Christian Freedom Is Not Our Own

 

Good morning! For those who have been with us for a season, you know that we have been going through 1 Corinthians the last several months in our continuing study of Worship as a lifestyle. For those of you who have older children & have received the “Content Warnings” over this last month, you know that John has been addressing the topics of immorality where it comes to couples & singles who are “playing checkers”, if you will. In his wisdom, John has now fled for a vacation & has left the next two chapters to the church secretary.

 

For those who don’t know me, my name is Stephen & I’m a member here at Refuge City Church. We’ll be in 1 Corinthians chapters 8 & 9 this morning, so please go ahead and turn there in your bibles.

 

If you’re just joining us today, let me give a quick overview of where we’re at so far. This letter was written by Paul, giving instruction to the church that was in Corinth. To put it lightly, they were pretty messed up. In Christianity, we like to use the word “Theology”, which simply means things that we know about God. It’s possible to have a proper knowledge of God, and an improper knowledge. This is why we look to study of the bible, so that we can have right knowledge of God, as God has revealed it to us.

 

The Corinthian church had a very bad theology. And so their knowledge was leading them in directions that were contrary to their faith. So when Paul is writing them, he’s trying to both address the little issues that have arisen, but also the “root” issues. Or the deeper problems that are causing the divisions & other issues.

 

There is a lot of information to cover in these two chapters. My desire is to stay faithful to the text while also ensuring that none of you have to spend the rest of your day sitting in those chairs, so we’ll be moving through a lot of information at a quick pace.


 

As we begin to address the text, I want to make sure we’ve got our eyes focused on the big picture. So if you get anything out of today, let it be this:

 

Theme: “Gospel-based freedom encourages us to worship through seeking others good first”

 

As chapter 8 begins, Paul has moved away from wisdom issues regarding marriage & singleness and onto the issue of the eating of meat offered to idols. From his letter, there seem to be two split camps at the church regarding the issue. The first are the more “liberal” church members. If you recall the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, it seems that the church members are aligning themselves with their favorite teachers. This camp seems to be those who believe they are following after Paul & Apollos. They see the sacrificial meat and, knowing that there are no gods except the one true God, see nothing wrong with eating. In other words since meat is just meat, why not have barbeques for days.

 

The opposing camp are the “conservatives” who likely believe themselves to be sided with either Peter or even Christ. They instead believe the taking of this meat to be evil, its consumption dangerous & are likely also opposed to even supporting the pagan temples financially by purchasing it.

 

So what then is the meat & why is it so important here? Well, this was meat offered in worship to idols. Historically, the greek pagan temple priests would burn the meat that was offered at the temple to their various idols as a form of sacrifice. Any remaining unburned meat was then either eaten by the priests or sold in local marketplaces. Due to the constant supply that was coming in from the population, there was a lot of this meat being sold in the markets.

 

Due to the nature of it being “sacrificed” and therefore set apart for certain gods, there was a widely held notion that the meat itself was also cleansed of any evil spirits. This made it quite valuable in its own right. If you were a guest in someone’s household & they offered you the shortribs that weren’t possessed, you were probably well liked.

 

Due to the large supply of this meat as well, it was also very hard to avoid for a christian as it was so commonplace. Any public feast would have it in copious supply. Imagine being a staunch vegan or being gluten-intolerant & being invited to a public, city-wide picnic with no side-dishes. Only burgers & buns. It just doesn’t work. So christians would avoid attending these sorts of things due to the risk of eating this sacrificial meat. In many ways this cut them off from normal society. It was this kind of behavior that the Romans would use against them later. They would deem them antisocial & therefore a menace to the empire. But more on that in a hundred years.

 

So as Paul is opening here in addressing the more “liberal” camp, he seems to start off by quoting an earlier letter sent to him by these church members when he says “all of us possess knowledge”. That knowledge he’s quoting is that there are no gods but the one true God, and therefore the meat offered isn’t being offered to anyone & so is free to eat for a christian. He’s agreeing with them. But rather than offer them a pat on the back & a congratulatory “great job for being right”, he instead calls them a bunch of tools & begins to berate them for their poor attitudes. Thanks Paul, that’s real swell.

 

Let’s come back to that in a moment though & take a moment to discuss more on this second camp of christians; the “conservatives” if you will. Some of these people were former pagans who believed the sacrificial meat was still offered to demons that posed as false gods. Others believed that because the meat was offered to an idol, it was therefore wrong. Both of those sides saw the eating of the meat to be sin & therefore an affront to God. This was very important to them, as they saw the “liberal” camp as willingly defiling themselves by eating it. Though there was probably quite the war of words going on here, I’m sure this belief for some was also born out of heartfelt concern for their brothers & sisters. When you believe someone whom you care for is about to hurt them self, you can’t help but speak up.

