Freedom is a cherished value in American society (“land of the free and home of the brave”). We enjoy the privileges and benefits that freedom provides us as citizens. When one person’s beliefs challenge another there becomes the friction of conviction – and someone is right, and someone is wrong.
So, when our freedoms become threatened then we stand and speak up for our rights. Americans take issue when someone tells us that we cannot do what we want, when we want and how we want
But how far do we stretch our freedom? How do we know when something is right or wrong?
– Can we destroy or murder someone with whom we disapprove?
– Can we steal and take things when we have a need, even if it does not belong to us?
– Can my personal preference trump logical consistency or moral absolutes?
You get the picture. At this point, many of us would rely upon basic assumptions and moral absolutes. But we are not always able to do this in today’s post-modern society. Technological advances and moral decline have radically changed how we view ethical choices and our culture is continuing to shift. Society and students are becoming re-educated. Large percentages of people would say there is no such thing as absolute truth – in other words, what is right for you may not be right for me; and what is wrong for you may not be wrong for me.
So, today there is debate in culture and even among Christians. Here are just a few topics that are up for discussion:
– Should Christian’s dance, watch movies, listen to rock music, play cards, gamble, smoke, drink alcohol?
– Should Christian couples co-habitate before marriage?
– Should a Christian attend a same-sex wedding ceremony, or should a Christian wedding business (photographer, baker, pastor) employ services for such ceremony?
– Should a Christian business owner provide insurance to employees if it is forced to fund abortion drugs?
– Should Christian parents who cannot have biological children participate through an in-vitro fertilization process? If they do, what should they do with surplus fertilized eggs; can they be donated/sold/destroyed?
If the Bible addresses an issue specifically then we are to obey. But if the Bible does not address it – “grey areas” – then what should we do?
1) Legalism: living according to the law as your means to salvation. Christianity is viewed as a list of commands (do’s and don’ts), which if you obey then you gain salvation before God and standing before people. Unfortunately it views the gospel as insufficient and trying to add to it with works.
- Christian legalists make good religious people and church members.
- Non-Christian legalists make good neighbors as they still pursue a set standard of living.
2) Licentiousness : living according to no law or standard. God’s grace is viewed as limitless and therefore there are no limits. Licentious behavior seeks to satisfy the self; pleasure and passion are the highest achievement. Unfortunately it views the gospel as indifferent and not realizing the deeper delight and joy offered by God.
- Christian licentiousness mocks God’s sacrifice on the cross and Spirit to empower change.
- Non-Christian licentiousness mocks everyone around them into reckless & self-destructive behavior.
3) Love: living according to the love of God in the gospel that you are accepted through Jesus Christ; you have received what you did not deserve (grace: Jesus gives you His righteousness) and you have not received what you do deserve (mercy: Jesus takes your sin and death punishment). Therefore, our life is not focused on rules but a grace-based relationship with Jesus. The grace that we have received works in and through us so that our life is humbly repentant and holy reflective of God’s character.
In the letter to the Corinthians, Paul responds to an issue in the church concerning Christian choices. This message will provide diagnostic questions to help us understand how to make decisions that are reflective of God’s character and compassion for others.
Problem at Corinth:
– Should Christians eat food offered to idols?
EXAMINE 1Corinthians 8-10 Cross Centered Freed
The problem for the Corinthians was that people were eating food previously offered as an idol sacrifice. The meat would have been divided between that which was burned as a sacrifice, that which was served to the temple priests, and that which was kept to eat. The situation was that the temples had so much meat that the priests could not eat it fast enough (no refrigeration!). Therefore, the temples would sell the meat in the marketplace for the public to purchase, cook and consume. Further, sometimes idol meat would be served in public settings. So, the Corinthian believers had to discern whether it was appropriate to eat meat that was previously dedicated to demonic worship. Some Jewish communities would withdraw from public and have their own butcher and eateries to be certain none of the meat was defiled.
Paul attempted to build common ground – “all of us possess knowledge”. The Corinthians believers knew that idols were not God (8:4). Many knew that food in itself was not spiritual – eating or not eating certain food does not bring you closer to God (8:8).
But, having knowledge can be constructive or destructive. Knowledge helps when it makes you wise, it hurts when it makes you whine. When knowledge builds you up for personal gain then you will be led to pride, arrogance and loveless toward others. However, when knowledge builds you up for a rounded perspective then it will lead you to love God more and love people more sincerely.
So what can we learn from Paul? Follow his logic to ask these questions of your life and choices:
Will my choice worship God (1 Cor 8:4-6; 10:31)?
Paul says that the issue at hand is to understand there is only one true God and that idols are no gods. Yet, the Corinthians struggled with this issue. They had difficulty eating meat that was offered to idols whereas others went on ahead and had a bbq since they knew the idols were fake. Paul reminds us the truth that there is only one God – Father, Jesus, Spirit – for whom we exist. All of life is to bring glory to God.
1Corinthians 10:31 “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Matthew 6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
In practice this has at least 4 applications:
à Listen to what God says on the issue
o 2Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
o Psalm 119:11 “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against God.”
