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The Supreme Motive

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
July 31, 2022 7:00 pm

The Supreme Motive

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew

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July 31, 2022 7:00 pm

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Well, please turn with me this morning, if you would, to 1 Corinthians chapter 10. We're in verses 14 through 33. Paul is in the middle of answering a question that a group of first century Christians in the city of Corinth were asking regarding some ethical gray area.

So let's pick this up where we left off. Go ahead and stand, if you would, in honor of God's Word as we read it together this morning. 1 Corinthians chapter 10, verses 14 through 33. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

I speak as to sensible people. Judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel are not those who eat the sacrifice as participants in the altar. What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything?

Or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice, they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy?

Are we stronger than He? 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. Eat whatever is sold in the market, in the meat market, without raising any question on the ground of conscience.

For the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. 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. 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.

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? 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 and everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many that they may be saved. Let's pray. Lord, your word is food for our souls. Please keep us from starving. Your word is a light to our path. Please keep us from stumbling. Your word is a sword for the fight. Please keep us from defeat. We pray, Lord, in these moments that you would open our eyes, that we might behold wonderful things from your word. I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

Be seated. Well, Paul began a discussion about meat offered to idols back in chapter 8 of 1 Corinthians, and he's meandered through several aspects related to this question, but now he's returning to the question at hand. Is it right to eat meat that has been offered to idols? This was an ethical gray area for the Corinthians. On the one hand, idol worship was common, and thus encountering meat that had been offered to idols either at a market or in people's homes was also common. What were Christians supposed to do? They certainly didn't want to condone idol worship.

That would obviously be contrary to the faith, but they also recognized that meat, even after it's been offered to an idol, is still just meat, so what's the big deal? I think we can hear echoes of that early church debate even in our own day. We have our own set of ethical gray areas to contend with, actions that don't directly necessarily contradict any explicit law of God and yet seem to come close to being sinful, perhaps because of some association with something that's evil. Maybe we would put things like this in that category, drinking alcohol, reading Harry Potter novels, going to R-rated movies, dressing up on Halloween, practicing yoga, listening to heavy metal music, and so on. We have our own list of these kinds of ethical gray areas that we discuss and we debate as Christians. These are the kinds of contemporary things that would parallel, I believe, the first century question of eating meat offered to idols.

They carry some connotation of evil, but they're not necessarily or explicitly expressly forbidden. How do we navigate our way through these complicated, indefinite questions of right and wrong? Do we emphasize the freedom that's ours in Christ and just go and enjoy life without entertaining the difficult questions of conscience, or do we need to emphasize the need to avoid even the appearance of evil and abstain from anything that is remotely questionable?

Can we default in one way or the other? Is the danger of unnecessarily binding the conscience worse than the danger of moral licentiousness, or is it the other way around? Is there a one-size-fits-all answer for these sorts of questions, or do we need to consider each matter on its own merit? These are the kinds of things Paul is getting at in chapters 8 through 10, and in our text this morning, Paul gets really to the heart of the question. We will see it most clearly when we get to verse 31, but first Paul gives us some very practical boundaries, if you will, for navigating these ethical gray areas. And I've reduced Paul's instruction to two principles when it comes to a Christian's engagement with questionable behavior. Paul is going to say that direct participation in evil is always prohibited without qualification, but then he's going to say indirect association with evil is sometimes allowable, but with some important qualifications. So, participation is prohibited.

Association is sometimes allowed. Let's consider, then, the first principle. Paul says that direct participation in evil is prohibited without qualification. Verse 14, therefore, my beloved, flee idolatry.

Run from it. It's a command. This isn't nuanced.

It isn't conditional. He doesn't qualify it in any way. Paul simply commands Christians to flee from idolatry.

It's an unqualified prohibition. Now, it's important that we understand what Paul means by the word idolatry. Paul is not referring here to idolatry in the broad sense, in the sense of an inward heart devotion to something other than God.

