1. IV. Christian Liberty (8:1-11:1)
    1. 5. Live to Glorify God (10:23-11:1)

Calvin (01/28/18)

We come back to the main point: All things are indeed lawful, these being outward things. But, the question we need to ask is will it edify? Will it serve to my neighbor’s benefit spiritually? We cannot allow our concerns to be merely for the flesh. This does not impair your liberty. It calls you to accommodate your neighbor by your exercise of that liberty. To refrain from acting does not render the act unlawful. Liberty, rightly used, ought to edify.
We being by nature entirely self-interested, it is needful to be reminded often to seek the good of others instead of our own benefit. This is the law of love. (Mt 22:39 – The second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”) You cannot love them aright if you have not consulted their welfare. This does not require us to entirely neglect our own advantage, only to set it in proper perspective.
This clarifies the point somewhat. Food is in fact indifferent. There is no category of food that is inherently unholy. It is the use of it that may alter its rightness for us. If it requires us to trouble another’s conscience in order to partake (not tastes, but conscience), we ought to abstain. We must ever be ready and willing to limit our liberty by the law of love. If partaking would require us to argue ourselves into it, then clearly there’s trouble. If you have internal debate, just don’t do it. That is conscience speaking. If we are certain of the Lord’s approval, we have no cause for debate. If we have cause for debate, we are not certain of the Lord’s approval. To be concerned “for conscience’ sake” is to be aware of one’s standing before the judgment seat of God. Calvin’s read appears to be that Paul is telling them there is no need for questioning themselves, because God has made it abundantly clear that all foods are clean. Thus, it is not “Don’t ask questions.” It is, “There is no question.”
He brings David’s words to bear as testimony to what he is saying. (Ps 24:1 – The earth is the LORD’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.) If you fail to see the connection, it is this: If it is all His, there is nothing in it which is not sacred and pure. The creature is not polluted by the sacrifices of the wicked, because, “the rule and possession of the whole earth remain always in the hands of God.” On this basis, the sons of God have use of everything, “because they receive them no otherwise than from the hand of God.” Yes, the earth is fallen and cursed on account of sin, but Paul is considering it in its pure and perfect nature, which is the nature in which believers partake of them, “to whom all things are sanctified through Christ.”
Even so, we come to this case: The unbeliever has invited you to dine and you have accepted. Here, some extra care is needed to avoid offending the conscience of another. The clause, “and you wish to go,” implies mild disapproval on Paul’s part. Better not to, but it being an indifferent matter, it is not entirely forbidden. Here is a time to proceed with caution, knowing the danger of falling.
If informed of the provenance, it becomes us to refuse to partake, because this best edifies the weak one with whom we dine, whether amidst fellow believers or not.
Note the care to preserve liberty in the midst of this instruction: Not your conscience. You have no cause to be troubled. No, it is theirs that is in view. Bear with their weakness as becomes you. Don’t abuse the right by offending against them. But, neither let your conscience be troubled by their weak views. Here, conscience is being used in its ‘strict acceptation’. Elsewhere we find it more broadly applied. (Ro 13:5 – It is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 1Ti 1:5 – The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.) There, conscience reflects the Lord’s orders, our duty. If it is a duty to subject ourselves to authorities, is it not also our duty to accommodate ourselves to our weaker brethren? Here, the view to conscience is more restricted, concerning solely our disposition before the tribunal of God. “The soul of a pious man looks exclusively to the tribunal of God, has no regard to men, is satisfied with the blessing of liberty procured for it by Christ, and is bound to no individuals, and to no circumstances of time or place.” The question posed in the second half of the verse may reflect Paul’s views, or those of the Corinthians he corrects. It is uncertain which. If the former, it confirms his point: Liberty is not restricted by willing self-limitation. If the latter, he is presenting the next likely objection: That he is setting a legal requirement upon them to restrict their legal liberty based on the whims of the weak. Calvin leans toward the former. Thus, the point is that abuse of liberty will lead to a condemning judgment from those who see the impact of that abuse. Through our unreasonableness, we would thereby cause this liberty, which is a benefit received from God, to be condemned by these witnesses. “If we do not guard against this danger, we corrupt our liberty by our abuse of it.”
If this liberty is the result of God’s grace, why should I allow it to be made a vice by my actions? Granted, we cannot entirely prevent the ill opinion either of the wicked or the weak, but this does not require us to deliberately offend. Make good use of your benefits. Don’t make them an unnecessary cause of reviling.
“There is no part of our life, and no action so minute, that it ought not to be directed to the glory of God.”
Again, the rule of love: Don’t be a cause for stumbling. “A desire for the glory of God holds the first place; a regard to our neighbors holds the second.” Remember always that we are debtors to all, as concerns gaining them for the kingdom. (1Co 9:20-21 – To the Jews, I became a Jew so as to win Jews; to those under the Law, as under the Law, though I am not under the law, to win those who are; to those without the Law, as without law, though ruled by the law of Christ, so as to win those who are without law.)
Don’t suppose Paul’s generalization here extends to things truly unlawful. It is never allowable, even for the sake of a neighbor, to go farther than the Lord permits. Just as clearly, Paul never shied away from accommodating himself to men in matters of indifference. Then, too, be ever mindful of the stated goal for this accommodation: That those accommodated might be saved. No, we don’t accede to those things that prevent their salvation. As to other things, spiritual prudence is most needful.
Clearly, this verse remains connected with what preceded in the previous chapter. Having set forth his own example in support of his doctrine, he now encourages the Corinthians to do as he does. Note well: Paul advises nothing but his own practice. Note equally well that in all things, Paul directs himself and those he teaches toward Christ and Christ alone. He is ‘the only pattern of right acting’. It is one thing to advise one’s own actions in teaching. It is quite another to demand full and immediate compliance with one’s own practice. That is not teaching. That is superstition. We are not called to make our practice the absolute rule. The world inclines towards ignorant apery of those who have influence, but we are not called to this. Many evils have entered the church due to this urge to imitate the actions of the saints entirely. “Let us, therefore, maintain so much the more carefully this doctrine of Paul – that we are to follow men, provided they take Christ as their grand model, that the examples of the saints may not tend to lead us away from Christ, but rather to direct us to Him.”

Matthew Henry (01/29/30)

We find there are exceptions to the rule. While it was certainly off limits to go to the temple and feast on what was clearly an idol offering, other cases are permissible. But, lawfulness alone is not enough to consider. We must also look to the usefulness of our contemplated action for edification. This holds even for private life. For, if we are generally inclined to permit any action not explicitly unlawful, we are likely to find ourselves doing ‘what is evil by accident’, in that it harms our brother. “Every thing lawful in itself to be done is not therefore lawfully done.”
In every action, we must consider not only our own convenience, but also the welfare of others.
The requirements being laid out do not necessitate probing questions at the market so as to determine the provenance of a particular cut. In context, the temple priests would often sell their portion of the sacrifice to the local market, where it would be sold alongside common food. This being the case, what Paul is saying is that where the sacrifice is indistinguishable from the common, you need not pay it any mind.
God having designed every sort of produce, both meat and vegetable, it is all of use for subsistence, especially for His own children. (1Ti 4:4-5 – Everything created by God is good. Nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude. It is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. Ti 1:15 – To the pure, all things are pure. But, to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, for both their mind and their conscience are defiled.) The idolatrous use of food remains sinful. But this does not pollute the food. It pollutes the sinner. No sin adheres to using that food in the common manner thereafter.
Note that Paul does not forbid civility towards infidels. “Christianity does by no means bind us up from the common offices of humanity, nor allow us an uncourteous behavior to any of our own kind, however they may differ from us in religious sentiments or practices.” The instruction here is not to seek cause to abstain by asking after the provenance of everything served. Yes, you know there are doubtless things being served that were from idolatrous sacrifices. But, if they are not identified, don’t seek to identify them by needless enquiry. “Any thing fit to be eaten, that was set before them at a common entertainment, they might lawfully eat.” This clearly sets a boundary between civil feasts and religious.
That said, if something is specifically identified as sacrificial in nature, even if this is but whispered in your ear, stop. It matters not whether the informer is an infidel or a weaker Christian. Stop for the sake of his conscience. There is plenty of other food to be had. The reasoning is the same: The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. This is both permit and boundary. Don’t encourage idolatry by what you ingest, but neither get all worked up for fear of accidental ingestion.
Just take care of how your actions may ‘prejudice the consciences of others, and weaken their authority’.
“Another man's conscience is no measure to our conduct. What he thinks unlawful is not thereby made unlawful to me, but may be a matter of liberty still; and as long as I own God as a giver of my food, and render him thanks for it, it is very unjust to reproach me for using it.” Neither let your liberty be used to the hurt of others, nor let it be used to your own reproach by others. (Ro 14:16 – Don’t allow what is for you a good thing to be spoken of as evil.)
The general rule is that all we do should be intentionally aimed at glorifying God by pleasing and honoring Him. “The great end of all practical religion must direct us where particular and express rules are wanting.” Do nothing against God’s glory. Do nothing against your neighbor’s good. Act always so as to be a credit to the faith and promote the common good.
Jewish sensibilities would have tended to overreact on the matter of these meats, thinking them permanently tainted by association. As to the idolaters, we mustn’t offer any seeming approval by our participation. Such actions on our part might well lead newer adherents to the faith to misunderstand and suppose that Christ is just one more god to be served. Do nothing that would tend to pervert any member of the Church. Don’t let appetite determine practice. Let the honor of God, and the good of the church determine practice.
Paul sets before them his own example of a willingness to do any lawful thing that might render the Gospel truth more readily accepted by those who might be saved by its Truth. “A preacher may press his advice home with boldness and authority when he can enforce it with his own example.” The ministerial role ‘can never be faithfully discharged by a man of a narrow spirit and selfish principles’.
While chapter divisions suggest this verse as preface to what follows, it more aptly serves as conclusion to what has been said before. The call to imitate his own imitation of Christ is a fit close to the argument. As said before, the ability of the preacher to press his point by personal example and conduct strengthens his preaching. But, even Paul will not advise being blindly followed. “He encourages neither implicit faith nor obedience.” Follow Christ. His example alone is spotless. This, no other can claim. “We should follow no leader further than he follows Christ.” Even apostles should be departed from if they deviate from their Master.

