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No. 04. “Caring For Others“ Example One

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February 1, 2009

Winter 2009 Series: Living as a Jesus Follower - No. 4. “Caring For Others“* Example One

SCRIPTURE   1 Corinthians 8:1–13

Rev. Stephen Filyer

Bothwell & Clachan Baptist Churches  

Introduction

Food has been in the news lately. It wasn’t that long ago that a Canadian meat packing company had to order a large recall of its products. As a result they now have an inspector assigned to that plant. This past week a different company had a similar fate due to a salmonella outbreak in their peanut butter factory. Food is big business and it is news, especially when something goes wrong.

This morning’s message is called “Caring For Others” and some of it will involve the topic of food. But it also involves “lists.” Yes, l-i-s-t-s “lists.”

To see the connection lets carefully sneak up on it with this statement: I know that many Christian people mean well and want the best for us. Please remember that positive starting point this morning. But we need to be careful if we hear some of them tell us that all we really need to do is just “read” the Bible. I’m sure that you know that we also have to think and ask some hard questions. The leaders at Youth Group continually say, “Do not believe this just because I am telling you. Look into it, research it. Discover for yourselves if this is true or not.” This morning I hope that you will discover that a message entitled “Caring For Others” refers to something much harder than what we might first assume.

SECTION ONE: The Way of Knowledge (v. 1-8)

Questions

I also have some questions for you. And they are not multiple choice.  First, “What makes you different?” And before you go off too far into describing what makes you unique let me ask a follow-up question: “What makes you different as a Christian, a follower of Jesus from your non-church going neighbour or from the kid at the next locker?” Let me ask a more pointed question: “As we sit within the four walls of this room, what makes us any different from a cult member or even any different from what the Bible calls a pagan “idol worshipper?”

I do not want your answers to begin with a Bible verse. That might be too easy and could cut off some needed discussion.

Who Are Our Neighbours?

Now I am going to go out on a very slender limb and I am going to describe what one of those neighbours might look like here in Bothwell, Ontario, Canada in February of 2009.  Having now lived in Bothwell for ten years I think that I am safe in saying that some of our more typical neighbours might be someone who is into beer and barbeques and living with his girlfriend. Now before you leap to any conclusions, no, I do not know your neighbours nor have I done any demographic survey to see who might fit into my list that also includes “NASCAR, NFL, trucks, CSI, hockey-loving, Canadian Idol, soap-opera watching, Desperate Housewives” (I threw those last two or three so this wouldn’t be a totally sexist list) … feel free to throw in your own additional descriptions as we fill out the category. In fact, we may need to add married Point Peelee Pigeon Watchers or widowed Windsor Wine Tasters. Or even open to a relationship Opera Buffs who also like going on exotic holidays? As Jesus was asked so many years ago, “Who is my neighbour?”

Our Mission Field

I do hope by now that some of you are at least smiling inside. But don’t these various groups make up a large percentage of our Canadian 21st century ‘Mission field’? Now this could be a bit of a challenge trying to gather material on food, lists and neighbours and still somehow come up with a gospel message. But I believe that Jesus wants us to try. He was never afraid of a challenge. Last week we read of Jesus’ promise to make us “fishers of men,” or as Eugene Petersen so cleverly paraphrases Jesus’ words found in Mark 1:17: "Come with me. I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I'll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass."

Those “Lists”

Let’s get back to the earlier mention of lists. You may be puzzled because there was no mention of any list in our Bible reading from 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. It only had one thing, and that was a type of food, described as “meat sacrificed to idols.” This leads to another question, “Have any of you ever seen “idol meat?” Maybe there was a shot of some during “Eyewitness News?” Or perhaps you saw some while on a trip to some exotic locale?

So what does the topic of eating “food sacrificed to idols” have to do with above list of possible neighbours and their varied interests? I think the answer is found in one of those questions that I asked at the very beginning: “As we sit within the four walls of this room, what makes us any different than one of our neighbours or even any different from what the Bible calls, in the 1st century, an “idol worshipper?” And why even bring up the topic of “lists?”

Corinth

Those of us who are immersed in 21st century culture and technology may be tempted to dismiss old 1st century Corinth. Most of their buildings have all crumbled to dust. But in that 1st century the plumbers had fashioned a series of lead pipes that would take the blood away from the downtown market in Corinth. In one of the other ancient cities that Paul had preached they even had running water in the modern public toilets. Corinth’s streets were paved. They had fancy murals on their downtown buildings just like we do. Their ports were visited by ships from around the world. Unique food and up to date products were available in the markets. They even had a down town sex trade just like in our modern cities. But the only difference was that they called theirs a religion. It went on in those vast tourist traps known as “temples.”

