We’re ready to wrap up our examination of Paul’s teaching on the issue of Christian liberty
Today Paul circles back around to the first point, that is to the question of whether a Christian has liberty to eat meat sacrificed to idols
Paul began his answer in Chapter 8 with a straightforward answer: yes
Christians have freedom to eat anything
And we know that idols don’t actually exist (except in the minds of the pagan worshippers)
So we are not sinning to eat a steak regardless of what may have been done with that meat prior to the moment it appeared on our plate
But of course, that’s the not the end of story, because the situation is more complicated
Paul used the next two chapters to explain the questions we must consider when making decisions about liberty
These questions are much broader than simply whether a specific action is sinful or not
We must consider what impact our actions will have on others, on our witness and on our effectiveness as an ambassador for Christ
In the end, we will find self-restraint will be the wiser choice more often than not
Because the choice to restrain personal liberty carries the possibility of far greater reward than an unfettered exercising of our freedoms
We will grow spiritually and please the Lord
Eating meet sacrificed to idols wasn’t a sin, Paul said, yet the church was to consider the impact of this choice on themselves and others
So where does that leave the church in Corinth on this issue?
Should they or should they not eat this meat?
Were they permitted to visit the temple meals?
And what about shopping in the agora where the temple meat was sold alongside regular meat?
So to conclude this conversation, Paul demonstrates how to apply all the principles he taught to the specific situation in Corinth
As we ended last week, Paul summarizes his chief concern over eating this meat: the church is flirting with idolatry
Their desire to enjoy that top quality meat is so strong, they’re willing to risk slipping into idolatry
They are following in the footsteps of the Israelites in the desert
They are so immature they think they can resist the temptations common to all men, as Paul said
So Paul tells the church to flee idolatry
Steer a wide path around these things
Discipline the flesh’s desires
And then to this immature group that thinks themselves wise and strong, Paul says he is prepared to speak to wise men
If they are truly wise and discerning, then they will recognize the sense of Paul’s advice and heed it
And then Paul begins to apply all that he has taught in coming to a specific recommendation for action in Corinth
In v.16 Paul looks past the question of eating or not eating to consider how does eating impact a Christian’s testimony and influence in the city?
Insightfully, Paul draws a comparison to another meal in the Christian context – the communion meal
Paul asks, don’t we share a common cup of wine and a common loaf of bread when we share the communion meal?
More importantly, what do the sharing of these things mean symbolically?
As every Christian knows (or should know), these elements represent the blood and body of the Lord
They remind us of His death in our place
And so they become symbols of our joining with Him through faith in the New Covenant
Are the elements of this meal the actual body and blood of Christ?
No, they are merely symbols
And do we become Christians through the taking of these elements?
But by taking part in that meal, we testify that we consider ourselves joined to Christ
Notice in v.17 Paul says that when the Body of Christ shares in this meal, we communicate we are one with one another and with Christ
A small piece of the bread enters each of our bodies, so for that brief moment everyone’s body is connected by that bread occupying everyone’s body
In that symbolic manner, we testify that we are made one Body by the indwelling of Christ’s Spirit in each of us by faith
And the Israelites who bring their lambs to sacrifice at the Jewish temple during Passover all shared in the meat of those sacrifices
Their common participation in that sacrifice communicated they were one people under one God
And their unity was further emphasized by eating the Passover together in a ritual manner according to a common covenant
So though a meal may be symbolic, nevertheless choosing to participate becomes a statement of who we are and what we believe
The meat sacrificed in Corinth meant nothing to a Christian, spiritually speaking
Neither did the so-called idols, since their gods don’t truly exist as Paul says again in v.19
But that wasn’t the point…the point was what message were they sending by their participation?
If they participated in these ceremonies – even just to gain access to the meat – they were declaring their solidarity with the pagans and their gods
Even more importantly, the pagans may have been sacrificing to nonexistent idols, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t spiritual power present
In fact, the demonic world orchestrates these ceremonies and guides the worship
The enemy and his army of demons have blinded the unbelieving world, leading them into false worship of one kind or another
The enemy has placed false gods before the eyes of the unbelieving world to distract them from the true Light of Christ
Therefore the Corinthian Christians – of all people – must be sensitive to the message they send by participating in a pagan meal with religious connotations
As they choose to return to the temple services and eat the meat sacrificed there, they become sharers with these people in the symbolism of this meal
Even though they may not agree with their beliefs, still their actions speak louder than their words
They are declaring an allegiance they don’t actually have
They are proclaiming the existence of a god they don’t actually believe in
They are inadvertently extending honor to demons, who are the declared enemies of God and Truth
The problem wasn’t the meat…the problem was the message
And if they proclaim a message of pagan belief, they diminish the Christian testimony
At the very least, they confuse the Greek culture concerning what a Christian believes
Even more serious, they risk provoking the Lord to jealousy
The Lord certainly knows that His children are not truly worshipping pagan gods much less demons
But that doesn’t mean He approves of going through the motions
Would a husband kissing another woman provoke his wife to jealousy? Would that change if he said it didn’t mean anything?
Would a child be jealous if a father spent all his free time with buddies instead of with them? Would that change if the father told the child he loved them more?
