1 Corinthians 10:14-33: Principle and Flexibility
April 15, 2023
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Paul continues to try to help the Corinthians think clearly about the issue of meat offered to idols, and how more generally they as Christians can function in a pagan society. Increasingly, this is a matter, at a general level, of great importance to contemporary Christians too. How are we to act within a society and in a city which frequently acts in ways that may not be what we think are right or true? How can we be salt and light in the world? How can we be in the world but not become part of the worldliness that we see all around us? Paul here has some further biblical counsel and strong instruction that brings into gospel balance principle and flexibility.
First, “flee from idolatry.” We are united in Christ, and the communion with which we participate confirms that unity in Christ; therefore, we must not think it a trivial thing to participate in idol worship. “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too.” What does this mean for our contemporary life? If you’re reading this in India or Pakistan or the Middle East, the issues related here are very real. There is a necessary stepping away from false worship which must come as we engage in true worship. Great wisdom and prayer is needed, without doubt; but if you worship God, you cannot also worship an idol. For those of us who live in the West, the prevalence of idols is not so obvious—but they are still very much present. We increasingly find ourselves in a “pluralistic” world, and we must engage that pluralistic world with graced conviction. We do not waver in our commitment to Christ, nor do we label, ostracize, or demean those of other faiths or none. There will be times when a line must be drawn—the cup of drunkenness is not one in which a Christian should participate, nor should we trade drinks with Bacchus in revelry down at the pub. Neither must we pursue idolatry of money or sex. There are lines that must be drawn, barriers that must be held up and kept firm. There is “no” that must back up our convictions—for we are Christ’s and belong to him. However gracious we are, we are still his, and it is to him that we will give an account.
Second, “do not cause anyone to stumble.” Having established a firm set of principles with relation to idolatry, Paul shows his pastoral sensitivity and practical wisdom. He advises the Corinthians to eat meat from the marketplace—which probably would have been offered to idols in worship—without raising issues of conscience. But then if someone else tells you that it was offered in idolatry, to refrain. The principle here is not to do that which causes someone else to stumble. If their conscience does not allow them to eat the meat, then go along with them. Avoid causing them to stumble. Why? Because we are seeking “the good of many, so that they may be saved.” When it is a matter of conscience, then Paul advises flexibility so that there is not unnecessary conflict, or stumbling, so that the gospel can continue to make progress in the community, and from the community that is united in faith and love.
Oh for the wisdom to keep both these approaches in balance! On the one hand, we should be men and women of unwavering principle. On the other, we should be flexible about matters of lesser importance and give way to our brothers and sisters on such things so that we stay united. Some of us will tend more naturally to find ourselves always fighting for a principle. We should check to see whether there really is a biblical principle at stake, or whether this is a secondary (or tertiary) matter over which we are called to give way for the sake of love and the gospel. Others of us tend to give way too easily. We must dig into the Bible and have Scriptural backbone when it comes to matters of genuine principle and not become moral jellyfish. The biblical balance of principle and flexibility out of love and for the sake of Christ.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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