Have you heard about the little girl who disobeyed her mother? As part of her discipline, her Mom had repeatedly said, “Sit down,” but the child continued to stand in defiance. After more dire threatening, Susie finally sat down, muttering, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside”!
We may laugh at the story, but isn’t it all too true not only of children but of fully grown adults when they are faced with some order or restriction they just down want to give in to? That little girl reminds us of the parable Jesus told about the man who sent his sons to work the vineyard. The first said he wouldn’t go, but did. The second said he would, but he didn’t (Matt. 21:28-31).
Unfortunately, such an attitude is beginning to permeate our nation today. And, given the speed of communication, it’s spreading like wildfire. Sadly, the freedoms we enjoy have become license for many who think they are free to do whatever pleases them, questioning the authority of anyone who wants them to do otherwise.
When we observe that kind of conduct, we might realistically ask, “Who’s in Charge?” Maybe that’s the real subject of today’s passage in First Corinthians 11. Verses 4 & 5 introduce a topic that needed clarification for those early believers in Corinth. And it presents difficulty for modern-day Christians, too, because our culture is so different from those “infant” years in the early church.
In chapters 1-10 of this letter, Paul had been writing about divisions among the people, problems of immorality and legalities, and questions his converts had asked. Beginning with chapter 1l and continuing through chapter 14, he deals with problems that had arisen in their church worship practices. Before he addresses issues regarding the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34) and the misunderstandings regarding spiritual gifts (chs. 12-14), he speaks of head coverings.
Is it possible that Paul was using the head covering as an illustration or application of a deeper issue? Remember that in God’s sight there is no difference between men and women in their relationships with him: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). But, he makes it clear that there is an intended order in his creation and in the church. “The head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (v. 3).
The teaching, then, has more to do with order or authority than dress accessories. The apostle mentions the order of creation, for example, and order in the Trinity (v. 80. While Jesus’ is fully God, he willingly submitted to the Father’s will and the Holy Spirit’s direction and empowerment during his incarnation. So, it is imperative, to be submissive and observe God’s intended order, yet recognize your equality in spiritual relationships.
A woman without her head covered in first century Corinth was thought to be unmarried and “available.” A married believer, then, might bring shame upon her husband if she appeared in public uncovered. In the worship services of the church, the covering demonstrated her submission to the authority of God over Christ, Christ over husband, and husband over wife.
Here’s a more important question: Is it possible for a woman to have her head covered and yet have an unsubmissive, even rebellious heart—whether in relation to God or her husband? Or can a man recognize his responsible spiritual leadership over his wife but ignore his submission to Christ? You see, externals are important, but it’s the internal attitude of the heart that is essential.
The universe is a staggering 46 billion light years across and still expanding. Whether it’s really getting bigger—or the Hubble Space Telescope is just discovering more of it—what we can already “see” is more than enough. It is immense, immeasurable, maybe even infinite. Who can comprehend the distance between earth and sun (93 million miles), let alone the number of miles light travels in one year (= 65,700 times the distance to the sun), let alone 46 billion light years?! It might as well be infinity.
If the universe overwhelms our mathematical abilities, the Designer and Creator of the universe does more so. Our brains are tinker toys in comparison to DNAs he designed, the strike of a match in comparison to his birthing galaxies. Our descriptions of the universe are little more than nursery rhymes by comparison.
God is mind-boggling mystery. All of his attributes are so much greater than anything we can comprehend. Try love, for example. It’s a universe in its own right.
A 2017 movie, “Stories of Love That Cannot Belong to This World” (originally titled, “Amori che non sanno stare al mondo”), wasn’t about love as defined in the Bible, but it could have been. (I’m not recommending the movie—I haven’t watched it—but I’m intrigued by the title.)
Consider Maria, born as an MK (missionary kid) in China in 1837. Unfortunately, her parents died young, and she was sent back to England to be raised by an uncle. Moved by the incredible needs of people, at age sixteen she, along with her sister—both with incredible passion for sharing the gospel—returned to China to work in a girl’s school. Five years later, Maria married Hudson Taylor. Together they would become models of extreme faith and ultimate sacrifice.
The love that drove their ministry was almost too much for this world. Often criticized—even by other Christians—largely because of their sacrificial spirit, yet they lived a life of unlimited love. Of their nine children, only four survived to adulthood. Maria herself died of cholera when she was just forty-three. At one point Maria wrote, “As to the harsh judgings of the world, or the more painful misunderstandings of Christian brethren, I generally feel that the best plan is to go on with our work and leave God to vindicate our cause.” On her grave marker were the words, “For her to live was Christ, and to die was gain.”