But those temples were not just for sex or tourism. They were also the biggest buildings in town. They had additional rooms built on for public and private meetings. Many functioned as the local public halls. They had no Bothwell Legion or Baptist Gym. In Corinth they had extra rooms built on to those many local temples. Yes, today about all that is left are the stone pillars but they were architectural marvels, the sky scrappers of their day. People met there regularly. The local business and service groups met there. It was where all the power brokers did their latest deals. It’s where the local banquets were held.[1]  

Ancient Restaurants

This is where our topic of food comes in to the picture. Idol temples went through a vast quantity of meat every day. Not much was used in the actual sacrifice, so the rest of the meat had to be put to some good use. The worshipper got some to take with him. But the priests received all the rest as their payment and as a result usually did a very lucrative business. They sold some down at the local market or out the back door of the temple. And some was put on the menu in their attached dining rooms. I can just hear the announcements “Come on down, daily idol services and luncheon specials!”

These were the restaurants of the ancient world. And Christians went there to. That’s where you got the best buys. It was where you went to see your friends. But there was a problem. Although there were no labels on the meat, these Christians all knew where it had come from came from, and why it was for sale, and who was making the profit.

Back to our Future

Now so far we have talked about two safe subjects, neighbours and food. But now the pastor is about to step out on dangerous ground and address the subject of “lists.” But I want you to remember what I said at the very beginning of the message. Christian people mean well and want the best for us. So think back to when you deliberately became a Christian or at least started to get serious about your faith in Jesus. Now I’m pretty sure that no one ever gave a talk at Youth Group and asked you not to eat meat sacrificed to an idol. But did some well-meaning Christian friend take you aside and say something like this: “Well, now that you are a Jesus follower you must not drink, smoke, swear or go out with girl’s who chew tobacco or have pierced navels.” Or if you lived around this part of North America they told the girls not to wear make-up and told everyone to stop listening to rock music and stay away from “pool halls.” But it was still a bit confusing. Down in the Southern States it was the former choir boys who were singing the rock music while the girls could wear all the make-up they wanted. But they thought we were pagans for swimming together.

One problem was that the goalposts continued to change. Something new was always being added to the “list.” Years earlier it was the issue of Sunday Sports, but now-a-days many people don’t even have a choice about whether they will work on Sundays. Some groups had added dancing to their lists, others what type of literature could be read, while others were adding which version of the Bible was safe to use. When I was growing up, our family included a ban on card playing. You can imagine my confusion later in life when the topic of a “bower” came up. I thought they were talking about “Johnny;” one of the last Leaf goalies to win the Stanley Cup.

What are the Dangers of Our Lists?

All of that activity was partly based on Bible readings like that read this morning. And like in Corinth it often became hurtful when it was done as a point of pride and used as a figurative club over new Christians who then never grew any further and just assumed that that these lists of no-no’s were Christianity. In point of fact, we should have been encouraging these newer disciples of Jesus to come to us and ask, “If I am really growing more like Jesus, is there room for this in my life?” And then we could dialogue around that and explore what a real Christian life looks like in 21st century North America. But too often they were left to assume that the list is “it.” That the “list’ defined Christianity.

 

The Nicest meal in Town

But there was a difference back in Corinth. The situation was turned around in that the older Corinthian Christians did not hand out any lists to the new Christian converts. Instead the new Christians were coming to them with some very pointed questions: “Why are you eating there? Don’t you know where the meat comes from?” That’s where we were just worshipping idols. Aren’t you doing the same by eating there? And their faith was shaken.

But some of the more experienced Christians replied, “Oh get out of here. You know  there’s no such thing as real idols. These wood and stone things have no power. Besides have you tasted this stuff? Nicest steaks in town.”

So you had the “holier than thou,” prideful, “know it all” older more mature “meat eaters” on one side and the new shocked, horrified “baby” Christians on the other. It became such a big church fight that they had to write to Paul and ask him to do his “Jerry Springer” pastoral thing to try to calm them all down.

The Real Problem

These new “baby” Christians really were asking our earlier question: “What makes a real Christian?” “What should be on the “list” to make it easier for us? Because they knew that the people who worshipped in the temples had their lists too.  There is a written account of one man from Corinth who said: I am living as appropriate to a man of breeding. I have a mistress who is very attractive. I have never wronged anyone. I drink Achaian wine, and in every respect I attempt to satisfy myself, since my private resources are sufficient for these purposes.” [2]

The new Christians asked “Are our pagan neighbours, with their own list-keeping lifestyle, any better than us if that is all there is to it? What makes us any different from them?”  They wanted to be good Jesus followers. Paul’s answer shocked them all.

