It’s difficult to maintain our spiritual equilibrium in the moral and ethical chaos of the world we live in. As followers of Christ, we are to have balanced relationships with those in the world. Jesus said that we are to be in the world but not be of the world. We’re to live life as a positive example, not allowing the world to return to mold or shape us negatively.
We are not to jump head-first into the world’s value systems; however, we are not to withdraw into isolation either. There should be a graceful balance to living out the life that we’re called to live that guards us from dangerous extremes. The apostle Paul dealt with a situation that sheds light on how to discern that balance.
In I Corinthians 8:1-10:33, Paul addresses: “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols: . . .”. In Corinth, most meat sold in the meat markets came from sacrificial animals slaughtered at pagan temple ceremonies. This raised questions among the Christian community: Could they buy it for use in their home? Could they eat it if it were offered to them in the homes of non-believing friends? Did they have the freedom to eat and attend various social events at banquets?
These questions were being asked because some of the “weaker” in the faith said it was sinful to eat that meat and some of the stronger came back and said “no, it’s not a sin, and we’re going to eat whatever we want to eat, whenever we want to eat it.”
Paul explains that he agrees with the stronger assessment and understanding that the idol is really nothing. The meat is perfectly fine to eat. They had, however, become arrogant and selfish and the term “rights” is used — my rights and their rights.
Paul begins in I Corinthians 10 to clarify the principle that applies to such circumstances: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; for ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.’
“‘If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’s sake. But if anyone says to you, ‘This was offered to idols’ do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake; for ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.’ . . . ‘Conscience, I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? . . . Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God,’” (I Corinthians 10: 23-29,31-32).
In a positive way, the section talks about the opportunity to use personal freedom and understanding for the good of other people and, for God’s glory. Paul asked these more mature believers to exercise their legitimate rights of freedom in a loving and sensitive way. They ought to be concerned for those in the body, who had a weaker conscience about eating foods sacrificed to idols. The call for them was to give up their rights for the sake of the rest of the Body. Paul summarizes some spiritual principles, and we must discern what applies in whatever situations we find ourselves. It’s about making decisions in the gray areas of life.
In verse 23, the word “edify” means to build up or strengthen referring to Christian character in ourselves and others. We need to ask ourselves, not only if we have the right to do it but whether it is profitable or edifying. In our relationships with those in the world, if whatever we’re doing is not considering their long-term good, then what is it for?
Verse 24 states “Let no one seek his own good, but the other’s well being.” Our freedom should express itself in serving others. Paul doesn’t just mean our neighbor or the person near us or like us. Rather, it more closely alludes to the meaning of a person who is not like us. The one who we might most likely disagree with, that’s the person who’s good we are to consider above our own. Putting theirs ahead of our own needs and concerns.
Verses 25-27, displays the wonderful balance: “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake” (1 Corinthians 10:25–27).
Paul said we could eat the food offered to idols. Because neither eating it nor not eating it has any bearing on our relationship with God. Not caring, however, about any confusion we might cause to non-believers or weaker brethren will affect our relationship with God.
We also see that we have freedom to eat with non-believers. Christ not only ate with His disciples but with tax collectors and sinners. If we are uptight, self-righteous, holier-than-thou, in other words, unbalanced, people are not going to want to have anything to do with us. Our lives will not be something that’s attractive or a shining example to them.
Another principle that we can glean from I Corinthians 10:28,31-32, is that of self-sacrifice. Paul is saying to refrain from eating so as to not risk leading others into confusion or sin. We should always be willing to self-sacrifice for the conscience of others. We don’t need to adjust our own conscience. We need to be gracious and sensitive, however, not allowed to feel condemned or influenced by others’ words or others’ actions.
Paul finishes his statement in I Corinthians 11:1: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” Paul asks every one of us through this entire passage, do you want to know how to balance, properly balance, freedom and restraint? Do you want to be in the world but not of the world? Do you want to have a positive influence on the world but not let the world change you so that you compromise the truth?
From this section of scripture, we learn that we are to express edification and service and self-sacrifice in our relationship with the world and with others in the Body of Christ. As a result, our lives can be balanced and a light to the world that we live in.