1Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3but anyone who loves God is known by him.
4Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords—6yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
7It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8“Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall. (NRSV)
|Temple of Apollo by ClixYou. Creative commons image on flickr.|
You know how they always say, “no matter how good you get, there will always be someone better?”
I attended a Christian college—and I was amazed at strict rules my classmates followed.
I had one friend who prayed aloud for God to forgive him for eating a tiny piece of birthday cake…
Another was forbidden to sleep more than five hours a night, because it is written in Proverbs, “a little slumber; a little sleep, and poverty will come upon you like a thief.”
And still another believed that scented laundry detergent was sinful…
Personally, I think they took Christian morality to the extreme. But that’s not to say that your conduct as a Christian is inconsequential.
Jesus said: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength; and, love your neighbor as yourself. These two commandments fulfill the Law and the prophets. But what happens when a law does not bring you closer to God and gives no benefit to your neighbor?
This was a question faced by the young church in Corinth; a church that was rife with bitter conflicts and divisions over all sorts of things. In our second reading for today, Paul addresses a major controversy: is it lawful for a Christian to eat food sacrificed to idols?
In Corinth, much of the meat sold in the markets came from animals that were sacrificed in pagan rituals. For many devout Jews and Christians, you didn’t dare touch this stuff. In fact, the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 forbade the eating of meat sacrificed to idols! And—the author of Revelation strictly forbade this practice.
Paul, on the other hand, argues that there is only one God and that idols are nothing. Therefore, eating meat sacrificed to idols does not dishonor God.
But that didn’t change people’s behavior—or their feelings about the matter. Those who exercised their freedom to eat the meat were scandalizing those who didn’t. Those who ate called those who didn’t “weak” and “ignorant;” while those who didn’t believed those who did were blaspheming God.
Paul is crystal clear about what he believes. But for Paul, One’s obedience to any moral law is nullified if one fails to obey the law of love. Therefore, if a Christian who eats meat causes one who doesn’t to stumble in their faith; that Christian is obligated out of love to abstain.
The eating of food sacrificed to idols is hardly a controversy for us today (though sometimes, I wonder…)
Controversy is nothing new to the Church. We’ve always had it—and we always will. But what happens when there’s a controversy? Factions rise up and make the controversy a battle between good and evil. People will always fight back against change and protect the status quo. Anyone or anything that fails to conform to the powerful majority is demonized. Fear and greed take over—and the Gospel is silent.
If, as a Christian, you conspicuously exhibit your freedom or godliness in a way that shocks, belittles, or silences your fellow Christian, you are not fulfilling the law of love. This is the sin of being “holier-than-thou.” You sacrifice your neighbor at the altar of your self-righteousness. You sacrifice the Gospel at the altar of security, dominance, and privilege. You sacrifice Jesus at the altar of your own aggrandizement.
But here’s the truth: as Christians, you bear responsibility for each other’s faith. No Christian lives in a vacuum. Faith is communal. It is relational. It thrives in mutuality and interdependence. This is good news.
In fact, your faith was created in community. It was your family of faith that presented you to Christ in baptism. It is your family of faith who taught and modeled the faith. It is your family of faith that nurtures your spiritual gifts and empowers you to exercise them for the good of God’s kingdom. It is your family of faith who make God’s promises real to you.
Sin, death, and the perils of this life can quickly overwhelm your faith. But when you cannot go on believing, your sisters and brothers will help you carry the weight—through their prayers; their presence; and their support.
If you see someone who doesn’t share your faith or beliefs, you can do far more to influence them by your love and graciousness rather than by winning arguments.
We’re diverse in many ways. We have different backgrounds, different beliefs, different ways of living faithfully—and that’s okay. Diversity enriches the Christian community.
When there’s a quarrel or controversy, love and graciousness give room for the Holy Spirit to move. Conflict can lead to greater understandings of each other. Disagreements about morals and doctrine can bind us together in a common pursuit of truth.
God’s ultimately not going to give you heavenly rewards for abstaining from meat or scented detergent. God's not going to reward you for being on the right side of an argument. You can only cling to Christ for your righteousness.
Your sister or brother in Christ ought to be worth more to you than cheap meat—and certainly worth more to you than parading your faith around like the ultimate trophy. We all need to learn that people, even strangers, are a greater treasure than not having to change or learn new things. We all need to learn that conflict plus love leads to growth. We all need to learn that managing controversy is about witness and not winning. We all need to learn that the only demons to fear are those that would divide us from each other and increase the distance between ourselves and the God who loves us.