Read 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1
As a youth minister, one of the first challenges I confronted had to do with the difficulty of talking about purity. The world my parents and church presented to me was morally unambiguous. Right was right; wrong was wrong. I do not know if they ever experienced the world with such clarity. What I do know is that, the kids in my youth group, their parents and the adults around them did not understand the world in the kinds of discrete categories that delineated my life. This is not to suggest that they were less moral. After all, these were good West Texas folk. They just didn’t seem to wrestle with the same elements. They had less clarity and less guilt. They had less rigidity and less shame. It was both challenge and blessing.
There’s some terrifying aspects to moral ambiguity especially for someone like me who, were it not for very clear rules, would have tried everything imaginable. Restraint is not in my hard-wiring. It had to be programmed in post-production. And it has had to be reprogrammed and reprogrammed. Yet, as someone who did want to teach moral purity, I found I had to try to make the case moral purity. And that meant more fully understanding my own worldview. Sometimes failing to fully understand a worldview can lead to detrimental consequences.
Like the young people and their parents I encountered in my first youth ministry setting, the people in Corinth saw more ambiguity than did their pastor—Paul. Meat that had been sacrificed to idols would be available in meat markets. Some Christians said, “It’s just Bar-B-Cue. What’s the big deal?” Others said, “It’s idolatry. Don’t eat.” The “no big deal” crowd had developed something of a slogan, “Everything is permissible” (1 Corinthians 10:23). God’s grace meant freedom therefore everything is permissible. Yet, Paul wrote to say in effect—sometimes failing to fully understand a worldview can lead to detrimental consequences. So, Paul advocated for a more moderate approach to the issue by trying to help the Corinthian Christians understand the fuller picture. Two big concepts he tried to get them to understand.
Concept #1—Seek what’s beneficial. Paul adds an addendum to their bumper sticker. “’Everything is permissible,’ but not everything is beneficial.” Paul reminded them that they were to seek what was beneficial for others. Yes, people had the freedom to eat whatever was placed in front of them. After all, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” However, if eating would be detrimental (the opposite of beneficial) for someone else, then a person should abstain. Why? Why would a person avoid a good steak for the sake of someone else? Because the fuller understanding of the Christian worldview meant seek the good of all and not just self-interest. Eating meat sacrificed to an idol could lead to the detrimental consequence of damaging another person’s faith. In Jesus’s words, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
Concept #2—Seek what liberates. Paul repeats the Corinthians’ bumper sticker philosophy and adds another addendum. “’Everything is permissible for me,’ but I will not be mastered by anything.” Through faith we accept God’s will as the true means for human wholeness. In the fuller understanding of the Christian worldview, a person recognizes that their life belongs to God and God alone. Moreover, a Christian understands that living within the boundaries God has set is not a rigid and joyless life. It is a life that truly frees. The sin “that so easily ensnares” (Hebrews 12:1) promises freedom but leads to control. The moral purity that seems like a burden gives us a route to independence from the things of this world and wholeness.