November 21, 2019- Christian Freedom and Stumbling Blocks- 1 Corinthians 8

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Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. 

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.”  For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—  yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.  But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?  And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 

Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. 1 Corinthians 8 (ESV)

Christian freedom is a subject that the apostle Paul has to approach many times in his ministry.  Either people were guilty of wanting to impose all the old rules on everyone (that they couldn’t keep anyway) or of throwing out all the old rules and doing whatever.

What we do or don’t do should consider the example we show to our neighbor.  Most of us in our culture do not believe that man-made idols are real, and most of us do not sacrifice food in the temples of idols.  Paul was talking about going to the pagan temples to eat and socialize.  Many of the Greek and Roman temples had, for lack of a better word, cafeterias where one could get a meal.  The meats and other foods in these temples would have been offered up to the various pagan gods before being cooked and served up at the buffet.

A Christian who knows that there is only one God and that pagan idols are false gods, can partake of food without worrying whether or not it had been sacrificed to idols, because  food is food.  But if by partaking in the pagans’ food we would cause someone who is on the fence or weak in their faith to waver or fall from faith, we would be sinning against them.

We don’t want to use the freedom we have in Christ to make the road difficult for someone else.

A good example is that some of us do not watch R rated movies because we want to avoid improper or immoral subject matter.  Some of us observe very conservative dress standards, while others are more moderate in clothing choices.  There is only one “rule” we need to consider in those things that are not clearly spelled out in for us in Scripture:  Do our actions serve to strengthen or weaken our brothers’ and sisters’ faith?

Loving our neighbor means that we keep our focus on Christ.  There is plenty of room in God’s kingdom for adiaphora- or those things that are not essential to our faith.

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If one feels that watching a Clint Eastwood film festival is wrong and it would be detrimental to one’s spiritual growth, then by all means, don’t watch Clint Eastwood movies.  But many of us enjoy watching Clint Eastwood (and Chuck Norris and John Wayne) and have no conflict between watching good action movies and living out our faith. We have the freedom to choose and to discern what activities are permissible for us as long as they are not forbidden by God’s Law, and they do not damage the faith of others.

The definition of the Law is love- first for God, and then for those around us. We must always consider the weaker ones and treat each other with gentleness, kindness and consideration.

Our activities are within the realm of Christian freedom if they do not contradict how we are taught to live in Scripture, and if they do not cause our brothers and sisters to stumble.

One definition of this teaching is to meet people where they are.  As long as it does not violate our faith we are free to partake in food, entertainment, fashion, etc., but if by doing so we cause others to doubt their faith, we should respect and honor their customs when we are with them.

Lord, help us to be Your ambassadors and good witnesses to people around us.  Help us to build up others by our examples.

 

 

September 25, 2019- Logs, Dogs and Mercy- Matthew 7:1-6, Romans 14:1-4

SacredHeart

Jesus taught: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. 

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” Matthew 7:1-6 (ESV)

This passage in Matthew, especially verses one through five, is well known. Jesus warns us about being judgmental of others and of ignoring our own egregious sins in favor of nit-picking on the sins and faults of others.

It is easy for us to see others’ specks and miss our own logs. We can also make it difficult for people who are new to the faith by piling all kinds of rules and regulations on them instead of meeting them where they are and patiently teaching them and sheltering them. (The apostle Paul goes into great depth in the book of Galatians regarding the subject of law-keeping ) It’s easy to forget that the Holy Spirit works faith in us. Jesus transforms us to conform to His will. He is the one doing the acting. We don’t earn our way to holiness by our own efforts. There are no brownie points to earn.

The summary of the Law is love- to love God and love our neighbors. The problem is we don’t do it. We fail to keep every single one of the Ten Commandments every single day. Considering everyone is a law breaker, it is inevitable that we will hurt others and others will hurt us even if the hurt is completely unintentional. Our failure to keep the Law of love is a consequence of our brokenness, our fallen humanity, and our bondage to sin.

This is why Jesus emphasizes mercy. Mercy is at the heart of the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus came to save us.  He has done for us what all our attempts at law-keeping cannot. We deserve and have earned death and hell, but Jesus offers us free pardon from all of our offenses on HIS merits. Jesus has the authority to put the hammer down on us for every single time we break the Law, but He shows us mercy instead. He took the punishment we deserve (Isaiah 53:5) so that we can be forgiven, redeemed, set apart for eternal life. We forgive others because Jesus forgave us first.

The apostle Paul – a former Pharisee- also taught us to be gentle and merciful with each other as he teaches in Romans:
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Romans 14:1-4 (ESV)

Thankfully it is by the Master’s hand that we stand or fall. If any of us were to be judged on our own merits before a holy God we would most certainly fall and fail. We can’t earn, deserve, beg, borrow or buy God’s favor. It is given to us as a free gift, bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ.

It is our calling as believers to preach the word and to share the Good News- whether or not our vocation is in full-time ministry. We know that faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17) and that as the apostle Paul wrote to his protégé Timothy, we should be prepared to, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:2 (ESV)

We should certainly be aware of the logs in our own eyes, and we should take Martin Luther’s advice and put on our Baptism as daily wear. Each day is a new opportunity to repent of our sins, to turn from them, and to remember that we are clothed in Christ and we are forgiven.

We should seek to be teachable and humble in our dealings with others, but we must remember there are people who are overtly hostile to the message of the Gospel. There are people who will mock and revile us for what we believe.

When Jesus told us not to give dogs what is holy or to cast pearls before swine, He was letting us know that not everyone will be open to hear the Gospel. Some will be overtly hostile toward it. We can’t pound faith into anyone, as faith is a gift of God. We are instructed to tell the story, to teach the Scriptures, and to display the fruits of faith for the world to see, but only the Holy Spirit can open ears and eyes and hearts to the Gospel message.

As the apostle Paul tells us, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” 1 Corinthians 3:7 (ESV)

We thank God for Jesus coming to earth not only to be God With Us, but most especially for dying on the cross to break the curse of sin and death so that we can be forgiven and live with Him forever.

We pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we relate to our brothers and sisters in Christ and as we live out our vocations in the world. Give us the discretion and the grace to be merciful and forgiving toward others as Jesus is toward us. May the Holy Spirit give us the right responses when we are questioned about or mocked for our faith.