1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1
Freedom under the Dominion of Love
“All things are lawful,” Paul quotes the Corinthians as saying a second time (6:12). And Paul answers again, “But not all things are helpful, not all things build up.” The Corinthians were very insistent on their “rights” and their “freedoms” in the gospel. It seemed never to occur to them that some things might trip them up, or even worse, trip a dear brother in Christ, or for that matter, even a pagan who might become a believer.
So having driven home his point that the Corinthians may not dine out at the pagan temples, Paul now ties up a few loose ends. And that loose end is the buying of meat in the marketplace that might have been sacrificed to idols. (This would have been meat left over from the sacrifice and now sold at the marketplace.) Paul agrees that there is nothing stopping the Christian from purchasing meat from the marketplace for consumption, after all, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness of thereof,” Paul quotes Psalm 24:1. Buy it and don’t ask questions. We don’t ask questions over the food or clothing we buy today, do we? We apparently care not how it came to the counter. So Paul gives sound advice: God is the author thereof; enjoy your dinner.
But then Paul returns to the issue that continues to stumble these Corinthians. Paul poses the hypothetical situation: If a pagan invites you to dine (presumably at his home), eat whatever is put before you. But if someone there tells you that the meat was offered in sacrifice, then don’t eat—for the sake of the conscience of the one who told you—for the believer who might be offended or for the unbeliever who might question your faith for doing so. But why should my conscience be bothered if I partake with thanksgiving? It shouldn’t be, but out of love for your brother you surrender your freedom to partake thereof. In short, our freedom takes a back seat to someone else’s need. Even if our conscience is not bothered, even if we can partake with gratitude, it’s not worth our brother’s salvation. And this is the way the Scriptures understand freedom—as being under the dominion of love. In the end, Paul lays down this one rule that should guide our decisions: “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Some take umbrage at Paul’s statement, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” as arrogant. Remember, these infant churches needed the apostles, who, by the way, led holy lives. The fact that I can’t say that doesn’t mean Paul can’t. I rejoice that he could say that and believe that some even today could as well. Rather than take offense, let us follow their example.