Adam Clarke (01/29/18)

While any food is lawful to eat, this must be tempered by considerations of what might offend those of weaker mind. 10:24 – Private gratification can never justify disturbing the peace of another. Live not for yourself, but for the ‘great human family’ around you.
Here is a distinction made. Clearly, participating in the sacrifice itself is beyond the pale. Then, too, Paul has rejected participation in the feast observed as part of that sacrifice, for this would still constitute partaking in the worship of the idol, intent notwithstanding. But, now we are at a third remove: Considering what the priest has sold off to the market from his portion. Here, there is liberty, except where it might yet wound a weaker brother. Here’s the key: Ask no questions. Don’t vex yourself with excessive scruples. This was the manner of the Jews of that day, who supposed the meats permanently tainted by idolatry, and would even question among themselves whether a proper tithe had been offered on the meal before partaking, or whether other provisions of Mosaic Law had been violated. The issue of excessive scruples is seen therefore to be directed at the Jewish part of the Corinthian church.
God having made all, there can be nothing impure or unholy in what has been made.
Idol feasts remain off limits, but common meals are open to be attended without issue. But, again: Don’t torture yourself or others with all manner of questions as to the provenance of the food.
That said, if information is volunteered which identifies a particular item as sacrificial in nature, abstain for the sake of the weak conscience of the one who has identified it. It remains the case that such meats are perfectly fine for consumption, and no issue is to be found in doing so at one’s private table. But always the conscience of those others with whom we may share, or who may merely observe our behavior, must be taken into account.
Yes, the over-scrupulous conscience of a brother might set limits on our activities, but not on our liberty. “For if a man, by grace – by the allowance or authority of the Gospel, partake of anything that God’s bounty has sent, and which the Gospel had not forbidden, and give thanks to God for the blessing, no man has right or authority to condemn such a person.” There is a balance here: A limit set upon rash judges, even as there is a limit set upon self-indulgent liberty.
Here is a maxim which no Christian should forget: Do all so as to bring glory to God. “This is a sufficient rule to regulate every man’s conscience and practice in all indifferent things, where there are no express commands or prohibitions.”
Avoid giving cause for offense, particularly among the unconverted. Do not act so as to prejudice them against Christianity. Neither give cause for offense to the Church of God.
Forget your own interests, and labor for others – specifically, for their salvation. Chapter review: We have guidance for personal walk, domestic duty, and service to the Church. Guard against ‘little sins’. “Take heed what company you frequent.” What seems harmless may well lead to deepest sin. See the examples from the Pentateuch. However conscientiously we pursue righteousness, remain utterly distrustful of self. “God has made nothing independent of Himself; the soul has no principle of self-dependence either in itself or its attainments.” Idolatry is necessarily communion with demons. “Do they partake of the Lord Jesus who are under the influence of pride, self-will, hatred, censoriousness, etc., and who carry their self-importance and worldly spirit even into the house and worship of God!” Curiosity overindulged leads to covetousness, or to an unscriptural scrupulosity, ‘productive of nothing but uneasiness to itself, and disturbance to others’. “Simplicity of heart saves from this, and is an excellent gift.” We have a duality of rule: On the one hand the testimony of God, on the other charity toward others. “The testimony often permits what charity forbids.” Circumstance may render a lawful thing improper to pursue. “It is an unchangeable principle of the Christian morality that all comes from God by His love, and all should be returned to Him by ours.” Nothing said to the Corinthians here is without application in our own lives. “God has given no portion of His word to any people or age exclusively.” Seek to apply it to yourself. If we would appropriate the promises, let us also appropriate the warnings.
This verse should conclude Chapter 10, not begin Chapter 11.

Barnes' Notes (01/30/18)

Strictly speaking, the meats offered to idols were in fact lawful to eat. But, the reasons to abstain were so strong as to deserve being treated as legally binding. That which does not build up the church is improper. What hinders the saving of souls is improper, even if not strictly unlawful. “This is a simple rule, and might be easily applied by all.” If your heart is for the conversion of the lost, this will go far toward regulating your conduct aright. This perspective will be far more beneficial than an all-encompassing minutia of regulations.
While Paul’s injunction here is to be recognized as given in connection with the partaking of idol feasts, it is given in a general form because it is of general application. Our own pleasure or convenience is not to be the controlling factor in our decisions, but rather the welfare of others. This covers all such things as may be dispensed with without danger or injury – indulgences. This does not mean a man has no duty to himself or his family or that he must advance the welfare of others to the neglect of his own. Where this applies is where one’s choices of action are likely to have ‘great influence’ on the spiritual well-being of those around us. This covers those cases not bound by specific, positive law. In all such cases, the overarching rule for us ought to be considerations as to the salvation of others. “If every man would adopt this rule, he could not be in much danger of going wrong; he would be certain that he would not live in vain.”
Here is a boundary set to avoid becoming overly scrupulous. Participation in the idolatrous acts of worship, of which the feasts were a part, was off limits, to be sure. But where the meats from that act were sold at market, and no implication of participation in worship remained, there was no issue. The meat was still meat. The purchaser is not required to seek out details of how the meat was sourced. This is not to say that anything at all being sold was therefore licit to purchase. No, if the thing itself were unlawful in the first place, the fact of it being sold didn’t render it lawful. Many similar questions could be asked today: What of the products of slave labor, or products manufactured on the Sabbath, or sold on the Sabbath? Drawing from the principles of this advice of Paul’s, if there is no clear marker indicating the sourcing, there is no cause for scruples. If purchase would necessarily include our knowing the provenance and seeming to countenance the same, we ought to abstain. “If a man abhors slavery, and violations of Sunday, and dishonesty, then how can he knowingly partake of that which goes to patronize and extend these abominations?” Likewise, if its sourcing is made known to him, abstinence becomes the correct course, lest purchase be taken as ‘participation of the crime’. “No man is at liberty to patronize slavery, Sunday violations, dishonesty, or licentiousness, in any form. Every man can live without doing it; and where it can be done it should be done.” Refuse to partake.
The reference is to Psalm 24:1. (Dt 10:14 – Behold! To the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it.) This is what renders that meat from the market acceptable. It all belongs to Him, and therefore not to the idol to which it was offered. It can therefore be taken as a gift from Him for which to be thankful. All produce is the product of His hand. Offering it to an idol didn’t change that.
Here, Paul considers feasts apart from those at the temple – private affairs of a nonreligious nature. The implication of this is that there is no impropriety in dining with unbelievers. “Christianity is not designed to abolish the courtesies of social life; or to break the bonds of contact; or to make people misanthropes or hermits.” The ‘whatever’ here refers to the possibility that the food offered for your consumption was indeed from some idol offering. Note well that this principle does not give us blanket permission to drink whatever is set before us. It is for eating. Liquor is not a matter of indifference, and conscience doesn’t enter into it.
If, however, a fellow diner (for it is more likely a guest who is in view here) points out the nature of the food, abstain for his sake, so as not to offend his conscience. It’s the same principle applied to the feast in the first place. Don’t lead your brother into sin by your liberty. Many manuscripts, and many of the early fathers, include a reprise of the quote from Psalm 24 here. If it is in fact legitimately placed, as it would seem to be, then the point is that the LORD’s ample provision also ensures that you can forego this bit without issue. He will provide something else. Abstain.
Again the clarification: It’s not your conscience in view. The idol remains nothing, and its impact on the food remains nothing. It is concern for your brother. Some have taken the second half of this verse as returning to a possible objection on the part of the Corinthians, but this is not likely to be the case. Rather, it expresses the inherent liberty of Christian conscience on the matter. There is no law against partaking. There is the issue of perception, and the impact of my choice on a fellow image-bearer, and that rightly concerns me. In that case, I could as readily say there is no law requiring my partaking. Better I should deny myself for the sake of others.
Why expose myself to blame when there are plenty of other things I might partake of with thanks and not do injury? “Why should I pursue such a course as to expose myself to blame or censure?” Note this implication of Paul’s phrasing here. He elides mention of food, speaking simply of ‘that for which I give thanks’. Food is to be understood. Also to be understood is that for Paul, thanking God for his food was such a constant that this implication was expected to be understood immediately. The proper understanding of this verse is not one of self-defense for using one’s rights. It is this: Given that God so amply provides, and I have so much to be thankful for, why should I partake of this, knowing that to do so has potential to do injury to another, to do injury to one whom God would aid?
Again we have a general principle stated, although given in so specific a context. “Whatsoever you do” makes the universal nature of the advice clear. Act as would serve God’s honor. Acknowledge Him as Lawgiver, Creator, and Redeemer by more than words. Lead by example in this. Seek to give others cause to hold Him in high esteem. “We live to the glory of God when we honor Him in all the relations which He sustains with us; when we keep His laws; when we partake of His favors with thankfulness, and with a deep sense of our dependence; when we pray unto Him; and when we so live as to lead those around us to cherish elevated conceptions of His goodness, and mercy, and holiness.” If so small a matter as our food and drink should thus seek to honor God, how much more other matters? This is to be a constant rule of conduct for us. Meals being so frequent event, can serve as frequent reminder of the fact. “Our daily enjoyments should be sanctified by a constant effort to glorify Him.” Don’t devote that which He has strengthened and nourished by His provision to the pursuit of sin. This is the guide to all our conduct, the simplest test by which to assess our actions. That which honors God is right. That which does not is wrong. How right application of this would shift our lives! How it would revolutionize the world! This sentiment is not restricted to Christians, mind you. Jews and even pagans have had similar ideas of doing all in the name of heaven or of their god.
Don’t act in a fashion that would lead others to sin. Give no legitimate cause of offense, whether fellow believers or strangers and even foes to the faith. To the Jews, any sort of approach that even verged on idolatry was abhorrent. Be mindful and don’t lead them farther from Christianity by insisting on your way. Pagans are caught up in idolatry. Be mindful and don’t encourage them in it by your tacit approval, as it may seem to be. Many a fellow believer has not so advanced an understanding of these things. Be mindful and don’t cause them to violate their own sense of what is lawful to them. That would be to lead them into sin and even endanger their salvation.
Paul sets his own example as guide. That is, seek by all means legally available to convince all of Christ that by these things some might be saved. Do not ‘needlessly excite their opposition’. Do make the truth of the Gospel known. “It is well when a minister can without ostentation appeal to his own example, and urge others to a life of self-denial and holiness, by his own manner of living, and by what he is himself in his daily walk and conversation.”
Do as you see him doing. This clearly attaches to what precedes, not to what follows. Christ is my example. To the degree I follow Him, follow me and you will not err. “This is the only safe example; and if we follow this, we can never go astray.”

Wycliffe (01/31/18)

The general principle is repeated as Paul turns to meat from shops. (1Co 6:12 – All things are lawful, but not necessarily profitable, nor shall I be mastered by anything.) Benefit, construed as edification, is the determinant.
Concern for the development of our brother, our neighbor is the edifying course.
As concerns meat from the market, there is no cause to be troubled by conscience or asking about the meat’s sourcing.
What about private dinners? The rule is similar. Partaking is a non-issue, and don’t get caught up in asking about the sourcing of the meal.
If, however, a fellow guest should decide to inform you that some dish was an idol sacrifice, abstain for that guest’s sake. It’s the same principle of voluntary abstinence out of respect for a weaker conscience.
If eating leads to liberty being blamed, what value is there in the eating? “How can grace be said for that which offends a brother?”
The conclusion: “The glory of God is the ultimate aim.”
Follow this with concern for the good of others [second table]. (Ro 14:21 – It is good to not eat meat, drink wine, or do anything else that makes your brother stumble.)
Pleasing others is not about currying their favor. It is about acting for their benefit, their edification. This follows the example of our Lord. (Ro 15:3 – Even Christ did not please Himself. As it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached Thee fell upon Me.”) “The correct attitude in the matter, then, is liberty, the liberty of love for the Lord, for the truth, and for one’s brother. Neither legality, nor license will do; conditioned liberty is the principle to follow.”

