1 Corinthians 10:31 as preached by Timothy O'Day.
I remember going on a summer mission trip years ago. I was going to spend the summer abroad with another college student toward the end of meeting people, sharing the gospel, and connecting anyone who seemed interested with a local church. As we prepared to go, we were given an assignment: share the gospel without using ordinary Christian words. We had to articulate the gospel without using words like “salvation” or “grace” or “redemption” or “ faith” or “sin” and other such words. Now, maybe you disagree with such an assignment, but that is beside the point I am trying to make right now (so please set it to the side!). At first I thought that this would be a simple assignment, but as I opened my mouth and started to speak I quickly stumbled right out of the gate. Suddenly I realized that words I understood were actually very hard to articulate. There is so much many and so much nuance to words like “grace, faith, salvation” and “sin.” As you study these words in the Bible, you find that there is rich nuance to all of them. That isn’t to say that they cannot be defined and broken down with other words—they certainly can—but it takes some careful thought.
The same is true with the word “glory.” We read a verse like 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God,” and most likely say “amen,” or, if you are a member at Christ Fellowship you nod your head and maybe whisper, “amen.” But then, if someone called on you to arise and explain what it means to live for God’s glory, you might stumble out of the gate because glory is a rich and nuanced word in the Bible.
So that is what I want us to do this morning. I want us to focus on and answer this question, “what does it mean for me to pursue God’s glory with my life?” And, I hope by the end of it all, you will be able to see that living for God’s glory doesn’t take place with extraordinary acts. Pursuing God’s glory happens by how you open your eyes in the morning; how you decide to go about your daily labors; how you pay your bills; how you consider your time and plan out your week; how you conduct discipline in your household; and how you determine the way you dress. In short, it isn’t so much about what you do (although the “what” does matter), it is about how and why you do the ordinary tasks of life.
I’ve only got one point today but we are going to spend a lot of time unpacking it. Here it is and it is the answer to our question of how we are to pursue God’s glory in all of our life: We pursue God’s glory by placing our knowledge, rights, and freedom under the rule of love as displayed in Christ.
I know that our passage is officially 1 Corinthians 10:31, but really I am going to make my case by looking at chapters 8 and 10. We will rush through them pretty quickly, but we need to understand what is being said in those chapters if we are going to understand 10:31. This is because 10:31 is the conclusion to an argument that begins in chapter 8. So let’s jump back to chapter 8 in order to understand how this argument is developing
1 Corinthians 8 / Love ruling our knowledge
Chapter 8 opens with the issue, as stated in verse 1, of eating meat sacrificed to idols. Paul is addressing the claim that idols aren’t really gods at all. None of these so-called gods is actually a god like the true God is. He is alone and set apart. So, the thinking goes, it is okay to eat meat offered to idols.
But in verse 7 Paul adds a cautionary statement to this thinking: not everyone knows this. In fact that may be those who have left idolatry to follow the true God but still have the baggage of once having worshiped idols. That is to say, while this person may have knowledge that the idol is not real, they still feel guilty eating meat sacrificed to idols. As it says in verse 7, their conscience is weak—meaning that they feel morally conflicted about eating it. But seeing others eat it, they may do so and be drawn back into idolatry.
This danger is why Paul is ready to say in 8:13, “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” In short, knowledge isn’t everything. The rule of love should outweigh the rule of knowledge. As Paul begin in verse 1 of chapter 8, “This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.”
You may not feel like we can relate to this, but you aren’t immune getting puffed up by your knowledge. It manifests itself in a type of frustration with other people that, as you can humbly put it, “just aren’t as far along as you.” While the issue may not be food, your response may be the same: “just get with the program.” You’re frustrated because they are holding you up from doing something that you want to do. That clearly isn’t love. That is knowledge that has puffed up your pride and given you an overinflated sense of worth.
Do not pursue more and more knowledge to the exclusion of love; instead, seek to use your knowledge to love.
Paul underscores his personal commitment to loving others at the cost of his freedom in chapter 9 by outlining how he has forfeiting his freedom and rights in order to care for others. Which leads us to chapter 10.
