We started class with a list of things we could all agreed were wrong (murder, adultery, stealing, not respecting the women in our house (especially your mother), letting your cell phone ring during class, and like that) and things that were more subjective – things that some thought were always wrong but others didn’t worry about at all (alcohol use, movie ratings, dancing, gambling, yoga, acceptable attire for church, and so on).
The class was discussing I Corinthians 8, in which Paul addressed a divisive issue in the church. Some of the people were eating meat that had been used in pagan worship and they were doing it without concern or reservation. They didn’t believe the false pagan idols had any real spiritual significance and, after all, it was the best meat available. So why not enjoy their freedom?
There were others in the church who had been freed from those very same pagan practices and for them eating this meat was way too close to their old way of life before Jesus. It caused them a great deal of spiritual pain to live so close to the edge.
It’s easy for me to imagine the church members falling into two camps – one preaching careful consideration of new believers and following a close set of rules to prevent any possible drift back into paganism … after all, we aren’t the same people we used to be and we should live differently now. Eating this meat is one more slide down the slippery slope of losing our identity in an increasingly immoral world.
The other camp preaching freedom under grace and asking why we shouldn’t enjoy the best food when we’ve been set free from laws and rules – and maybe this group celebrated their freedom by serving BBQ at their church parties and wondered why everyone didn’t attend.
Paul started this part of his letter, not with a checklist of rules as we might expect, (and wouldn’t such a list have made our lives easier since all we’d have to do is check off the items as we obeyed) but with this statement: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (NIV)
The Phillips translation says it this way: “We should remember that while this “knowing” may make a man look big, it is only love that can make him grow to his full stature.”
Apparently the controversy in the church
Paul said we don’t need to know more, we need to love more.
He also gave this advice in verse 8:9, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” But why do I always have to be responsible for someone else’s weakness? How far do I have to go allowing someone else’s conscience control my behavior? Why not command the weaker Christian to wise-up and grow up? Is it fair that we have to continually adjust our life to accommodate the least common denominator?
I asked the class, “What if someone joined our group from a church that taught women should never wear pants in church – should all the women in our class stop wearing pants in order to accommodate her?”
The answer that came back from the class was brilliant. “What we have to do first, before changing our behavior, is get to know the other person. We aren’t here to patronize each other but to take care of each other, and we can’t do that unless we truly know each other on a heart level.”
We are always willing to change our life and our behavior for people we know and love. Our true value isn’t about how much we know, but about how much we love – and even more – it is about who we love.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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