Jamieson, Fausset & Brown (01/31/18)

Paul repeats the Corinthians’ claim as well as his own qualified agreement, as first stated in 1Co 6:12. Edification, the building up of the spiritual temple of the Church is paramount. Paul doesn’t appeal to apostolic decrees, but to ‘the broad principle of true Christian freedom’. (Ac 15:20 – Abstain from idol offerings, fornication, things strangled, and from blood.) Permit is not requirement.
(Ro 15:1-2 – We who are strong should bear the weaknesses of the weak and not just please ourselves. Let each of us seek to please his neighbor for his good, for his edification. 1Co 13:5 – Love doesn’t act out or seek its own. It is not easily provoked and gives no thought to things wrongfully suffered.)
Don’t feel you have to ask about whether your meat has been offered to idols. The answer might require conscientious abstinence that would otherwise be entirely unnecessary.
Everything belongs to God and He has appointed it all for our use. So, if conscience does not give clear cause to reject, then partake. (Ps 50:12 – If I were hungry, I wouldn’t tell you. For the world is Mine, and all it contains. Ro 14:14 – I am fully convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is inherently unclean. But, to the one who thinks it unclean it is – for him. Ro 14:20 – Don’t obstruct God’s work over food. Yes, everything is clean, but to the one for whom eating would cause offense, they are evil. 1Ti 4:4-5 – Everything God created is good. Nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude. It is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. Ac 10:15 – What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.)
The sense of Paul’s conditional is that the safer course would be to stay away, but attendance is not forbidden. (1Co 10:9 – Don’t try the Lord, as some did, and were destroyed by serpents.) While the feast is not connected with idol worship directly, yet there could be food there that came from such a source.
If you are made aware of such idolatrous sourcing, abstain out of concern for your brother’s conscience. (1Co 8:10-12 – If one sees you, o knowledgeable one, partaking at the idol’s temple, won’t his weak conscience become convinced to join you? Thus, through your knowledge that weaker brother is ruined, and he is one for whom Christ died! Thus, if you sin against your brother and wound his weak conscience by your actions, you are in reality sinning against Christ.)
Paul puts himself into the situation rhetorically, taking the role of the stronger brother. There is a distinction of terms to bear in mind. Heterou, the other, is the object of our concern. Allees, another, could be most anybody, and their opinions need not concern us. That is to say, the former speaks to the one who informed us of the nature of the meat. His conscience is therefore our concern. The latter can be assumed to be as unaware as we were. For our part, while we were unaware we had perfect liberty to eat. But, now knowing, the question changes somewhat. Why give occasion for offense or even sin in my brother over mere food? Why act so as to cause my rightful liberty to be rightly condemned? Another perspective: Why not assess your own liberty instead of waiting for another to point out the call for restraint? The proper limiter is identified in verse 31 as the pursuit of the glory of God. Of these various explanations, the simplest is best: Our concern must extend to the conscience of our informer. Though not bound by his scruples as if they reflected God’s judgment, yet I will choose to care for my brother in his weaker scruples without judging his weakness.
If we are thankful for that in which we partake, we give no real cause for offense, though the scrupulous. [They may rightly speak against our self-centeredness, but not against our partaking.] The giving of thanks to God “consecrates all the Christian’s acts.” (Ro 14:6 – He who observes the day does it for the Lord. He who eats does it for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God. He who abstains also does so for the Lord, and also gives thanks to God. 1Ti 4:3 – They try to forbid marriage and insist on abstaining from foods which God created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.)
(Zech 7:6 – When you eat and drink, is it not for yourselves? Jer 22:15-16 – Do you become a king because you compete in cedar? Didn’t your father eat and drink, and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy, and it was well. Isn’t that what it means to know Me?) The godly partake in thankfulness, and it is well with them. (Col 3:17 – Whatever you do or say, do so in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. 1Pe 4:11 – Whoever speaks, let it be utterances of God. Whoever serves, do so in the strength God supplies. In all things, let God be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.) What glorifies God is the edification of our neighbor.
As concerns the essentials of right doctrine and practice, give not an inch! But, in matters of indifference, give not offense. (Mt 18:7 – Woe to the world for its stumbling blocks! It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to the one who causes them. Ac 24:16 – I do my best to maintain a blameless conscience before God and man. 1Co 1:23 – We preach Christ crucified, though this is a stumbling block to the Jew and foolishness to the Greek. Php 1:10 – Approve what is excellent, so as to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.)
(Ro 15:2 – Let us each please our neighbor for his good edification. 1Co 9:19 – Though free of all men, I have made myself slave to all so as to win the more. 1Co 9:22 – To the weak I became weak so as to win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that by all means I may save some.)
Christ likewise gave Himself for us rather than pleasing Himself. (Eph 5:2 – Walk in love, just as Christ loved you and gave Himself up for us as an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. Php 2:4-5 – Don’t just look out for yourself. Care about others. Have the same attitude as was in Christ Jesus.) “Follow Christ first, and earthly teachers only so far as they follow Christ.”

New Thoughts (02/01/18-02/07/18)

Liberty Rightly Defined (02/02/18)

As we are considering a passage which concludes Paul’s discussion of Christian liberty, it is not surprising that we find ourselves revisiting topics already addressed.  It’s a topic we’ve been looking into for the last three chapters.  But, now, at the conclusion, it is fitting to review.  Liberty is a big deal with us.  But how do we define it?  It is not absolute freedom.  No man is absolutely free.  We are all of us men under authority, answerable to some higher up.  Nobody advances to a point where this no longer holds.  At minimum, every man discovers himself answerable to God.  It may require death to make that discovery, but discover it he will.

In the fallen state of man, any attempt to act as if absolutely free will rapidly devolve to anarchy.  Anarchy has generally been recognized as an undesirable state, although it seems there are always those who will promote the idea, at least until its fruits are discovered.  In a sense, it seems we are living in such a time.  The popular memes of “I do what I want,” or “You only live once” epitomize the more benign aspects.  Rules don’t apply.  Morals don’t matter.  Physiology, for all that, doesn’t matter.  But, this isn’t liberty.  This isn’t even freedom.  If we really understood what was happening, we would see that it is the worst sort of bondage, as man willingly enslaves himself to sinful appetites.

Unlike freedom, liberty has boundaries.  This is something we are addressing as a nation, isn’t it?  A nation without boundaries is not a nation where liberty can dwell.  It is a nation where liberty is ever under threat.  We may account it a free nation.  It certainly seems people are free to come and go – as long as they avoid the legal means of doing so.  See?  We’re so free, we’re free of law.  But, that just returns us to anarchy.  Liberty of necessity has boundaries.  There is ever a, “Thus far and no further.”  Even the sea, that strong symbol of uncontrollable power, has heard that utterance:  Thus far you may go, and no further.  Within those bounds, the waters are at liberty flow as they desire, but only within those bounds.

Many a Christian has gone through certain phases in their apprehension of what God is doing in them.  First, we must learn of sin, for if we do not come to recognize our own sinful condition, we will never seek for an answer.  Worse yet, we will think we are the answer.  This has been the downfall of every utopian movement ever attempted.  Utopia always turns out to be a hellish place, because it is always established on the ideals of sinful, fallen men who are blinded to their own sinful, fallen state.  So, phase one:  The discovery that I am utterly sinful and beyond redemption.

Then comes phase two:  But, God!  He has made provision for this.  He has redeemed the unredeemable me.  Part of our initial response to this is likely to be a rededication to trying harder.  Having received this second chance, we go forth with a commitment to do better, to be better.  We have slipped right into that same utopian thinking, and we will eventually crash headlong into the reality that our fallen nature is with us yet.  If we stay here, it will drive us to despair, or worse, we will oscillate between moments of elation at recognizing our forgiveness, and depression at recognizing our return to sinfulness.

On to phase three:  We discover that it’s all Christ, start to finish.  At least some of us arrive here.  Some will remain in phase two all their days, forever on edge for fear that they may end their days on the down cycle, and fall short of heaven.  But, for those of us who rediscover the solas of grace, there is this huge sigh of relief.  God has done it, and it is finished!  I’m free of that burden.  I have entered into Christian Liberty, and nothing from this point forward can possibly prevent me from attaining to the heavenward goal.  It’s out of my hands, and it’s out of yours.  This is where we enter into the discussion of liberty that we have here.

Those who enter into phase three may step into a trap.  The trap comes of assuming that this Christian liberty they have come to recognize is a trump card of sorts.  If you complain of my participation in this, that or the other, I can pull out the liberty card, and you have to grant me a pass.  After all, God’s going to forgive me, and who are you, then, to accuse?  Some, whom I would suggest have never quite understood what Christianity is at all, will go so far as to insist that this liberty card grants them permit to do absolutely anything they please without concern for man or God.  If His salvation can’t fail, they reason, and I have His promise, then I need give this no further thought.  He said it, now He must do it, and I’m off the hook.  The more likely case for such a one is that he was never hooked in the first place.  He is still fully in his slavery to sin, whatever fine garb he tries to drape on his condition.

But, for the rest of us, the temptation remains.  We are by nature sinners.  That hasn’t changed.  We are by God forgiven, and that’s a huge change!  But, we are by nature sinners, and as sinners, we are by nature self-centered and self-involved – perhaps never more so than in this present age.  So, we take this liberty and run with it!  Look!  I found a religion that has no issue with my self-gratification!  I can do as I please and still know God loves me.  There’s just enough truth in that to make us a danger to ourselves.  That is the danger Paul is setting out for us in these chapters.

Liberty has boundaries.  If you don’t know the boundaries one of two things must transpire.  Either you will eventually exceed the boundaries, being unaware of them, or having blinded yourself to them, or you will live out your days in overwhelming fear and concern as to what is permissible and what is not.  We are often told by parenting advisors that children need defined boundaries to feel safe.  But, it’s not just children is it?  We all need that.  God has provided it.  He has sent us this book we call the Bible to help us learn those boundaries.  He has led us to good pastures, and made certain the fences about the pasture are well defined and well understood.  Here is a place, little lamb, where you can gambol freely, eat what you will, do what you please.

But, what are the boundaries?  Here, Paul is primarily discussing matters of food and idolatry, which are topics that were certainly closely related then, and arguably continue to be today.  How many have made an idol of their gluten-free lifestyle, or their salt-free, sugar-free, meat-free, locally sourced, organic, lo-carb, paleo, or whatever other supposedly virtuous dietary regimen?  How many have made an idol of their willingness to eat anything and everything?  How many haven’t managed to make an idol of their food in one form or another?  I doubt there are many.

In the culture of Corinth, the connectivity was intense.  Some of the boundaries related to the subject should have been pretty obvious.  Apparently, they weren’t obvious enough for all.  Some were stuck in the traps of phase three.  If I’m at liberty, and I know God is the only real god, I may as well head on over to the temple and enjoy the food and the floor show.  What’s the harm?  Well, Paul has clarified this, hasn’t he?  The harm is that wherever your mind may be at, you are physically there worshiping an idol.  You are setting yourself at the devil’s table, and then coming home to God as if nothing had happened.  It really shouldn’t take too much of a reading of the Old Testament Scriptures to recognize how God views this.  It is harlotry.  Of course, Corinth didn’t have quite the same negative view of harlotry as God did, so that was a bit of a challenge.

But, at the same time, you have the Jewish population in town, who were inclined to see anything that had ever had any slight contact with an idolatrous practice as permanently unclean and beyond redemption.  Funny how this never seems to apply to oneself, but for this material stuff, yes.  Meat once unclean was ever unclean, and we must be ever so careful to ascertain where that meat came from before we permit ourselves to partake.  It’s not enough that said meat wasn’t labeled as tref, or as sacrificial leftovers.  You had to ask, find out for sure.  But, that’s back in phase two, isn’t it?  I don’t know where the boundaries are, so I’m forever trying to spot them.

Both groups needed correction.  Both were going too far, just in different directions.  So, we have some limits declared.  Limit number one:  As concerns material stuff, whether meat or vegetable or what have you:  God made it all, and He is good.  Ergo, the stuff itself is perfectly acceptable.  Assuming it is edible, it is fine to eat it.  “What God has declared clean, do not declare unclean.”  Elsewhere we have further statement on the matter.  I particularly like the passage from Paul’s letter to Timothy.  “Everything created by God is good.  Nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude.  It is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer” (1Ti 4:4-5).  Do you wonder why we have this tradition or habit of saying grace at every meal?  It’s not just politeness.  In fact, in many quarters today, it would probably be deemed impolite and maybe even a bit offensive; what with you imposing your religious views on another.  But, no.  It’s a serious matter, and one I would do well to take more seriously.  This is how our food is sanctified.  Widen the application.  This is how any of our activities or deeds or words are sanctified:  By means of the word of God and prayer.  I’m going to leave that hanging for the moment, and look at the other boundary.

Food is food.  It is neither good nor evil.  Offering food to an idol, since the idol is nothing and has no power either creative or destructive, does nothing to alter the molecular structure of the food, or its nutritive value.  To be clear, neither does sanctifying it by the word of God and prayer.  It’s not as though, having prayed, we can ignore general hygiene, or expect that tainted meat has suddenly been made fit for consumption again.  God may be pleased to guard us against unknown impurities in our food, but that’s not the point being made.  If your vegetables have gone bad, leave them aside.  Don’t tempt the Lord your God by putting Him to the test.

Now, here’s the limit that the Liberty-pushers failed to notice:  The food is not the issue, it’s you!  This is rather reminiscent of the theme of the marriage relationship class we’ve been offering.  The biggest problem in your marriage is you, not your spouse.  The biggest issue with food offered to idols is not the food or the idols, it’s you.  Your participation is the sinful bit.  The food is still food.  It is unchanged.  You, however, are polluted by your sinful insistence in participating in what you know full well cannot possibly be honoring to God.  How can you suppose it honors Him to go join the party to this false idol?  How can you suppose it pleases Him to see you bow down to devils, even if you are telling yourself it’s a meaningless gesture.  It’s not.

