to judge them! God makes no standard for changing to encourage legalism.
Isn’t doing something in my home that I do not do in public hypocrisy?
• No, because such standards exist throughout the Word. (Some things are appropriate in private, but not in public).
• No, but we should be careful to keep private things from becoming public because they can become a license for others to make poor decisions.
JAY NORDLINGER wrote recently in “National Review” some words about disputes on college campuses:
“At Brown University, in Providence, R.I., there is a secret forum in which students may discuss potentially controversial issues freely. … there is an underground group whose purpose is to allow kids to say what they ought to be free to say above ground… The group came about in this way: Last year, Brown was to host a debate on the issue of campus rape. In one corner was Jessica Valenti, a radical feminist, and in the other was Wendy McElroy, a radical libertarian. It was suspected that McElroy would deny there was a “culture of rape.” And this was intolerable to some students, who protested mightily — in advance, mind you. … but this Valenti-McElroy debate came off. Brown had taken some mollifying steps, however. The university’s president announced that she opposed McElroy’s view — and scheduled a lecture for the same time as the debate. The lecture, by a Brown psychiatry professor, was called “The Research on Rape Culture.” Evidently, it was not enough that the debate would be just that: a debate, a clash of views. There had to be a separate event, without a debate, without a clash, without a disagreement. Also, students set up a safe space for those who might attend the debate and be shaken by something they heard. A “safe space”? Yes. This space, in the words of Judith Shulevitz, writing in the New York Times, was a room “equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma.” I am not springing a parody on you. This sort of room is set up at Brown and other colleges and universities around the country. One student fed up with this atmosphere … created a Facebook group called “Reason@Brown.” You can set up three types of Facebook groups: Public, Closed, or Secret. This one is secret. … A member can simply express his views without being condemned as a heretic or villain. Without being shouted off the stage. There is actual argument… ..” Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/427713/underground-brown-university
My point is simply this: Some profound parts of our modern world don’t seem to be able to handle differing opinions.
Can we not make the church a place where we respectfully disagree and lovingly show care at the same time?
Can we not demand that people grow up, and not control the environment with spiritual “safe places” and Play dough? I think we can – and I believe God has spoken on this point.