The Standard January 15, 2020
A recurring theme in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Church in Corinth is the importance of acting in ways that build up and unify the entire body of Christ. As Christians Paul says that our individual interests must take a back seat to what is best for the collective. We also must consider how our actions affect the perception of the church to the outside world. He addresses divisions that are taking place in the Corinthian Church and sexual immorality that is defiling it.
In chapter six Paul says that believers should be sure to avoid taking legal grievances against each other to be heard by those outside of the faith. “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Corinthians 6:7) In Paul’s mind it is unthinkable for the “saints” to have unbelievers settle their disputes. He says it would be preferable for them to have a fellow Christian hear their case or simply to allow the wrong to stand.
Paul goes on to talk about food sacrificed to idols and the freedoms of believers in what they eat, but that we must surrender our liberties if it will help a sister or brother whose faith is newer or not as strong. “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8: 9-13) “Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 9:12b)
“’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.” “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.” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24, 31-33)
Undergirding much of our God-honoring behavior is the emphasis on building up the church. In Paul’s famous description of love he says that it does not insist on its own way. (1 Corinthians 13:5a) In forsaking our claim to rights or liberties when necessary we demonstrate a willingness to give up what is due us if it will mean boosting the faith of fellow Christians or promoting the good of the Church. This is called “we before me” in the world of sports.