Now, going through this passage, we find Paul reminding us, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.”  Depending on your translation, you find it once or twice.  I do not wish to enter into the debate over whether the second inclusion is accident or intent.  But, the point that arises by its repetition is worthwhile to recognize.  This message from David in Psalm 24:1 is, as Matthew Henry identifies, both permit and boundary.  If it’s all His, you have every right to partake.  If everything is His, you have no cause for concern that not partaking will leave you short of provision.  He’s got plenty more things that do not run the risk of causing harm to another, should you eat.

This is the bit those of us with a clear view of liberty must recognize:  Permit is not requirement.  Liberty that is made insistence upon having is no liberty at all.  It is bondage renamed.  Where I am at liberty, I am at liberty not only to do, but also to not do.  Liberty implies choice, doesn’t it?  If there is no choice, there is no liberty.  Now, as I have been laboring the point, liberty will always run up against a point where choice is removed.  Here, limit number one is where liberty runs up against our propensity to manufacture and then bow down to idols.

Limit number two is that point where our liberty causes harm to another.  If we consider this, we will recognize that the second limit is really just a permutation of the first.  We are, after all, one of our favorite idols.  We are always ready to accept that it is right and proper that the world revolve around us and cater to our wants.  I won’t even bother pretending it’s our needs we have in view.  Need doesn’t enter into it.  I want this, ergo I should have it.  It’s not right that life should have to be so hard.  My meal wasn’t perfect.  I should complain.  This worker missed one little detail in the work he was doing for me.  He should be required to come make it right.  He should do the whole job over in penance for offending me.  This traffic should part like the waters before Moses and let me through.  Don’t they know who I am?  It’s all so unfair!  Don’t tell me thoughts dangerously close to these have never run through your head, or I shall have to call you out as a liar.

So, now we have boundary number one:  Don’t offend God by your idolatries.  We have boundary number two:  Don’t corrupt your brother by your insistence on exercising your rights.  Let’s add boundary number three:  Don’t suppose that the second boundary grants violation of the first.  As Calvin sets it out for us, it is never allowable to go farther than the Lord permits, not even for the sake of a neighbor. 

These are all thoughts that will develop further as we go along, and in hopes of perhaps actually moving along and not looping back in reruns before the study is over, I will simply introduce them here.  If we need a shorthand form to remember how liberty is rightly defined, I retain the definition:  Freedom within bounds.  Let us add the refinement:  Freedom thus bound is permit, not requirement.

Liberty Rightly Used (02/02/18)

So, with these boundaries understood, we can turn to the question of how liberty is rightly used.  Here, we have a very simple statement from Calvin that settles us in:  Liberty ought to edify.  This goes so far beyond discussions of food as to cover our entire lifestyle!  For the moment, settle for this:  Your liberty is ever to be understood as secondary to your brother’s progress.  We will get to the why of that later.  For now, accept the instruction.  It’s another boundary, or a recognition of the original boundary, set upon our liberty.  It’s another, ‘thus far and no further’.

It’s a boundary we don’t like, as I have already suggested.  Our inclination is to insist that if we are at liberty to act, you have no business bothering me with your concerns.  We can call it the idol of self.  We can call it pride, which is effectively another name for that idol.  Pride will insist that I have no cause to limit myself on your account.  Pride will insist that my greater knowledge renders your concerns immaterial.  You should learn from me, peasant!  This is what’s happening in Corinth.  This is what’s happening, more often than we’d care to admit, with ourselves.  We have determined what we want, and we shall do what we please, suffering no complaints from anybody.  After all, we have liberty.  Liberty Uber Alles!  No, Paul says.  “Aim higher.”  No, God says, “Consider others as more important than yourself.”  If you’re so great, serve.  He did.  He does.  Stop idolizing your liberty and make it a tool in your arsenal of praise to God.

The Wycliffe Commentary offers a perspective on this that might give us something by way of enlightened self-interest to correct our ways.  If eating leads to this liberty we value so much being maligned, what value is there in eating?  If our insistence upon exercising our liberty gives liberty a bad name, why would we go through that exercise?  Expand it.  If I, a Christian, act in a fashion that is insistently offensive, intentionally and knowingly offensive, and tosses up further hurdles in the way of those who might otherwise actually approach Christ, how am I representing Christ?  If I am the model of what it means to follow Him, why would anybody choose to do so?  If you have trouble coming up with a good answer to that, it might just be that you’ve raised up an idol of liberty that needs tearing down.

If we would rightly use this liberty into which we have been delivered, we do we well to recall to mind constantly the law of love.  Calvin would make this a law in its own right, I think.  He insists that we must ever be ready and willing to limit our liberty by the law of love.  Isn’t that pretty much what Paul is stating here?  Don’t look to yourself and your own petty interests.  Look to your neighbor and his edification.  Build him up instead of yourself.  If you’ve done the job right, he’ll be building you up in turn, so no loss.  It’s the economy of God in action, and the law of love rightly applied.  Liberty has not overturned Law.  It has learned it.

Liberty and Self-Control (02/03/18)

All this discussion of liberty brings us to a balance point.  It is seen in those boundaries we have considered.  But, here’s something to understand.  Those boundaries do not restrict our liberty.  They define it.  As we have learned, liberty is not requirement.  That is to say the fact that I can does not require that I must.  I can eat at any time.  That does not require that I must eat at every possible time.  Somewhere along the way I will choose to stop.  What has happened?  I have just imposed a limit on myself!  Has my liberty been lessened by this?  Clearly not.  Had I wished to continue eating, there was nothing stopping me.

This is the point Paul is driving home here.  It is a balance point.  Your willing self-limitation, whatever its reasoning, does not restrict your liberty.  Again:  By definition liberty includes the choice of participating or abstaining.  If it does not, it is not liberty but compulsion.  If you feel compelled to have the fruits of your liberty, the fact is you have no liberty.  You have bondage.  You have enslaved yourself to your purported liberty and rendered that liberty to be slavery.  Here’s the good news:  God has freed you from that bondage, because your bondage to this idolized liberty was as much a sin as any other form of idolatry.  It is yet another bowing down at the altar of self.  If we will but get this perspective on things, it will go far toward allowing us to abide in the truly liberated liberty which has been purchased for us.

Liberty doesn’t compel.  By one of those amusing coincidences of Providence, I happened to be reading an article regarding the misconception of rights in our present day.  Here in America we have the Bill of Rights, and somehow folks have gotten it in their heads that this is all about my right to have.  As the author points out, most of that document concerns restrictions.  The government is restricted from preventing your pursuit of these things.  The government is not thereby compelled to supply you with these things.  Arguably the government as supplier rapidly becomes the government as pusher, and you, the governed become the addict looking for another fix.  First one’s free.

So it is with the liberty addict.  I have the right becomes I must exercise.  To put it in the context of some current hot topics, it would be as if the right to bear arms were made a requirement to bear arms, or the right to free speech became a demand that you go out daily and orate from the street corner on your positions and opinions.  It’s clearly not the case, right?  It’s not the case with Christian liberty either.  The fact that you can does not require that you must.  You have free agency in these matters, else you have no liberty.

Now, with that settled, we consider the cases set before us.  We have liberty to eat, because we are several steps removed from any association with the idolatrous act, and there is nothing in the present to turn our attention to the possibility.  We are at liberty not to chase down the sourcing of our food.  We are at liberty to eat what is set before us.  But now, comes along side us another, perhaps a brother, perhaps an unbeliever, it makes no real difference.  He says, “Hey, did you know our host got that stuff from Aphrodite’s temple?”  Now the picture changes.  The food doesn’t.  Your liberty doesn’t.  But, now there’s a new factor.  There is another here who not only knows where this food came from, but considers it significant.  Maybe he’s a Christian who is concerned about the implications of partaking, given what he knows.  Maybe he’s an adherent of Aphrodite wondering what this strange Christian fellow will do with the knowledge.  Maybe he’s your brother who looks up to you and wonders what he himself should do.

So, what are you to do with your liberty?  You know you have the right to eat regardless.  Food is food.  You could, so far as the law of liberty is concerned, act with total disregard for this fellow.  Yeah, that’s interesting.  But, I’m hungry.  You might think you convey your disregard for the idol, but inevitably what you wind up conveying is your disregard for God.  So, then, is the right course to make a great show of rejecting the food?  No.  That would send us right over the line set out for us in verse 32 wouldn’t it?  There’s no need to stir up the offense of your host or his guests by your proud proclamation that such spiritually tainted foodstuffs shall never touch your lips.  First off, it’s bogus, and you know it.  Second, it’s just uncalled for.  Simply let the item pass.  It’s just food, after all, and there are other things you could eat.  There.  Your liberty has been exercised.  You could have, but you chose not to do so, and you chose not to do so for the best of reasons, to edify your informer.  One hopes that your thought processes in arriving at this conclusion have had less to do with what best guards your own reputation and far more to do with what best serves to honor God, to aid the godly, and to set no unnecessary obstacle before the unbeliever who might yet become a brother. 

There is the ideal.  But, even if we cannot manage the ideal, we might yet seek to consider our actions more carefully before we act.  We see some of the challenge of this in the questions Paul injects into his discussion.  Why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience?  Why am I slandered if I partake with thanks to God?  Now, those questions are difficult to come to grips with in the context, because they seem to run opposite of Paul’s instruction.  Yet, they are offered as supporting his instruction.

I wrestled with that last time through.  Others clearly have done the same.  As I read through the commentaries, it’s clear that the orthogonal nature of the questions catches everybody off guard.  Is Paul once again injecting their likely arguments?  But, if that were the case, where’s the rebuttal or clarification?  No, that’s not it.  Is he putting himself in their place and defending their views?  If so, what was all that instruction about, because he just cancelled it by the assertions these questions leave standing. 

There is one approach to these questions that might serve, although I cannot quite see how it is supported grammatically.  Yet, it is a solution offered by more than one of our authors, so perhaps it has some merit.  If nothing else, it’s worth thinking about in its own right.  The sense of it is this:  Why should I act in such a way as would cause my liberty to be condemned?  The way Paul has phrased this, assuming it is reasonably to understand it as proposed here, leaves us clear that yes, we had the right.  There was no legal cause to abstain, no sin inherent in the act of eating.  But, to do so in such fashion as demonstrates a total disregard for the concerns of our brother?  Well:  His aim may be off in his condemnation, but rest assured, your rightful liberty has been exercised in such a way as leaves you rightly condemned.  That condemnation is not for liberty, it is for you.  It is for your self-centered, idolatrous insistence on pursuing your right even when it was likely to be to the detriment of another.

Look, this is captured in common civil law.  Your rights end where they impinge upon another.  Thus, your pursuit of happiness is not permit for theft, for example.  So it is with Christian liberty.  The things you are free to do, you are not free to do to the spiritual detriment of your brother.  Neither does your brother have grounds to make his convictions legally binding upon you.  That’s a hard balance to walk, but as I said, we are right here at the balance point.  You cannot change their scruples.  You might, in time, be able to edify them.  They may mature beyond those scruples in time.  But, your trampling on their views isn’t going to help the process along. 

Don’t abuse your rights!  That’s the message for us.  Don’t abuse your rights by being offensive in your pursuit of them.  Be willing to self-limit.  This does not, to maintain the balance, mean you need to let your own conscience be troubled.  The right and wrong of the act hasn’t changed.  The only right and wrong is in the timing.  If you were alone, or amongst those of like understanding, or of like ignorance as to the circumstances, there would be no issue.  You are not, and you are aware of the fact.  Act accordingly.

