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TEXT: I Corinthians 8:1-9:27
SUBJECT: Live for Others
In last Sunday's sermon, I said I Corinthians has got to be the most up-to-date book in the Bible. If scholars didn't assure us that it was published in the middle of the First Century, we might think it was written two hours ago-it speaks that directly to the church here and now.
Except for Chapters 8-10!
Paul spends three whole chapters (plus one verse) on the burning issue of.eating things sacrificed to idols. It was a real problem in Corinth at the time, in the Roman Empire for another 300 years, and in other places at other times, but.what does it say to us? Have you ever eaten things sacrificed to idols? Does eating things sacrificed to idols compromise the Gospel today? If unchecked by Paul's powerful words, is it likely to split the church anytime soon? On the surface, eating things sacrificed to idols seems terribly dated, a matter of no relevance to us.
If we stay on the surface, we're right, it doesn't say much of anything to us. But what if we dig down an inch or two? What if we find out what underlying principle came to the surface in their habit of eating things sacrificed to idols, and justified Paul spending so much time on it? Then we've got something, we've got-
The Word of God, living, active, and sharper than a two-edged sword.discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
What is the principle Paul deals with here? We'll get to that in a moment, but first, the thing itself.
EATING THINGS SACRIFICED TO IDOLSMost people in the Roman Empire were religious, and a big part of their religion was sacrifice. When they wanted a favor from the gods, or were thankful for the favors they had received, they'd bring a cow or a sheep or some other animal to the temple and offer it to Apollo, or Neptune or whomever.
Since a lot of people were needy and some were thankful, the meat had a way of piling up. Some was burnt on the altar, some went to the priest and his family, some to the worshiper himself, but there was a lot left over! What do you do with it?
You sell it in the meat market. Because it had to be moved quickly, it was sold at a very good price. If a handful of crazy Jews preferred their kosher meat at ten times the price, let them have it; sensible people buy and eat the things sacrificed to idols.
This leads us to a big 'So what?' It still sounds like a nothing issue to us. Until you remember this: the church is made up of people. Some are Jews who equate eating things sacrificed to idols to idolatry itself. And some are Gentiles with long histories of honoring the gods by eating meat in remembrance of them.
THE UNDERLYING PRINCIPLE
This uncovers the real issue of eating things sacrificed to idols. There's nothing wrong with the meat; the gods have not somehow tainted it. The steak dedicated to Poseidon came from the Lord's cow! And when you eat it with thanks to God, it's a good and lovely thing to do.
But what if someone in the church sees you doing it? And what if that someone doesn't know enough to untangle the meats from the gods they were dedicated to? And what if, seeing you eat things sacrificed to idols, he began doing the same thing, which to him, included worshiping the idols?
What have you done? The KJV says you've offended him, but this doesn't mean you 'made him mad'. We're not required to do nothing that makes anyone mad. (If we were, we couldn't do anything, because everything makes somebody mad!). It means you have tempted him to sin-not because eating things sacrificed to idols is itself sinful, but because he doesn't know that, because, to him, there's no difference between eating a hamburger devoted to the gods and worshiping them.
Thus, by eating things sacrificed to idols, the Corinthians were needlessly hurting their brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words, they were living for themselves!
This is what our chapters are about, and this is why they're as up-to-date as tomorrow's newspaper. Paul does not want the Corinthians-or us-to think only of ourselves, of what we want, of what we like, of 'what's in it for me?' He wants us to follow his own example, and the example of Christ-
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out, not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
This is how our lives conform to-
The mind of Christ Jesus.
By putting others first.
Seeing what Paul is getting at in the chapters, make them (fairly) easy to understand and apply. Here goes.
Chapter 8 begins with an implied question, something about eating foods offered to false gods. The exact question is not in given, but by reading Paul's answer-and his tone-it's not hard to figure out.
'May we eat things sacrificed to idols?' would have been an honest and good question-if only the men asking it had been honest and good. Sad to say, they're not this way. The Corinthians were famous for their pride, the pride of knowing things other people don't.
Paul challenges the assumption. They were saying-
We know we all have knowledge.
Behaving like mere men.
That is, like the Gentiles, people untouched by God's grace. If Paul wanted to find people living for themselves and not caring for their neighbors, he needn't go to church: he could find them by the droves at every pagan shrine! Why are the Corinthian Christians so much like the unbelievers all around them?
The answer is: Because they were putting their knowledge into the service of themselves. Not tempered with love, it wasn't building up the church; it was building up their egos, giving them swollen heads-
Knowledge puffs up;
Love builds up.
If the Corinthians were not wise, they were smart, and smart people are really good at justifying themselves. This is what they do in vv.4-6. Paul quotes them-
An idol is nothing.There is no God but one.So called gods in Heaven and on Earth.
Everything they say is true, and Paul agrees with them. The gods are nothing, the gods of Olympus are made up, and the man in Rome who wants everyone to call him 'Lord' is only a man. As far as it goes, their theology is right.
WHAT THEY FORGOT
The problem is, it didn't go far enough. They forgot that 'the doctrine of God' is not the only doctrine. The doctrine of the Church is also important, and this never entered their minds, vv.7-11.
Not everyone in church knew as much as they did, and instead of scorning them for their ignorance and superstition, they've got to love the weaker brethren. Over time, the ill-informed brother may learn better, but until he does, you've got to stop eating meat sacrificed to idols. Not because it is wrong itself, but it tempts other people to go against their consciences, and puts them in danger of idolatry and damnation.
