I grew up in a church that forbade members from smoking, drinking, dancing and going to movies. A good-motive, but a wrong-headed exercise–blanket rules for personal-conscience matters.
That all may seem largely irrelevant now. But, in fact, the principles Paul sets out challenge every generation.
“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. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others (1 Corinthians 10:23,24).
The issue is eating market place meat which had been offered to idols before being sold to the public. The Corinthians arrogantly claim the right to do anything, because such matters don’t affect one’s relationship with God through Christ. Rather than debate, Paul introduces a concern they’ve overlooked: “not everything is beneficial . . . not everything is constructive”.
Here, then, is his first principle: “No man should seek their own good, but the good of others.” Your conscience may free you to eat “idol meat”, but does it hurt your brother’s conscience? Might it lead him into sin or cause him to fall away? What will contribute to his good, his benefit? What will build him up?
EATING AT HOME
Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (1 Corinthians 10:25,26).
A Christian is free to eat market meat because it’s the Lord’s meat, like everything in creation. So the Corinthians needn’t ask if it’s been offered to an idol. But . . .
EATING AT A NEIGHBOR’S
If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 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. I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours (1 Corinthians 10:27-29a).
You’re free to eat whatever an unbeliever serves—unless someone says, “This has been offered in sacrifice.” Assume that “someone” who’s raised the issue is convicted by his conscience not to eat such meat. That changes everything: ” . . . do not eat it . . . ” Don’t seek your own good but his.
For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:29b-31).
This passage is notoriously difficult to interpret. Here’s my “educated guess”. Because the Corinthians have questioned it (chapter 9), Paul suddenly argues for his freedom. He’s free to eat and free not to.
That bring us to the second principle Paul sets out: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
C. K. Barrett comments: “I do not act to the glory of God if I give to an idol some of the honor due to God alone; nor if I cause scandal or ill-feeling in the church, or cause a fellow-Christian to fall from his faith” (The First Epistle to the Corinthians).
Putting it positively, to seek the good of the other in personal conscience matters is “for the glory of God.” But when Paul adds the phrase, “whatever you do” he’s reaching far beyond personal conscience matters. John Piper once wrote an article, “How to Drink Orange Juice to the Glory of God” (http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-to-drink-orange-juice-to-the-glory-of-god). Whatever we do! Whatever we do should show God’s glory and give God glory.
Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 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. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:32-11:1).
Paul urges the Corinthians to not use their freedom in a way that causes others to fall from the faith. He offers himself as an example of a man who is “not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved”. Then he makes the daring exhortation, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ”. (Christ supremely sought not his own good but the good of many in his life and in his death.) A daring call, because Paul invites the Corinthians to model their ways after his.
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We can easily apply this to contemporary personal conscience issues, like drinking alcohol for instance. Yes, I’m free to drink (no drunkenness!), but not if it causes someone else to “stumble” in the faith.
We can also apply this more broadly with probing questions . . .
. . . Do I seek the good of others, or selfishly seek my own?
. . . Do I do whatever I do for God’s glory?
. . . Do I dare invite others to “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ”?
Christ died to free us from our sins. Christ died to free us from keeping rules to be righteous. Christ also died to free us to seek others’ good, to live for God’s glory, and to encourage fellow believers to follow our Christ-following example.