I rather like the way the Wycliffe Commentary captures the balance of this instruction.  “Neither legality, nor license will do; conditioned liberty is the principle to follow.”  That’s a beautiful turn of phrase, there:  Conditioned Liberty.  That’s exactly it!  I am aware of my liberty.  I condition my exercise of it based on the circumstances, and most appropriately based on my concern for your welfare.  I choose to not exercise my liberty in any fashion that would lead to a lower esteem for God or would cause you to violate your conscience.  We will explore this further in the next few sections.

Before we do, there is something from Clarke’s comments that I felt worthy of notice.  It does not quite fit under any of the headings I’ve set out here, but seemed, perhaps because of its balance-point nature, to best fit here, even though it’s not quite to the current point.  Let me offer the thought that caught my attention.  Clarke advises that if we would appropriate the promises, let us also appropriate the warnings.  This clicks with me, perhaps because of various threads of current Christian behavior that make overmuch of appropriating all the promises of Scripture.  It’s one of those sentiments that sounds fine until you actually think about it a bit.  If all the promises of Scripture are mine, regardless who they were given to and how they were stated, that should rightly scare me rather than cause me ebullient joy.

If all the promises are mine that necessarily includes all those promised curses for disobedience.  Honestly, just go back and reread what Moses proclaims to the people.  You get about a chapter of potential blessings for obedience.  You get something like a half-dozen of curses for disobedience.  Now, bearing in mind the absolute assurance that disobedience in so much as one of the least commandments carries the full penalty, do you really want all the promises?  Are you that keen to get back under Mosaic Law?  Because, that’s what a lot of those promises effectively demand of you.  Be ye perfect as Your Father is perfect.  Don’t just seek to imitate Christ, but do so in absolute perfection, for any least slip up and guess what?  All those promises of God’s wrath are yours!  Doesn’t that just instill a desire to be part of this Christian faith?  No?  No.

But, let us stick with that subset of promises that are rightly ours to lay hold of.  Here, I think Clarke’s advice is sound, if not necessarily for the reasons he would promote.  If you would appropriate the promises, appropriate the warnings.  The risk here is that we destroy ourselves with false motivation.  If this is our driving philosophy, we are really back at a works based salvation, which means we have no salvation.  If my salvation rests on my heeding the warnings, I’m back to having to walk perfectly or fail of heaven.  But, that’s not the message of the Gospel.  The message of the Gospel is, “Jesus Paid it All.”  The message of the Gospel is, “It is finished!”  It’s Christ Jesus first to last.  It’s the bold promise of Isaiah 41:10“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”  Now, that’s a promise!  And having that promise ought reasonably to stir up in us a desire to heed the warnings, knowing that those warnings are the effects of His righteous right hand upholding us.  They are there to strengthen us.  They are His aid to us in our weakness.  They are not then causes for fear lest we fail.  We shall fail.  That’s our nature.  They are not there to threaten our salvation, but to edify us, build us up that we may walk the more confidently toward that salvation, having been warned of the detours.  They are the boundaries by which we discern our liberty.

All For God (02/04/18)

The fundamental lesson for us comes in verse 31“Do all to the glory of God.”  It is at once obvious and impossible, isn’t it?  Of course, if we have been rescued from our myriad bondages by God, and He has called us His own children, we have every cause to glorify Him.  If we have read the commandments, if we have heard the message of our Savior, we know this.  Love Him with all your heart, mind, body, and soul.  Everything that makes you who you are should be put into service in loving and glorifying Him.  Nothing is to be excluded.  We know this.  We also know that this is a tall order.

But, we can begin somewhere, can’t we?  We might begin here, where our passage is speaking to us.  No, we aren’t likely to be headed down to some alternative house of worship to some other claimant to the heavenly throne.  But, we do understand food and drink.  We do understand the incredible draw in those things.  So, we might heed the message in the fashion that Matthew Henry puts forward:  Don’t let appetite determine practice.

What does this look like?  Well, certainly in many matters our tastes may be sharply defined.  They may also be sharply opposed to somebody else’s tastes.  Certainly when it comes to the arts, whether we consider acting, painting, music, writing, or whatever the craft may be, we have widely varied tastes.  Put it in a church setting and our tastes become elevated to matters of holiness.  To a degree, these concerns are assuredly valid.  We ought to be careful to consider the things we bring to the service of God.  But, when it’s simply a matter of my preferred style versus yours?  This has nothing to do with God’s determination of right worship.  This has to do with appetite.  You prefer shades of green for the sanctuary, I incline towards reds.  Don’t let appetite determine practice.  You prefer hymnody, I prefer more contemporary forms, so long as the message is clear and correct.  But, it’s not about what either of us likes.  It’s about what honors God.

We can, in fact, take this back outside of the Church.  What of our habits in entertainment?  Do we even ask God’s opinion?  What of our choices in the realm of dining, since we’re on this topic of food?  Does it give us pause to go to a restaurant of a Sunday?  Is it right in God’s sight?  What of our use of time?  This is a big thing, because it covers much of our decision making.  Time is precious.  Arguably, time is the most precious commodity we are given in life.  What are we doing with it?  Do we use it to God’s honor?  Do we even give Him a moment’s thought as we set our schedule?  Perhaps we are of a sort not given to scheduling ourselves, but prefer to just let the day unfold as it will.  But, does this honor God?  It’s worth checking our mindset, surely, to see if we have in fact made Him the central, defining feature of our being.

Mr. Henry’s thought continues to this point.  Appetite isn’t to be our determinant.  God’s honor, and the good of His church are to be our determinant.  Here is a place for us to compete!  Let us outdo one another in seeking God’s honor!  Let us outdo one another in benefiting His church and furthering her work.  Let us, each one of us, lead by example in this pursuit.  Let us be about this in every part of every day:  That those who observe our practice and see our example may be given cause to hold our God in high esteem.  The alternative, as Paul points out in writing to Rome, is that God’s name is blasphemed because of our actions (Ro 2:24).  Is that a place we want to be?  I think not.

But, our inner lawyer is already questioning this, isn’t it?  How far do you expect me to take this?  I’ll let Calvin answer.  “There is no part of our life, and no action so minute, that it ought not to be directed to the glory of God.”  This is not hyperbole on his part.  It is recognition of what response the Gospel demands and deserves – it is all of us.  We tend to write off entire swathes of our day in phrases like, “It doesn’t matter.”  Nobody saw.  Nobody knows.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s only family, and they know me well enough to brush off this offense.  It doesn’t matter.  The problem is, pretty soon nothing much matters in our view, as sin takes hold.  So, here’s an alternative:  Recognize that everything matters.  Every action you undertake today involves a decision on your part.  On what basis have you decided?  Was it for appetite or for God?

It’s a challenge, isn’t it?  But, Lord!  I need my downtime.  I need!  I need!  Honestly, if we would hear ourselves and recognize Who we’re making excuses to, we would drop it in a heartbeat.  It can’t work anyway, and it’s offensive in the extreme.  That’s appetite talking.  It’s not even need.  We have just become enamored of expressing our every desire as a need.  It’s more convincing, after all.  Try the alternative:  This thing I wish to be doing, does it glorify God in any way shape or form?  Am I doing it for Him?  Or am I once again seeking to amuse myself, or worse, to distract myself from Him?

What gives us joy in life?  That might be another good question for self-inspection on this topic.  Do we find our greatest pleasures in being in His Word?  Do we find them in prayer?  Do we look forward to going to church so that we can be with Him once more?  Or has church become a matter of social standing to us?  Are we showing up to be seen, or to glorify God together with those who love Him as we do?  Are we assessing the songs and the message based on our preferences, our appetites, or are we participating to the glory of God as we see these things glorifying Him even if they don’t seem particularly targeted at my needs (there we go again) today?  Do I tune out because I’m beyond all that?  Does that glorify God?  Does that edify my brother? 

If in fact, my goal is to glorify God, then this has to be one of the first questions I ask of myself.  Is this which I am about to do serving to build my brother up?  If it is not, I can be pretty sure it’s doing the opposite.  If, on the other hand, I am in fact seeking to build him up and making that a priority as I chart my course, then I can be sure that my course will glorify God as well.  He is surely glorified as we progress in holiness.  Why do you suppose the Apostles stress this point so often?  It’s not just our personal sanctification that we should concern ourselves with, but our brother’s as well.  Care about one another!  Spur one another on to greater progress.  Seek to outdo your brother in so impacting others as to make them outdo you.  We are being built together, as Paul reminds the Ephesians (Eph 2:22), into a singular dwelling place for God in the Spirit.  We are each of us living stones made part of that temple (1Pe 2:5).  Yes, you are the temple of God in whom the Spirit dwells (1Co 3:16), but note well:  ‘You’ is the plural you.  It is you together.  You apart are disobedient to the God you claim inhabits your temple.  How can the temple be disobedient to its God?

Understand, then, that one of the best ways to glorify God is through the edification of your neighbor.  Edification is, in many ways, the central tenet of this letter, the fundamental point.  You have a foundation.  You are a construction worker on the church of God.  Are you building to spec?  Are you helping your coworkers build straight and true?  If you are not, then in fact you are tearing down.  There may be a place for that on occasion, but it’s assuredly not supposed to be our standard mode of operation.  Jesus Himself speaks of His mission similarly.  “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (Jn 12:47).  Is this not a message of building up rather than tearing down?

Two Tables of Love (02/04/18)

What we see, then, is that Paul’s instruction here gives clear demonstration of the Law rightly applied.  It is, if you will, the Law under Gospel administration, what Calvin repeatedly refers to as the law of love.  We see, as Paul sets things forth here, that this law of love is in fact nothing more than the summation of the two tables of Mosaic Law.  Go back to Jesus’ answer as to the great commandment.  “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Mt 22:37-40).  That is the Law of Love.  The Law of Love is, in fact, the Mosaic Law rightly understood and applied.  I might add, rightly prioritized.

Calvin writes, “A desire for the glory of God holds the first place; a regard to our neighbors holds the second.”  That is our priority.  If regard for our neighbor militates for actions that would be detrimental to God’s glory, then we must not act for our neighbor.  Indeed, to do so would be to have serious disregard for his good.  We get this confused.  Even as we think our own wants constitute needs, we become convinced that our neighbor’s wants constitute his good.  That’s not necessarily the case.

I see this same misunderstanding when we are inclined to take a poll of our congregants in regard to some ministry of the church, or the shape of its programs.  What do we ask them?  “What do you want?”  What should we ask them?  “What would best serve to glorify God and build one another up in sound faith?”  It may be that you get to the same answers, but I am very leery of shaping our activities based on the popular wants of the congregation.  Far better we shape them based on the true needs and benefit of the congregation.  Don’t mistake pleasure for good.  Don’t mistake preference for productivity.  Don’t mistake the desires of fallen man for the group guidance of the Holy Spirit.  These things are not synonymous.

Back to the topic.  We might wonder, if we chose to think about it, why we have the Law in two tables, why the Law of Love is given in this bifurcated fashion.  The mathematically inclined amongst us might see these as the two axes of a graphing function, with God defining the vertical, and neighbor the horizontal.  That’s a pretty popular way of viewing Christian life these days.  Our songs, for example, are either vertically oriented in worship God as God, or horizontally oriented in urging one another to greater piety.  That’s fair.  But, here’s the thing:  The vertical has to have priority, doesn’t it?

Or does it?  It depends on your perspective.  Here, Clarke describes our two axes as the ‘testimony of God’, and ‘charity toward others’.  What does he mean by this?  Well, the testimony of God, as Clarke is applying it, has to do with His defining of what is clean and what is not.  We might, I think, safely personalize that and suggest it is His testimony with regard to your standing.  I’m not quite prepared to move so far as to suppose he is considering God’s view of you through the work of His Son, but perhaps that is necessary after all, isn’t it?  God’s testimony about you is made clear:  Declared righteous before His tribunal, all penalties due having been paid – not innocent, then, but righteous.  Now, as to this action you contemplate, what is God’s testimony as to that action?  He may very well have said, “It is clean.”  But, now comes the other axis.  What of my brother?  Will my availing myself of what God permits in and of itself cause difficulty for my brother?  Is my use of my right charitable toward him?  If not, then it is selfish.  If it is selfish, can it still be clean in God’s sight?  I think not.  I think we mistake the deed for our action, and it’s our action more generally that constitutes the rightness or wrongness of the deed.

