Sunday, July 28, 2013
Pastor Joe Wittwer
A Glorious Mess
For the glory of God and the good of others
1 Corinthians 10

 

Opening:

 

ILL: Tim Tebow, aspiring quarterback for the New England Patriots, has been described as a polarizing figure because of being so outspoken about his faith.  After every game, he verbally gives credit to God, saying that he wants all the glory to go the Lord Jesus Christ.  Pictures of him kneeling and praying before and after games are so common that we’ve actually coined a new word: “Tebowing”.  And there is a website devoted to pictures of people all over the world Tebowing!  

Regardless of what you think about Tim Tebow as a quarterback, you have give him credit for this: at least he is trying to live his life for the glory of God.  Are you?  I don’t think you have to Tebow to do that, nor do you have to constantly say, “I want give all the glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.”  But do you?  Do you want to live for more than just yourself?  Do you want to live for the glory of God and the good of others?  And what does that mean?  That’s what we’re going to talk about.  

Introduction and offering:

 

This is a Glorious Mess—a study of the New Testament letter of 1 Corinthians.  The apostle Paul, founder of the church in Corinth, wrote this letter to address some very messy problems in this church.  Every church is a Glorious Mess.  It’s glorious because God is involved; it’s a mess because we’re involved!  And that’s true of us as individuals as well—I’m a Glorious Mess, and so are you.  God is at work in our lives doing something beautiful, something glorious—we are becoming new persons in Christ.  But it’s a messy process.  It’s like all the summer road construction going on in Spokane—it’s a mess, but the streets will be glorious when they’re done!

Each week we are reading and discussing one chapter.  Our goal is to understand what was going on there, and then learn what we can apply to our context.  Today we’re in chapter 10, the last of three chapters in which Paul deals with the problem of eating meat that has been offered to idols.

How many of you have a problem with eating meat that has been offered to idols?  Not our problem, is it?  There are quite a few of these situations in the Bible—things that are forbidden that are not even issues for us today.  Did you know the Israelites were forbidden to eat bats?  Not a problem for me.  I can see bats in a buffet line and walk right on by—not even tempted.  Same with meat offered to idols.

But while our context is vastly different, the principles Paul uses to correct the problem are still very applicable.  Here’s the Big Idea from chapter 10.

The Big Idea: Do everything for the glory of God and the good of others!

Let’s walk through this chapter and see what we can learn.  Remember, if you learn something, pass it on.  You don’t learn things just for yourself; you learn them to share—so be sure to share what you learn with someone else today.

Paul begins with a warning from Israel’s history.

1. Warning from Israel’s history: be careful that you don’t fall. 1-13

1 Corinthians 10 (NIV)

1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

What Scriptures did the first Christians use?  The Old Testament—the New Testament was still being written.  So even though most of the Corinthian Christians were Gentiles, they read the Hebrew Scriptures, and were familiar with the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and journey to the Promised Land.  Paul uses this familiar story to show that the Israelites enjoyed spiritual privileges similar to the Christians—they experienced a kind of baptism and sacred meal like the Lord’s Supper.  But that didn’t keep them from idolatry and experiencing God’s judgment.  And that’s Paul’s point—don’t get cocky and think that because you are baptized and take communion that you’re home free.  Only two of the Israelites made it to the Promised Land—the rest died in the wilderness.  Don’t think you can be an idolater and a Christian.  

6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.

Paul says that these things happened as examples and were written down as warnings for us.  Don’t make the same mistakes—and the four sins he listed were the very things the Corinthians were doing, starting with idolatry—eating meals at the temples of idols.  I explained last week that Corinth was full of temples to various gods, and these gods were worshiped with a sacrifice.  Part of that sacrifice was burned as an offering to the god, some was given to the priests, and the rest was eaten by the worshippers.  The temples were the butcher shops and restaurants of the day.  When you had something to celebrate—a birthday, a wedding, a new job—you went to the temple with family and friends, made a sacrifice to thank the gods, and then had a celebratory meal together.  It was both religious and social—and that was the problem.  Not going to the temple would be like telling you never to go to a restaurant, or to stop having birthday parties—it’s part of your social life.  Some of the Corinthians evidently thought, “What’s an idol?  Nothing.  I’m going to the temple to celebrate with my friends and family.  I’m strong enough to resist the whole idol deal.”  Paul cites the example of Israel, and says, “Don’t be so cocky.  You’re playing with fire.”