Missionaries whose love for God and people is so unlimited that they put themselves in harm’s way hardly seem to belong to this world. Love compels them in ways that few understand.
Now consider this: The greatest missionary of all put himself in harm’s way: “He came unto his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11), and “with the help of wicked men, they put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23). His life and death defined love like no other: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he set out to demonstrate the full extent of his love” (John 13:1).
The love that drove Jesus’ ministry is immense, immeasurable, infinite. It’s greater than the universe—no matter how many light years across.
[For a previous devotional on 1 Corinthians 13, put “love undefined” in the search box above.]
Paul sums up his three-chapter argument on how to handle so-called “grey areas” with a few principles. Let’s see if there is any priority to them.
The overarching statement would be verse 31: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Our motive in all that we do should be to glorify God. To glorify God means to reflect his nature. In other words, we glorify God when we act like He does. In everything, including the most mundane things in life like eating and drinking, we need to consider how it clearly imitates and reflects the truth of God’s character.
One thing we know about God’s character is that he is good and considers the needs of others. Our deepest need was for forgiveness of sin and a restored relationship with the Father. Jesus didn’t just think about what was good for himself; instead, he thought about what was good for us. So, he emptied himself, became a human, served others, and finally gave his life on the cross in order to make it possible for us to be saved. As the undeserving recipients of such fathomless goodness, we glorify God when we act in the same manner towards others. That is the second principle, which we find in verse 24: “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”
Even more specifically, we seek the good of others by making sure that they receive and grow in the gospel. In no way do we want our choices and behavior to obscure the life-giving and life-changing work of the gospel in people’s lives. That’s the third principle: “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even 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” (32-33). We glorify God by acting like him so that people will be saved.
We get in the way of the gospel when we fall into the extremes of license or legalism. License obscures the gospel by making it seem unnecessary.
Legalism obscures the gospel by confusing it with external, non-essential rules, regulations, and rituals.
Neither license nor legalism allow the love of God to penetrate and change the heart. Paul is calling for freedom tempered by love.
Just as God came in our direction in order to save us, we need to go in the direction of unbelievers in order to know them and share the good news with them. We must not allow legalism to keep us from relating to and reaching unbelievers. However, in going in the direction of unbelievers we must not fall into sin (license). If we do this, we will be like Christ who was called a “friend of sinners” but who “knew no sin.” Tough act to follow, to be sure. However, we can do it the same way he did…through reliance on the Holy Spirit.
Be careful – don’t fall (vs.17)!
How often do we sincerely ask God to “deliver us from evil”? The best way to succumb to temptations to sin is to draw upon our own will power to resist. When I purchase a box of doughnuts because my family enjoys them, I resolve not to eat even one bite. That’s easy. But what about matters of much greater importance – do we ask the Lord to show us the way out of Satan’s ploys?
One constant temptation is to put ourselves on the throne of our hearts, as if our puny selves could independently make wise decisions for our lives. That seems to be what some Corinthians were doing when Paul addressed those who were continuing to practice the worship of idols and yet thought they could also participate in observing the Lord’s Supper. That problem hardly pertains to 21st-century Christians. Or does it?
Those of us who came to the Communion service last Sunday evening were all sinners. We penitent sinners became worthy to partake of the bread and cup when we actively believed the reality of what Jesus did in cleansing and redeeming us. Now we view our daily sins as repulsive and confess them so we can have nothing blocking our fellowship with God.
About that box of doughnuts – I actually feel repulsed by such confections. But each of us have things or activities over which we obsess, and thus idolize. For those things we willingly sacrifice time, money, or energy. Am I saying there are demons behind someone’s diligence in improving skills, acquiring more ____________________, or creating an impressive list of credentials? God knows our motives.
When there are no distractions of media or schedule demands – in those quiet moments, to where do our thoughts go? Where will our thoughts take us right after reading this blog? To our holy, loving, sovereign God and His ways for us, or to personal idols? Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
Why the reference to competitive games? Why the metaphor of the runner? Why the allusion to boxing? What has all that got to do with anything?
One of the themes of this passage has to do with the willingness to do whatever it takes (short of sinning) to reach people with the gospel message. Sometimes this means limiting our freedoms and foregoing our preferences for the sake of others (e.g. choosing not to eat pork of any kind if you are trying to win Muslims to faith). Sometimes this means living out your Christian liberty in order to reach someone with the message of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus (e.g. choosing to hold a Bible study in a pub in Ireland because that’s where people gather). In all circumstances, “doing whatever it takes” means putting the needs of others to hear the gospel ahead of ourselves. Notice the continuity between the following verses.
