Chapter-a-Day 1 Corinthians 8
And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. 1 Corinthians 8:12 (NLT)
Keep in mind when reading books like 1 Corinthians that they were originally handwritten letters. In the case of Corinthians, it was a letter from Paul to the followers of Jesus in the Greek city of Corinth. Paul spent 18 months there sharing the Message about Jesus and building up a small but faithful group of believers. Paul moved on to other cities and regions. As with any group of humans, conflicts and differences arose among the new Corinthian believers. Word reached Paul about some of these conflicts and he wrote this letter to his friends to address these differences.
Back in the day when Paul was writing his letter the city of Corinth was largely pagan, and a person could visit any number of pagan temples in the city. They were mostly temples to the various Greek and Roman gods we all studied in English Lit and Western Civ classes. Corinth had two large temples, one to Apollo and one to Aphrodite. As part of the pagan worship rituals, animals would be sacrificed and the meat would be cooked up for a feast with the temple priests and wealthy patrons. Leftovers were taken to the local meat market and sold to the public.
A conflict rose up among the followers of Jesus in Corinth. Should you buy or eat meat that had been part of a pagan sacrifice? Some said it was no big deal and felt free to eat it. Others felt strongly that they were defiling themselves by eating it. While this is not a burning controversy in our American culture today, it doesn’t take me long to come up with a number of similar conflicts we have today about social behaviors and appropriateness.
I’m not a very legalistic person. At least, I’m not any more. I’ve become increasingly less so with age. Having meandered through God’s Message these past 30 years or so, it’s become clear to me that the people who ticked Jesus off the most were the religious legalists. Note to self: Don’t be one of those guys. Put me in Corinth and I would likely be found hanging out with the pagans and enjoying a nice steak without thinking a thing of it.
But, there is danger inherent in freedom for ourselves and for others. Freedom can easily creep into destructive license. Also, followers of Jesus are called not only to look out for our own needs, but also the needs of others. This includes the needs of our fellow believers, some of whom have a distinctly religious legalist bent. Exercising my freedom can confuse, discourage and trip up another believer. I have a responsibility to be respectful of others and their beliefs, even when “other” refers to fellow believers with whom I disagree about the appropriateness of certain social behaviors. I am not to be led by my “right” to exercise my freedom, but by love for others. This may require me to circumstantially choose to curb my freedom in order to graciously love and respect a fellow believer.
Today, I’m reminded of how difficult it can be to navigate human relationships. When do you speak? When do you shut up? When do you prod? When do you pull back? When do you choose in? When do you choose out? It takes wisdom, humility, deference, and a lot of love in order to do it well. God, please give me these in abundant measure.