12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

So here are a couple takeaways from this first section.  

Don’t be cocky!  Don’t be overconfident!  “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.”  The person who says, “I’m a Christian.  I would never do that!” is on thin ice.  The Bible is very clear that anyone can fall.  Anyone!  

  • King David was a man after God’s own heart—the greatest of Israel’s kings, a worshipper par excellence, and composer of most of the hits on Israel’s Top 40 charts.  But he saw Bathsheba in the tub, and down he went.

  • Peter was the leader of the apostles, the rock on whom Jesus would build his church, and was outspoken about his love for Jesus.  “I love You more than anybody.  If everyone else deserts you, I never will.”  But hours later, Peter denied three times that he even knew Jesus, and a few weeks after that bailed entirely, and went back to his old life as a fisherman.

If David can fall, if Peter can fall, I can fall.  So can you.  One thing I’ve learned is that I’m not invincible.  My heart is good; I love Jesus; but I could still do something stupid.  Something sinful.  And so can you.  So don’t overestimate your strength and put yourself in a compromised position.  For you, it won’t be the temple of an idol.  But it might be one of these situations:

  • Sexually: I stay away from pornography.  I avoid spending time alone with a woman—except for my wife.  I don’t let myself make suggestive comments, even joking; and I never touch inappropriately.  I’m careful because, even though I love Jesus, I’m vulnerable and I know it.

  • Personally: I’ve told you before that I don’t drink alcohol because I come from a long line of alcoholics on my dad’s side.  I love Jesus, but I’m vulnerable and I know it.  Same with any kind of drug—why play with fire?  Every addict probably started by thinking, “I won’t get addicted.  I can handle it.”  You think you can handle it—but you’re kidding yourself.

  • Materially: I like nice things.  Sometimes too much.  So much, that money or things could become an idol for me.  (Picture of a Harley.)  I know I’m vulnerable, so I don’t buy on impulse or credit, and I try to give away as much as I can so money and stuff doesn’t get it’s hooks in me.  I’m vulnerable and I know it.

The person who says, “I would never do that,” is on thin ice. Carl Sandburg said, “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.”  You’ve got to be in touch with your inner hippo!  Anyone can fall.

Paul follows the warning with an assurance that God will help us when we’re tempted.  There is a tension between verses 12 and 13.  On the one hand, be careful that you don’t fall.  On the other hand, God is faithful and will keep you from falling.  There’s your part and there’s God’s part.  The Christian life is lived in tension.   A friend told me, “You solve problems, and you manage paradox.”  But we often try to solve the paradox, and we do it by dropping one side or the other.  Either we put all the emphasis on our part or on God’s part, rather than managing the tension of both.  

ILL: Two kids were walking to school and were still a block away when they heard the warning bell ring.  They had two minutes to get to class or be tardy.  One of them dropped to the ground and started praying that he wouldn’t be late.  The other one yelled, “See you!  I’m going to pray while I run!” and took off running.  

One solved the tension by putting it all on God.  The other managed the tension by doing his part and trusting God to do His.

Live in the tension.  It’s not either/or; it’s both/and.  

After warning them to be careful, Paul reminds them that God is faithful.  And he says three wonderful things.

  1. You are not the first one to face this temptation—it is common to everyone.  Others have faced it and won—you can too.

  2. God is faithful and will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  If you’re facing a big test, God gives you big strength to meet it.  He won’t leave you on your own.

  3. God is faithful and will provide a way out so you can endure it.  Either God will give you the strength to endure, or God will provide a way out.  But either way, you’re not alone.  

Paul starts with this warning from Israel’s history: don’t be cocky.  Be careful that you don’t fall.  And then he goes straight to the problem.

2. The issue of temple feasts: flee from idolatry. 14-22

Should they be going to the temple feasts?  His answer is a clear NO!

