Love Builds Up

When we begin to recognize the truth that faith, while personal, is never private, then we begin to embrace the inter-relatedness God intends and experience its powerful effects.

The sermon in its entirety can be found here.

Paul tackles a prickly issue in his day in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 8. And here is the bottom line: Is it OK for followers of Christ to eat meat sacrificed to idols? At Paul’s time, meat was rarely eaten because it was very costly. Only the very wealthy or on special occasions would it be available. Often, in Corinth and other places, the meat would have been prepared after the animal was used in a pagan Idol ceremony. Hence the issue. Some felt it was wrong because of where the meat came from. Others felt it was OK because idols are not real. The ceremony was a fraud. Why let good meat go to waste? And so we have a problem. Part of the church thought it was okay. Part thought it was not only not okay but sinful. And here we have a conflict!

So Paul writes to resolve this conflict of thinking and practice. He breaks it down into two issues: knowledge and love. Maybe another way to say it is right and good; legal and helpful; letter and spirit.

Does God have a problem with eating meat sacrificed to idols? No! Paul says that since idols aren’t real they therefore cannot taint the meat. Knowledge wins the day – it’s OK to eat.

BUT….is this practice, while a-ok, helping others thrive? Am I loving in my actions? Where does my freedoms need to be reigned in for another person’s sake?

If a community member’s conscience isn’t as strong – Paul never says the individual is weak, just their conscience, and they think that this is a problem with eating meat sacrificed to idols. Then – Paul says don’t eat meat. Knowledge may give it a pass, but love gives it a failing grade.

Ben Witherington, in his commentary on the letters to the Corinthians, says, “In Paul’s view the issue is not what kind of meat one eats. It is, rather, the social and moral effects of eating in certain contexts. Thus, this discussion is primarily about interpersonal behavior not about cuisine.”

The two prong process of knowledge and love are the basis for our discernment. Too often we stop at knowledge. We get the answer, “it’s okay”, and that aligns with our desires and so we move forward. But Paul is reminding us here there is a second step. We need to not only ask ‘can’ but also ‘should’. Paul intimates that our freedom was never meant to be another person’s hindrance. How does it impact those around me, and even the larger society?

Let me put it another way: Knowledge is the means – love is the end.

1 Corinthians 6:12 (NRSV) – “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.

1 Corinthians 10:23 (NRSV) “All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.

Karl Barth writes in Church Dogmatics that, “The Christian life begins with love. It also ends with love, so far as it is an end as human life in time. There is nothing that we can or must be or do as a Christian, or to become a Christian, prior to love. Even Faith does not anticipate love. As we come to faith will begin to love. If we do not begin to love, we would not have come to Faith. Faith is faith in Jesus Christ. If we believe, the fact that we do so means that every ground which is not that of our being in love to God in Christ is cut away from us; We cannot exist without seeking God.”

Saying something is okay is the starting place but only love is the true and lasting determining factor.

You’ve heard about the butterfly effect and chaos theory? Its basic understanding is that creation is so interrelated that a butterfly may flap its wings in Beijing and the weather pattern may change in Kentucky. While trying to predict exactly what triggers what is beyond me, and quite frankly beyond where we are in weather forecasting too, the concept of interrelatedness is an important one.

The butterfly effect is not just about global weather, it is about Christian community as well. Here’s where I’m going with this today, We are interrelated as a Christian community. What you do impacts me. What I do impacts you. Public, private, good, bad, all of our lives impact the other. When we begin to recognize the truth that faith, while personal, is never private, then we begin to embrace the inter-relatedness God intends and experience its impact.

In her book A Theology of Love by Mildred Bangs Wynkoop says that, “sin has consequences in life, so holiness has consequences in life.”

Often we take this in a negative way to stay out of trouble! But what if we took it in a positive way? Do good for it impacts us all!

Published by Todd Nelson

I'm one of the pastors at First United Methodist Church in Lexington, Kentucky where I've served for the past thirteen years. The sub-title of this blog is "Grace is no accident" which happens to be the defining reality of my life. God's grace (gift) is the reason we have breath in our lungs and hope in our hearts.

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