Certainly that's wrong and certainly we ought to flee from that, but Paul is answering a specific question here. He's addressing the Corinthians' question concerning how close they could get morally ethically to the visible outward expressions of idol worship without sinning. Some of the Corinthians were saying, Paul, we know that meat is just meat and these statues that our pagan friends say are deities are really just statues.

They're just chunks of metal and wood and stone. So, since these things aren't what pagans claim they are, can't we just eat the meat and dismiss the association with idolatry? Other Christians in the Corinthian church were saying, Paul, our brothers and sisters in Christ are hanging out with idol worshippers and doing all sorts of idol worshipy things. Can't you tell them to stop?

They're acting like this is perfectly okay and harmless. The question before Paul is a question that concerns specifically participation in the external visible rituals of false worship in the first century. Obviously, idolatry of the heart is always wrong, but what about engaging merely in the outward forms of false worship without meaning anything by it? The strong-conscious Corinthians were saying, I'm not actually worshiping any idols in my heart. I'm just going through the motions with my pagan friends for the sake of friendship or winsomeness or whatever.

What's wrong with that? Well, according to Paul, there's a lot wrong with that. So, Paul explains something about the nature of religious ritual.

And he begins not by describing the nature of pagan religious ritual, but by describing the nature of the Christian sacrament of communion. Verse 16, the cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation? And that's a crucial word.

That's a key word to this text. Participation is the word koinonia in Greek. It means fellowship. Is it not a fellowshipping with a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? In other words, when we perform the external act of receiving the elements of Christian communion, something of profound significance is taking place. We're not merely going through the motions of eating bread and drinking wine.

We are participating in fellowshipping with Christ in some sense. Now, we'll see later in chapter 11 that this can be done in faith for the spiritual benefit of the worshiper or it can be done in an unworthy manner to the detriment of the worshiper. But the point is, visible external acts of worship are not meaningless. They're not innocuous. They actually mean something.

They actually do something. Not only is this true of the Christian sacrament of communion, it was also true of Israel's sacrificial system. To eat the meat offered on the altar was to participate in the substantive meaning behind the external religious act, Paul says. So if it was true of Old Testament Israel and true of the New Testament church, then it's true even of religious acts performed in the context of false worship.

You cannot do the act without some measure of participation in the significance of the act. Now, is Paul contradicting what he said earlier in chapter 8, that meat is just meat and that idols have no real existence? No, he's not contradicting that. Verse 19, what do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything or that an idol is anything?

No. I imply that what pagans sacrifice, they offer to demons and not to God. So the meat isn't the problem. The idol statue is not even, idolatrous statue is not even the problem. The problem lies in the fact that behind these morally neutral elements of meat and statues stands a demon ready and willing to receive the worship and the honor that's being offered. And so the Christian who engages in those external acts of false worship may not be worshiping the demon in his heart, but he is participating in demonic perversion in such a way and to such an extent as to be in real danger, verse 22, of provoking the Lord to jealousy. I don't know if you're familiar with a phenomenon that missiologists refer to as the insider movement, but I think this insider movement presents us with a modern day parallel to what the Christians were dealing with there in Corinth. The insider movement today divorces inward religious sincerity and devotion from outward external forms and expressions of religion. And so a person who has grown up in a non-Christian culture and environment, for example, a Muslim or a Hindu, and then converts to Christianity later in life, faces the predicament of being ostracized and maybe even disowned by his own people if he outwardly practices the Christian faith. And so this new convert inwardly devotes themselves to God while outwardly, publicly, visibly continuing to practice the customs and the rights of their old religion.

So for example, a Muslim will continue attending the mosque, will continue performing the various prayers that are required in Islam, but in the privacy of their own heart and mind, they're praying to and bowing down to the God of Scripture, not to Allah. Now there's great debate among missiologists over whether this is acceptable Christian devotion and whether missionaries ought to even encourage this sort of inward versus outward dichotomy of religious devotion. I am of the opinion that this is the very sort of thing Paul is addressing in our text today.

