Every now and then, I like to share with you one of my pet peeves, and this morning, I’d like share another one. Whenever I watch the pre-game show for a football game, it absolutely drives me crazy when the interviewer asks one of the coaches, “So, what will it take for your team to win this game?”
And every single time, the coach will give a long list of things – ball control is important, we’ve got to limit the number of turnovers we commit, we’ve got to focus on this kind of offense or this kind of defense. And every single time that question is asked, “What will it take for your team to win this game?”, I turn to Sueanne and say, “If I was a coach, my response would be, ‘The key to winning this game is for us to put more points on the board than they do. If we can do that, I guarantee we’ll win.’”
Because you can talk about offense; you can talk about defense; you can talk about turnovers; you can talk about all that stuff. But at the end of the day, the only thing – the only thing that really matters is this — whoever puts more points on the board wins.
If you were to analyze the mission of the church and ask the question, “What would it take for us to win?” Or, to put it another way, what would it take for us to succeed? What would it be? What for us would be the equivalent of putting points on the board?
And I think the apostle Paul would answer that question this way, “At the end of the day, the only thing – the only thing that really matters is this – we’ve got to have a passion for reaching those who are lost and teach them about Jesus.” Because we can talk all day about the importance of helping people in need, we can talk about the need to be connected with the community, we can talk about setting a good example for people around us, but at the end of the day, we have not succeeded in our mission as a church if we don’t have a passion for lost people and share Jesus with them.
And there is no doubt that that is the passion of Paul’s heart in this middle section of I Corinthians. In chapter 8, Paul talked about his freedom, his liberty in Christ, but he reminded us that that our liberty is always subject to love. Love for others is always more important than our freedom in Christ.
In chapter 9, Paul said, “Yes we do have rights, but more than anything else, we have the right to sacrifice those rights for the sake of the gospel.” And while we are nobody’s slave, we are willing to be a servant to all men so that we can win more of them to Jesus Christ. Paul said, “I do everything I can to win everyone I possibly can.” (I Corinthians 9:22, CEV)
He went on in chapter 9 to say that we need to run the Christian race with the intention of winning, with the intention of reaching lost souls, and to do that, we’ve got to live disciplined, focused lives.
Last week in chapter 10, Paul reminded us that there is a danger that we might use our freedom as an excuse to sin against God. There’s always a danger, when we talk about grace, to think somehow that means that God is okay with sin, or that God is passive towards sin. So, Paul warns us not to take sin lightly.
Now in chapter 10, verse 23, we move to the end of this section where Paul is going to wrap up and summarize everything that we’ve been talking about for the past several weeks.
Verse 23, “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” (I Corinthians 10:23-24)
“All things are lawful.” We’ve seen this phrase before. We saw it back in chapter 6, verse 12. It apparently was the excuse that the Corinthians were using for their immoral behavior. Any time anybody questioned what they were doing, they would say, “Hey, all things are lawful. We’re under grace now. Anything goes.”
And it’s possible that Paul may have even used that statement while he was with the Corinthians. He may have talked about some of the restrictions the Jews had under the Law of Moses. They couldn’t eat these meats or those foods. They couldn’t do any of these 39 things on the Sabbath. They couldn’t worship God without first being circumcised. And Paul may well have said, “As Christians, Christ has set us free from all those restrictions that we used to have. All things are now lawful to us. You can either eat this food or not eat this food, it’s your choice.”
But if Paul did say to the Corinthians, “All things are lawful”, some of the Corinthians were now taking that phrase out of context and they were using it as an excuse to do whatever they wanted to do.
And so, Paul clarifies by saying, “Yes, all things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up.” In other words, God has given us freedom so that we can bless others around us, but that’s not what you’re concerned with. What you’re doing isn’t helping anyone.
This is such an important principle as we consider how to live our Christian lives. There are many, many things that we have the freedom to do as Christians. But the question needs to be, “What can I do that’s going to be most helpful? What can I do that will cause me to become more like Jesus? What can I do that will bring others around me closer to Jesus?” That has to be the guiding principle.
You see, one of the dangers of legalism is that legalism tends to get us focused on the wrong things. Legalism takes us down a path where we want to know which behaviors are acceptable and which behaviors are unacceptable. Could you please define those for me? So, we can do this, but we can’t do that. We can go here, but we can’t go there.
In essence, what happens in a legalistic system is that we draw a line, and that line is basically what we can go up to and still be okay, without crossing over into worldliness. So, we spend all of our time trying to figure out what all the rules and regulations are. We want to know where that line is because I want to be able to go right up to the line, but I don’t want to cross over the line.
