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For the Glory of God

Date: Jun. 14, 2020

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1

Key Verse: 1 Corinthians 10:31

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

We are almost at the halfway point for 2020 and I know that there are people that wish it was over three months ago. The year started with much promise. It is the visionary 2020. Not too long ago, 2020 seemed like a far-off time, a distant future. There were so many vision puns because of “2020”. But 2020 is here now, and we are halfway through the sixth month of it. It has been an unprecedented year, so far. We are in the midst of a pandemic that people wish would go away and has decimated our economy. Plus, we have been seeing renewed civil rights efforts, the likes of which have not been seen in around 50 years. It is indeed a year that will be remembered in the history books. I actually read an article a week or two ago that talked about how exceptional this year has been. The article mentioned that this year is like 1918, 1929 and 1968 rolled all into one. In 1918, there was the Spanish flu pandemic that killed millions and a lot of what the people had to do at that time, we are doing now to abate our pandemic, like wearing masks and keeping our distance from others. In 1929, the economy collapsed and led to a 25% unemployment rate in a few years. As of May, there is an unemployment rate of 13.3%, down from a high of 14.7%, the highest since the Great Depression. In 1968, people marched against racial injustice and it led to violence and looting. That sounds like a few weeks ago here. Any one of these issues is difficult to deal with, but in 2020 we just add those three years up and take all those issues together. It can be difficult to know what to do and honestly, we might want to tackle one thing at a time, but as Christians there is a guiding thought that can help us know how to act in any situation. Everything that we do should be for the glory of God, and that is the focus of our passage today.

Two weeks ago, we finished our Mark’s Gospel study and last week, we had a special message about God’s love for us and our love for others from 1 John 4. This week, we are going to do another special message before we get into our next book. In this week’s special message, we are going to revisit our key verse for the year and the passage surrounding it: 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1 with a key verse of 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” This passage was chosen for our vision for 2020, that we would put our focus firmly on God and not be distracted by the things of this world. As a Christian, everything we do reflects upon God. Whether we know it or not, every action we do and every word from our lips becomes a representation of our God. If we are a people of God, then our actions and words show what our God is like to others. They will infer it, even if we don’t mean it. That means that it is very important to remember we are God’s representatives on this earth, and we should act like it. Since this message was first given, the world changed. Now we have new issues and new worries than we did six month ago, but the fact of the matter remains that how we carry ourselves and behave really should be done for God’s glory.

Our passage today starts out, “‘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.” (10:23) We start off right off the bat with what seems to be a common saying for Christians in Corinth. Corinth was a city in Greece that was well known to be very immoral. The city was synonymous with sexual immorality to the point where the phrase “to Corinthianize” meant “to practice sexual immorality”. It was the original sin city. In a city like that it was no wonder the church there was home to a number of problems. The apostle Paul had received word of these problems and this letter was a response to those reports. There were all sorts of moral laxness that was apparent in the church. They thought that their salvation and the grace from God allowed them to do whatever they wanted. They were forgiven by God and they assumed that he would forgive them again, because Christ died once for all. It is true that Jesus’ death give us freedom from the power of death, but the church in Corinth developed a saying, “I have the right to do anything.” Sometimes it has been translated, “Everything is permissible.” Honestly, “I have the right to do anything,” sounds very American, but this saying predates our modern times by nearly two thousand years.

Americans love to wave that freedom around. We love to make sure that no one can tell us what to do, even when it is for our own good and the good of the public in general. Seatbelts have been required in cars since 1968, but it wasn’t until 1984 that the first State, New York made wearing a seatbelt mandatory. It’s been required in Illinois since 1985. However, when the law was first passed, and for many years afterwards, there were so many people who balked at the idea of wearing a seatbelt. They didn’t like the restrictions or the felt uncomfortable or they just didn’t want to be told what to do, even though there was ample proof that seatbelts saved many lives. Even now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many people who refuse to wear a mask or wear them improperly despite the fact they have been shown to help reduce the spread of the disease. People say that they are too stifling, or they hurt after a while. Others just want to deal with the consequences of not wearing one. If they get sick, they get sick. But they forget that without that mask, they might pass it on to someone else. As the passage says, “not everything is beneficial. Not everything is constructive.” Just because there is freedom to do something, doesn’t mean that you should. There may be consequences to your actions that affect other people.