1 Corinthians 10:1-22 / Love ruling our freedom
In chapter 10:1-22, Paul wants to make the church aware that this issue with food offered to idols is not simply about loving weaker brothers. It is also an issue of personal devotion to Christ. He moves past how those with a weak conscience might be impacted and instead moves to how those who eat meat offered to idols within the pagan temple itself are in danger. So the issue of this chapter is slightly different. It is about participating at pagan temple feasts with meat sacrificed to idols.
The essential claim he is addressing here is that some in the Corinthian church see themselves as free to go to the temple and participate in the feasts because idols aren’t real. Paul’s reply is two fold. First, he points to what happened to Israel when they participated in idolatry. God led them out of Egypt in an awesome show of power, chose them as his own and set his affection on them, but that did not stop him from destroying those who participated in the practice of idolatry. This leads Paul to give the exhortation in verse 14, “therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” Instead of seeing how close you could get to it, he is telling them to run away with all speed! And the reason for this is that while the idols are not real gods, they are demonic. So to participate in these feasts is to participate with demons and to test the Lord.
Again, I don’t imagine many of you want to go eat a meal scarified in a temple to a false God, although I do see that the Hindu temple down South advertises that they have a buffet. But this same disordered value can show up in us when we insist on our freedom. Here is a wrong definition of freedom: I can do what I want to do. That might be American freedom, but it isn’t biblical freedom. Christian freedom is freedom from sin and to Christ. Even when Israel was freed from Egypt, they weren’t released into the wilderness to do whatever fit their fancy. They were called out of Egypt to serve the Lord in the place that he would show them. They were freed to be God’s special people with a special role in the world and in his plan of redemption. When you are set free in Christ, you are set free from the bondage of sin and death and you are set free as a beloved child of God. You are called from slavery and called to sonship.
**Do not seek to use your freedom as an excuse to sin against the Lord. Instead, bask in the great love of God for you and let love define your freedom.
In Christ, you are free to be devoted to Christ, and that is true freedom. But there is more to this, as Paul goes on in verses 23-30.
1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1 / Love ruling our rights
Eating meat obviously sacrificed to idols should be avoided for the sake of your weak brother and eating that meat as participating in pagan festivals should be avoided to stay away from idolatry, but Paul reiterates in these verses that the Christian is not tied to a certain dietary code. While we can say that all foods are lawful, we can also say that not all eating is helpful. All foods are lawful, but not all eating builds up. That is why in eating, Paul says in verse 24, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” This is more than just the weak brother. We are also supposed to seek the good of our neighboring unbelievers around us. We have the freedom, though, to eat whatever we buy in the market not fearing if it was at one point sacrificed by a priest. We can also eat in someone’s home and do not need to ask, “was this sacrificed to an idol?” The reason you do not need to be concerned in these settings is because in the end all things belong ultimately to God, as he quotes Psalm 24 in verse 26, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.”
But, because we are to seek the benefit of others and not merely our own, we must put a cap on this right to eat meat. If the unbeliever with are with tells us that the meat being served was offered to an idol, we should refrain. Why? For the sake of the unbeliever and his moral sense. In this situation, it is probably the pagan who is telling the Christian that he is about to eat meat that was sacrificed because they think that the Christian should not eat it. This is easy to understand since Christianity was so closely associated with Judaism in the early days of the gospel. This pagan probably thought a Christian was not supposed to eat this food and so as a kindness informed him. Paul’s teaching is that we should not muddy the waters in such a situation. As Paul said in 8:8, “food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” So if my eating might confuse a pagan and even go against his moral expectation of a Christian, then we should refrain from partaking of that food. In other words, food is not an essential matter to the gospel. But if I took the time to jump into an explanation of why it was okay for me to eat this meat in the midst of other dinner conversation, then I am making eating and drinking essential and not incidental matters of the Christian life. Paul didn’t leave Judaism because Christianity offered lax dietary restrictions; he follows Christ because Jesus really is the Messiah and the only way to be forgiven of sin and know God eternally.
**But you may object to this and say, “But I have rights!” And you do, but you should not insist on your rights when they compete with someone else’s eternal good. If it will muddy the waters and not help you share the gospel, then set it aside for the moment. You can address the issue later.
