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We’ve been given a higher purpose than getting what we want and having things our own way.
We often think that there’s no higher purpose in life than to be free—than to live the life that you choose without anyone else telling you what you can or can’t do. It’s built into our DNA as Americans. As the Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These aren’t just ideals for the formation of government. These are the values we live by.
This is why we bristle when the government starts telling us what to do, like social distancing or wearing masks. They have no right to force us to do something we don’t want to do. If we need to take precautions, that’s something we can choose to do on our own. We have a right to do what we want with our own bodies.
This is one of the reasons we value hard work. People who pull themselves up by their bootstraps, forge their own way in life and don’t depend on others are seen as heroic. People like that have achieved the highest goal, which is to be independent and to live the life you choose without anyone else telling you what you can or cannot do.
This is why teenage rebellion is iconic. You know, that teenage attitude that no one can tell me what to do; I’m going to do it my way. We don’t just see teenage rebellion as a phase in life. We see it as the ideal life. Just hink about all those country songs that glorify the freedom of Friday night when you leave all your responsibilities behind and escape to the pleasures of drinks and love.
We often think that there’s no higher purpose in life than to be free—than to live the life that you choose without anyone else telling you what you can or can’t do.
And don’t get me wrong, the liberty we have as Americans is a good thing. We’re free to go to the church that we want. We’re free to live where we want. We’re free to educate our children the way we want. It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without these freedoms. They’re all good gifts that God has blessed us with in this country.
But our reading from 1 Corinthians reminds us that as good as those things are, we who belong to Christ have been given a higher purpose than getting what we want and having things our own way.
Paul challenges the Corinthians, “What good is it to do what you want, if you destroy your brother in the process?”
The Corinthians were free to eat meat sacrificed idols. Now you have to realize that in the ancient world, idol worship was a regular part of life. Pagan temples were the place where social events happened. If your boss, for example, invited you to his birthday party, it was probably at a temple to one of the gods like Zeus or Aphrodite. And the food served there was part of the ritual sacrifices. And if you went to the grocery store to buy some meat, that meat came from these pagan temple sacrifices. It was an animal sacrificed to an idol.
But the Corinthians were free to eat the meat sacrificed to idols because they knew that idols aren’t real. “There’s no God but one.” In other words, the meat isn’t tainted by these gods, as if eating this meat joined you to some evil force. Those gods are nothing. They’re fairy tales with no real existence, and they have no power over the meat. There’s only one God 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. We have no reason to be afraid of the power of idols over the meat because they don’t exist. We know that idols are nothing, and there is one God and one Lord, Jesus Christ. So we’re free to eat the meat sacrificed to idols. In fact, the Corinthians said, it’s our right. You can’t tell me that I can’t eat this meat. I’m a Christian, I have true knowledge, I’m free. You can’t tell me what I can and can’t do.
But here’s the problem. Not everyone possessed this knowledge. Some of the Christians in Corinth could not in good conscience eat meat sacrificed to idols. Why? Because they themselves used to be idol worshipers. And before they heard the good news of Jesus Christ, they had spent their whole lives worshiping Zeus and Aphrodite and Hera. Eating the meat sacrificed to these idols was a form of worship. And now that they belong to the one true God, how could they go back to eating that meat? It seemed sacrilegious and blasphemous. They couldn’t in good conscience do it. And when other Christians in Corinth did it, these people were horrified.
And you can’t blame them, right? Their own conscience couldn’t do it anymore because they had sworn off idol worship. And yet other Christians are saying that it’s their right to do it. More than that, if you don’t eat meat sacrificed to idols, then you’re a weak Christian.
Yes, they are the weaker brother because their conscience is burdened by it. But why would you destroy your weaker brother just so that you can get what you want? What good is it if you get what you want and destroy your brother in the process?
Paul says, “Food will not recommend us to God. We are no better 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. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
We’ve been given a higher purpose than getting what we want—to live lives of love and to serve to our neighbor. If we simply live to get what we want and have things our own way regardless of other people, then we’re no different from anyone else who couldn’t care less, puts themselves first, and runs roughshod over others. The world is already full of people just like that. And we weren’t given Christ and the Holy Spirit so that we could be self-centered an excel at being a jerk.
We were given Christ so that we can do what others can’t—love others just as Christ has loved us. Everyone else finds that their lives are tied to the success of a job, or the size of their bank account, or the health of their body, as if those things make them or break them. And they spend their whole lives trying to keep up with those things, constantly trying to find some security, some stability, as if to lose those would be to lose everything. Their lives are bound to the things of this world, and so they’re not free to worry about anything but themselves.
But for us, it’s different. Whether we work a successful job, whether we have a large or small bank account, whether we’re healthy or struggling, we belong to Jesus Christ. Those things don’t make us or break us because the final fact no one can get around is that the sovereign power that sits at the center of the universe is Jesus Christ. He is Lord. And the most basic truth about you, about your live and who you are is that this Jesus loves you, he has given his life for you, and he will never let you go. Your lives aren’t finally tied to the success of your job, the size of your bank account, or the health of your body. Your lives are tied to Jesus Christ. And so, we’re free to do what no one else can do: stop worrying about ourselves and worry instead about our neighbor. We’ve been given Christ so that we can live for a higher purpose than getting what we want and having things our own way. We’ve been given Christ so that we can live lives of love and service, lives that don’t simply puff us up and make us feel good, but lives that build others up.
The freedoms we have as Americans are something to be thankful for. But if we use our freedom to live for ourselves, we’re missing the opportunity God has given us. If our freedom to do what we want leads us to forsake the higher purpose to which we are called, what good is it? You have freedom no one else possesses, freedom from the need to worry about yourself. Do not throw that freedom away; live in Christ and serve your neighbor.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
1 Corinthians 8.1-13
Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet 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.
7 However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.