In America, you can drive past 10 churches that don’t suit your preferences and then go to the one that fits like a glove – the one where everybody’s just like you, where all the opinions are just like yours, and where you feel the most comfortable. But in ancient Corinth, they didn’t have churches on every corner; the Christians were just together. Christians from all different types of backgrounds were together, including conservative and liberal.
The liberal Christians in the Corinthian church were just loving their liberty in Christ. They were loving the fact that, in Jesus Christ, they didn’t have to live by the Jewish laws and were free from their sins. So when they saw meat that had been sacrificed to idols, they thought, “Who cares? We’re under no obligation – let’s eat it!”
Then there were also conservative Christians in the Corinthian church, and they believed that Christianity was basically Judaism 2.0. They thought they still had to remember all 600 plus laws that Jewish people had observed for centuries. So when they saw meat that had been sacrificed to idols, they said, “We absolutely should not eat it! And not only should we not eat it, but everyone else should do the same.”
Thus there was conflict within the Corinthian church. So Paul writes to them and argues that, yes it’s okay to eat idol meat, but it might be better not to since they could fall into sin and especially since others had a problem with it. And beginning at 1 Corinthians 10:23, he finishes out this argument.
All Is Allowed, but Not All Is Helpful
We are in Christ. All our past sins, present sins, and future sins are completely wiped clean and forgiven. We can live free from any law. And what’s interesting is that Paul doesn’t dispute this in his response to that kind of thinking. “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up” (v. 23). Paul shifts the focus from “What is allowed?” to “What is helpful?”.
The question for Christians isn’t “What is allowed for me? How much can I get away with?” it is “What’s helpful for other people? What will build them up?” Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do it. Christians are marked not by selfishness, but by otherishness – as summarized in verse 24:
Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
Ultimately, all conflict is is two people being selfish. If just one of those people is otherish, the conflict diminishes by half; if both can be otherish, the conflict dissolves altogether. This does not mean you allow injustice or enable abuse or be irresponsible, but it’s a reminder that this is who you are. When you became a Christian, you were fundamentally changed from selfward to outward, and as you mature in your faith you will become increasingly less selfish and more otherish.
Do All to the Glory of God
Paul goes on to say that it’s okay to get meat from the market, even if it was sacrificed to idols. Buy it without raising any question and don’t annoy people trying to figure out where it came from (v. 25). If someone invites you to eat with them, eat whatever they give you (v. 27). That’s the liberty you have in Christ. But if someone says, “This was offered to a pagan idol,” don’t eat it (v. 28). If it seems like a big deal to somebody – if you think it might cause some issues – don’t eat it. And this is how he sums it up:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (v. 31)
Eat the idol meat. Don’t eat it. Do whatever you want, just so long as you’re doing it to the glory of God. Set your heart to glorifying God and you will make the right decision.
Imitate Jesus Christ’s example of otherishness (11:1). Jesus is the model of maturity. He didn’t grasp His right to be counted equal to God, instead He emptied Himself. He didn’t seek His own advantage, but was obedient even to the point of death on a cross (Phil. 2:5-8). We are recipients of Jesus’ self-sacrificial otherishness. Now we are free to live as He did.
Discussion Starters (based on 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1)
- What are some examples of modern-day “idol meat” issues?
- What are some things that one Christian might think is okay, but another might not?
- How should we approach these issues in light of verse 23?
- If every Christian were otherish instead of selfish, what would change?
- Why might someone not want to be otherish?
- What would change in your life if you were more focused on others?
- Have you been maturing in faith, becoming less selfish and more otherish?
- How do we mature in faith?
- If you did “all to the glory of God,” how would it affect your approach to conflict and life?
- In what ways can we apply Jesus’ example of otherishness to our lives?