Thursday, February 10, 2011

brotherly love as a motivation for the choices I make

Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
1 Corinthians 8:12

Paul is saying that is better for me to restrain myself in certain areas than to find that I have wounded a Christian brother by my choice of action. How utterly un-American! This kind of sacrificial thinking flies in the face of a culture that tells us that pursuing the good life and individual freedoms is the path to happiness. Paul's point is that within the church, we have to make some decisions as to how we live our lives based on the impact it will have on our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is love for the Body of Christ as a life motivator.

The instance in illustration in this context was unique to the First Century Christian culture. Every large city had its pagan temples, and in the worship of the pagan gods, animals were "sacrificed". The resulting meat from such sacrifices made its way to the market square where it was often sold at a discount. So bargain hunters could pick up a decent meal and a low price. And the issue became for the church to sort through the ramifications of this practice. Paul makes it clear that there was nothing inherently wrong with eating such meat. But he also makes it clear that for those who have been saved from the depths of pagan worship, such meat might bring back the unpleasantries and pains of the more spiritually impacting moments of idolatry. For them, eating such meat wounded their conscience and seemed a form of betrayal to God. And for them, out of love and concern, any other believer ought to limit by love their freedom so that the Body of Christ might be built up.

Some examples of this in the modern day setting might include things like the consumption of alcohol, freedom to attend movies, attendance at sports events, or even dancing. None of these are evil in and of themselves (in moderation), but they have potential to bring up unpleasantries, even past addictions in some people. For that reason, when or if we find that out, we would want to limit the freedom to protect the family. I have seen this woefully abused however. I know of some believers who have flaunted a beer in front of a former alcoholic and then told me that person just needed to "mature". It is really the other way around! It is one thing to unknowingly offend, and then ask forgiveness. It is another thing altogether to knowingly offend and not be willing to humbly redirect freedom for the sake of friendship and family.

A major consideration in the choices we make and lifestyles we live ought to be this thought: "What reputation does this build in the Body of Christ?" The answer to that question may change according to the people that I am with at the moment. That is not hypocrisy. It is love limiting itself out of respect for what God has done in someone else's love. It forces us to appreciate other believers, and not just live for what we personally want to do!

And the final matter for Paul was this: it was not just a matter between me and another person. If I wound the conscience of my brother in Christ, I have sinned against Christ. That is the seriousness of any casual disregard of this principle. I am afraid that I don't always see this that way, so I need this stern and clear reminder. It helps me to appreciate and understand the importance of maintaining great relationships with my fellow believers.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

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