Dear Father, thank You for knowing me and loving me. Help me to know You and love You more. As I learn more about You and your Word, please help me to resist the temptation to be puffed up with pride, or to think I know something when I really don’t. I want to use what I learn to love others and build them up. Father, please keep me from living in a way that hurts the conscience of other believers or tempts them to sin. They are my brothers and sisters—and You sent Jesus to die for them. If I sin against them, I sin against You. So please, help me make whatever sacrifice is necessary to build them up instead of tripping them up. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Read 1 Corinthians 8-10
1 Corinthians 8 In this chapter, Paul built on the theme of living for the glory of God and the good of others. In ancient Corinth, meat sold in the market often came from animals that had been sacrificed in pagan temples. Corinthian believers apparently disagreed about whether or not they should eat this meat.
Because there is only one God and the gods being worshiped by pagans don’t actually exist, Paul taught that food sacrificed to idols doesn’t contain mystical properties. He affirmed that eating such food doesn’t spiritually benefit the eater (as the pagans believed), nor does it contaminate them spiritually (as the Jews believed). To the Corinthian believers who understood this reality, Paul warned: Don’t be prideful about your spiritual knowledge, and don’t use your freedom in Christ selfishly. Lovingly choose to do what’s best for each other.
GIVING UP RIGHTS
Consider people like Amy Carmichael who gave up many ‘rights’ because of a love and desire to reach the lost with the gospel.
Just because believers can do something doesn’t mean they should. Paul explained that believers who previously worshiped idols might be unclear about the spiritual reality behind those idols. If a “weak” believer saw a more mature believer eating meat in a pagan temple, it might damage his conscience, tempting him to participate in an activity he believed was sinful.
This “weaker” believer might even be “destroyed” by the other believer’s exercise of freedom if it ultimately drew him back into idol-worship. The undergirding principle here is love. Love means valuing the spiritual well-being of others more than our own “freedom.” Love means willingly sacrificing our “rights” rather than compromising our witness or tempting others to sin.
1 Corinthians 9 Anticipating the Corinthians’ likely response, Paul asked: What about my rights? What about my freedom? In response, he used his own life as an example. He defended his right to be supported by the church financially. He even built an airtight case with biblical, legal, and common sense arguments. The reader almost expects him to ask for a salary! Instead, Paul concluded his argument by saying he had not and will not exercise this right. Why? For the sake of the gospel. After considering what was best for the spread of the gospel at that time, he chose to support himself by doing manual labor in addition to his work as an apostle. He trusted God to reward him for his sacrifice.
Paul exercised his freedom in an unusual way: by giving it up. He made himself a servant to all people—both believers and unbelievers—even to those unbelievers whose cultural and religious backgrounds differed from his own. For example, even though he wasn’t morally bound by Jewish ceremonial laws or Greek cultural norms, at times Paul chose to live as if he was for the sake of communicating the gospel effectively.
When Paul said he had “become all things to all people,” he was not talking about being a people-pleaser who sought the approval of others. No, he sought to please God and bring Him glory. Paul was willing to sacrifice personal preferences for the sake of communicating the gospel clearly because he recognized a person’s life often speaks as loudly as their words. Such sacrifice is not easy. Appropriately, Paul likened the Christian life to a race. He said that without discipline and self-control, any believer, including himself, could fall into sin and be “disqualified” from the race.
1 Corinthians 10 In light of this, Paul pleaded with the Corinthians not to trust in their own ability to resist sin, even if it’s a sin they can’t imagine committing (like idolatry). Pride weakens believers and leaves them vulnerable to temptation.
Paul called the Corinthians to focus instead on God’s power and faithfulness to help them resist temptation. As an example, Paul referred to a believer eating meat in an idol’s temple. Idolatrous worship is essentially the worship of Satan and his demons. Then Paul asked the Corinthians to consider the Lord’s Supper. When a believer in Corinth ate the bread and drank the wine, he was spiritually “taking part” in Christ. Similarly, those who feasted in a pagan temple were “taking part” in idol worship. Even though idols are not really gods, Paul taught that a Christian shouldn’t participate in any part of pagan worship. This is outside the bounds of our freedom in Christ.
1 Corinthians 10 concludes with a reminder that believers should make every decision—large or small—based on what brings the most glory to God. Even if something is “allowed,” we should consider three things:
- Is it helpful? Does it help the lost hear and believe? Does it help other believers walk in holiness? Does it in any way confuse the gospel message or add barriers to belief?