The point is that all relationships come with expectations of certain guidelines and commitments
If we violate those guidelines, we provoke the other party
And it makes no difference what we think of that relationship…it only matters what the injured party feels
And when we join in celebrations designed by demons to replace a relationship with God, then we provoke the God Who died to save us from such lies
It makes no difference what we truly believe
Because eventually, our unrestrained flesh will pull us deeper and deeper into idolatry
Our world presents many situations where this same principle must apply
Situations where an activity itself is not sinful and Christians have liberty to participate
And yet in the way the activity is commonly practiced, we have good reason to reconsider our involvement
Our involvement presents concerns because of the message we send or the company we keep
For example, our culture is enamored with Eastern mysticism and pseudo-religious practices
Yoga, meditation, chanting, Eastern medicine, and the like
Once again, are these things wrong for Christians?
No, but in each case we should consider their source, their messages and the associations we establish through our participation
The enemy is just as active today as he was in Paul’s day
And he is still the father of lies, working behind the scenes to create alternatives to the Lord for the unbelieving world
Many of his inventions are dressed as lambs, appearing innocent and helpful
We cannot live without concern for what we approve
In the end, the question isn’t what’s lawful, for virtually everything is lawful apart from obvious immorality
The question is what’s the best way to serve Christ and His people?
Among all the myriad of choices I have, which ones are most profitable for the sake of the Gospel and my eternal reward?
And which path results in building up my brothers and sisters in the Lord rather than merely building up my flesh or ego?
As we live out the liberty granted us through faith in Christ, we must seek the good of others rather than the good of ourselves
This is the true fulfillment of the commandment to love others as we love ourselves
When the question of eating the temple meat came to their minds, the believers in Corinth should have asked, how would my choice impact other believers in the city?
What will the unbelievers in the temple or market think when they see a Christian appearing to support a pagan god?
Will my choice make it easier or harder to persuade others of the Gospel?
These are the questions a mature Christian asks before running blindly ahead under the banner of liberty
Since the church wasn’t accustomed to thinking about these things in a mature manner, Paul finishes his answer with simple instructions on when and how to eat the temple meat in keeping with all he’s said
The church was free to eat this meat, just as Paul has said from the beginning
But he asks them to observe certain guidelines to ensure they act in love towards God and others
If they are shopping in the market, don’t ask questions about the source of the meat
Just shop in blissful ignorance
Or if you are served meat in someone’s home, ask no questions about its origins
Because as Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 10:14, everything God created is made for our enjoyment
So as long as we had no reason to fear the temple meat
But Paul makes clear that his point isn’t to keep us ignorant, for our ignorance isn’t making us holy in these situations
Paul says in v.25 that we aren’t to ask the origins of the meat “for conscience’ sake”
But then Paul clarifies in v.29 that he isn’t worried about the believer’s conscience
The believer already knows the meat is just meat and that there is nothing to be concerned about
The point of not asking is to avoid initiating a conversation that then obligates us to protect another person’s conscience
When a Christian shopper asks a pagan shop owner if his meat came from a temple service, he immediately opens a conversation of spiritual dimensions
Where before, the shop owner knew nothing about this shopper, now he knows he is a Christian
The shop owner realizes this is a person who has rejected pagan idols and declared his faith in the one true God
He has been put on notice that this shopper sees his meat purchase as an issue of spiritual concern
Secondly, the shop owner has communicated to the Christian about the meat’s source
So now the shop owner has interest in how the Christian responds to that news
He may expect the Christian to disapprove of the meat’s source and distance himself from pagan practices and beliefs
Or maybe he doesn’t know what to expect
Regardless, whatever the Christian does next will impact the shop owner’s conscience
The impression this Christian leaves on this pagan’s conscience hangs in the balance
Paul says that for the sake of the shop owner’s conscience, the Christian is now obligated not to buy the meat
Where before the Christian might have eaten it without worry, now he can’t because to do so would mean damaging his witness of Christ
This is a powerful example of living with concern for the needs of others above our own
Though we are free to eat the meat, we can only do so when it doesn’t damage another
We must be sensitive to others and to our own testimony
Interestingly, Paul says our freedom doesn’t depend on another man’s approval in v.29
He’s speaking of how others might disapprove of our liberties
No one can or should rob me of my liberties simply because they are not personally approving of them
However, I am called to restrain my liberties whenever necessary to avoid harming the conscience of others
I can illustrate Paul’s point with a simple example from our own experience today
Christians have liberty to drink alcoholic beverages, according to scripture
Nevertheless, there are pockets of Christians who disapprove of drinking alcohol and will cast judgment upon a Christian who drinks
We need not doubt our liberty to drink merely because another person is disapproving of the practice
However, when I am around that person, I refrain from drinking to avoid injuring their conscience
So I have not given up drinking, since I know I have liberty to do so and I am thankful to God for the joy it offers
But nevertheless, I gladly abstain from drinking in the company of those who object out of respect for their conscience
Paul concludes with a succinct summary of everything he’s taught on the question of Christian liberty
The golden rule of sorts for the godly use of our liberty is to do whatever you do for the glory of God
God’s glory is magnified when we act in love toward God and toward our neighbor
God is glorified when we preach the Gospel by our actions as well as our words
God is glorified when we discipline our flesh for the needs of the Gospel
God is glorified when we flee immorality out of respect for our body, which is the temple of God
We are to live without giving offense to any man or woman, whether believer or unbeliever
Because as we live this way, we are seeking the maximum spiritual profit in our day
We are maximizing our potential spiritual and eternal rewards as we please the Lord
And we are maximizing the potential to be a positive influence upon others for the sake of the Gospel
These are the very reasons we’ve been saved and left here on the Earth
When Jesus prayed his remarkable prayer to the Father in John 17, He prayed for us, that we might live by these standards and thereby fulfill our mission on earth
Consider Jesus’ words again…