Idolatrous practice, even just the external practice of it, is still idolatry, even if the person going through these religious motions aren't sincere in performing them. And I think the reason that this may be difficult for us to see is because of a cultural blind spot of our own that we may very well have. Our culture, our world, this modernized, scientific, empirical, miracle-denying culture that we are a part of has for centuries now ridiculed and mocked the supernatural, the metaphysical, the divine, the spiritual, and has attempted to frame every discussion and every belief system in materialistic, rationalistic terms. And this materialistic environment has, I think, conditioned us to sort of compartmentalize religion over there and the real world over here. We don't want to be thought of as medieval or unenlightened or superstitious, but we know as Christians that we can't deny the spiritual world, so we keep the spiritual world neatly hidden over here in the Sunday closet or carefully concealed under the banner of my relationship with Jesus, but we certainly don't want that relationship spilling over into the visible, concrete, real world. And so we downplay, at times, the significance of visible demonstrations of our devotion to God.

Downplay them with phrases like, Christianity isn't a religion, it's a relationship. And that's all very safe and respectable because it keeps our devotion to God in the subjective realm of my heart, my spirit, my mind. But brothers and sisters, I really don't know how we make sense of Paul's rationale in verses 16 through 22 without setting aside this modern notion that religious devotion is most sincere when it's inwardly expressed and that outward forms of religious expression, even biblical ones, aren't significant. This passage is about the dangers of cultic involvement, but we cannot affirm what Paul says about those dangers without also affirming the significance and value of biblical acts externally of worship.

Now please don't misunderstand me. I'm certainly not denying that there can be a real danger of insincere worship that focuses exclusively on externals with no sincerity of heart. That's not acceptable worship either, but that's not the error Paul is addressing here. We need to be careful making the claim that outward religious practices don't matter. They do matter.

At the very least, they matter at the level of perception. Regardless of one's sincerity, outward expressions of religious devotion render actual honor to the object being worshiped, whether that be demons or the true God. That's why it's important to stay away from acts of worship towards demons. But that's also why it's important to render acts of worship to God. If outward devotion is significant when it's carried out in all the wrong ways, it is significant when it's carried out in all the right ways too. So the first boundary Paul establishes for us is that participation, fellowship with idolatrous worship, even if it's merely external and insincere, is not something we should be accommodating as believers. It's something to run from, to flee. We don't need to excuse it as a meaningless gesture. We don't need to justify it as a means of witnessing to the lost, engaging the lost, being winsome to the pagans around us. We need to run from it because fellowshipping with evil is always evil. Well, this brings us then to the second boundary, and the second boundary is a little more complicated. So the first boundary is that participation in idolatry is prohibited without qualification, but then the second boundary is that association is allowed with qualification.

Participation always prohibited, association allowed sometimes. Look with me at verse 23. All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up. So if verses 14 through 22 say something about the nature of religious practices, verses 23 through 30 say something about the nature of Christian morality or ethics, Christian law.

These verses tell us that there may be a behavior that is lawful, it's moral, it's ethical, and yet not best, not the wisest course of action in certain circumstances. I was having a conversation with one of my sons this past week and he was asking my permission to do something. Rather than telling him yes or no, I gave him some reasons to think about for why he should or should not do whatever he was asking permission for.

When I finished, I just got this confused look from my son that was saying, okay, so can I do it or not? And I said, I'm not telling you whether you can do it or not. I'm telling you how to think through this on your own so you'll know what you ought to do. And he said, well, I'd rather you just tell me what to do. I said, I know you would rather me tell you what to do.

I'm not going to. I want you to think through this on your own. I want you to choose to do the wisest thing because you know it's best, not because your dad told you to. Aren't we like that sometimes with God? Wouldn't we rather have God just tell us in black and white what to do in every situation rather than having to think about it and make a decision and then live with that decision? God's word no doubt is perfectly sufficient for every situation, but that sufficiency exists sometimes in the form of an absolute moral imperative, but other times in the form of principles that require the exercise of judgment and discernment and wisdom in order to be implemented rightly. Sometimes God's word gives us the nutshell, but not the whole tree. So we have to think and discern and pray and seek wisdom. Well, Paul is doing that thinking and discerning out loud in verses 23 through 30 for the benefit of the Corinthian Christians. He begins by acknowledging that something might be allowable, but not helpful.

