Our Church has been going over the first letter to the Corinthians the last couple of months. It has been incredibly edifying and challenging. Some of the most exciting passages that we have worked through are chapters 8-10. It has been said that these chapters are a contained unit and a lot of the discussion has been over how they are linked.
Most people I have read say that it is the theme of idolatry that connects these chapters. Chapter 8 starts off with Paul’s statement, “Now concerning food offered to idols,” which some say establishes the topic of discussion. Chapter 10 deals explicitly with idol worship as well as foods offered to idols. It is weird, however, that Paul doesn’t mention idolatry in chapter 9 at all, but rather his own rights.
I do believe that idols (literally made of material like gold, silver, and wood) created a difficult dynamic in a society where idolatry was prevalent and affected daily life. In John Sailhamer’s book, Introduction to Old Testament Theology, he says concerning Scripture that God has spoken and still speaks. I like that. What is beautiful about this passage is that even though Paul is addressing the certain cultural situation at Corinth, it can and does speak to every generation.
Though Paul is specifically addressing the issue of how believers should conduct themselves in an idol-laden culture, he is communicating a broader principle that encompasses all of life, in every daily activity. Reading chapters 8-10 I kept noticing the theme of eating and drinking. I found this to be the most prevalent theme that runs throughout these chapters.
Eating and drinking are the most basic activities that any human will do in any given day. And though there is no right more “inalienable” than eating and drinking, Paul reveals there is a guiding principle to how we should eat and drink. Reading through these chapters it is amazing how the Author repeats this concept over and over again. It is almost as if he is saying, “Let me show you when you should eat and drink and why.”
Do not eat or drink if it causes a brother or sister in Christ to stumble.
In chapter 8, the issue is over whether believers are allowed to eat food that had been offered to idols. Many of the Corinthians had been arrogant about their knowledge that since there is only One God then idols are nothing and consequently, food coming from idol sacrifices is not affected in any way. But Paul sees their arrogance and elevation of their personal freedom over love for their Christian family as something that dishonors God. He says, “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Cor. 8:8) The brother is described as “for whom Christ died.” Paul limits his freedom to eat and drink because, “if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Cor. 8:13)
Do not eat or drink if it is a hindrance to the Gospel.
In chapter 9, as an example of one abdicating one’s rights, Paul shows how he applied this principle in the area of his service of the Gospel to the Corinthians. He asks the questions, “Do we not have the right to eat and drink?” (1 Cor. 9:4) This is in reference to living off of his service of the Gospel. But his rights and freedom is constrained. “If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” (1 Cor. 9:12) The proclamation of the Gospel takes precedence over personal liberties.
Do not eat or drink if becomes an idolatrous act.
In chapter 10 Paul gives a lesson in the Old Testament narratives about those who “ate the same spiritual food and drink the same spiritual drink” as the Corinthians. Yet, the people did not please God because they were idolaters. Paul even quotes Exodus 32:6, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” It appears in 10:8-10 Paul gives the consequences of eating and drinking idolatrously, which is sexual immorality, putting Christ to the test, and grumbling. Paul then contrasts eating and drinking in communion, which is fellowship with Christ, to eating and drinking in pagan rituals, which is fellowship with demons. In this case, if eating and drinking makes our hearts yoked to idols then we must abstain.
Do not eat or drink if it offends an unbeliever.
Paul gives one more instance where a believer should not eat or drink. If eating and drinking could offend an unbeliever, then a believer should not partake because he should not seek his own good, “but the good of his neighbor.” (1 Cor. 10:24) This doesn’t mean that the food apart from that context is wrong, “For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” (1 Cor. 10:26; Ps. 24:1) In fact, Paul makes it very clear that a believer’s freedom is not determined by another person’s conscience. (1 Cor. 10:29-20) A believer’s freedom is in Christ and a believer’s freedom is constrained by Christ.
Eat and drink to the glory of God.
Paul wraps up this discussion with the oft-quoted verse, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31) After seeing the theme of eating and drinking so prevalent in the argument leading up to this statement, I found myself blown away when I came to this verse. I had read it so many times before without that incredible foundation. And here is the guiding principle for eating and drinking, or whatever you do: Does it glorify God?
This sounds terribly simple and maybe it is, but too often I think believers elevate personal freedom over the love for God and love for others. Paul gives four good reasons why our freedoms should be constrained and it is not to rob anyone of joy.
What is so convicting in this passage is that Paul centers every activity of the day, including eating and drinking, around the proclamation of God’s glory. The Gospel drives him because the Gospel gives the truest freedom. Freedom from death and sin. Freedom to experience a relationship with God. It is his aim and like a skilled runner he makes his body a slave in order to receive that prize. (1 Cor. 24-27).
Let the Gospel affect every part of our lives daily, so that whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, we do all to the glory of God.