Again. What’s the deal with the sports references? At first glance they don’t seem to fit the context. Look again.
Choosing to limit our liberty for the sake of others is difficult. Our natural reaction is to resent this and resist it. Our gut response is to defend our rights. It takes discipline, self-control, and a view of the prize in order to willingly give up our liberty for the sake of others.
On the other side of things, choosing to live in our liberty in order to reach others can put us in situations where we are tempted to sin. In order to reach people for Christ, we can’t isolate ourselves from the world. We have to take risks. We can’t expect the harvest to come into the barn on its own. We have to get out into the harvest field. Not living of the world while we live in it for the sake of others takes discipline, self-control, and a view to the prize.
Athletes who run or box in competitive games understand the importance of discipline, self-control, and keeping the end goal in mind.
Paul kept the goal of winning people to faith in Christ clearly in focus. For the sake of that goal, he was willing at times to sacrifice his rights and at other times to risk living out his liberty in Christ. Both situations required the self-control.
What are we willing to sacrifice for the needs of others, so that they will come to know Christ? What are we willing to risk for the needs of others, so that they will come to know Christ?
In last week’s text the subject in our “United” series from 1 Corinthians was “Valuing People over Preferences,” a very important principle for Christians living together in community. This week, the subject is equally appropriate, “Putting our Witness over our Rights.”
As citizens of a country where the freedom and liberty of the people are guaranteed and protected by law, everyone seems to have an expanded view of what their personal rights are. We see demonstrators on TV demanding their rights—whether real or just hoped for. Individuals sometimes take drastic—even violent—measures to publicize what they think are injustices that infringe on their rights.
So, the words of Paul in this week’s text are needed as much today as at any other time in the church’s history. If our demand for our preferences causes difficulties in relationships, how much more are those relationships strained when it comes to what we consider our rights? These are not just questions about music styles or the color of the carpet, but more significant concerns. Sadly, in church history we’ve seen divisions over such matters as whether to have Sunday School, formal education of pastors, paid clergy, practice celibacy, bear arms, and many more issues. These are more than mere preferences; arguments have often begun with, “I have the right to _____” (fill in the blank).
Principles in other Scriptures give us good guidelines for dealing with some of these issues, but here Paul uses himself as a prime example of voluntarily giving up rights; he did so for the preaching of the gospel and for the benefit of other Christians. He notes that he has authority as an apostle, but he doesn’t exercise that authority to demand what rightfully could be his—a salary, for example. Being paid for ministry has the support of Scripture, illustrated in Old law, (earlier in vv. 8-14), and commanded by the Lord, as he says in v. 14. But he didn’t seek their support because he didn’t want to be a burden to them, v. 15 (cf. 1 Cor. 11:7-19). Paul’s reward for preaching the gospel voluntarily was not material but spiritual. He saw it as the opportunity to offer the gospel free of charge, v. 18.
In a corollary passage (chapter 10), Paul gives even more instruction about exercising our rights. Note these concluding comments: So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even 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, vv. 31-33.
After studying a passage like this, along with chapter 10 and Romans 15, we should ask ourselves, “When was the last time I gave up something I had every right to do for someone else’s benefit?” Two questions that should help us discern how to use or deny our rights: 1) are they for “the good of many, so that they may be saved”? (10:33). Or 2) do they build up fellow believers? (Cf. Romans 15:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:11). JBD, 9-30-18
Maybe you remember the game that many of us played as children. We took turns letting one person be the leader, and the rest of us had to follow along and imitate whatever the leaderdid. If it was run, we ran. If it was crawl sideways like a crab, we crawled. If it was flap our arms like a chicken, we flapped. If it was wiggle our hips, we wiggled. If it was jump off the dog box, we jumped (“careful where you land!”). The goal was for the leader to be as creative as possible, including doing sillythings. It was up to the followers to do the same things, even if they were a bit outlandish. The better the leader did in coming up with unique and challenging things, the more fun . . . and funnier. (“Simon Says” was another version of this copycat game.)
As we read Paul’s letters, we easily see that he was a leader. But according to how the Corinthians responded, some of what Paul was doing was considered outlandish, if not childish. To figure out what was going on, we have to read backward from what Paul wrote, and it’s obvious the Corinthians had made some serious accusations.
Fortunately, we have a record of Paul’s reply, even though we can only hypothesize about the nature of the Corinthians’ charges. Regardless, the most important thing is what Paul said and did anyway. Here are three key things that stand out.
