This week's lesson is about the boundaries between Christianity and the world. In Paul's time, the issue the Corinthian church was addressing had to do with whether they should eat meat that had been offered to idols. For the contemporary generation, please substitute an appropriate equivalent. Examples anyone?
- The television programming we watch
- The magazine articles we read
- The books we read
- The concerts we attend and music we listen to
- The jokes we laugh at
- The Internet sites we visit (since you're reading this on the web)
- The people we associate with
- The lottery tickets we buy, gambling or other non-profitable activities we may do
- The stocks or mutual funds we invest in
- The games we play
- And yes, still the food we eat, the beverages we drink, the drugs and medicines we take
- and probably a host of other things that could fit in here if the meat offered to idols doesn't seem relevant to you today.
The quarterly writer makes some points with respect to the Corinthian church. This was a church in a Greco-Roman civilization. The Romans worshiped many gods besides Jehovah. The majority of the Romans around the empire had not heard of Christ and certainly did not worship Him. It wasn't until Emperor Constantine I (285-337 CE) that Christianity got a serious foothold in the halls of power.
There were many sacrifices to the idols and pagan gods in the city of Corinth. According to Dake, there were two schools of thought about this.
Two schools, the Karaites and Traditionists, caused controversy in the early church. The Karaites held to the letter of the Jewish law, teaching that it was unlawful to receive any benefit from heathen worship or from anything that had been offered to an idol. It was unlawful to buy or sell an idol or meats offered to idols. The Traditionists maintained that they could use such meat provided that the sign of the idol was not stamped upon it. A sign could be placed upon the animal before it was sacrificed to the idol, such as guilded horns and hoofs, garlands, etc. When it was killed and sold in the shop such marks could not be seen so the Karaites had scrupled about all meat not knowing what had been sacrificed to idols or killed for common use. Those who had knowledge that idols and meats offered to them meant nothing, had no scruple against buying and using such meat.
Some Jews held to certain rites of the law and some Gentiles held to certain heathen rites when they accepted Christianity. All these differences had to be dealt with and true knowledge gained before perfect harmony between converts could be maintained.
Where do you fall on lines of controversy like this? Paul's position was that idols had no power and there wasn't anything wrong in eating meat that may have been sacrificed to idols. In verse 8 he states "But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat are we better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse." He is saying that the meat itself - even if offered to idols - doesn't affect us one way or another because of its history. But he was very concerned that taking any position might cause a weak member to give up the cause of Christ. Out of love, he goes on to say in verse 13 "Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." The word offend here as noted by Dake is Gr. skandalizo, to cast a snare before one so as to destroy him. He didn't want some young Christian or non-Christian who was considering switching to Christianity to end up participating in a idolatrous event because it appeared to them that he had said that the end result of that event didn't matter.
Our liberty, from verse 9, must not become a stumbling block for weaker or less mature Christians. We try to follow that as best we can. This issue with the Corinthian church was something that was out in the people's faces. It was public - done in the market place for all to see. Paul's answer was basically don't do something that is obviously sin - eating marked meat, but otherwise love one another and have communion with one another.
The list that we started the day with can be broken up into three different groups. Those things we do alone. Those things we may do alone or in view of others. And finally, those things that we do in view of others. Paul would say that in all three cases, the primary rule is to not personally allow sin into our life through those things we do or in which we participate.
That seems pretty simple but often today we are not as strong on that one as we should be. It's pretty easy to tell black from white. If you look at a Bible page, the direct black and white contrast makes the letters leap out. Satan doesn't present us with black and white very often because he knows we will be able to easily see the difference. What he presents us with is varying shades of gray. From white, we see just the slightest hint of gray and our brain processes it as white. So we move off to the slightly gray, not seeing the difference with the white we were just on. This continues little by little until we are over on really dark gray - maybe not black, yet - but definitely dark gray. That is what we must watch out for on a daily basis - the first hints of gray! They may not be sinful at all, but they are dangerous to our soul, nonetheless.
For kids and in some cases adults, you may feel that the computer games you and your friends play are just make believe - they have no basis in reality - so what is the problem? Pray about each one and see what God tells you. If you hear Him tell you what He thinks but it isn't the answer you want to hear, and decide to ignore it, then you are living in disobedience to Him. Does the music we listen to improve us and make us better people? Or does it glorify the wrong things? Well, we have personal MP3 players with the earphones permanently connected to our heads - nobody else is being affected! Right? Your friends and younger brothers and sisters are watching what you listen to. You are a witness in everything you do. Be sure you are being the right witness so that they don't stumble.