 

So going back to the letter, we’ve noticed that although Paul agrees with them, he doesn’t really. The thing that sets Paul off isn’t their knowledge but instead their heart motivations. Which leads us to our first point:


 

1 — Gospel-Based Freedom is Centered on Others First


 

It seems that to Paul you can still do something correctly but be completely wrong because of your heart behind it. As he says in verse 1, “Knowledge puffs up but love builds up”. Knowledge will only temporarily help a person. Love will truly strengthen them for the long haul.

 

Imagine moving to Florida or the east coast to start a construction business building houses. As many of you know, Summer to Late Fall is hurricane season. Few things determine how strong a house is than 100mph winds bombarding it from all sides. I’m sure those of you with young children also know what that’s like. Now imagine you have moved to this area to do your work. You could certainly build expensive looking homes with cheap materials if you wanted to.

 

After all, anyone moving into the area looking for a home should know that hurricanes come through sometimes, and hey, they’re getting a great looking home for cheap. But if you truly cared for those people, you would build homes that are sturdy. That can resist the forces of the winds & the rains. That is the difference between puffing someone up & actually loving them. You can give them the attractive home, or you can give them the one that won’t topple over.

 

When Paul is telling the Corinthians that they are puffed up & unloving, he’s saying that their actions are unloving toward those around them because all they care about is being right. Well no duh the house fell over, there’s a lot of wind out there. He extrapolates even further on this by identifying that Food doesn’t bring us closer to God. Duh. You have freedom whether you want to eat it or not, but you’re so concerned with the fact that you can eat the sacrificed meat that you’re allowing it to become an issue. It’s become a stumbling block to your friends & family that they are tripping over. What Paul is telling them then is that their freedom doesn’t come ultimately from their knowledge but from their love for others. By nature it is intrinsically tied to those whom they are called to love.

 

Let’s spend some time on this idea of freedom. Though the “liberal” camp has the freedom to eat this meat, they also have the freedom not to. In actuality it seems like not only do they have the freedom not to eat the sacrificial meat, but it’s actually a terrible idea. Their fellow christians see them ordering that #3 combo with a Jr. bacon on the side & it is causing all sorts of temptation for them. Either of their life before Jesus, or of fearful concern that these “liberals” are disobeying God. Are these more “conservative” christians right then? Paul is arguing that it doesn’t matter. What does matter is what these choices are doing to the other believers.

 

Like the earlier illustration we could certainly build a mansion of plywood, but that’s not good for anybody. These are questions we are presented with everyday that, although we have the freedom to do something, is it something we must do? Although I can certainly listen to whatever music I want, maybe I should choose not to listen to thug rap around my friends & their children. There are lyrical themes there that kids shouldn’t be exposed to.  Although I might have the freedom to watch whatever is on HBO tonight, maybe I shouldn’t. After all I might have a roommate who struggles with sexual temptation & graphic content like that could lead him toward sin. & so on. Each day we are approached by things that we must evaluate first in light of what is best for our spiritual family.

 

(Personal side note: I don’t actually like thug rap or HBO. Just in case you were wondering.)

 

So now that we know our Christian freedom is based in others, let’s continue into chapter 9. As we begin, Paul is defending his apostleship to them with four rhetorical & possibly even sarcastic questions. “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? and then he concludes those questions with “If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you.” What Paul is illustrating is that not only is he exemplary in his work before them, but that this work gives them no excuse for not seeing him in an apostolic manner.

 

He has been preaching the Gospel. That is what he does best. What Paul is focusing on is once again this concept of freedom in Christ. He asks “is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?” Why is it that you’re ok with Peter & the other apostles to be paid for their work & to travel with their wives, but you treat it like tyranny if Barnabas and I were to do the same? Who fights as a soldier but pays for it himself? Who plants an apple farm but never eats any apples? Don’t these people deserve the labors of their work?

 

Verse 9 is where we are starting to get at the crux of the matter, and Paul does so by citing a bit of Old Testament law and doing so seemingly out of context. From Deuteronomy 25:4 “You shall not muzzle an ox as it treads out the grain”. Paul follows up with “Is it for oxen that God is concerned?” Martin Luther is quoted as having once quipped “Of course not, because oxen cannot read.” The verse itself is juxtaposed between a description of criminal punishment and another regarding marriage of a widow. In context though this seems to be the core of what Paul is arguing so I want to spend some time here. So first, an analogy.

 

Let’s imagine for a second that you own your own business, selling & distributing whatever-you-likes to the Miami Valley. Business is booming & so in order to accommodate increased demand, you purchase yourself a truck. Though it is nothing spectacular, it does the job well & is thus well cared for so that you can continue to make your deliveries.