But Why Should I Love Others Like This?
But why should I be concerned more about the good of my brother and the good of my unbelieving neighbor than my own good? Or, put more plainly, why should I seek someone else’s advantage instead of my own? It is because of Jesus Christ. The answer to why and how I walk in theses ways—being gentle and not demanding with my knowledge, curbing my freedom around serving, knowing, and enjoying God, and setting aside my rights to care for others— is Jesus Christ.
If you look down at 11:1, you see the ultimate summary and exhortation of what Paul is saying: “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” As Paul laid out in chapter 9, he does not pretend that his knowledge gives him superiority over others; he does not claim that he has freedoms which cannot be set aside; he does not claim rights that then negatively effect the church. In short, he seeks to walk in love as Jesus has loved him and the church.
When you look at Jesus as he is revealed in the Bible, you see that he is the God-man. As God, he has always been in perfect relationship with the Father. As man, he always obeyed and pleased his Father. His aim in all of his life was to honor his Father in heaven. Jesus glorified God in all that he did because he showed the goodness and splendor of God in all of his conduct. Jesus’ mission was to die for the people whom the Father gave him and to bring them into eternal life. By doing this the love of God is displayed; the fullness of God’s goodness is revealed; and the beauty of God is experienced.
Our short answer to the question, “what does it mean to pursue God’s glory with my life?” Is answered simply this way: imitate Jesus Christ. But 10:31-33 make that more explicit and specific. What does imitating Jesus look like? What does it entail?
First, like Jesus, enjoy God in all that you do.
This is the meaning of 10:31. So, whether you eat the food or not; whether you drink certain things or not; or whether you do anything or not, do all of it for God’s glory. That means do all of it to show forth who God is so that you and others may know and enjoy him. Eating and drinking is a freedom that we have as Christians being that there are no dietary restrictions as there are under the Mosaic Law. But in that freedom we must be able to say, “Thank you, God, for this gift!” While also not hurting fellow believers or putting a stumbling block in front of those who do not believe the gospel. When Paul adds on, “or whatever you do,” he means that in all things we should be able to offer thanks to God as we do it.
That is a captivating thought, isn’t it? Can you say “Thank you God…” in everything that you do? If you consider this, it quickly rules out man things that we might call freedom but is actually sinful because of what it does to us and what it does to others.
If you cannot watch that show or that movie and say, “Thank you God!” Then you aren’t living for God’s glory, you are merely seeking your pleasure at the expense of God or someone else.
If you cannot wear that outfit and thank God, then you are merely seeking your pleasure at the expense of God or someone else.
If you cannot buy that house, care, or new toy and thank God for it, then you aren’t seeking his glory but merely seeking your pleasure at his or someone else’s expense.
If you cannot make that move and thank God, then it isn’t for his honor.
If you cannot be I that relationship and thank God for it and know that he is pleased by it, then you aren’t seeking his honor in it; you are seeing your own personal benefit.
We are set free to live in the service and pleasure of God. We aren’t meant to detach ourselves from God but to live and move and have our being in him. If in the name of freedom you are setting yourself away from God in any shape or form, then you aren’t entering into freedom. You are picking up the shackles of sin and sorrow and trying to clasp them back on your wrists. You are sprinting back into a prison and saying you are free.
When Jesus gives you his Spirit, you are enable to walk in his ways. And we are being retrained in what is good, pleasant, and true.
Second, like Jesus, surrender yourself in order to benefit others.
When we look at Jesus, we see that his aim is to help people now God. He does not aim at being a stumbling block. Now, he was a stumbling block to many, but that was not his aim. In verse 32 when we read that we are to give no offense to Jews or Greeks or to the church of God, we should not read that as saying never hurt anyone’s feelings or sensibilities. Rather, we should read this as saying that we should not knowingly pursue a path that is detrimental to another person. What does that look like?