For those where we may be observed, then we should not cause anyone else to stumble. For parents and older brothers and sisters, this means limiting the television that you watch, the books you read, not just the magazine articles that you read, but the magazines that you buy and leave lying around. Sure, you may feel that the shows, stories, and articles that you spend time on don't have any effect. You skip over the bad bits (right?) You are like the Corinthians who had knowledge that Paul addressed - you know that it is fiction and so you feel that the words don't have any effect on you. Perhaps you have just seen so much and read so much that they don't have the effect they used to. You've become jaded. But your children (or grandchildren), and little brothers and sisters still don't need the exposure. People in the Central and Mountain time zones need to pay particular attention. Shows that air later on the coasts air earlier in our time zones. Don't assume that the networks will protect you. They want the heartland of America to change because we are a thorn in their sides.
Watch what your kids are doing - what they watch on TV, what music they listen to, what they read, where they surf, who they hang around with, et cetera, et cetera. You are charged to "train up your child in the way they should go". That is an active command. The attitude of "Well, they're just kids - we shouldn't constrain their development but should let things turn out however they are going to without much parental direction" thing my generation has going needs to come to a stop. Kids need your guidance and need to know your values. If you don't have any values yourself, then it is high time you got the right ones.
There is another aspect to this particular situation Paul was addressing that I want to bring out that I think is perhaps just as relevant to us today. I thought about this for quite awhile and prayed about whether I should go there or not. But I feel led to do so.
Why was this issue a problem for the Corinthian church in the first place? The Jewish members who had converted to Christianity were bound to their heritage as Jews. They bristled at accepting change. Their forefathers had not offered meat to idols and hadn't eaten meat that had been offered to idols so they weren't going to either. It caused friction in the church when there were people who said that they had accepted Christ as their Savior, who were doing that very thing. They didn't want anything to do with them. They didn't want such people in their church! Let them worship somewhere else if they think that sort of thing should go on! We don't want the wrath of God to fall on us just because of a few people who are clearly Not doing things The Right Way! They forgot that God didn't care about the meat itself - he cared about the idolatry! They forgot that Christ Himself took meals with and talked with people while He was on Earth that completely blew the Pharisees minds (Mt. 9:10-13).
There is just such friction in the church today over a host of issues. It has been a common theme running through my presentation of each of the lessons I've taught this quarter. We cannot reduce friction by accepting sin directly or indirectly. But in all things where there is no sin involved (worship styles, doctrine, et cetera) Christ's church has historically split itself apart and let friction reign where there should be none.
We have been singing the song "I'm Goin' a Sing When the Spirit Says Sing" in our service Sunday mornings. We don't have a lot of trouble with the singing part (as long as the Spirit Says Sing where it's printed in the bulletin!) We don't have a problem with the prayer part (as long as it is the Lord's prayer and happens where it's printed in the bulletin!) That moaning and shouting thing tho - well, 99% of the congregation would just as soon that never happened in a service at all.
The traditions that most of the church members were brought up with don't allow the Spirit to have his way with us. That is a wonderful hymn that I grew up with - "His Way with Thee" by Cyrus S. Nusbaum (1861-1937). Since it's public domain, I'll print it here -
Would you live for Jesus, and be always pure and good?
Would you walk with Him within the narrow road?
Would you have Him bear your burden, carry all your load?
Let Him have His way with thee.
His pow'r can make you what you ought to be;
His blood can cleanse your heart and make you free;
His love can fill your soul, and you will see
'Twas best for Him to have His way with thee.
Would you have Him make you free, and follow at His call?
Would you know the peace that comes by giving all?
Would you have Him save you, so that you can never fall?
Let Him have His way with thee.
Would you in His kingdom find a place of constant rest?
Would you prove Him true in providential test?
Would you in His service labor always at your best?
Let Him have His way with thee.
That song, along with many of the songs I grew up with, isn't in the Methodist hymnals. It doesn't come as much of a shock, because it talks about salvation, which, according to Pastor Thomas, hasn't always been a popular subject in the Methodist church, and it talks about His pow'r in us, which certainly isn't a popular subject. It's also a fast song, which from my limited experience here is also a no-no.
But "His Pow'r" is just the thing the church needs today. We need to find out where the Spirit is going and get right there in front of Him! We need to put the words of the "Spirit Says Sing" song into practice in our services instead of just learning the words of a new song to sing. Until the Holy Spirit gets back in charge of the services of a lot of mainline denominations, their numbers are going to continue to decline. This isn't a diatribe against the pastors. I truly think that they pray about what to preach and try to preach to the best of their ability. In many cases, though, their ability alone is not enough. They need the Holy Spirit preaching through them, using them to communicate a message, not worrying about who they will offend or scare off.
There is an energy in evangelical churches music that isn't present here, most times. It isn't just the instrumentation that is used either. I have every confidence that the organ and piano of this church can provide all the notes needed to rock this place for God. When I was growing up, that's all we had as well - organ and piano. It wasn't until later that people started wanting to add guitars and drums. But I assure you that just the basics are all that it takes to rock the walls singing of Christ's glory. If the Spirit is with you, you can succeed. If not, you are doomed to also ran status. That is very blunt and delivered with no grace at all, but it is absolutely true.