Obviously, there are deeds which nothing can make right.  We see fornication set first and foremost on that list.  There is no occasion which can render that a righteous action.  But, it’s still our action that’s in view more than the deed.  The same deed, done in the confines of marriage is (assuming perversion and abusiveness are kept from the equation) perfectly right.  So, I suppose I must alter my statement.  The deed is not in itself wrong.  It’s the conditions under which action has been taken that render the act wrong.  We could set murder in the same standing.  The murderous act from ill intent is wrong.  Yet, the prescribed penalty for the act could readily be construed as murder in itself.  It is, after all, the taking of the murderer’s life.  Or transfer the action to that of a just war, and suddenly, the murder committed in that war is rendered just.  Again, not the deed, but the action.

I may be laboring this point more than it deserves.  Clarke’s point is simply this:  Concern for our brother must temper our pursuit of what is otherwise licit by God’s definitions.  Again, I would say that to continue in our pursuit under such circumstances as would militate against continuing has so altered the equation that God’s decree of legality has likewise changed.  The act has been rendered unlawful by the surrounding circumstances.  This is not pragmatism.  It’s just reality.

The Wycliffe Commentary advises, “The glory of God is the ultimate aim.”  Yes, and amen!  Here, they amend the advice that concern for the good of others must follow upon this ultimate aim.  Again I say, yes and amen!  If the glory of God is our ultimate aim, then acting counter to our brother’s good cannot but cause our aim to be off.  Here, then, are the two tables of the Law, the two axes of love in action.  And look what has happened!  It turns out our horizontal axis is in fact the vertical.  These two things are not acting orthogonally to one another.  They act in harmony, to the single, unified direction of God’s glory.  Isn’t that something?

So, as we seek to glorify God, we are directed to consider this question:  “Will my contemplated action build up my brother?”  I will stress that, as with the polling question earlier, this is something that produces far different results than asking, “Will this harm my brother?”  The latter seeks to excuse us our appetites.  The former truly focuses our attention outward from ourselves.  The one seeks to gratify self.  The other seeks to serve others. 

Now, our desire for gratification will rise up, like the probably response of fleshly desires in the Corinthians upon hearing this message, and say, what?  Am I to be bound by my brother’s conscience?  Is his less-enlightened condition made law to me?  Paul is emphatic on this point.  No, it is not.  On what basis would his conscience be binding on my liberty?  But, we can turn it around, can’t we?  Is my more enlightened condition binding to his conscience?  Must he accede to my wider sense of liberty?  Again, the answer must be no, and for the very same reason.  If his conscience cannot be binding on you, neither can your conscience be liberating on him.  No, my brother, you are not bound by another’s conscience.  What you should quite rightly and reasonably be bound by is the Law of Love, here expressed in godly concern for your brother.  “Will this build up my brother?”  If the answer is no then surely the right course, the loving course, is restraint.

“Love edifies” (1Co 8:1)It’s a central theme of Christian living, as it is a central theme of this letter.  Honestly, if you think of love as defined in Scripture, here is the letter you turn to.  Of course, you jump right on past everything that leads up to that beautiful definition of love, because honestly, who wants to look at this garbage that has to be dealt with?  No, no.  We want the pay off.  We want the bonus without the work.  But, for all that love is described in glowing and challenging terms in chapter 13, it’s really back in chapter 8 that we get the fundamental definition.  Love edifies.  If this be so, then to fail to edify is not to love.  To leave the construction project untouched is not to love.  I cannot love my brother by leaving him to his own devices.  I certainly cannot love my neighbor by leaving him to the pursuit of his false gods uninformed of his error. 

I am forced to maintain that there is no neutral stance in this matter.  I either edify or I undermine.  I either love or I hate.  I cannot suppose my hands are clean because I didn’t get involved, didn’t engage.  I either love or I hate.  I cannot stand apart.  That’s hard to hear, but I have to accept that it is the verdict of the God I claim to love.  I shall have to consider well what to do with this, and pray hard that He shall overcome that within me which inclines toward inaction.

Applied Love (02/05/18)

If this law of love is to be our guiding principle, and it is, what shall that look like in us?  What ought it to look like?  There is a very high calling to this.  That should be evident from Paul’s final advice on the subject:  Imitate me as I imitate Christ.  That’s the call.  He is the model.  What is the result?  I could word it this way:  Live such that both word and deed are tools of preaching.  It really is a matter of asking yourself:  How will this action I contemplate serve to build up my brother?  How will my words encourage sound faith in him?  And, if we ask, “who is my brother?”  We must recognize the answer is every man.

I think we might convince ourselves this was doable within the confines of Christian community.  You know, if it’s only about life in the church, then at least it’s a limited timeframe, and I can probably manage it.  But, then, of course, there’s home life.  Perhaps that also feels like a limited timeframe because you spend so much of your life either asleep or at work.  But even this does not define the limits of where the law of love is to apply.  No.  It’s in the workplace, too, out amidst the unbelievers, guess what:  You’re surrounded by potential brothers!  So, we have to keep asking:  What do my actions say to this potential brother?  Do my words draw his attention to Christ or do they give him cause to blaspheme?  Do I exemplify the Redeemer, or do I cloak His presence to fit in?

Here’s yet another alternative:  Do I become overly offensive and overly scrupulous with my concerns for piety?  Have I become so holily minded that I no longer have any point of connection?  Have I so convinced myself of my personal righteousness that I cannot comprehend these heathens around me or find any sympathy with their concerns?  That will not serve, either.  We must once more discern the balance point.  The JFB gives us a pretty good description of that point:  We might divide matters into two piles.  In the one pile, we place all matters pertaining to the essentials of right doctrine and practice – orthodoxy and orthopraxy. As concerns the matters from this pile, we give no ground whatsoever.  There can be no compromise, no accommodation.  But, there is this other pile.  Here we have stacked all that is secondary.  On these, you may very well disagree with me; you may pursue different practices than I would.  Here, for example, are those meats from the marketplace, and those meals hosted by unbelievers or even proponents of another religion.  So long as it is not a religious observance in and of itself, you are at liberty to do as you please.  What ought then to please you is to give no offense, to present as the Christian representative, a demeanor most winsome, an evidence of a faith most inviting and real in a God most holy and faithful.  Give no offense on matters of indifference, give no ground on essentials.  There’s your boundary, as set out by the law of love.

Put another way, we could follow the advice Barnes offers, which is again just a repackaging of Paul’s point, which is to say, Jesus’ instruction.  Don’t ‘needlessly excite their opposition’.  You don’t need to go out of your way to be obnoxious about your beliefs.  You don’t need to reject every bit of participation in society because as a Christian, you just can’t be involved with anything that is not directly and expressly involved with the activities of worship.  Don’t try and be all church all the time.  That’s not your call in the first place, and it’s not particularly winsome, either.  But, there’s a balance to be had:  Don’t be obnoxious, but do make the truth of the Gospel known.

Can I just emphasize a distinction here?  Of course I can, it’s my writing.  What Barnes promotes is not merely making the facts of the Gospel known, but the Truth of it.  This, to my thinking, requires character that has been reformed and reconstructed by that very Truth.  It requires an example that gives consistent evidence that the Gospel you seek to explain is the reason you are who you are.  That, of course, is only of value if who you are is more enticing than off-putting.  If you’re all about being offensively, obnoxiously pious, you are in fact playing the role of Pharisee.  That is to say, that piety you so proudly display turns out to be the filthy rags of which Scripture warn.  Faith can be quietly presented, and must be presented in word and deed combined.  The deeds alone, contrary to what I might prefer, are insufficient to declare the Gospel.  The words alone, though truthful in every regard, are insufficient to convey the Truth of the Gospel.  That Truth must present in action to be truly made known.

Now, it may be something of a diversion, but there are a few examples that Barnes brings forward as considerations upon which we might have to give thought.  He is pursuing the apparent distinction that Paul makes between on the one hand, those meals taking place down at the other temple, where the idolatry of participation is evident, as contrasted with the meat found in the market or at a host’s table, which may very well have come from such an idolatrous event, but is not being held out as representing said idolatry.  It is anonymous food of provenance unknown.  Then, there is this middle category:  You’re not down at that temple, but the fact of the meat’s origin has been made known to you, presumably by somebody to whom it mattered.  Now what?  Paul’s answer is plain:  If it is made known to you, abstain.  The meat is not tainted, but your brother’s conscience is your greater concern.  Don’t be led by your appetites, be led by your loving concern for his edification.

So, Barnes turns the principles conveyed here to a few subjects that are clearly concerns pertinent to his own day.  He asks, for example, how we ought to respond to what we know to be the products of slave labor.  Well, we may think, that’s easy:  Don’t buy it!  But, I want you to consider what that meant to a man of his day.  It likely meant that most any cotton goods were off limits to you.  For, even if the shirt or trousers you had in mind had been sewn by folks in your own town, chances were very good that the material itself was the product of southern plantations employing slave labor.  What of your sugar?  It was almost certainly coming from plantations down in the Caribbean, which were likewise enslaving the locals to keep things going.  Yet, his conclusion is plain:  If you find slavery abhorrent, you must surely find its produce equally abhorrent, and refuse to give it your patronization.  In short, “Every man can live without doing it; and where it can be done it should be done.”

Well, that probably seems a pretty easy call for us, right?  After all, slavery was abolished long ago.  Except, not everywhere.  In our nation, yes; at least so far as legal enterprise is concerned.  In most of the West, the same may be said.  This is ancient history outside of certain criminal enterprises.   But, then, we are not locally sourced for most things.  Our products come from far and wide, and in fact, for the vast majority, are produced in some other nation, most likely an Asian nation.  And the business rules in these places are not the same as ours.  It is entirely possible, and perhaps even probable, that the clothing you find down at the store was produced in what we would politely term sweat shops.  The reality is that many of these so-called sweat shops are in fact slave powered operations.  What do you do when you learn that the brand you so enjoy has turned to such places for their production?  What you should do has already been said.  But, what will you do?

What of your electronics?  Does it matter to you that your favorite brand of phone was manufactured by force?  Do you care if your television was made cheaper only because its makers are on subsistence pay?  We could go on.

Now in many of these cases, we may have our suspicions but no real facts, and we could argue that sets us back in the place of buying meat in the market.  It’s not marked, “product of slave labor”, and therefore we can partake.  And, I do think at some level the instruction not to be excessively caught up in scruples applies.

Barnes takes us to another case that might seem a bit archaic to us today.  What about things made or sold on the Sabbath?  I’m not sure we even give this a thought for the most part.  There was a day, not all that long ago, when the idea of stores being open on a Sunday was all but unheard of, outside of certain boroughs down in New York City, where Saturdays were the day things remained closed.  But, apart from potentially necessary services like gas stations, no.  You weren’t going to get any shopping done.  That’s the world I grew up in, certainly, and scoffed at it more often than not.

Today, we have become numbed to the idea.  Even such ostensibly sacrosanct days as Thanksgiving and Christmas have become questionable.  You may very well find the stores open for business, and restaurants ready to serve.  Sure, the staff may be a tad more sullen, but they’re open.  Why not?  The question for us, though, is not how the world around us behaves, but how ought we to behave?  Do we still keep the Sabbath holy?  Ought we, as some Christians today would like to promote, return to observing the Jewish Sabbath, even though we claim Christ as Lord?  But, let us stay with Sunday.  Is Sunday significant, or is it a secondary matter?