And so, we have to come up with all these rules. You can go to movies that are rated this, but you can’t go to movies that are rated this. You can wear this type of clothing, but you can’t wear that kind of clothing. You can listen to this type of music, but you can’t listen to that kind of music. And you can do this, but not do that, and you can go here but not there. And in all those discussions we want to know, “Tell me where the line is.” And we spend our entire lives trying to watch out for that line. I want to be able to go right up to it, but I don’t want to go over it.
But I want you to understand that that way of thinking, as it relates to the Christian life, is totally wrong. It is completely off track. Because that’s not the question we ought to be asking. In every decision we make, in every circumstance of life, the question we need to be asking is this, “What will help me to become more like Jesus? And what can I do that will help those around me to come closer to Jesus?”
And, if we would ask those questions, then the line will be so far behind us that it’s no longer even part of the discussion. The issue is not how close can I get to the line without going over it. The question every day is, “How can I be more like Jesus and how can I bring more people to Jesus?”
And when we do that, we will find that there are many “good” things that we are doing that we may choose to give up in order to focus on things that are “better”… the things that will best benefit our spiritual growth and will best benefit those around us. So that needs to be our focus. “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. So, let’s start asking, “What will make me more like Jesus, and what will help me to bring others to Jesus?” That ought to be the guiding principle of our lives as Christians.
Going back now to the discussion of meat which had been offered to idols, Paul gives his summary statement on this subject. Verse 25, “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.’ .” (I Corinthians 10:25-26). In other words, God made it all and it’s all good.
And “If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.” (I Corinthians 10:27)
All of this takes us back to the discussion in chapter 8. When sacrifices were made at the pagan temple, and some of that meat was taken and sold in the marketplace, the question came up, “Is it okay for a Christian to eat that meat?” And Paul’s conclusion in chapter 8 was that “It’s fine. There’s nothing sinful about that meat. There’s not a demon living in that steak because it was offered at the temple. It’s okay to eat it. It’s not a sin. You don’t have to worry about violating your conscience.”
And if a non-Christian comes to you and says, “Hey, how about coming over for dinner?” If you choose to accept their invitation, and Paul would certainly encourage you to do that, don’t go in asking a bunch of questions. Where did you get this meat? I bet you offered it to a pagan god earlier this afternoon. You know good and well I can’t eat that, so I brought my own food.
No! Paul says, just go to dinner. Don’t ask any questions. Don’t go in there with all your rules and regulations and create that kind of environment. If you do, you’ll never have the opportunity to talk with them about Jesus. Just go in and try to develop a relationship. Eat dinner with them. And you can do so with a clear conscience because there’s nothing wrong with eating that meat. But he goes on to say:
“But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience — I do not mean your conscience, but his.” (I Corinthians 10:28-29)
There’s nothing wrong with eating this meat, wherever it came from, but suppose someone says, “Before you eat that, I just want you to know this was offered to an idol.” Who would do that? Well, an unbeliever might do it. An unbeliever might say, “Hey, this was sacrificed to an idol.” And he might say that to a Christian to test that Christian. He’s going to tell you this was a sacrifice to an idol, and now he’s going to watch to see if you’re going to eat it or not. How dedicated are you really to your Christianity?
Or it could be another Christian who says, “This was sacrificed to an idol.” And that person may believe that it’s wrong, and eating that meat might lead that Christian back into pagan worship. So, Paul says, “In that situation, don’t eat it. If they tell you it’s sacrificed to an idol and they make a big deal about it, then just don’t do it.”
But Paul anticipates what the Corinthians are going to say. In verse 29, “For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?” (I Corinthians 10:29-30)
I think the New Living Translation makes this even clearer: “Why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks? If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it?” (I Corinthians 10:29-30, NLT)
If there’s nothing wrong with eating the meat, then why can’t I eat it? I’m not committing a sin. I’m not violating my conscience. Why should I give up my freedom because somebody else has a problem with it? That doesn’t seem fair, it doesn’t seem right. And so, Paul gives the answer to that question:
Verse 31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” (I Corinthians 10:31-33)
As Christians, we’ve got to understand that the purpose of our liberty, the purpose of our freedom, is not so that we can go out and do whatever we feel like doing. It’s to give us the opportunity to bring God the glory. So, we need to use our freedom to make decisions that are best for us spiritually and most beneficial for those around us. That is the guiding principle of our freedom.
