The Seventeenth in a Series of Sermons on 1 Corinthians
Despite popular opinion to the contrary, Christianity is not a religion centered in prohibitions–“thou shalt not do this,” “thou shalt not do that.” Rather, Christianity is a religion centered in God’s gracious plan to rescue the sinful human race from the guilt and consequences of our sin. Because God has saved us from our sins, he will not allow us to worship him while at the same time keeping our allegiances to any non-Christian religions or practices in which we may have been involved before we came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. In the Corinth of Paul’s day, the people to whom Paul is writing were all new Christians. They are struggling mightily to leave their pagan past behind. They have written to Paul asking him a series of questions about how their new faith in Christ impacts them as they continue to live in a city dominated by pagan temples and practices. Earlier, Paul exhorted them to put the needs of their neighbors above their own–to give up their liberty for the sake of others. Now he gives the Corinthians a very simple standard by which to live as Christians in the midst of a pagan world–do all to the glory of God.
We have made our way as far as the second half of 1 Corinthians 10, where Paul brings to a conclusion the discussion begun back in 1 Corinthians 8:1 when he first raised the question of a Christian’s participation in pagan feasting. The reason it has taken Paul so long to lay out his response is probably due to the fact that Paul is answering each of the points the Corinthians raised in their letter to the apostle in which they asked the question of whether or not it was acceptable for Christians to eat meat which had been sacrificed to idols.
Paul has already explained that idols are nothing since there is one true and living God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Paul has spelled out that eating such meat, or not eating such meat does not commend us nor condemn us before God. But Paul is emphatic that the strong–those who see nothing wrong with eating meat sacrificed to idols–should be willing to bear with the weak (who think this meat should not be eaten) until the weak become strong. The strong should be willing to give up their freedom until such time as the weak out-grow their spiritual immaturity.
As we have seen throughout this part of 1 Corinthians, food was often tied to pagan forms of worship. It was commonplace for an animal to be sacrificed in one of the city’s pagan temples. Part of the butchered animal was used as a burnt offering, some of it went to the priests and participants in these pagan rituals, but the remaining meat was often sold to local butchers or in city’s marketplace. It is one thing to go into a pagan temple and participate in the pagan ceremony which includes an animal sacrifice and the ritualistic consumption of its flesh. It is another thing to buy the leftover meat from these ceremonies from a third party when that meat had no religious significance other than it was to be eaten for dinner. Should Christians buy and eat this meat, or should they abstain? And what are you to do when someone offers you a meal and you don’t know where the meat came from. What then?
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