Now, you might not care about what happens to other people, but that is not what we are supposed to do. Our passage continues, “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” (10:24) As believers, we should not seek our own good, but the good of others. In other words, we are not supposed to be looking for ways to benefit ourselves, but we have to think about how to help others. This is loving others. If this sounds familiar, it’s because we heard something similar last week. We heard a call to love others and if we don’t love others, then we unable to love God, because God is love. We see that sort of selfishness out in the world. Some people believe in the survival of the fittest. You have to look out for number one, you have to look out for yourself. You have to cheat and lie to secure your own. Other people can’t win, because that means you have to lose, and no one ever wants to lose. There are people who think that if you are not with them, then you are against them. We saw that sort of selfishness a couple of weeks ago during the rioting and looting that happened in the city and suburbs. Some people were filled with anger and pain at the racial injustice and lashed out in that anger, but there were others that were just so selfish. There were opportunists who would break into businesses and steal whatever they could, not out of anger but just to sow chaos and get something for themselves. The calmly made plans to attack businesses and rented truck to haul off their swag. There were some who tried to justify their actions saying that it was just stuff and that the businesses had insurance, there is no real victim, but many were small businesses and had no insurance. They might not be able to recover. The big businesses might have insurance, but employees would not be able to work until things are fixed and merchandise restored. Some people’s livelihoods were destroyed.

As believers, we have to think beyond our own interests to the interests of others. This doesn’t mean that as we seek our own interests, we think about the interests of others. There are many people out there that do that. At the start of the pandemic, there were a number of companies that were generous by providing something free to customers during this time. They were thinking of their customers, but they were also thinking of how they looked and brokering some valuable mindshare. If people thought of them as a good company, then they might get more customers once it was all over. They were generous, but only to the point where it didn’t hurt them. We do that too. We help others only to the point where it doesn’t hurt us, but as we saw last week, love has a lot to do with sacrifice. Jesus selflessly sacrificed himself for us. He did so without any expectation to be paid back because he knew that there was no way for us to pay him back. I sacrifice things for my kids and my wife knowing that they will not pay me back because I do it out of love for them. As Christians, we have to love unconditionally. We have to be willing to sacrifice, even our lives, for the sake of others. As Christians, we should not seek our own good, but only the good of others. Let me say that again, we should not seek our own good, but only the good of others. We have to think about other people’s feelings and try to empathize and sympathize with them. We have to put ourselves in their shoes and choose to do things for the sake of others, and not our own.

That can be a hard pill to swallow. Humanity is so ingrained to be selfish, but we are called to be so much more than that. Even societies that promote and honor doing things for a group, like family or your own people, fall short on focusing on others. Doing things for the sake of family is still doing things for your family. It goes even above and beyond to do things for the sake of people you might not ever meet or people you don’t like or people you have very little in common with. It goes against our survival instincts to think of others first, especially even our enemies. How many times have you ever thought about loving the people that you don’t like, even your enemy? Probably none. It is not in our nature. We’ve been hardwired to take care of ourselves and those around us. It is something that God set up in us to make sure we take care of and love our families. It can be a very good thing, but it can also be a hinderance.

Jesus told us in Matthew’s gospel, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matthew 5:43-47) God loved his enemies to the point that Jesus died for even them. Paul also wrote, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Jesus didn’t die for us when we were on his side. He died for us while we were rebelling against God, while we were his enemies. As Christians, our goal is to be like Christ in our lives. If he has that level of love, then we should also. Jesus wasn’t caught up in tribalism. He didn’t die for the select few. He died for the many, all of which were his enemies. To overcome our humanity, we need divinity. We need Jesus in our heart and minds to change us to overcome our limitations as humans. We can’t make these leaps on our own.

Paul give a good example of putting the good of others before ourselves. The passage says, “Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.’” (10:25-26) In Paul’s time in Corinth and many other cities and villages the meat that could be found in the meat market was probably butchered by pagan priests because butcher was not a regular profession; it was a part of the priests’ duties. That means that most of the meat in these Gentile cities and towns were sacrificed to idols before being sold. Since Jews had dietary restrictions, they had to find a kosher butcher to make sure that the meat was not sacrificed beforehand. The Christian, on the other hand, should not have such restrictions. The Christian was free to eat of any of the meat in the market, because it all came from God. The Christian would know that idols are nothing, so a sacrifice to nothing is meaningless and not a problem. God was the true source of all things and everything belongs to him. Christians have that freedom. They don’t need to be bothered by stone and wood.

However, Paul next brings up a limitation that believers should put on themselves in this manner. “If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But 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. I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?” (27-30) If you are invited for a meal at someone’s house, even if they don’t believe, you are perfectly able to eat whatever they give you without any guilt involved. Likely, since the person wasn’t a Christian, the food was sacrificed to idols, but since it wasn’t explicitly stated you are fine to eat it, because, again the idol it was sacrificed to is nothing. Paul mentions that believers shouldn’t raise questions of conscience. This means that there was no need to ask questions about its origin. Like above, everything comes from the Lord, so it doesn’t really matter, anyway. However, if the host or another guest tells you about the sacrifice, then you should not eat it. Paul says that it is for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of the conscience of the one who told you. Again, the sacrifice means nothing to you, and you are free to eat it, but it affects the other person.