What Paul is saying here is that our goal is to give God the glory, our goal is to enhance how people in this world see God. As Christians, we represent God in this world, and that needs to guide our freedom in the decisions we make. Think about what Jesus said. When he was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?”, he said, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength…” to bring Him glory. The second is this, “to love your neighbor as yourself,” to think of others. And that’s exactly what Paul is saying here.
And so, Paul says that he worked really hard not to offend anyone. He didn’t want to do anything that would get in the way of reaching the Jews. He didn’t want to do anything that would get in the way of reaching the Gentiles. And he didn’t want to do anything that might push someone in the church away from Jesus. Because, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter whether Paul ate that meat or not. He just wants to do whatever will reach as many people for Christ as he possibly can.
So, what does it mean to live like a Christian? It means that I use my liberty and my freedom and my rights as a Christian ultimately for God’s glory, to make me more like Jesus and to help me to do whatever I can to reach lost people around me and bring them to Jesus.
So, how do we put this into practice in our lives? I’d like to give you a challenge this morning. I don ‘t often set forth challenges in my sermons. And one of the reasons I don’t is because I know what will likely happen. If I challenge you to do this or that, many of you may think to yourself, “Yeah, I need to do that”. But, by the time you go out to eat after church and then you get home and take a nap, the thought of that challenge is fading fast. And by Monday morning, after getting a hectic start to another hectic week, that memory is long gone. And I know that’s what happens to you because that’s what happens to me. So, I just don’t give out many challenges.
But, this morning I will. Because it’s too important not to. So, I’d like for you to write this one down. If you’re taking notes on the sermon notes page, I’ve left a space for it. If you’d rather write it down in a notepad that you keep with you, that will work even better. And if some of you would rather use your phones to make yourself a note, then pull your phones out right now.
Here’s the challenge – I’d like for each and every one of you to prayerfully consider one person that God would have you to build a relationship with over the course of the rest of this year. The purpose of that relationship is to introduce them to Jesus, and to help them to become a follower of Jesus. I’m not asking you to reach out to 20 or 30 people. If you want to do that, that’s fine. But I’m just asking you to focus on one person.
And then, once you do that, start asking yourself the question, “What can I do that will help me to develop this relationship? What can I do that will help them to see Jesus living in me? What can I do that help them to come to know Jesus and to become a follower of Jesus?
Think about your unique position, your unique circle of influence. There are people that you come in contact with that no one else here does. There are people that you can build a relationship with that no one else here can. And, in all of your relationships, there are some advantages that you are given and there are some challenges that you face.
For example, for me, because I’m a preacher, there are some ramifications of that. When I meet unbelievers and they find out I’m a preacher, there is a whole bunch of baggage that comes with that. Now there are some advantages to that and there are some disadvantages to that. But I’ve got to give it some thought, how do I maximize the advantages for the glory of God, and how do I navigate my way through the disadvantages? How do I break down some of those barriers that are in the way so that I can develop a relationship with this unbeliever?
Now the issues that I deal with are going to be different than the issues you face, because you’re not a preacher. But you need to think about you as a business owner, as a boss, as an employee, as a teacher, as a coach, as a soldier, as a neighbor, or as a member of your family. Everybody has unique circumstances and you need to think those through. What is the best way for you to respond, given this role that you’re in, given these circumstances? How can you use your freedom in Christ to have the greatest influence possible to help someone you know to become a follower of Jesus?
And I think it’s important that we think about this issue of legalism. I think sometimes we fail to realize how devastating legalism is to our mission to reach lost people. When we’re trying to reach lost people, what we are saying, in essence, is, “Wouldn’t you like to be like me?” So, we need to think about what we are portraying to others about what it means to be a Christ follower.
Because, if we’re not careful, our Christianity can be defined by all the things we can’t do. We can’t do this, we can’t do that, we can’t go here, we can’t go there. And so, people see Christianity as basically a long list of rules and regulations and it’s a checklist, and you can’t do all these things. It’s negative and it’s judgmental and it’s critical. And all of that makes it very difficult for us to then turn to them and say, “But wouldn’t you like to be like me?”
So, it’s very important for us to present Christianity in a more positive light. For us, Christianity was a chance to start over and find new life. It’s a life filled with joy in the midst of a world filled with sorrow. It’s a life filled with hope in the midst of a world filled with despair. It’s a life filled with peace in the midst of a world filled with turmoil. It’s a life filled with love in the midst of a world filled with hatred. It’s a life that gives us meaning and purpose.
But, in order for us to convey all of that, people have got to be able to see Jesus living in us. May God help us all to do what Paul said as he closed out this section, “I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.” (I Corinthians 10:33, NLT)