My pastor has been preaching thru 1 Corinthians. He’s a terrific expositor, always providing the nuance and thrust of the text at hand. Lately we’ve come upon 1 Corinthians 8, the well-known “meat offered to idols” text that helps inform the way we treat each other when disagreeing over the gray areas of the Christian life. (By gray areas, I mean areas of liberty not clearly outlined in the text of Scripture, not fake gray areas brought about about newer, suspect interpretations of Scripture).
Andy took this in three installments, first giving an overview of this and what it is saying. This series of messages ministered to my soul in so many ways, but I learned three important things:
Legalism and self-righteousness is not a sign of holiness, but a sign of weak faith.
Flaunting freedom and wounding consciences of our brothers and sisters in the Lord is a sin.
We shouldn’t value our preferences or our spiritual freedom more than we value our fellow believers.
It’s this last one that really got to me. You see, I’ve been in both extremely legalistic environments and I’ve been in extremely permissive environments. One thing that is identical to both is a kind of Phariseeism that sees one’s own view of the gray areas as sacrosanct and the biblical position.
Today there are many addressing legalism and the way it suffocates the soul. Even for those who don’t have this biography need to be reminded of John Newton’s words, “Grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.” For the recovering legalist, there are few passages better than 1 Corinthians 8.
And yet, Paul doesn’t end this chapter with his rebuke to legalists. He then turns toward those who delight in their spiritual freedom. There is, among those who understand the freedom found in the gospel, an easy temptation to wound the consciences of our brothers and sisters by mocking their choices in the gray areas. Paul said that to compel someone to violate conscience, to belittle the rules they have set for themselves, is to sin, against Christ.
As I sat hearing this sermon, my heart was convicted. I wonder if this is the sin of our generation of evangelicals. We consider ourselves more enlightened than our parents, we’ve thrown off the shackles of their legalism. We can now feel the freedom to engage in activities they considered sinful. In many of these cases, most of these cases, we’re probably right. A previous generation may have erred on the side of rules, equating preference with orthodoxy and making it seem that the Bible said things it didn’t say.
But our sins may be an eye-rolling, snickering, elitism. I see it every day online and offline. There is a whole cottage industry within evangelicalism that exists to mock their fellow believers. Over the last year I’ve had numerous conversations with youngish Christian leaders who are so proud of their Christian liberty, they used it as a cudgel against someone who disagreed with them. This, Paul says, is a sin. To value our freedom so much so, to hang on to our right to indulge certain activities so much so that we offend and wound others who don’t see it our way–this is not the way of love.
Paul thought eating meat offered to idols was no big deal. But Paul also said he’d never eat another piece of meat for the sake of loving his brothers and sisters in the Lord. Paul would put down his steak for unity and gospel advance. And so should we.
Let’s not be so quick to identify as “not that kind of Christian who is legalistic” that we sin by not loving our brothers and sisters, fellow believers for whom Christ died. Let’s not let our zeal to love the world in which we serve, the lost neighbors and friends and coworkers that we end up not loving the Bride of Christ. After all, we are called to “do good, especially to the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).”