- Does this build up? Does it build up God’s kingdom and not my own? Does it build up others?
- Am I seeking the good of my neighbor? Do I have the best interests of others in mind? Or am I focused more on my own preferences, convenience, reputation, and rights?
Paul applied these principles to the specific issue discussed in 1 Corinthians 8. He concluded that Corinthian believers could buy meat at the market—without questioning its source. They could eat what was served to them in the homes of idol-worshipers—without a twinge of conscience. However, if someone specifically told them the meat was sacrificed to idols, they shouldn’t eat it—not for their own good but for the good of the other person who might attach spiritual significance to the meat and might misinterpret the believer’s reason for eating it.
So, was Paul saying a Christian’s rights and freedoms should be limited by another person’s conscience or spiritual weakness? Yes! In fact, Paul said Christians should purposely live in a way that doesn’t unnecessarily offend the believers or unbelievers around them, even those from a different cultural background. Such lives follow the example of Jesus, valuing the spiritual well-being of others above personal preferences.
1 Corinthians 10:23-24
23 ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
- When it comes to applying God’s Word to the specifics of everyday life, Christians don’t always draw the same conclusions—from drinking alcohol to choosing clothing to entertainment. Factors like spiritual maturity, cultural background, socio-economic status, and even age play into this. Has it ever come to your attention that another believer considered an aspect of your lifestyle or certain choices offensive or sinful? If so, how did you respond? Did you defend yourself? Did you prayerfully consider the other person’s perspective
- As you continue reading today, write down at least five principles from 1 Corinthians 8–10 that should guide believers when faced with such a dilemma.
- Re-read the article on Honor/Shame, and Fear/Power below. Think about your gospel presentation again. How could you incorporate an aspect of God’s power into your gospel presentation? Share with your group and get feedback. Then watch this 2-minute gospel presentation and note how he incorporates God’s power into the message. [Making Disciples]
Each culture has its own personality. Some people even call it a culturality! That said, cultures are usually a mixture of these three types:
Each of these somewhat determines the different ways a person will initially hear the gospel.
It’s important to be aware that people from honor/shame or fear/power cultures may initially hear the gospel differently than those from guilt/innocence ones.
Of topic, the gospel is good news to all, to those overwhelmed by shame or fear as well as though who feel guilty. In Genesis 2 and 3, we read that sin affects societies in all three ways, not just one. Likewise, Christ’s life, sacrificial death, and resurrection addresses all three of these aspects—not just one. Once aware of this, we begin to see how God’s gospel is beautifully designed to address all the effects and problems of sin.
The gospel addresses the effects of sin in animistic or folk religious communities (usually fear/power cultures) as well as shame/honor societies. It’s good to pay attention to these three dimensions of sin’s effects so that when we read Scripture we don’t miss how the gospel speaks to each of them. Similarly, as we share the gospel, we should be alert to proclaim the good news as it applies to every result of sin and not just one.
Warning: A gospel presentation that ONLY addresses guilt, shame, or fear is missing something. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection solves the sin problem and addresses the effects of sin for anyone who turns from sin and believes.
3 ASPECTS OF CULTURES, 3 RESULTS OF SIN
Guilt – Innocence: This is present in more individualistic societies (mostly Western) where people who break the law are guilty and seek justice or forgiveness to rectify a wrong.
Shame – Honor: This is present in more collectivistic societies (common in the East) where people are shamed for not fulfilling group expectations and then seek to restore their honor before their community. In these cultures, the loss of identity and being cast out brings shame. Conversely, inclusion restores honor.
Fear – Power: This is present in more animistic societies (typically tribal or folk religious) where people who are afraid of evil pursue power over the spirit world through magical rituals, superstition, and magic.
We can see how the gospel addresses all three of these in the book of Ephesians.
- “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins . . .” (1:7). “God made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions . . .” (2:5) Our guilt is forgiven!
- “In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ . . .” (1:5). “You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (2:19). You have honor in God’s household! In Christ, your shame is covered.
- “That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised him from the dead and seated Him at his right hand in the heavenly realms . . .”(1:19–20) Christ has power over fear and death!
Can you think of other examples in the Word?
See also: Wu, Jackson (2016). Does the “Plan of Salvation” make disciples? Why honor and shame are essential for Christian ministry. Asian Missions Advance, pp. 11-17.