I am inclined to set that in the second pile, and to look to Paul’s letter to Rome in support.  “One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.  He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God” (Ro 14:5-6).  Does this include the Sabbath, Paul?  I think you would find that opinions have varied on the question.  I know you will find that amongst Reformed theologians, opinions generally have not.  The Scriptures are assuredly filled with examples of God’s concern for allowing the Holy City to pursue its mercantile operations on His day, and we see that Jesus was inclined to maintain that concern.  Surely that should give us pause.  But, then, we shifted away from Jerusalem and away from Saturday as Sabbath, to Sunday as the Lord’s Day, and every believer an outpost of the Holy City.  What does this mean for us?  Do we shift that no business edict to Sunday?  Do we insist that the Church meets on Sunday and no other practice will do?  Many would say exactly that.  Many others would not.  The question becomes is this accretion, accommodation, or conviction?

As concerns the timing of a church’s services, I don’t know that I could hold one day more holy than any other.  There is something compelling to me about us all being in worship at the same general time of the same day.  But, then, as that goes world-wide, it’s really more like somebody’s in the house of God worshiping somewhere at every hour of that day, and let us say, half a day to either side of the day.  I think, for example, of the years when my old church shared space in a Jewish temple.  The requirement of the owners of that temple was that we remain off premises on Saturday, from sundown to sundown.  In fact, to guard that border in proper Pharisaic fashion, wait until an hour after sundown Saturday before you think to venture in.  But, here’s the intriguing part:  It was sundown as measured in Jerusalem.  Didn’t matter that you were several time zones removed.  That was the marker.  So, we as Christians might ask ourselves when does Sunday start and when does it end?  If the goal is to have service at the same time, do we measure to Greenwich Mean Time?  To some other marker?

At the same time, I think we could stand to consider our general attitudes toward the Lord’s Day.  I know for my part, I probably give it far less thought than I ought.  Barnes is as blunt on Sabbath product as he is on slavery.  If you abhor violations of Sunday, how can you partake of ‘these abominations’?  If you consider His day sacrosanct, what are you doing down at the restaurant after church?  Oh, you’re just being kind to your wife and giving her a break.  I see.  But, what of the wait staff?  What of the cooks?  Are they not also your brothers?  I know how Barnes would answer because I have his answer.  “No man is at liberty to patronize slavery, Sunday violations, dishonesty, or licentiousness, in any form.”  That’s some conviction there!  Sunday labor is in the same category as slave labor and sexual sin.  That is assuredly a high view of the Sabbath!

If we do not share that view, I think we at least have to ask ourselves the question, “Why not?”  Is it because of a seriously considered conviction that in fact every day is the Lord’s?  And if so, do we actually treat every day as if it were His?  Or, is it the case that we have simply acceded to societal norms without so much as a thought?  For many among us, this may be the only arrangement they’ve ever known.  The younger generations among us may have no knowledge of the Blue Laws as they were called, and may find it odd that we would even consider the matter.  But, does that speak well of us?  As I say, I can remember when those laws were in effect.  I can also remember coming back from other regions of the country and finding New England practices sort of quaint and even confusing, having been away from them.  But, they were formed precisely on this principle of upholding the earnest consideration and worship of the Lord.  Their removal tells us something about societal drift.  Our indifference to it, I fear, tells us entirely too much about our own.

And yet, I can still see a place for liberty here.  I will leave it at this:  We need seriously to contemplate what the Law of Love says to our participation in so many Sunday activities.  What does it mean, for example, that the Super Bowl featured so large in yesterday’s service?  Yes, it means the local team was in the running, and the pastors’ team was the challenger.  As it turns out, according to this morning’s news, they were the successful challenger.  But, to the point, as sports have come to occupy so much of Sunday, what is the Christian to do with it?  Ought we to give those sports our patronage, or ought we to say, sorry:  Any other day, I’d be with you, but not today.  What does it say to our kids if we are willing to skip church for sports, but not skip sports for church?

Yesterday, in our class on marriage relationships, the presenter was turning our attention to the matter of treasure.  Where is your treasure?  What is it you truly value?  Who or what really controls where you focus your attention, how you formulate your responses and reactions?  What really matters to you?  One observation was simply this:  How you respond to those things that interrupt your agenda will certainly reflect the answer, and make it clear to those who interrupt you – painfully clear.  If my every response is, “Can’t you see I’m working, here?”  I’ve certainly made my point, haven’t I?  “You don’t matter.  This does.”  If my every response to my children reflects concerns for cost, or begs off because I have other things to do that day, what does this tell them?  “You don’t matter.  I do.”  If, on the other hand, I’m blowing off church on a regular basis in favor of attending their sporting events or other activities, I’m also delivering a clear message.  “God doesn’t matter.  You do.”  That is no better, is it?

It really is time to become more intentional about our choices.  It is time and past time to consider with utmost seriousness what it is that truly matters to us, what truly defines us, and how that ought to look.  If, as we insist, we belong to Christ, why does so little of our daily activity demonstrate that?  If we are concerned about the Gospel, why is it that almost the entirety of any given day is spent ignoring its implications, if not avoiding it outright?  Brothers, these things ought not to be!  Yet, we know they are.  Yet, we may find that if we come across those who are perhaps more diligent in pursuing their faith, they bother us.  We may write them off as overly pious, or try and mark them down as self-righteous so that we can shut down the voice of conscience in ourselves.  We may, which seems perhaps a bit more tolerable, simply be jealous of the opportunity they have, whereas we must be about the business of the world.  But, all of it is just excuses.  It’s excuses on both sides, I think.  On the one hand, a piety that gives excuse to avoid the world as much as possible, on the other a worldliness that seeks to excuse its lack of piety.  Or, is that yet another excuse?

This Law of Love by which we are to live has implications, you see, and many of those implications, we are loathe to really consider.  Yet, consider them we must.  If we are going to be serious about our faith, we shall have to be intentional about our faith, and that requires that we are truly giving consideration to our use of every moment that God has graciously given us.  Do we in fact follow Paul’s advice here:  “Do all to the glory of God.”  It’s a fine sentiment, but a tall order.  It is an order, I suspect we shall ever fall short of obeying.  Yet, that is no excuse not to try, and try harder with each successive failure.  The more often we try, the more we practice, the better we must surely get.  Or, to borrow a quote from – I think – Steve Taylor, “You cannot win if you throw the race.”

Christianity and Society (02/06/18)

Now I would consider verse 27, which seems to have met a rather varied reaction from our commentaries.  Calvin, for example, sees mild disapproval in Paul’s inclusion of, ‘and you wish to go’.  I am not clear why this would be the case, but he does at least clarify that this certainly not a prohibition.  It seems to me we could as easily conclude that he is softening the statement to make certain we don’t suppose it is required of us to attend any meal to which we are invited.

The JFB agrees with Calvin that there is a sense of inadvisability to this, suggesting that Paul is indicating the safer course consists in staying away.  After all, you know that by going to the unbeliever’s house, there is at least a strong probability that you will be partaking of food used in idolatrous sacrifices, which may, at the very least, put you in a bit of a pickle as to how you are to respond.  He’s laid out part one of that:  If somebody makes this known to you, abstain out of concern for that one’s conscience.  That is in keeping with the general principle:  Don’t abuse your liberty to the detriment of your brother who doesn’t yet share your liberty.  Neither abuse your host, should he be the one to make it known.  To proceed would be unloving insomuch as it would leave him thinking you have made Christ just one more god to serve and he can follow or ignore Christ as he pleases, just like the other gods he knows about.  This leaves us, however, with the question of how to respond lovingly in our abstinence.

Here, I would suggest the law of love did not require us to spend the whole meal asking into the provenance of each ingredient.  We are not called to confirm that our host properly tithed everything, if he is a believer.  We are not called to pester him as to which bits may have been sacrificial in nature.  But, this has been made known to us nonetheless, and now we must respond.  If pestering with questions did not serve to glorify God, but only drew attention to yourself, I would have to say that making a big show of refusing the plate is in the same category.  We are not in the place of boldly declaring, “this shall never pass my lips!”  One thinks of the ladies of the temperance movement, or at least their caricature, insisting that lips that touched strong spirits would never touch theirs.  OK, but what was this about, holiness, or matrimony?  No, I think the law of love in this case would advise simply and quietly passing the plate along.  This doesn’t guarantee there will be no disapproval or demands to know why, but it leaves the show to another, which is as it should be.

My disagreement with Calvin and the JFB on this point lies along similar lines.  I will grant that there are ways to decline an invitation politely, and you are assuredly free to do so.  However, at some point the constant refusal of all invitations from this particular quarter is going to be noticed, and questions are going to be asked.  What does he have against me?  What have I done to him?  Is he too good for us?  Is that what this is about?  One thinks of the Jewish practice of the time, that they would not so much as enter into a Gentile house.  Remember?  This is the thing about which Paul brought Peter up short.  Granted, that was amongst believers, but the point remains.  This was Gentile society’s experience of Judaism:  Shunning rejection.

This, I would note, was a great part of what made Jesus so shocking to the Jew.  He failed to shun and reject.  Why, He went right in and had dinner with tax collectors and sinners.  The Pharisees were disgusted.  What sort of prophet could this be, if He didn’t recognize the company He kept?  But, He did recognize that company, and knew they needed Him as much as ever a Pharisee did.  More, they recognized it, which for the most part the Pharisees did not.  But, is this not our model, as we seek to imitate Christ?  Do we not see Him embracing the lost, not to share in their fallen habits, but to offer them hope, to let them know that they are not excluded from the kingdom, at least not yet.  What use to God is the Church, I wonder, if it only associates with itself?  Who shall go out to gather in the harvest if none will go out to sow?

So, then, I think I must concur rather with Mr. Henry and Dr. Barnes.  The latter writes, “Christianity is not designed to abolish the courtesies of social life; or to break the bonds of contact; or to make people misanthropes or hermits.”  Monkishness was never our calling.  How could it be when we are explicitly taught that we remain in the world even though we are no longer of it?  Neither are we called to have so low a view of unbelieving man as to deem them less than human.  They are not the enemy!  They are not farther down the path of evolution.  They are image bearers, made by God in His own likeness, just like you and just like me.  They are candidates for salvation, just like you and just like me.  They may very well be brother and sister to you, though at present they deny it.  And, if in fact they are family (recalling to mind that God decides who is family, not us), how can we bear to leave them isolated and without hope?  How can we think that is godly?

Matthew Henry writes, “Christianity does by no means bind us up from the common offices of humanity, nor allow us an uncourteous behavior to any of our own kind, however they may differ from us in religious sentiments or practices.”  You know, if we are going to interact with the world with a mission-minded focus, we really have to understand this.  I suspect Mr. Henry had in mind Christians of other denominations, but I think, particularly in light of Paul’s teaching here, we must expand that.  As I look around the landscape here on the edges of Lowell, I know on my street alone we have a church, a mosque, a Hindu house of worship, and a Jewish cemetery.  We have neighbors of an equally varied sort:  Asians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, utterly ambivalent, down-right atheistic, Hindi, Greek Orthodox, Catholic, etc.  Shall I shun them all as heathen dogs beyond hope of salvation?  That can’t be right.  Shall I ignore their false religions and leave them to practice as they please?  That can’t be loving, can it?  But, to head over to their house ready to launch into full-throated confrontation by way of introduction?  That is again a calling of attention to me, me, me, not a pointing them to Christ, Christ, Christ.

If we are going to engage society for Christ, we must be engaging.  We cannot be scolds.  We cannot be passive observers.  I could suppose that this was part of Paul’s difficulty when he tried to preach in Athens.  In some ways, he was there as the confrontational scold.  He tried, but he had not really earned a hearing yet, and he didn’t really get one.  When he comes to Corinth, it seems to me, he has learned his lesson.  He meets them where they are, joins in their society to the degree he can, learns who they are as they learn who he is.  When he has, as we say, earned the right to speak into their lives, then he spoke.  It’s possible, of course, that I am reading my preferences into his experience, but it would offer some explanation for the differing results.

For our part, I will hold this to be the case.  If you just go out on cold-call evangelistic assault, it’s possible that you will get some results, but it seems to me unlikely.  It is at least as likely that you will wind up driving folks further from Christ because they see you as annoying and assume that this is what your God required of you.  He doesn’t.  Again:  It is entirely possible that your most gentle and loving presentation of the Gospel to your dearest friend of long standing will still cause offense, and that can’t be helped, nor should it.  But, that is a far cry from going out and annoying folks without cause and to no purpose.  Hopefully that is making some sense.  Hopefully I am not entirely wrong about this.  If I am, may God correct me and swiftly.