Along the same line, Paul wrote to the Romans, “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up”(Rom 15:2).
APPLICATION: Paul’s role as a leader included— at least in the minds of the Corinthians— some strange strategies. Most of the people in Corinth seemingly did not fall in line behind Paul and copy his moves. The good news is, in reading what Paul wrote, we can see that his thinking and values were right in line with what Jesus had taught and modeled years before (as recorded in the Gospels).
If the Attorney General would put warning labels on processed foods that high sodium, sugar, and saturated fat content is hazardous to your health, would it deter consumers who crave unhealthy food?
Self-denial isn’t as natural as the inclination to be self-indulgent. We find it hard to give up what we think we deserve to enjoy. After all, don’t we have freedom to choose what we think we want or need? But where’s the humility?
“Where’s the beef?” some Romans asked, cooked medium rare with wine in a flask…. You all know about Peter’s vision – God gave menu options, not confusion……………… So don’t deny me the right to indulge. What I do in private I needn’t divulge.
What an attitude! We’re probably all guilty of using lawful things in selfish ways. It’s good to stop and evaluate what is of most value to us: is it the exercise of freedom to choose what we prefer, or to consider others better than ourselves in order to be a blessing to God and our fellowman.
Our goal need not be that everyone comes to complete agreement on everything. New believers and mature Christians won’t have the same perspective, though both are under the same Lord. What a person believes is sin is to be according to scripture, and not be subjective opinions. Do strong Christian show their maturity by what their freedoms allow or by their humility to give deference to the weak so as not to cause offense?
What if we were known for being mutually edifying rather than mutually judgmental? If you’ve been personally edified by another believer this month perhaps you can share it in a comment at the end of this blog. If you haven’t been encouraged or admonished, is our church body life in need of revival?
Self — deny it; take up your cross and follow Jesus. This will bring righteousness, peace, and joy.
When we focus on our rights and liberties we are not seeing the needs of others. Paul exhorts believers to put the spiritual needs of others ahead of their own freedoms. It’s easy to demand our own preferences; it is hard to give ourselves to other people’s spiritual growth.
We could argue all day long about any number of cultural issues without reaching unity.
The purpose of the church is to make disciples. Making disciples isn’t about creating cultural clones of ourselves. Making disciples is helping people know Jesus more and more. As people grow in their relationship with Jesus, the Spirit helps them to make better and more mature judgements about secondary matters. The Spirit of God unifies. Are we willing to make concessions to reach that goal?
When’s the last time you heard Christians arguing about eating or not eating food that had been offered to idols? That’s not a problem in today’s church, so what are we to learn from Paul’s teaching about it? In his letter to the Corinthians the apostle has spoken directly about division in the church, tolerance of sin, and sexual immorality. Suddenly, he shifts gears in chapter 8 and addresses another issue that created animosity and division within the body. The principles he establishes clearly address the way we should handle the potential for disagreements and division today.
We’ll not address specifics in this brief blog (lest we cause more disagreements), but we’ll try to establish some biblical principles to help us react to topics about which we don’t have complete agreement. Let’s be clear that we’re not talking about the basic tenets of Christianity or the clear biblical teaching about sin. In such matters, we must take a stand, affirming the fundamentals of the faith and separating from heresy and persistence in sin. The issues we are addressing are what some have called the “indifferent” things, about which there is no specific, clear teaching in Scripture. These are often matters of choice and preference, matters over which good God-fearing Christians may disagree.
Some feel that whatever is not clearly allowed or commanded by Scripture is, therefore, forbidden. A better guideline might be that whatever is neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture is, therefore, permissible. And Paul writes more about the limitations on our freedom to choose and act, as we’ll note later.
Here are some principles that may be helpful as we consider the “doubtful” questions.
Romans 14 deals with Christians who are either weak or strong in their faith, and there is an overriding principle of conduct no matter the strength of your faith. Understanding, as Paul says elsewhere, that “Everything is permissible for me,” (1 Cor. 6:12 & 10:13), should give us a great sense of freedom, but there are limits, he writes. Some things are not beneficial for us, some things might take us beyond our control, and some things do not build us up. Those things we should avoid. But there’s another factor as noted in #7 above. Here’s what Paul says about our responsibility toward other believers:
Today’s study presents another important aspect of our sermon series topic, “United.” The unity of the faith will be easier to achieve and will demonstrate the grace of God more clearly if we learn to value fellow believers more than our personal preferences.