 

One week a dear friend comes into town & needs a vehicle. You, being the generous sort, loan them this truck. A week comes & goes and upon return, you question if you have even been given the same vehicle back. Rust & mud has materialized over most of the body. The muffler has fallen off at some point. The tank is out of gas, the windshield is half smashed, black fumes are coming out of the AC vents and so many miles have been added that the oil needs changed. Did your friend care for your property? Say yes and it’s clear you haven’t been paying attention. No, your friend has downright abused your property. The only difference between our analogy & the verse in deuteronomy is cars & cows.

 

People do not, by nature, take care of things that are loaned to them. One look at a college town & you can see which properties are student rentals & which ones are happily owned. So when Israel was told to allow the ox to eat while it works, they were being commanded to take care of the ox no matter who it belonged too. If you owned it then you will surely feed it. If you were renting the ox to do your work, then you should still feed it.

 

At its core this is a social justice issue & that’s what Paul is talking about back in 1 Corinthians. It is Paul’s basic right as a human being to be paid for his work. He shouldn’t be forced to starve in order to preach the gospel. Especially as an apostle. He should be able to reap the spiritual benefits of what he has worked for as well. Imagine spending years in a church discipling, investing in & counseling a small group of people. Maybe a bible study. In many ways, you have become close family with them. If a spouse or a close family member then suddenly passes, is it unreasonable for you to go to those people in your grief to seek counsel & care? Of course not! You have spent years working with & investing in these people & now they can give back. You are at that time reaping the spiritual benefits of what you have labored for. Paul makes it very clear that it is not unreasonable for him to ask for money or care. It’s his basic human right, commanded even by a Just & Perfect God in the formation of Israel.

 

And yet he never asked for any of that. Paul has intentionally denied himself his basic rights, and he did so because he was free to do so. So what we are seeing here then is that:

 

2 — Gospel-Based Freedom Demands Nothing

 

In his freedom, Paul chose to instead work additional jobs in order to survive. In his freedom he has chosen to be a servant. Because Paul didn’t want any chance of being a distraction from the Gospel he preached in Corinth. In his freedom Paul denied himself basic human rights because the Corinthians were more valuable to him than what he might rightly deserve.

 

He willingly became all things to all people. He operated under the law to reach those who were under the law, much like in Acts 21 when Paul observes the ceremonial cleansing even though it wasn’t necessary under the new covenant. He chose to be weak in order to win the  weak. He did not do any of this aimlessly, but for a greater purpose. As he goes on to say, he did not box as one beating the air nor did he run aimlessly.

 

What Paul has represented to us here is a small picture of Jesus Christ. While Paul gives up his basic human rights to reach people for the Gospel, we know that Christ gave up His rights as God to do the same. He became as small, weak & frail as we are, and was birthed to a poor family of peasants in a stall fit only for animals. He grew up in the same way as us, endured the same temptations as us & suffered the same ways as us. We are reminded in Hebrews 4:14 that our high priest & representative before God is one who can sympathize with us. In His freedom, he willingly gave up His throne to join us & reach us. He can truly sympathize because he gave up everything in His freedom to be like us.

 

He gave up all His rights so that he could live, disciple, teach, be imprisoned, suffer an excruciating death & then ascend from that death all for the sake of bringing you and I back into the hands of God. In His freedom while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Because of this he was the firstborn among many brothers as we know from Romans 8:29, and we were only invited into that family because Christ valued us more than His freedom. Friends, our God used His freedom to reach us. And now we have the freedom to reach others. We are empowered to move away from our selfishness & into love. When presented with sacrificial meat, or any other item that could be a stumbling block, we can look to that person and say “Yes, I have the freedom to take of this. But because I love you more than that, I will not. And I’m even happier for that. That is only because of the Gospel.”

 

My goal today friends is not to dispute secondary issues. The point of what Paul has said isn’t whether or not we can drink alcohol as a christian. His point is not whether or not we should pay our pastor. The point friends, is that we have a savior who freely gave up everything in order to reach us for the gospel. So Kirsten & Bill are going to make their way back up on the stage here to continue to lead us in worship. So remember first that this is a time of worship & let us use our own freedom now to praise our saviour who gave up everything to reach us. Let us also remember that we have this same freedom in Christ to reach others. Our freedom does not belong to us friends, unless we use it in love for others. Let us pray.

 

Our Father. May your name be the most praised in all the earth. Thank you for our freedom through your Son. Thank you that we too are free. Thank you that we might love others more than ourselves, and have been given perfect freedom to give of ourselves just as your Son gave for us. Be with our worship today, tomorrow & each day after. Fill our hearts with love from You, that we may give of it to others. May our worship be pleasing to you, that our words & deeds will bring you the most Glory. Amen.