Picture this with me if you will. You are confined to a prison cell, dressed in the black and white striped pajamas and everything. You have suffered in confinement for a long time. You are straining under the weight of prison life. One shiny day, the Warden comes to your cell and takes out his keys. He opens the door and sets you free. “Go out of this place and live a life of freedom”, he says. Celebration time, right? You are going to party like it’s 1999. You are free and no one is ever going to put you back in the chains of that imprisonment! Woohoo!
But as the Warden is unlocking your giant iron ball and chain (yes, you are the Monopoly guy in prison now), you have a terrible realization. Your young child has been in prison with you this whole time. She is still stuck in the cell despite being set free by the warden. Her chains are removed and the door is open but because of the damage that the time in prison has done to her, she doesn’t feel comfortable anywhere but in that cell. She is trapped by her own mindset.
What would you do? As a parent who loves that child with every fiber of your being, what would your choice be? Would you ever abandon her in that cell by herself imprisoned? Would you ever just say to that immature child, “Well, I have my rights so see you later, you are on your own?”
Of course not, that would be unloving. That would be insensitive and irresponsible. It is just not what a good parent would ever do. Your liberty as a parent would be secondary to doing what is good for the one you love who is in great pain.
Freedom is nowhere near as important as the fate of that child.
Are you saying now, well, that is an interesting scenario, preacher man, but what does this have to do with me? I am not in prison and my children are currently chasing the neighbor’s cat, not yet in prison…yet.
I was reading 1 Corinthians 8, where Paul discusses Christian liberty and it struck me how often we tend to miss what he is saying in that passage. In our desire to argue about what we can or can’t do as Christians we completely miss what love compels us to do. We boldly declare “I can listen to speed metal, I can drink alcohol. It is not sinful and therefore my right and no one is going to tell me otherwise.” Yet we ignore what Jesus’s message in on the issue of liberty. Our freedom is so much less important than the fate of our more immature brothers and sisters in Christ. If our choice is causing the one we love to be hurt, we are not acting like Jesus.
If you are familiar with the passage, you know that Paul is discussing whether the church members in Corinth are allowed to eat meat sacrificed in pagan temple ceremonies. The meat from the temple was cheaper. Some of the Christians were taking advantage of that fact and eating meat that had been sacrificed to the Goddess Diana, for example. They reasoned that there was no such goddess so what did it matter what the pagans were doing, tasty meat is tasty meat.
Other believers found the idea troublesome, possibly because they had just come out of that pagan religion. If you were getting drunk, sleeping with temple prostitutes and sacrificing in the temple of Diana as part of your pagan worship and then you saw your church mates drinking wine and eating the same meat you had been sacrificing a few days prior, it certainly would be a confusing message.
Paul very clearly says that believers are allowed to eat such meat since there is no such thing as a false god. Things that don’t exist cannot defile anything. It actually is a sign of maturity to understand this – all the earth belongs to God. So eating meat sacrificed to idols is not explicitly sinful as a Christian. This is where we often stop in our own behavior analysis. If it is not explicitly sinful, then we believe that we should be free to do, right?
There is a big but here that we often overlook, particularly in American Christianity.
In the context of this debate about whether one should or should not eat such meat, Paul says this in 8:13:
Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
Never Again, wow! That is definitive. Why so strong Paul? The short answer is love. He loves the church so much that he is willing to not do things he is allowed to do for the good of his brothers and sisters. He is willing to stay in the jail cell with the scared child from our example as long as it takes to bring her out to freedom.
Paul is allowed to eat meat sacrificed to idols. It is his right as a redeemed Christian to eat whatever he wants, God made that very clear with Peter’s vision in Acts 10. Yet, Paul willingly would give up that right forever, his whole life, to avoid causing another believer to stumble.
Isn’t that amazing? My fiercely independent American heart shudders at that thought – forego a right for the good of someone else. It seems vaguely like something Che Guevara would say not John Wayne.
This is also not that terribly long after Paul has tried bacon, pork barbecue, and hot dogs for the first time and he is willing to never eat them again. Something good is refused despite it being good. Importantly, Paul does this with a full understanding that it is his right to eat the meat. He just places the love of his family in Christ above his love of material benefits. He loves them more than he loves eating bacon. In our consumeristic world, this willingness is shocking, isn’t it?
Why would Paul do this? This answer is really important.
Not because Jesus has a problem with it.
Not because Paul has a problem with it.
Not because it is bad for Paul.
The reason Paul says no is for the good of another believer even though that believer is completely wrong about their objections to the meat. That person is not understanding their freedom in Christ. That believer may not be listening closely during service. Yet, Paul refuses to leave them behind and hurt their walk with Jesus. Love compels him to do so.
Paul in his liberty could conceivably run around eating links of sausage like the dogs in old cartoons, one link after the other on a string, but it is inconceivable to him. Paul would never leave that babe in Christ, the weaker brother, trapped as he is by his immaturity so that he could run off and celebrate his own freedom. It is just not what a good disciple of Jesus does. It is not what love commands. It is not what Jesus would do.
We are supposed to love our fellow Christians in a way that is as deep as or deeper than we love our own literal flesh in blood, we are part of Jesus’ family. It is the same sort of love that would not leave the child alone in a jail cell. That sort of love does not flinch at sacrificing rights for the good of brothers or sisters in Christ.
Crazy, isn’t it? It seems so wrong to give up what we have for someone else who could have the same thing if not for their own disobedience.
Who in the world would do that…other than Jesus. It is just like Jesus what Jesus did for us.
It is just acting like Jesus in our everyday life. Willingly giving up what we are entitled to for others. The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.
So whether we are talking about food, alcohol, clothing, TV shows or any of the other rights that we have as Christians in the world today, are we willing to be like Paul and never again…. watch an R rated movie lest we cause our brother to sin…or never again drink alcohol or never again eat Halal meat lest we cause a brother to sin.
If we are not, why not? Paul and Jesus did it.
No one takes our lives from us, that we have rights is very certain, but do we lay our lives down freely? You know, like our Savior did for us.