14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

Flee from idolatry.  Specifically, don’t keep going to these feasts at the temples of idols.  They argued that an idol was nothing; it couldn’t hurt them.  Paul has two replies.

First, he uses two familiar examples to show that they are in fact participating in an act of worship and community.  The first is the Lord’s Supper, or communion.  Everyone understood that by taking the cup and the bread, you were participating together in a celebration of Christ’s death.  You participate—the Greek word is koinonia, a fellowship or sharing.  You are sharing in the blood and body of Christ—His sacrificial death on the cross.  And you are sharing this worship experience with your fellow believers.  

The second example is from the temple in Israel, where the worshipers also ate the sacrificial meal as an act of worship.  

Paul’s point is that you can’t escape the act of worship in feasting at an idol temple.  It’s not just a social event; it’s spiritual too.  Just like you share in Christ during communion, you also share in an idol during a feast at the temple.

Paul agrees with them that an idol is not a real god.  There is only one God.  But behind idols are demons, agents of Satan who intend to lead people away from God.  And you can’t worship God and demons too.  

How does any of this apply to us?  Paul’s command to “flee from idolatry” is very applicable.  The first of the Ten Commandments is still applicable: Have no other gods before Me.  Today, we don’t have statues in temples that we worship, but we do have idols.  What are some of the idols in our culture?

  • Sex, pleasure.

  • Money, things.

  • Power.

  • Fame, success.

  • Work.

  • Patriotism.  The early Christians died because they wouldn’t say, “Caesar is Lord.”  Rome wasn’t god; Jesus was.

  • Self.  This may be the biggest idol of all.  “It’s all about me.”

  • Science.  “I don’t believe in God; I believe in science.”  The two aren’t mutually exclusive!

Not one of these is wrong in itself.  In fact, all of them are good.  But when they replace God, they become idols, and become destructive.

Add to all those the proliferation of religious choices.  Besides the traditional religions, many people today are making up their own.  

ILL: Robbie Williams, a famous British pop singer, spoke on BBC Radio in July 2001 about his previous addictions:

I haven’t had a drink or done drugs for seven months, and I’m feeling good. I’m enjoying it. It’s quite hardcore to get up in front of 60,000 people knowing that when you come off stage you’re not going to get drunk…. [Instead of drinking I] pray. Not for long. I ask Elvis to look after me. I’ve got the tattoo on my arm: “Elvis grant me serenity.” Before the gig we all get in a huddle and pray to Elvis to look after us while we’re onstage.

Citation: Quoted in Heat (7-21-01), p. 62.

Elvis?  Really?  I guess if you’re making it up, any god will do.  

So what’s your idol?  What’s the thing that can become more important to you than God Himself?  Idolatry is as much a problem today as in Paul’s day, so we need to take seriously his command: Flee from idolatry.

Then Paul switches from feasting at an idol temple to the related problem of eating meat you bought at the market that might have been sacrificed to an idol.  There were lots of sacrifices, and not all of the meat could be eaten, so the extra was sold at market and the profits went into the temple coffers.  Should Christians eat meat from the market if they knew it came from a temple sacrifice?

3. The issue of market meat: seek the good of others.  23-30

23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

27 If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29 I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

Should a Christian eat meat that has been offered to idols that is for sale in the market?  Paul’s advice: it’s ok to eat it.  “Eat anything sold in the meat market.”  He quotes Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.”  The Jewish rabbis used to this verse to teach that a blessing must be said over every meal.  If everything is God’s, then you should thank Him when you eat some of His food.  So praise the Lord and pass the pastrami!  Thank God for the meat and eat it without worrying where it came from.

But what if you’re invited out to dinner at an unbeliever’s home, and someone says to you, “Did you know that this pot roast was offered to Aphrodite?”  What then?  Don’t eat it.  Why?  For the sake of the other person’s conscience.  They may think that a Christian shouldn’t eat this meat.  Even though you can eat it, you should pass for their sake.  This goes back to the guiding principle of this whole section: Christians willingly forgo their freedom or rights for the sake of others.  Or as Paul put it in verse 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

You’re free to eat the meat, but if eating it would harm someone else, don’t do it.  In the end, it’s not about the meat or the idol; it’s about winning people for Christ and the good of others.  