à Listen to the Spirit’s voice
o John 16:8, 13 “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment… when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth”
à Listen to what godly people say on the issue.
o Proverbs 11:14 “When there is no guidance, a people falls, but in abundance of counselors there is safety.” Proverbs 12:15 “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” Proverbs 15:22 “Without consultation plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.”
à Look at all the facts and the final product (potential outcome & consequences).
o Galatians 6:7-8 “A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, form the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
ð What are “grey areas” for you? Are you making God-glorifying and cross-centered choices?
Will my choice weaken others (1 Cor 8:7-13, 10:23-29)?
Paul also understood that our actions bear influence on others. A person cannot use their freedom to bring down someone else. Those who ate the meat sacrificed to idols had the right to do so but they used their knowledge to puff themselves up (8:1) rather than love their brother or sister in the Lord who did not share the same viewpoint. Their consciences were weak and the libertines were wounding [tupto: repeated blows] them with their actions, therefore bringing shame to the cause of Christ. Paul said he never wanted to be a stumbling block to others faith in Christ.
à Some choices are trivial and others are vital. Ex.
o Person having a beard or wearing jeans does not equate to spiritual or unspiritual.
- And yet, in times past how many churches have made this vital rather than trivial?
o A woman who dresses immodestly or a man who drinks alcohol may be within their freedom but could be a stumbling block to weaken another’s faith.
- Essentially depends on the person’s conscience, convictions and capacity for the sin.
Illus. [Preaching Today citation: David Slagle, Atlanta, Georgia; source: ESPN.com]
In July 2005, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, was asked by ESPN reporter Andrea Kremer to explain his decision to ride his motorcycle without a helmet. Roethlisberger response was, “I don’t wear a helmet because I don’t have to. It’s not the law. If it was the law, I’d definitely have one on every time I rode. But it’s not the law and I know I don’t have to. You’re just more free when you’re out there with no helmet on.”
Unfortunately, Roethlisberger was involved in a serious motorcycle accident in June of 2006, less than one year later. A 62-year-old woman failed to yield at a Pittsburgh intersection and Roethlisberger was thrown into the windshield of her Chrysler Town and Country. His bike was totaled, and emergency surgeons spent over seven hours repairing a broken jaw, a fractured skull, missing teeth, and several other facial injuries.
After being released from the hospital, Roethlisberger apologized to the fans, his family, and his team for risking his health (and life) unnecessarily. In another interview, he was no longer focused on taking advantage of his individual freedom: “In the past few days, I’ve gained a new perspective on life. By the grace of God, I’m fortunate to be alive.” He also added that, if he ever does ride a motorcycle again, “It will certainly be with a helmet.”
Rothlisberger had the freedom to ride his motorcycle w/o a helmet but his example carried influence that not only endangered his own life but also potentially the lives of others.
à So, how do you determine if an issue is a vital offense or a trivial preference? Answer: LOVE.
o 1Cor 8:13 “If food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat.”
o Galatians 5:6, 13-14 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love… For you were called to freedom brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one work: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.”
o Love will lead persons to the greatest LOVE in Jesus Christ. Love will sacrifice – and even die – for another person if that is what it will take to bring them to God.
Will my choice widen faith in the gospel (1 Cor 9:19-23)?
Paul made clear that the gospel gives lots of freedom. Christ died so that we are not tied to every ceremonial or cultural law. Yet, Paul valued others opportunity to receive the gospel that he at times surrendered certain personal freedoms. His goal was to spread the gospel at all costs.
Paul uses the word “win” 5x and in the context of gaining by giving up. He was willing to adjust his lifestyle and choices in order to reach people. Such choices were not necessarily vital offenses but were valuable in cultivating a relationship and building credibility for gaining a hearing for the gospel. In some sense, Paul was practicing pre-evangelism so they would be more apt to listen to his proclamation of the gospel.
à For unbelievers, your life is leading others somewhere.
o Where are you leading others?
o How would the world look if everyone followed your example?
o Do you not sense there is something more…?
- Christ is all and in all
à As a Christian, what/who is your greatest purpose & passion? For Paul, his highest ambition was Jesus and seeing as many possible know Jesus and their destiny be heaven.
In conclusion, we are not specifically dealing with food as much as we are faith.
Some of you have rejected faith not because of Christianity but because of church or Christians.
– Church or Christians that were legalistic. Their rules turned you away from Christ. They were too stuffy, too religious, and too unlike reality.
o Jesus is different. Jesus is about relationship not rules.
- A religion that gives you a checklist will put you in debt because you will never get out from underneath the standard. The checklist will grow but you will not.
- Jesus came to complete the checklist. It is finished. Turn from your deeds and trust in the deeds of Jesus living perfect in your place and dying the death you deserve.
– Church or Christians that were too licentious. Their faith didn’t have any impact, power or purpose. Their lives didn’t match the Lord they spoke about and you see in the Bible. So you turned away from Christ.
o Jesus is different. Jesus is compassionate but also commanding. He is full of love and life and He is the Lord of all.
- Do not underestimate Jesus. His grace is limitless but that does not mean your sin should be… in fact, understanding His limitless grace requires limitless obedience.
Christians, your choices have consequences. It is time we proclaim Christ with our lips and promote Christ with our lives. It is time we see that every choice matters – even when we show with our repentance. How is Christ calling you to respond – ?