No one ever wants to be the reason that someone else falls into sin. None of us want to be a hinderance to someone else’s journey away from sin or unhealthy lifestyles. And yet, too often we allow our feelings about our own freedoms to do just that.
In 1 Corinthians 8:9-13, the Corinthians found themselves in this place. Corinth, as we have mentioned prior, is a happening, metropolitan place. It is steeped in the Roman culture of the day and everything that goes along with it. It is a polytheistic society, a culture with many gods acknowledged and worshiped and many of those gods receive food sacrifices – meat that has been sacrificed to various idols. This meat often ends up in the market place once it’s religious purposes are fulfilled and it’s hard to figure out which meat was sacrificed to idols and which meat was just meat. You might hear all of this and think that’s not that big of a deal, but think back on what you know about Jewish culture and food laws. They took food seriously – so this new Jesus-following Christianity that comes out of the Jewish background was still trying to figure out their relationship to food in matters like this. It’s just not as simple as we’d like it to be.
Let’s watch our video summary to get a quick overview of the issue here in chapters 8-10.
Here again, we have this issue of freedom in Christ and what it means. For those in Christ we have been set free from the guilt and power of sin. We have been given freedom to pursue holiness and Christ-likeness by committing ourselves to seeking Jesus more and more every day. We have not been set free to do whatever we want and live in whatever manner we feel we might enjoy. This idea that since we are loved by God and forgiven through Jesus, we can do whatever we want and live however we want is just not an accurate understanding of freedom in Jesus. Paul is actually going to highlight this just a little later in chapter 10;
23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
-1 Corinthians 10:23-24
New Testament scholar Dr. David Garland puts it well when he says,
The Corinthians were not asking ‘Can we eat idol food?’ but ‘Why can’t we eat idol food?’”
-Dr. David Garland
Their thought was idols aren’t real, we’re free to do whatever we want – why can’t we eat this stuff? Paul’s answer is because we don’t want to be a stumbling block for others.
9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
-1 Corinthians 8:9
There is a lot of discussion over Paul’s use of the word “weak” in describing a group of people. It doesn’t seem like he is actually labeling a group as weak in any way, rather he is picking up on the language that the larger group of Corinthians were using when asking their original questions regarding the food. They labeled those against eating the idol meat as weak. Paul’s point is simply to say, IF you really are strong or knowledgeable and in Christ you would know to sacrifice yourself and your freedoms for the sake of others. And to really underline this point with them all, in vss 11-12 he reminds them that Christ died for everyone – including these that they label as “weak”. And if Christ died for them and they have received that salvation and they stumble because of the actions of the other believers then the others have sinned against Christ. By bringing in the sacrifice of Jesus, Paul is stating in the highest terms that the “strong” are working against Christ. And so, his final word in chapter 8 is to say,
13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.
-1 Corinthians 8:13
Paul wants the Corinthian Christians to know and us to know, that Christian community takes care one another. They were missing the point and focusing entirely on their own freedoms and doing what they want and what Paul wants them to see is that when we are IN Christ, we are in Christ together and we watch out for one another. As one of my own colleagues said in a discussion over this text, Paul answers the question of whether or not he is his brother’s keeper with a resounding “Yes.” I want my life to reflect the life of Christ, I want my life to be one that draws people to Christ, not keeps them from Christ or causes the faithful to fall away. And so if there are things that are part of my life that I need to adapt in order to be that kind of brother for them, it’s incumbent upon me to do that.
I’m likely not breaking any news to you when I say that we live in an age when this kind of thinking is rare. We have lots of conversation right now about my rights, and my freedoms, and you can’t tell me what to do or how to live. We have less conversation about how I can sacrifice my rights to better serve you. I thought the video put it really well when they said the core principle is love. Love will deny itself and look out for the well-being of other people. That’s the Jesus way, isn’t it? I go back to it often, but the Christ hymn of Philippians 2 is a foundational text for me in what it means to live this way – to live as a Christ follower:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Paul will unpack this kind of love even more in just a few short chapters here in 1 Corinthians – but we’ll wait to hear his thoughts on that specifically. For now, it’s enough for us to recognize that if we are going to live in Christ-like ways, we are, at times, going to have to lay aside our own wants and desires in order to ensure that we are doing all we can to care for others in the church and to point the larger community to Jesus above all else.
Every first Sunday of the month we take Holy Communion in two of our services and every Sunday we offer it in our 8am service. We use grape juice instead of wine for the sacrament, as Damon reminds us every time we do so, so that it will not become a stumbling block to anyone who wants to come forward and receive communion. In the mid-1800’s the Methodist Episcopal Church was very active in the temperance movement wanting to support families and workers by encouraging abstaining from alcohol. This created a problem within the church as it pertained to communion. There were several alternatives tried but none that really worked or offered a long-term solution. And while some even went to other forms of drinks including water for the sacrament, the General Conference eventually passed legislation saying that communion had to be the juice of the grape. Dr. Thomas Welch, a dentist and a member of the Vineland, NJ Methodist Episcopal Church began experimenting with different ways of producing unfermented wine, using some of the thinking of Louis Pasteur and his pasteurization processes. To make a long story shorter, in the end, he and his son Charles came up with the process for making what we now know as grape juice and the churches began to use that for their communion services as a means of being able to truly offer an open table to all who would want to come forward and receive. Dr. Welch’s son, Charles summarized their legacy in his will by saying,
“Unfermented grape juice was born in 1869 out of a passion to serve God by helping His Church to give its communion ‘the fruit of the vine,’ instead of the “cup of devils.”
Now then, put aside for a moment your feelings about wine or drinking or any of that. Look at a man who loved the church and its ministry and believed in the power of the sacrament and wanted to do whatever he could to ensure that the table of the Lord Jesus Christ was a welcome place for anyone. He put aside his own rights and freedoms to love others.
The core principle is love. Love will deny itself and look out for the well-being of other people. This Lenten season we have to ask ourselves whether or not we are loving others in this way. We have to search our hearts and souls and ask if we are sacrificing our own freedoms for the benefit of others – so that others might be pointed to Christ. Where we are failing at this, we need to repent and ask Jesus to continue that work of holiness and transformation in our lives. Because in a few short weeks, we are going to be reminded that the perfect son of God, who knew no sin, gave up his own freedom and took on our death on the cross so that we might be set free. That’s our model – where we have not lived up to that standard, Lord forgive us and please Lord, make us truly free.
See full sermon online HERE
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