What would be some modern applications of this?  

I am willing to curtail my freedom for the benefit of others.  For example, I may be free to drink alcohol (the Bible forbids getting drunk, but not drinking), but I also need to be aware of how my behavior affects others.

ILL: Several years ago, a young man who was new to Jesus and new to Life Center informed me that he was no longer coming to our church.  When I asked why, he told me that he had been serving at a public function and saw a Life Center staff member drinking and it seemed she had too much to drink.  When I told him that person was a spouse of a staff member, not a staff member, that didn’t help.  He still thought it was wrong and setting a bad example.  

Whether you think he was over-reacting or not, the point is that when you identify yourself as a Christian, other people watch you.  Right or wrong, they will make a judgment about the Christian faith by watching you.  I never want my behavior to keep anyone from Jesus!  I can’t just live for myself and do whatever I feel like doing; I have to think about how it reflects on Jesus.  It’s not my reputation that’s at stake; it’s His.  It’s not my freedom that is the big issue; it’s the other person’s salvation.  If something I’m doing is keeping someone from Jesus, I will stop doing it.

1 Corinthians 8:13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

Do you love people enough to limit your freedom for their good?  Are you willing to stop doing something if you know it is keeping someone from Jesus?  Here’s an assignment for your Life Groups this week: what kind of things keep people from Jesus, and what does that mean for our behavior?

Here’s Paul’s conclusion to the whole discussion:

4. The guiding principle: do everything for the glory of God and the good of others.  10:31-11:1

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

Here is the summary of the whole three chapters, and a great guide for daily decision-making: do everything for the glory of God and the good of others.  How will this decision, this action affect the reputation of God and the welfare of others?  Is it God-honoring?  Is it beneficial?  Or will it trip someone up or keep someone from Jesus, or dishonor the Lord?  Paul’s higher cause is to win as many as possible.  “I’m not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.”

Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God and the good of others.  Whatever.

ILL: The second century Christian writer Justin Martyr said that during his lifetime, in the second century it was still common to see farmers in Galilee using plows made by the carpenter Jesus of Nazareth.  (Charles Colson: http://www.breakpoint.org/commentaries/2312-the-god-of-wooden-plows.)

Jesus didn’t come to make plows—that wasn’t His mission.  But He spent quite a few years working as a carpenter in Nazareth, and He made the best plows He could—plows that lasted over 100 years.   Why?  For the glory of God and the good of others.

To live for the glory of God and the good of others means that I do my very best at whatever I’m doing.  It doesn’t matter how mundane or insignificant—whatever you do, do it for the glory of God and the good of others.  

ILL: Martin Luther, the 16th century Reformer, was approached by a working man who wanted to know how he could serve God. Luther asked him, “What is your work now?” The man said, “I’m a shoemaker.”

To the cobbler’s surprise, Luther replied, “Then make good shoes and sell them at a fair price.”

Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God and the good of others.  Here’s a great test for everything you do: Will it honor God?  Will it help others?  

ILL: In 1969 Malcolm Muggeridge, a British journalist, went to Calcutta to make a documentary movie about Mother Teresa for the BBC. She didn’t want to do it, but church leaders finally persuaded her. When she finally agreed, she said, “Let us do something beautiful for God.”

When they began filming, a strange thing happened. Even though there was not enough light in the hospice for filming, the finished film was bathed in a particularly beautiful soft light. Muggeridge figured it was the halo of love he sensed there. Later, he wrote a book about Mother Teresa and used that phrase, something beautiful for God, as the title. He eventually became a Christian as a result of that relationship.

Mother Teresa made a documentary that was “something beautiful for God.”  But even more, her whole life was “something beautiful for God.”  She lived for the glory of God and the good of others.  Is your life something beautiful for God?  

Love is doing what is best for others no matter what it costs you.  Love trumps our freedom.  We willingly sacrifice our rights, our freedoms for the glory of God and the good of others.  This is the way Paul lived and the way Jesus lived—so Paul urges us, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”

Let’s live our lives for the glory of God and the good of others and make something beautiful for God!