Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake – the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be 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?
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (verses 25-31)
Paul is speaking to a particular issue in Corinth that I don’t have to deal with at all in 22nd century Canada. So, is this portion helpful to me? Yes, for sure, because his guiding principles are as relevant now as they were for the Corinthians way back when.
Here’s what I see:
(1) Everything is framed by the sovereignty and glory of God. The specific issue for the Corinthians had to do with meat sold in the marketplace. It might have been sacrificed in an idol’s temple – was that an issue? Paul says “no” – it’s irrelevant. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” That’s the starting place. When it comes to food, acknowledge his sovereignty and give thanks from your heart for all he provides. Further, whether eating or drinking or anything else, “do it all for the glory of God.” That’s a guiding principle to live by!
(2) Freedom. There are issues in the Christian life which are “disputable” – different people have different points of view. When you encounter one of these (like issues having to do with food or drink) there is freedom. “Eat … without raising questions of conscience.” There are, of course, some issues which are more absolute. Paul has just given the Corinthians one in the preceding verses – they are not to take part in the sacrificial meal in an idol’s temple because it would make them participants with demons. Don’t go there, Paul says. But, when it comes to food itself, there is full freedom. Which, when you think about it, is an absolutely remarkable thing for a former Pharisee to say! He’s obviously found grace and freedom in Christ. That’s where we’re meant to live, too.
(3) Seeking the good of others. The principle of “love,” which undergirds the whole Christian life, provides one crucial reason for sometimes putting a limit on freedom. While the Corinthians were free to eat anything in the home of an unbeliever, if they were informed that the meat set before them had been sacrificed to an idol, Paul counsels them to abstain. Why? For the sake of the unbeliever. In raising the issue, they obviously felt it to be a question of conscience. So, don’t put anything in their way to trip them up. “I am not seeking my own good,” Paul says, “but the good of many, so that they may be saved” (verse 31). Salvation – that’s a big issue! Big enough for me to limit my freedom.
In it all, Paul urges the Corinthians to follow his example, even as he follows the example of Christ (1 Cor 11:1). That counsel takes us back, once again, to the cross. “I resolved to know nothing … except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). Now, that’s a principle to live by!
Lord Jesus, thank you for the freedom you have won for me. I am set free from the unnecessary niggles of conscience. But I submit myself to the bigger issue of following your example, seeking the good of those around me – may my life draw others to you, even when it requires limiting my freedom. And, in it all, I acknowledge you as the Sovereign Lord, who gives every good gift. Thank you for it all. Amen.
Reflect: Choose one of these guiding principles and consciously walk through the day with it: (1) the glory of God, (2) freedom in Christ, (3) seeking the good of others, (4) Christ’s example of sacrifice. See where the principle leads you.