What's so wrong with hurting 'stupid' people? It's because they're in union with Christ, v.12-
But when you sin thus against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
This brings us back to what Paul said in Chapter 6. There he reminds us that the Church is the Body of Christ. If you hurt the Church, you hurt the Lord as well-whether you mean to or not! Suppose I accidentally kicked you and you really mad at my foot. And suppose you take revenge on my foot by dropping a bowling ball on it. And suppose I yelled, 'Why'd you do that to me?' And suppose you answered, 'I've got noting against you, Dear Friend; only your foot!' The distinction would be lost on me! I am more than my foot, but you can't hurt my foot without hurting me.
In the same way, you can't hurt the Body of Christ without also hurting the Head of the Church.
Paul sums up his teaching in the last verse of Chapter 8, and explains how he applies it to everyday life-
Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
Because eating things sacrificed to idols is a non-issue to us, we may fail to grasp the magnitude of what Paul is saying. Here it is: There is nothing I won't give up for the sake of the church! There is no liberty, no privilege, no preference, nothing I won't surrender for the sake of my brethren in Christ.
His devotion to Christ and the Church takes our breath away. Especially when we remember what kind of man Paul was. He was a wealthy man, but to serve the church, he left his money; he was an educated man, but to reach the lower classes, he spoke as they did; most of all, he was a Jewish man, and his mouth must have cramped up every time he did it, but for the sake of the Gentiles in church, he ate pork chops at the love feast!
This brings us to us: What are you willing to give up for the church? Are you willing to give up some free time to have people over you don't like much? Are you willing to do without to increase your giving? Are you willing to get out of your comfort zone to do things you're not much good at, but need to be done?
If we loved the church more, we would do these things, and we'd feel honored to do them instead of burdened.
'Do I have to go to church?' That was a question my mother wouldn't put up with. She'd always say, 'No, you get to go to church'. She was right. It is a privilege to be a member of Christ's Body and to serve each other in love any way we can.
PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH
'Put others first!' That's easier to preach than it is to practice, and most preachers don't do it very well. Paul did. This is what Chapter 9 is mostly about.
He starts by presenting his credentials, v.1-
Am I not an Apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?
He is all of the above. This means he deserves to financially supported; well paid, in fact. He himself laid down this law in the church-
The elders who rule well are worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the Word and doctrine.
He lists why he should be paid, and paid well. In the first place, like other working men, he has a right to eat and drink. Secondly, the other Apostle are well paid. Farmers have a right to some of the crop. Shepherds have a right to drink their sheeps' milk. Priests share in the sacrificial offerings. Even oxen are allowed to eat while plowing the field!
Now if God's Law and human fairness demands paying a man for preaching the Gospel, Paul ought to be paid, v.14-
Those who preach the Gospel should live from the Gospel.
But Paul chose otherwise. He had every right to their money, but he didn't take a penny of it. He did in other places, but he didn't in Corinth, it seems, because fake preachers had, and he wouldn't be lumped together with them!
To Paul, the Gospel mattered more than a fair salary. God had commanded him to preach the Gospel-whether he was paid or not-and, in Corinth, it was better for him not to be paid. So, he did all the pastor's work, and worked a full time job besides.
And not because tent-making paid better than preaching or so he could brag about his great sacrifice, but so that his ministry would be most effective, and the church best served.
THE FREE SLAVE
Nobody was freer than Paul. He did not depend on people for a living or need their approval. But, like Jesus before him, this free man became a servant to the church. If the church was Jewish, he was Jewish; if it was Gentile, he was Gentile. He didn't act this way because he wanted everybody to like him; he did it to win them to Christ and to show them what discipleship is. The only reward he was after he would get. But not in this life.
GO FOR IT
Serving the church is like running a marathon; it's hard and it takes a long time. You can't do this without daily discipline-without saying, 'no' to laziness and gluttony, and doing what you want instead of what you need to be doing.
But the race needs to be run and the winner's crown will more than make up for the effort he puts into getting it.
Paul stays at it, even when it's hard, and long, and thankless. This means he has to watch against the things that keep him from loving and serving the church. Impatience, for example, shyness, selfishness, and laziness, the fear of man, the wanting to be liked, the temptation to love only people you want to love, self-pity, and so on.
What he did himself, Jesus did first and better, and Paul commends the practice to us, 11:1-
Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.
The Gospel calls us to forget ourselves and to live for others: for God first, our friends and family, and, here in these chapters, for the Church. This is not easy; it wasn't easy for Paul; it won't be easy for us.
But do it we must because, there is no middle ground. You are either promoting the health of the church or you're poisoning it! The people who ate things sacrificed to idols weren't choking with malice, trying to destroy those for whom Christ died. They just wanted to do what they wanted to do. But that's what 'doing what they wanted to do' was doing to the church.
We've got to get out of ourselves, but try as we may, we can't do it ourselves. Only the Gospel can save us from our self-centered ways, and that's what it does. First, by dumping us off the throne and putting Jesus there! 'Jesus is Lord', you're not; I'm not.
Then, by informing us that God loves us. This means our needs are fully met in Christ. Thus, we don't have to keep on trying to meet them ourselves or make others meet them. Because our needs are met, we're free to meet the needs of the church!
By putting the cross at the center of our ethics. What does the death of Christ mean? Theologically, it means, God's justice is satisfied, our sins are forgiven, and we are reconciled to one another. This is the theological meaning. From the theology comes the practice. If Christ sacrificed Himself for me, I must sacrifice myself for others. Especially for the Church.
What that sacrifice calls for will differ from day to day, but there is no day I can devote to myself. Of course we can take days off from work, but there's no day off from discipleship. We're called to love another, to love the Church, and though there are different ways of doing it, it always comes down to following Christ-
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus; though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we though His poverty should be made rich.
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