Paul asks two questions at the end of this paragraph that really get to the heart of our heart. “For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?” (29-30) These questions boil down to why we should choose to restrict our freedom. It is their problem and not ours. If we were to eat the food after knowing of its origin, we would be encouraging the unbeliever’s pagan beliefs. They would see our actions as proof that what they are doing is absolutely fine. A Christian’s duty is not to our own stomach, but to God.

Paul, then rounds out his argument in this passage, “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. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (10:31-11:1) Everything we do should glorify God because everything we do reflects on God. Since we are his followers, how we act becomes proof to others of who God is. If we are seen as condoning something, people will assume God condones the thing. Our duty is to be a good representative of God. We should not be causing people to stumble and fall away from God. We have to limit our personal freedoms for the sake of others. One of our goals is to help people come to God, but if our actions lead people away, then we have failed that goal. Paul uses his own example. He doesn’t seek his own good, but the good of many, to help them see salvation. He follows Christ’s own example and urges us to do so, as well.

As Christians, it is imperative that we always look at our words and actions to see if we are glorifying God. There will be times where the same action has different consequences different times. Like the example here, eating the food sacrificed to idols is no problem because the idol is nothing. However, it can be a problem when someone tells you and they know that you know because it encourages their sinful behavior. There are two different situations. To glorify God in each situation means doing different actions, and that means to think of the other people involved, even if there is no benefit to ourselves. God, above all else, must be glorified.

It’s been three weeks since the death of George Floyd and the anger at the racial injustice that caused that death to occur. Protests have become a regular part of life. About a week and a half ago, there were protesters going down the road in front of my house, right outside my window. It was the first time I have ever seen that. As you can obviously see, I am a white man, a pretty generic white man at that. As such, I don’t fully understand the racial injustice that has occurred. I haven’t felt it myself and I hope that I have not been a part of reinforcing the racial stereotypes in my own actions and words, but the temptation is to ignore such injustice because it doesn’t directly affect us and makes us uncomfortable. But ignoring it and making excuses doesn’t help anything, it just leads to a boiling pot of anger and leads no one to God. We have to think how Christ would deal with the situation. We have to look to his sacrifice. First of all, there are no greater people or lesser people. Christ died for all types of people, equally. There are differences in race, gender and culture, but no difference in our sin and need for salvation. Jesus died for all of us equally. One person’s life is not worth less than another’s. We should not make excuses for why someone was killed. Life is life and each one is precious. We don’t need to make the victims into perfect people to justify our outrage against their death because their life is precious, regardless. No one deserves to die like George Floyd or Rayshard Brooks or the countless others, no one. Changes need to happen. We need to celebrate our differences and not put people down because of those differences nor should we try to erase them. Different is just different, nothing more. Our value is not based on who we think we are, but in who God says we are. We are his children and there is no lesser child. We have to help bring equality, even if it doesn’t affect us directly. As believers, we have to be willing to sacrifice out of love so that others can have the same opportunities that we have. We cannot practice racism and bigotry, but we can’t ignore things either because neither of those options glorify God. Each person is our brother or sister and we all share the same blood.

Jesus was willing to die for people he would never physically meet, like me. I am absolutely, 100% sure that Jesus saw no benefit for dying on the cross for me. The only thing he got was pain, suffering and death, but he did it anyway out of love for me and for the glory of God. Who am I to do anything less? If I follow Jesus, I need to love like he loves. I may have the freedom from sin and have no restriction placed upon me, but I need to exercise that freedom by choosing to help people find their way to God. I need to be the example so that people know what God is truly like. If I am not, then I am failing at being a Christian. I should not look to my own good, but to the good of others.

Again, that is not something that is easy for us to do. It requires our hearts to be changed and that can only be done by Jesus. We have to become more Christlike to overcome ourselves. We may be made a certain way, but we need Jesus to overcome our nature for the betterment of society and especially for the advancement of God’s kingdom. We have to take the time to think about our actions and words. We have to see if they glorify God or not. In every situation, we have to take the time to make sure that whatever we do is not for our own self-interests but for the good of others and their salvation. We cannot cause people to stumble into sin, especially by pushing people away from God. How we live reflects on who God is. If we are detestable, then people will see God as detestable. If we are full of love and grace, no matter the circumstance, then people will know the abundant and overflowing love of and grace of God.

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