SECTION TWO: The Way of Love (v. 9-13)

Paul’s Answer

Paul’s radical response is this: “Not lists” but “love.” In place of their conceited knowledge he says that the real answer was “love,” a sensitive, sacrificial love.  Now please don’t groan. That is not a “Sunday School” answer. It was the very costly and difficult kind of love described in 1 Corinthian 13. That isn’t just nice reading for a wedding. Those verses describe the difficult “love.” When applied it says if anything hinders a newer Christian then “everything” you could think of was to be on the list.

Paul went so far as to say I won’t even eat any meat IF it is that much of a threat to the immature Christians. It wasn’t a weak Christian being told what they could or couldn’t do. It was a strong Christian leader volunteering to limit his rights for the sake of these new weak-in-their-faith, baby Christians. He cared for others so much that he was willing to pay any price if that might bring them closer to Jesus. They were still struggling with those “grey” issues of morality and ethical living that are not even mentioned in the Bible. And we do such people a disservice if we restrict the demands of Christianity to our own lists of a few pet peeves while new believers are struggling to get closer to Jesus.

The Bible’s Lists

Please do not misunderstand what I am saying. There ARE two very important lists in the Bible to which everyone should pay attention. According to the late Francis Schaeffer [3] they are the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ great two-part command to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds and to love our neighbours as ourselves. But Schaeffer goes on to say that if we are honest we must all admit that none of us can even keep what is on these foundational lists. So why would we load up new ones on others who are in our spiritual care?

The Aftershocks

You might assume that this was all there was to this issue.

But those of you who remember the earlier big Church Council meeting recorded in Acts 15 may wonder what is  going on here. Back then Paul had been summoned to Jerusalem. It was a few years before these present events would take place in Corinth.  The purpose of the earlier meeting was basically to deal with the problem of all these non Jewish pagans who were getting saved. And one of the motions they passed basically said “No” to eating idol meat. And they expected Paul to go along with their decision. So we would have assumed that when this issue later arose in Corinth Paul’s answer would be, that “No, none of you in Corinth are allowed to eat the idol meat because the Convention in Jerusalem has passed a law against it.” We know from historical documents that this motion of that earlier Jerusalem Council remained in effect for at least two hundred years. The rest of the Churches still kept idol meat on their little list of “no-no’s.”   They were so imprisoned by their culture that they were convinced that there was something inherently built into the actual idol meat that made it morally wrong. They entirely missed Paul’s point that it wasn’t the eating of the meat that mattered but the attitude in which it was done.

What About Us?

Unfortunately, just like some of those Church leaders in Jerusalem, many of us in North America have also been prisoners of our own cultural choices and have sometimes mistaken them for Christianity. We have acted as if these verses here in 1 Corinthians 8 meant that newer Christian believers should choose not to do things that might offend some older Christians who have never matured in Jesus. But the Bible is not referring to a believer who has never grown in their faith, or in their level of discipleship, or beyond their cultural bias. Paul does not say these types of easily offended people are the spiritual giants that we should be emulating. Rather he infers that ideally this should be a growing maturing process where believers learn more about their wonderful salvation and so grow beyond their little lists.

Conclusion

As believers in Jesus we already do know the answers to those questions I asked at the beginning of the service. The basis for our relationship with Jesus, the real reason we can be believers in Jesus and fellow disciples, is represented here before us today in the elements of The Lord’s Supper. 

As Christians we believe that what Jesus did on the Cross is eternally important. It is the belief in his Resurrection that truly sets us apart from all other beliefs and groups. We know that without Jesus there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. Without him we are lost eternally. And it is because he did everything for us that we want to live for him. As we close many of those same reasons are reflected in our Communion Hymn this morning “When I Survey” found at #144.


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[1] Note on verse at 1 Cor. 8:5 in The Apologetic Study Bible, Gen. Ed. Ted Cabal, Holman Bible Publishers, Holman Tenessee, 2007, p. 1720 and Note in The New English Bible Companion to the New Testament by A.E. Harvey, Oxford University Press, 1970, p. 552-553 and note in HarperCollins Study Bible N.R.S.V. Gen. Ed. Wayne A. Meeks, HarperCollins Publications, 1993, p. 2151.

[2] Quoted in Major Cities of the Biblical World, Ed. R.K. Harrison, p.94.

[3] Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer : A Christian Worldview. (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1996, c1982).

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