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"Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible." - 1 Corinthians 9:19 (NIV)
I will never forget meeting my oldest son Jordan for the very first time. My wife and I had traveled the 8,000 miles to Ethiopia to meet and adopt our first child. I can remember the van he was in pulling up to the place we were staying and his caretakers getting out with him as we looked on from a terrace above. All the work, planning, prayers, ups, downs, and ins and outs would all be realized in our arms. Meeting my son for the first time was one of the most profound moments of my life.
What we didn’t have sorted out yet was all that we would be giving up to bring a son into our life. We had a sense of it. Everyone can imagine what it might be like to be a parent. Knowing we were adopting, we’d read books and talked with other couples that had adopted and tried to get our minds around the process. As all parents will tell you though, you can’t sort it all out until you experience it for yourself.
What became true the moment we took Jordan into our arms was that we instantly laid down many freedoms and picked up responsibilities that will never really end in our lifetime. Being a parent is a big deal.
The same is true with following Jesus. It is an amazing experience, but one that comes with responsibility. We no longer live for ourselves. We live for God and He has a heart for others like no other being in all existence. If our heart is for God, our heart is for others.
This week we’ll work to figure out some of the freedoms we lay down when we take on God’s love for others.
"Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." - 1 Corinthians 8:1 (NIV)
In ancient Corinth, there were a number of temples of worship where animals were sacrificed to pagan gods. This was a big industry. One which was so pervasive, the markets were filled with meat that had been sacrificed to idols. This caused a dilemma for Christ followers in the area. They went to the market and had to choose: do I buy this meat that is perfectly good, yet has been sacrificed, or do I search for meat that costs more but hasn’t been used in a pagan ritual?
You can imagine how uncomfortable that made some believers. Their conviction as Christ followers meant they wanted nothing to do with these sacrifices. They didn’t want anyone to profit off of it; It’s likely that many of the Christians used to offer those very sacrifices to false gods or had family that currently did, and it made them uncomfortable.
Enter Paul, who covers this issue in chapters 8 and 10 of 1 Corinthians. Paul’s an interesting person to make a judgment call about this dilemma because he had a ton of knowledge and personal history with strict religious dietary laws. Paul was an elite Ivy leaguer in Jewish religion, and strict dietary laws set Jews apart, for “righteousness”, from their pagan neighbors.
We’ll dig into his response tomorrow, but for today let’s take some time to ask God to point out anything in our lives that may cause others to question whether we’re living for God or ourselves
"For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved." - 1 Corinthians 10:33 (NIV)
Yesterday we introduced the issue of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. It was a big deal for Christians in the city of Corinth. We left off with how Paul might address this issue. Paul had two ways to go with this. He could have come down hard and said, “Avoid every kind of appearance of evil!” Or he could have said, “We are free in Jesus and that meat doesn’t have any power; it’s just food so eat up!” Interestingly he kinda doesn’t really charge down either path to its fullest end. He clearly leans toward freedom on the issue (the freedom to eat the meat), but he then lands on responsibility. [For a full understanding read 1 Corinthians 8-10.]
As Paul reveals his perspective on this he says, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Corinthians 8:9) And, “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.” (1 Corinthians 8:13) He goes on later to say, “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:24) And then finally, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble….” (1 Corinthians 10:31-32)
If we ignore the impact our lifestyle decisions have on others we’re in the wrong. Whatever we do in life should be approached with God’s glory and others’ connection to Him in mind. That’s heavy! But, it’s also freeing. We want our lives to matter. We want them to count for something, and Paul helps us make them count. We can fulfill God’s purposes by evaluating all we do in relationship to Jesus, who loves everyone deeply.
"Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” - Matthew 16:24 (NIV)
I like where I live. I like my neighbors and church. I like the roads I drive on and the way traffic flows fairly well. I like that I have a good place to buy groceries for my family. I like that I can go to a neat, clean, and orderly doctor’s office when I get sick, and I like that there are a couple great hospitals nearby if something major happens. I like that my kids can enjoy sports and other fun kid stuff. I am super thankful for all of this, but admittedly take it for granted.
Over the years there have been a number of people that could write the exact same paragraph above, and yet they traded it all (and more) to share Jesus with people in another part of the world. Southland has supported missionaries over many decades who left the comfort of their own homes, this community, and moved to places where life was very different and very hard.
Some lived in huts, others in small apartments. Transportation changed for them. Some are now riding in old vehicles on dirt roads, while others use only public transportation. Medical care changed radically for them all. Modern doctors offices and award-winning hospitals aren’t available. They all uprooted from the comfort of close friends and family. What their kids do for fun and what schools they attend are very different. Many of them have to discreetly (or secretly) share their faith, fearing jail or death. Every single one of these people gave up the comforts of home and many of their rights so that, “by all means possible they might save some."
"Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak." - 1 Corinthians 8:9 (NIV)
I had a professor in Bible college freak me out one day. In class, he said, “Love God and do what you want.” (If you’ve heard that before it’s because he paraphrased St. Augustine) I thought, whatever I want? Like anything? When we pursue loving God and loving others we are free to do anything we wish. So the natural question is, “What does it mean to love God?” While we could spend days discussing this question, we know one way we love God is by showing love to others. After all, He sent His son Jesus to show the world His great love.
One time Jesus told a quick story. It was about a guy who saw something funny in his friend's eye. He made a big deal about the fact that he had something in his eye. The irony was that he had something WAY BIGGER in his own eye. I’ve done the same thing. I’ve been annoyed by someone else’s attitude, decision, words, or actions and I’ve turned around and done the same or worse.
The Bible makes the point that we have to be careful what we do with our lives as it relates to others. There are times when we should come close to a friend and state there is an issue we are seeing in their life. It’s also true we should examine our own actions in light of how those actions may be perceived or misunderstood by them. Paul made the point to the Corinthians that our freedom could actually hurt someone else.
As we head into the weekend let’s do a quick gut check. Let’s think about what we’ll be doing tonight, Saturday, Saturday night, and the next day. If there is anything we do on the weekends that sends a very mixed message about our love for God then it’s time we reconsider our actions