First Corinthians 10:23–11:1 . . .
The Believer’s Freedom
Today's passage could well be titled "Sacrifice for others or dishonor God." Apostle Paul discusses how we should interact with others over issues of freedom, advising each of us to be willing to relinquish our "rights" for the sake of our brothers and sisters. In 10:23 (see this passage below), Paul shares an important principle: Edification is more important than our personal gratification. He writes, "I have the right to do anything," you say — but not everything is beneficial. "I have the right to do anything" — but not everything is constructive." As Christians, we really do have essential freedom in matters of morally neutral things; however, our behavior must be tempered with concern for those who are in the body of Christ.
That word "edify" means to build up or strengthen. Paul uses it in his letters to describe the strengthening of Christian character in ourselves and other people.
The apostle gives us a second encouraging principle in v. 24. Our freedom ought to express itself in serving other people. With his "No one should seek their own good, but the good of others," Paul is perhaps suggesting that our thoughts should always be directed to other brothers and sisters in Christ and that we should eagerly make sacrifices for others. In vv. 25–27, Paul tells us that liberty in Christ will always trump legalism, writing, "Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26for, 'The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it.'" In three verses, Paul focusses on our freedom in Christ. He says it doesn't matter what we eat, including food offered to idols, because neither the eating of it nor the abstaining from it will have any effect on our relationship with God. All food is a gift from God. So Paul says, in effect, "Enjoy life; don't be overly strict."
Next, Paul informs the Corinthians that they shouldn't make an issue of the origin of the meat or food they're given; they should freely eat all of it. Paul implies that living out this freedom means that we're going to have appetizing opportunities to show others what we believers are all about; we'll become "an evangelistic entrée into people's lives." After all, nonbelievers often invite us into their homes, giving us complete freedom to eat with them, whatever they put before us. Paul's solution to a potential violation of conscience is "Don't ask questions!" But if we become legalistic, uptight, self-righteous, "holier than thou" types, our non-Christian acquaintances won't want anything to do with us again. On the other hand, when we demonstrate a life of freedom and openness to non-believers, our behavior and attitude will likely attract them to Jesus.
In vv. 28-30, Paul raises another challenging scenario. What Paul is doing in 10:28-29a is raising a hypothetical situation in which you've been invited to a non-Christian friend's home, and one of your Christian friends who has a weaker conscience is also there and becomes offended or confused by your freedom. Paul suggests that we might decide to refrain from "eating the meat" so as not to risk leading that less-mature brother or sister in Christ into sin or confusing their conscience. But Paul makes clear that even though we may choose to modify our actions for the good of the weaker brother or sister, we're not to adjust our own conscience. In v. 29b Paul again defends his freedom to eat any kind of food, especially food that he knows is a good gift from God, and receive it with gratitude. He also says he refuses to be fearful about what other people think of him; he's not going to be controlled by that.
Apostle Paul leaves us with this general principle: Believers should do everything "for the glory of God," which means to reflect God's glory in the way we live. Verses 31–32 (click the adjacent thumbnails to see those Scriptures) exemplify the purpose of our freedom in Christ. Paul's desire was to live out his freedom in Christ, partly because of its evangelistic potential for the sake of the Gentiles and the Jews who didn't yet know Christ. We, too, should prioritize our having "an attractively inoffensive lifestyle of freedom."
Paul closes this passage with an unsettling invitation in his last two verses. You could ask yourself, "Could I issue the same invitation Paul does?" He says that his own life is a pattern of freedom in Jesus Christ, and he invites other people to imitate him.
Paul is asking every one of us through this entire passage four questions.
"Do you want to know what it means to live a consistent Christian life?
Do you want to properly balance freedom and restraint?
Do you want to be in the world and not of the world?
Do you want to have a positive spiritual influence in your community but not allow that community to mold you such that you compromise what's true and right?
"If you do, then watch me, follow me, live with me. I'm certainly not perfect, but I try to imitate the selfless life that Christ lived. I want to glorify God in the personal story I tell people, while glorifying him in what I do and in my heart's attitudes. To the extent that I succeed at all these endeavors, then the good news is that you can, too."
- Q. 1 Are there any activities that you are biblically free to participate in that you may need to relinquish for the sake of your Christian brothers and sisters (10:23–24)? If so, do you love the body of Christ enough to surrender your rights?
- Q. 2 To what degree does your life glorify God in all that you do (10:31)? What one area of your life tarnishes God's reputation and pleasure? Who can help you submit yourself to the Lord and to others?
- Q. 3 Would you want people to "imitate" your life (11:1)? Why or why not? (Now see the enlightening white photo below.)
1 Corinthians 10:23–11:1
New International Version (NIV)
[You can view it in a different version by clicking here; you can also listen to this chapter.]
The Believer's Freedom
23"I have the right to do anything," you say — but not everything is beneficial. "I have the right to do anything" — but not everything is constructive. 24No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
25Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26for, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it."
27If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28But if someone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29I am referring to the other person's conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another's conscience? 30If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?
31So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God — 33even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. 11 1Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.