First, it can look like doing something to prevent someone hearing the gospel. This is what Paul means when he says not to give offense to Jew or to Greek. Instead of getting in the way by insisting on my rights and freedoms, I should, as it says in verse 33, try to please everyone. “Please” here doesn’t mean doing whatever this person wants. The Greek word carries with it the idea of service. I want to serve this person. As verse 33 goes on to illuminate, we should want to give this person an advantage. This makes sense with what we see in Jesus and in Paul as he imitates Jesus. Jesus taught openly; he did not prevent anyone from coming to him. He welcomed little children, called tax collectors, ate with sinners, and turned no one away who came to him. Likewise, Paul endured beatings, mockery, and disdain. Yet he continue to speak the gospel until people utterly turned him away.
Something that I fear is that I will excuse my lack of surrender in the guise of wisdom by saying, “that person would never believe the gospel.” So I do not even consider how I can share the gospel with them. I do not consider if in my thoughtless selfishness I am placing a stumbling block before him or her. “She won’t believe,” I say, so I don’t even pray for her. “He won’t believe,” I say, so I need stop to consider how I could speak the gospel to him. Is not this lack of faith an excuse to not consider my neighbor and work for his or her advantage?
But second, we can pursue a path that is detrimental to a brother or sister in Christ by alienating him or her. This is what Paul means when he says do not give offense to the church of God. Again, when we look at Jesus, we see that he does not alienate those in the church. He draws them in. We are at most risk to alienate others when they wrong us. But as we look to Jesus, we see the way forward. We see Jesus praying for Peter that he would stand and that he would turn after he falls. We also see Jesus extend forgiveness to him and work to restore him. With Thomas, we see that Jesus doesn’t berate him for his doubt. Rather, he deals with him in mercy and gentleness.
Lastly, find others imitating Christ well and imitate them.
This is Paul’s final exhortation. And this exhortation shows us that glorifying God is not a simple formula to figure out. It is something to be lived and something we are to grow in. Brothers and sisters, we have so many people in this church that we can look to and say, “I want to imitate them as they imitate Christ.” Obviously, don’t make that person the end all be all of your discipleship. Christ is the one to whom we ultimately look, but that should not stop us from learning from each other. In some churches there is cult of personality around certain figures that is unhealthy. There are pastors who can seemingly do no wrong. I am happy to report that I must keep you blissfully aware of my faults—I know this because you keep me blissfully aware of them! While the cult of personality may be a real issue in some churches, that is not what I am concerned about with us. I am more concerned that we will be too suspicious and competitive with each other. When you look around and you see someone worth imitating, instead of admiring and seeking to imitate that person, you may feel a sense of competitive disdain. This is the sickness of selfishness. We feel like if we honor someone by seeking to openly imitate them, then we are inherently dishonored. Brothers and sisters, that is worldly thinking. We are given to each other to help build one another up, not tear each other down. We are not in a contest to earn accolades over one another. That is how the world works and we so often imitate the world in this manner. We kick against the goads by competing with those who are meant to help us. This reality has rung home for me over the past few weeks as I have watched Eli play t-ball. The concept of being a mutually edifying team is pretty far from the minds of kids playing t-ball, and you can tell this anytime that they are on defense. When the ball is hit, every single kid—regardless of where they are on the field—rushes toward the ball. They knock each other down, steal the ball from each other, and this happens all while the batter saunters toward first base. We may laugh at this, but the foundation of these actions are found in our own hearts whenever we refuse to be humble learners. We have to be the one’s who make the play; we have to be the one’s who are cheered. This way of thinking is opposed to Christ and his ways.
Pursue God’s Glory By Pursuing Christ
You know, I can only be like Jesus and love my brother and others in the world as he does if I have my eyes set on him. It is an incredible reality that in the Old Testament you see this reality: when an unclean person touches another person, the uncleanness spreads. But when Jesus touches a leper, his leprosy disappears. He is clean. Letting love for others trump your knowledge, freedom, and rights seems impossible. We are infected by selfishness all the time. We think we cannot live to advantage other because everyone else is simply living for themselves. But not Jesus. Never Jesus. He is man, but not mere man. He is God who has come to give to us. Set your eyes on him to receive again and again. And you will find that you can love as he loves. You will find that you can imitate him because he gives you all that you need to follow him.