This Sunday in the 11:00 am Service, live-streamed from the sanctuary, I’m continuing my sermon series Followership.
In the scripture reading for Sunday, the apostle Paul is answering an ethical dilemma that’s faced by the church at Corinth.
I remember when I first heard this text. I was on a youth retreat. The youth leader on that retreat was leading us in a session on “values clarification,” on clarifying what our values are and what we believe is right and what we believe is wrong. He made some columns on the board and he asked us to list the things that are “always right all the time for everybody.” And list the things that are “always wrong all the time for everybody.” And as we started to list those, it became apparent not everyone in the group agreed with everything. And so he had that third column and he labeled that after the discussion had gone on a little bit, “those troublesome gray areas” and he started to list some of those there.
And he asked the question “How does the community of faith deal with that third column?” How does the community of faith when it is divided deal with those issues? And then he read this passage from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, the 8th Chapter, vs. 1-13, or at least part of that, because Paul is really dealing with that very issue, although the specifics of the dilemma are different from the dilemmas or gray areas we face today.
I’ll talk Sunday a bit about the dilemma faced by Christians in the early church, but the point Paul is making is applicable to us today.
Paul’s ethic calls all Christians to use our hearts as well as our minds — to have within us the heart of Christ. The scriptures call us time and time again to follow Jesus, and to follow Jesus is to follow the one who cares. Our followership means caring. I don’t mean superficial caring; I don’t mean talking the talk or appearing to do some things that are helpful.
Jesus walked the road of deep, honest, true caring that permeated his life and he called the disciples to have it permeate their lives — our lives — each day, whether anybody is watching or not. Whatever else we might get out of it or not, we are called to care because we are followers of Jesus Christ. Paul’s words hold caring up as one of the most important parts of walking the walk of Jesus Christ.
I appreciate for that reason so much a prayer written by Ruth Harms Calkin and identify with that prayer. It talks about mixed motives, something we live with and struggle with, something the people in Corinth lived with and struggled with, something Paul talked about as being a struggle of his. Listen to her words. She wrote,
You know, Lord, how I serve you with great emotional fervor in the limelight. You know how eagerly I speak for you at a women’s club. You know how I effervesce when I promote a fellowship group. You know my genuine enthusiasm at a Bible study. But how would I react, I wonder, if you pointed to a basin of water and asked me to wash the calloused feet of a bent and wrinkled old woman, day after day, month after month, in a room where nobody saw and nobody knew?
Our motives will probably always be mixed for our caring as disciples of Christ, but Jesus called us to have as our motive his heart. The Apostle Paul told us to have the heart and the mind of Christ within us that we might care as Christ cares.
Maybe what Paul was trying to say in I Corinthians was something like this: Yes, we’re important as individuals. The decisions we make are important as individuals. The life we live is important as individuals, but we also live in relationship to others. And we are called as disciples of Jesus Christ to care and care deeply because we follow the one who has shown the utmost care for each one.
Grace and peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
1 Now concerning meat that has been sacrificed to a false god: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes people arrogant, but love builds people up. 2 If anyone thinks they know something, they don’t yet know as much as they should know. 3 But if someone loves God, then they are known by God.
4 So concerning the actual food involved in these sacrifices to false gods, we know that a false god isn’t anything in this world, and that there is no God except for the one God. 5 Granted, there are so-called “gods,” in heaven and on the earth, as there are many gods and many lords. 6 However, for us believers,
There is one God the Father.
All things come from him, and we belong to him.
And there is one Lord Jesus Christ.
All things exist through him, and we live through him.
7 But not everybody knows this. Some are eating this food as though it really is food sacrificed to a real idol, because they were used to idol worship until now. Their conscience is weak because it has been damaged. 8 Food won’t bring us close to God. We’re not missing out if we don’t eat, and we don’t have any advantage if we do eat. 9 But watch out or else this freedom of yours might be a problem for those who are weak. 10 Suppose someone sees you (the person who has knowledge) eating in an idol’s temple. Won’t the person with a weak conscience be encouraged to eat the meat sacrificed to false gods? 11 The weak brother or sister for whom Christ died is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 You sin against Christ if you sin against your brothers and sisters and hurt their weak consciences this way. 13 This is why, if food causes the downfall of my brother or sister, I won’t eat meat ever again, or else I may cause my brother or sister to fall.