On Edification (02/06/18)

Now, we have touched on this, but I want to spend more time with it.  “All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (v23).  Edification as guiding principle is so central to Paul’s letter that we really have to understand it well.  This is our guide in the horizontal aspect of the law of love.  This is what makes that horizontal axis a contributor to the vertical.  What does it mean to edify?  Edify is a construction term.  It’s an interesting choice for describing a holy life, isn’t it?  We are here to edify and be edified.  We are here to build a house for God, and to be built as part of that house.

This image is throughout the New Testament.  Paul is particularly enamored of it, but Peter uses it as well.  I’d have to hunt around, but I’d not be surprised to see John using it as well.  They are, after all, voices for the same Holy Spirit of God.  But, if our task is to construct the house, there is another boundary of which we must remain aware.  We are not here to build the foundation.  We are here to build on the foundation.  Paul established that back in chapter 3“No man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1Co 3:11).  So, don’t look to start some new construction project for Christ.  You don’t need fresh revelation, a new order.  You need Christ and Christ alone.  You need to build upon the Solid Rock foundation that He has established.  That foundation is laid by the combined work of the Old Testament Prophets and the authorized authorship of the New Testament Apostles (Eph 2:20).  Anything beyond this, if it attempts to expand the foundation, is false.  Anything that seeks to create a competing order is false.  To join in that effort is to be joined to heretics and to serve antichrist.

Our mission, is to remain true to the foundation laid once for all, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord (Eph 2:21).  We build upon the foundation.  We build up.  Now, there will be times when the task of building up requires a bit of tearing down.  This is not permit to belittle your brother or to laugh at the mess he has made of his construction.  No.  More likely, the tearing down is going to be personal.  You have constructed something on that foundation, but it’s off.  It’s askew, leaning to one side or the other.  The materials aren’t to spec.  “Each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed by fire” (1Co 3:13).  Fire is not generally viewed as constructive, but if it gets the garbage out of the way and allows the new wall to be built straight and true, then it has been to good purpose, hasn’t it?

For our own part, we have to be willing that the Lord may tear down our fabrications of unsound doctrine, in order that we may build afresh with a right understanding.  Is this not better than being left with our erroneous views?  It will hurt, yes, but to good purpose.  Nobody likes to hear their wrong, but then, nobody likes to find out they’ve been wrong for years on end and you couldn’t be bothered to let them know.  We could take the common example of walking through your day with your fly down.  It may be embarrassing to be told that this is the case.  It would be far more embarrassing to learn you went the whole day that way, everyone knew, and nobody saw fit to tell you.

Here is where the economy of God demonstrates its marvelous fitness.  You see, we don’t build alone.  We are each of us building next to another.  Remember the image of Jerusalem being rebuilt when Nehemiah and Ezra came back from Babylonian captivity.  Each man built next to his neighbor.  They had each other’s back.  They could view each other’s work.  If something was a bit off in your effort, your neighbor could point it out and help you set it right before it got too far.  If you noticed that his work was not quite true, you could do the same for him.  This is, for the believer, a large part of what Church life is about.  We build together.  We come together.  We learn together, teach one another, care for one another, correct one another lovingly as needed, that we may all build well upon the one foundation that Christ has established.

If you neglect your brother’s input, how is this any advantage to you?  Your feelings may be protected, but what use will feelings be on the day when Christ comes to judge the living and the dead?  What value your self-esteem when He begins to point out the mistakes in your construction work?  If, on the other hand, you neglect to give your brother the benefit of your own godly wisdom and insight, how have you been obedient to your Master?  Will He be pleased with your stewardship of the gifts He entrusted to your care?  It’s sobering, isn’t it?  God has set us in this place that I may do for you as you do for me.  We’re back to that lesson.  Ask not whether your contemplated action will harm your brother.  Ask if it will help him.  “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”  That’s the economy of the edifier.

Applied Edification (02/07/18)

Edification is to be our concern both with our fellow believers and with the unbeliever.  Let us consider each in turn.  As to our fellow believer, the heart after God seeks to edify by gentle correction where it is needed.  The key factor here is gentleness.  It will not do to beat down your brother with a litany of his failures.  As has been noted a few times recently, nobody will long bear up under a constant barrage of “You’re wrong.”  Even if it is absolutely true on each occasion, it will make no difference.  To point out every mistake is to encourage your hearer to block out the noise of your voice.

Here, Paul’s example is marvelously edifying in its own right.  Watch how he corrects in these letters, and it is rare that you find him stating outright that they are wrong and need to repent.  The message is always there, but he is gentle about it.  He explains his point rather than denying theirs.  We see it even in this passage.  Yes, as you say, all things are lawful.  Do you see it?  He is careful to acknowledge every right thing he can.  He doesn’t say, “No, you’re wrong.”  He invites them to take the next step.  Yes, you’re right.  However, let’s take a step further together.  He leads that they may not only follow, but in fact walk beside him toward the necessary adjustments.  This is edification!  This is building together.  This is caring enough to correct what needs correcting, and loving enough not to make it an ego stroke for the self.

There is another thing I think we have to keep in view when trying to help a brother.  That is that he quite likely didn’t want the help.  The fleshly nature we all share tends to get its hackles up when reproved.  It is our innate response to criticism.  Who are you to tell me?  Why should I change?  You’ve got problems enough of your own, and you would instruct me in holiness?  Please!  What makes it worse is they’re right.  We have the same fleshly nature, and seeing their reaction our innate response is to lob our own bombs in retaliation.  But, that’s not the way of edification!  What are we to do?

I would suggest that the chief thing we must keep in view is that our efforts to edify will amount to nothing without the Holy Spirit.  They will amount to less than nothing if we seek to take His place in the work.  We must, therefore, seek fervently that He would guide our tongue and our actions to their desired end of glorifying God by building up our brother.  That means we must be willing to shut up and back off when He so instructs, even if every fiber of our natural being is screaming out to win this debate.  There is most definitely a time to recognize you’ve said what needed saying, and the best ministration of grace will be to give the hearer space to process without feeding more fuel to his fire.  By all means, speak as the Spirit gives you utterance.  But, by the same token, learn to stop when He doesn’t.  Silence has its place in the process of edifying your brother.

Now, turning to the unbeliever, we have this instruction from Paul:  Give no offense, and seek to please all men in all things.  Now, we’re pretty sure we’re not supposed to be people-pleasers, but God-pleasers, so we might be forgiven for wondering if maybe just this once Paul made a mistake.  Of course, if we remind ourselves of the nature of the Scriptures, we must conclude that he did no such thing.  It is our understanding which is in error.  That may sound like a cheap way out of our dilemma to the unbeliever, but it is wisdom to the believer.  “Let God be found true, though every man a liar” (Ro 3:4a).  God being True, His Word is Truth.  His Word being Truth, it cannot say one thing here, and the opposite there, and uphold both as simultaneously reflecting Truth.  We must pray for better understanding.

What Paul is advising is graciousness of approach.  Love is not… cause to act unbecomingly (1Co 13:5).  Love is considerate and caring.  It’s not just an emotion of finding pleasure in the company of another.  It’s caring enough about them to risk rejection for their good.  “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”  This is assuredly what Christ experienced, isn’t it?  He came to this world for the good of those He loved, and those He loved, if they did not reject Him outright, abandoned Him in His darkest hour.  Paul is constantly risking himself, risking comfortable relationship for the sake of real relationship, for the sake of the Gospel.

This has to serve to explain what this business of pleasing men is about, and it determines the limits of giving no offense.  Don’t offend unnecessarily.  Don’t do so accidentally.  If they are offended by the Truth of the Gospel, well, there’s not a great deal you can do about that.  But, don’t make things worse by presenting the Gospel offensively.  How would one give offense to the Jews?  By ignoring their concerns about where that meat came from, amongst other things.  How might you offend the Greeks?  I should think begging off from their banquet invitation with words along the lines of, “I really can’t.  You see, I’m a Christian, and I daren’t associate with the likes of you,” would certainly fail to present the Gospel in a good light.

As we saw earlier, the Christian call is not a call to a life of misanthropic, antisocial behavior.  Indeed, the Christian ought rightly to be the most socially acceptable, civic minded, people oriented of persons.  It may require heroic effort on our part to overcome our personalities so as to fulfill this high calling, but so be it.  We have God on our side and can assuredly have victory over our own personalities as He empowers us to change.  What we don’t do is set the pleasing of men above our fundamental purpose of pleasing God.  What we do is recognize that part of pleasing God is presenting His case to men in a pleasing fashion.  Again:  That’s no guarantee of a pleasant reception, but the reception is not our responsibility, the presentation is.  You are the one with knowledge of the Truth.  You are the one fully in the experience of God’s grace towards you.  Surely, then, you ought to rightly present His Truth and His graciousness, not just by your words, but by your approach and your actions.

If you have in fact presented the God Who Is accurately and lovingly, you have fulfilled the call to be pleasing.  If you have set no unnecessary offense in the way of them receiving this Gospel, you have been loving, faithful servants to God.  We will, as was said in regard to our dealings with our brother, please God best in our pleasing men when we consider our every word and act in light of one question:  Will this edify or erode?  We do not so seek to please men as to become servants to them, although we do our utmost to serve them.  No.  We are servants of one Master, and it is our own Master we seek to please.  That we do so by being pleasing to men does not alter that fact, any more than our willing abstinence altered our liberty.

Limits of Leadership (02/07/18)

We have one final thought to consider, which thought resounds from, I think, every commentary that touches on the last verse of this section.  Paul’s call is both a challenge to us and a limit.  The challenge is clear:  “Imitate my imitation of Christ.”  That’s a tall order.  Even with Paul as an intermediate step, it’s a tall order.  Be like Paul?  I wish!  Be like Christ?  If I thought that were possible in this life, I should find I had no need for Him.  But, that doesn’t excuse me from giving it every ounce of effort.

The limit is implied, but still readily recognized.  I think for Paul it is a bit of self-recognition, as it should be for anyone who finds himself in leadership.  “Be imitators of me, just as I am of Christ.”  The key is in understanding ‘just as’.  Another translation would be ‘inasmuch as’, or even better, ‘so far as’.  It is this last sense that has captivated Reformed thought down through the ages.  I used to hear of it as being the motto of the Pilgrims, but I see it goes back farther.  I’ll take Matthew Henry’s formulation, but really, everybody I’m reading for comments comes to the same point.  “We should follow no leader further than he follows Christ.”  To emphasize the point, Mr. Henry appends the notion that even an apostle must be departed from should he deviate from his Master.  This is not, I dare say, a suggestion that he thought there were apostles to follow in his day, nor do I find cause to accept them in mine.

Let me offer a counterbalancing consideration, though, again referring to Paul’s example.  Don’t dare to suppose yourself so advances as to be in position to advise unqualified emulation!  “Be imitators of me” is egotistical in the extreme, and as dangerous to self as it is to any who heed the advice.  “Be imitators of me, inasmuch as I imitate Christ,” informs both self and hearer that there are limits.  Do not imitate my mistakes.  But, if you must, by all means imitate my corrections.  Or, we might say it thusly, “Be imitators of me in this one thing (and only this one thing):  Imitate Christ.”  Follow His example, for no other is trustworthy.  He walked perfectly.  If, then, we seek to follow His lead, and succeed in doing so, we cannot go wrong.  If we seek to follow His lead, and fail, He will surely correct us before we get too far off.  He is, after all, our Good Shepherd.  He will not suffer our loss.  But, for our part, dear sheep, let us keep our eyes on Him and follow where He leads.  For our part, fellow leaders, let us remember that we are but sheep ourselves, and likewise keep our eyes and hearts firmly fixed on Him that we may follow where He leads, and lead where we follow.