How then do we determine if that something is helpful or not? Well, let's see how Paul reasons his way to an answer. First he sets down a principle that's going to govern his whole thought process.

We see it there in verse 24. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. When it comes to these moral gray areas, the point of first concern is my neighbor's good, not my own druthers.

So right out of the gate, edification rather than Christian liberty is in the driver's seat. But next he says, verse 25, eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. We mentioned back in chapter 8 that the leftover meat from cultic sacrifices was often sold at the market, and so there was a good chance that when you went to the Harris Teeter at Corinth, you'd come home with some sirloins that at some point had seen the altar in a pagan temple. Paul is saying that the association of the meat at the market with the demonic worship at the temple where they came from is far enough removed that you can buy the meat and eat the meat without even raising a question of conscience. You don't even need to ask the cashier or the store manager where the meat came from. Just buy the meat, go home, cook it, and enjoy it to your heart's content.

Why? Because God made the cow that gave the meat. The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof.

So here's the rationale. Participation in demon worship is evil, and we should have nothing to do with it, but this doesn't mean you must go looking for evil associations before you can in good conscience enjoy something that is otherwise morally neutral. In other words, association with evil is a matter of degrees.

There is a range of association, and it takes wisdom and good judgment to discern where a particular activity or behavior is on that scale. My five-year-old daughter and I were at a clothing store recently, and we came upon a large section in the store where all the clothes were covered with rainbows. There was rainbow decals all over the floor.

There was this huge colorful sparkly poster over that section that said pride. And my daughter ran over there to the middle of these colorful racks of clothes and held out her arms twirling as little girls are prone to do and said with full sincerity, isn't this beautiful? Of course, my first instinct was not to affirm the beauty of all the colors.

Why was that? Well, it was because I had knowledge that of the significance of this display that my five-year-old didn't have. But before I reacted, I realized that she was responding to something that was very pure and innocent and right. She was drawn to the beauty of color and of light reflecting in this dazzling array of shimmer. She was responding the way God made little girls to respond when they see highly saturated primary colors. There's nothing evil or perverted in that response. It was, in fact, the God-honoring response, and so I affirmed her response and said, yes, Audrey, it's beautiful.

God is an amazing God to think up so many colors. Now, we didn't buy a pride t-shirt that day, but we walked away from the store with clear consciences and with a greater awareness and appreciation for God's beauty, despite the store manager's intentions. Paul is telling us not to go looking for things to feel guilty about. If the object in question is part of the Lord's earth, like meat and color and rainbows, then, Christian, go and enjoy it. However, there is another aspect to this.

There is a horizontal corporate aspect to this. When something that is otherwise free to be enjoyed intersects with the ignorance or the conscience of an unbeliever, I need to take that into consideration. Verse 27, if one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you. Again, he says, without raising any question on the ground of conscience, 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, for the sake of their conscience. The assumption is they wouldn't have brought up the fact about the meat having been offered to idols unless they believed there was a problem with it.

And so out of deference to their conscience, not because there's anything wrong with the meat, but out of deference to their conscience, you should abstain. Notice that we don't need to go looking for the scruple, but if the scruple comes up, we can't just ignore it. And Paul includes verses 29 and 30 just to reinforce the point that our abstinence has nothing to do with forfeiting our liberty in Christ.

It has everything to do with foregoing that liberty for the sake of someone else's benefit. So Paul thinks through a moral gray area out loud for our benefit, and we can derive some principles from his instruction. We learned that we need to not be dismissive of the consciences of others.

We ought instead to seek their good, their welfare, their benefit, even ahead of exercising our own freedom. We also learned that there is no virtue in defaulting to some sort of overly scrupulous attitude that drives us constantly to raise questions of conscience on every aisle of the grocery store. That is a subtle dishonoring of the Lord who created all things and pronounced them good.

Don't demean God by refusing to enjoy what He has given us for our enjoyment. By the same token, we must be careful not to default to unqualified Christian liberty. There is a real danger of associating with morally neutral things in immoral and harmful ways. This is not a double standard that denies the reality of Christian liberty.

It's perfectly consistent to have two different responses to an ethical question, one that analyzes the thing and another that analyzes the use of the thing. So eating meat and dancing and movie going and drinking alcohol and enjoying rainbows may be immoral in one context and faithfully moral in another context. If we make potential association with evil the litmus test for every ethical question, we will miss opportunities to delight in God and in the good things He's given us. If on the other hand we make liberty in Christ the litmus test for every ethical question, we will miss many opportunities to use that liberty by deferring that liberty to point pagans to God. So these are the boundaries Paul gives us to help us navigate our way through the tricky waters of difficult ethical questions, and these boundaries will go a long way in bringing clarity to the moral decisions we have to make. But then Paul turns to the matter of motive, and herein lies the great unifying principle of Christian ethics, that common denominator that never changes.

How can eating meat sometimes be the faithful thing to do and at other times be a sinful thing to do? Well it's because these ethical questions are not ultimately about meat and idols. They're not ultimately about the preservation of our personal liberty in Christ.

These questions are not ultimately about our preserving an effective witness before unbelievers, nor are they ultimately about showing deference to the consciences of weaker Christians. The ultimate motive in matters of Christian ethics, as in all of life, is the glory of God. What will cause me and those around me to notice and desire God above everything else?

Whatever the answer to that question is, that is what I should be giving my life to. That is how I should be engaging with others. That is how I should be enjoying my liberty in Christ. That is how I should be exercising deference to others.

Will it lead me and those around me to delight in and be amazed at and be in awe of God? Then do that. Be that.

Think that. Desire that. Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Well Paul has given us some very helpful practical principles and boundaries with which to navigate ethical complexities of life in a fallen world. But church, these principles will only be helpful and effective to the degree that we are aiming for the glory of God above everything else. Aiming for the glory of God above being perceived as holy. Aiming for the glory of God above being perceived as a good witness to the lost. Above being perceived as accommodating and understanding to the weak, God's glory matters infinitely more than our glory. Will my actions then maximize an attentive delight in the majesty and power and goodness and beauty of God?

Learn to love that and it will become crystal clear when to eat meat with thanksgiving and when to flee away from it in haste. When to enjoy my liberty in Christ and when to exercise sacrificial deference in the name of Christ. When to associate with the sinner, when to disassociate with the sin, when to raise questions of conscience and when to indulge without reservation in divine blessings. Let the glory and honor and prestige of God be our supreme motive and I believe a lot of the ethical gray areas, the grayness, the uncertainty, the complexity will disappear. Whatever you do, do it always with an eye toward making much of God.

Let's pray. Father, we've come to see that living for your glory can often mean living for the good of someone else. It's hard for us to live that way. Giving up what we want to do doesn't come naturally to us, but we see clearly how Christ did that very thing for us and we are eternally grateful. So help us to demonstrate that same Christ-likeness by deferring in humility to others. Lord, on the other hand, there are some here today who find it very difficult to simply enjoy the good things that you've given. They find it hard to believe that truly the earth is the Lord's.

It's yours and the fullness thereof. Their consciences are tied in knots, unable to find joy in you. Help them, Lord. Deliver them from the pride of a conscience that thinks it knows better than you. So Lord, teach us all both the strong and the weak, both the hardened conscience and the vulnerable conscience. Teach us to glorify you and enjoy you in every circumstance and to the fullest. You are good to us and we thank you in Jesus' name. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-18 06:27:54 / 2023-03-18 06:39:02 / 11

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