"CONSUMPTION AND CONSCIENCE"
First Corinthians 10.23-30
1. How many of you folks have watched NBA basketball from time to time? Have you watched the NBA playoffs? Did you know that professional basketball players have been rated as the best all round athletes in the world, combining speed with quickness, agility with endurance, coordination with strength?
2. As well, have you noticed that there are actually thirteen people on the basketball court, and not ten, five on each team? Never forget that there are referees on that court, referees who blow their whistles to call fouls.
3. Let me talk about fouls for a moment. Basketball is a game with rules and regulations that are enforced by officials with whistles in their mouths. When an official sees an infraction of the rules he blows his whistle, bringing play to a stop. He then indicates which of the players is being cited for a foul.
4. Of course, from a coachís point of view, most fouls are exasperating. This is because the refereeís whistle for a foul may result in taking away a good play away from your team, or giving the opposing team another chance to score against you, etc.
5. But strangely enough, though all fouls can have the result of costing a team a game, not all coaches are entirely opposed to all fouls. The really successful coaches realize that many fouls that players commit are the result of laziness, stupidity, or a callous disregard for the rules. Some fouls, however, result from a player trying as hard as he can to make a good play and accidentally violating the rules.
6. And although the foul assessed against the player might be the very same for a foul resulting from laziness or a foul resulting from a great deal of hustle, the coachís attitude toward the two will be very different, indeed.
7. The player who was penalized for a foul that resulted from laziness might be put on the bench as a prelude to trading him to another team or just dropping him. But the player who was whistled when he was hustling might simply need additional coaching on his technique, might need additional conditioning, might need additional instruction on the rules of the game.
8. Now, in case you are wondering why I am spending so much time talking about the game of basketball, there is a parallel that exists between what I have just shared with you and Christianity.
9. As there are two general kinds of reasons why players violate the rules and are whistled, so there are different reasons why Christians violate the principles of Christian liberty. Some people abuse their liberties because they are selfish and sinful. Paul addressed such people in the text we examined last time we looked at First Corinthians.
10. But let us also realize that some believers will violate the principles of liberty, not because they are willful and selfish, but because they donít know any different. So instead of the stern rebuke that he gave to the rebellious idolaters, in verses 14-22 of First Corinthians chapter ten, Paul will now turn to coaching, to instructing, to directing Christians how to use their liberty in Christ.
11. This coaching is found in our text for today. Stand and turn with me to First Corinthians 10.23-30, as we read Godís Word together: "23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. 24 Let no man seek his own, but every man anotherís wealth. 25 What- soever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: 26 For the earth is the Lordís, and the fulness thereof. 27 If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. 28 But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lordís, and the fulness thereof: 29 Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another manís conscience? 30 For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?"
12. Here we see Paul dealing with the Corinthians in an entirely different tone and manner than he did in the text we studied last time. What does that tell me? It tells me that liberty is such a new and unique concept in the life of the Christian that, even for believers who want to do right, we need to be guided and taught and coached to use our liberty properly.
13. Two categories in which this is seen.
1A. FIRST, THERE IS THE CATEGORY WEíLL CALL CONSUMPTION
Though Paulís teachings reach far beyond that small area of interest that contains the foods we eat, since it was a significant problem in Paulís day, he addressed it specifically. We will address what Paul addressed and then apply the principles involved as needed.
1B. Letís look At Those Principles That Need To Be Considered (23-24)
"23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. 24 Let no man seek his own, but every man anotherís wealth.
I want you to notice two undeniable truths that are powerfully set forth by Paul in these two verses. These are two truths that would literally shake to the foundations believers who considered them, if they would but consider them.
1C. First, in verse 23 we see that law is not a criteria for determining whether behavior is appropriate or not. Did you hear me? Twice in this verse Paul states that all things are lawful for him.
2C. Does that mean I can do anything I want? Of course not. Just because something is lawful does not mean that it is good and right and proper. Prostitution is legal in Nevada. Does that mean itís the kind of behavior that pleases God? Of course not.
3C. Folks, we have to understand that there has never been anything about any law that determined either the inherent rightness or the inherent wrongness of any kind of behavior. Let me illustrate by comparing the law to this ruler. Does this ruler determine how long something is, or does it simply measure how long something is? It measures. Amen? So, whether this ruler is brought alongside something or not, it would still be as long as it is long.
4C. Same thing is true of any law, even the Law of Moses. The Law is a yardstick that God used, not to determine whether something was sinful or not, but to, as it were, measure its sinfulness. Example: Murder is wrong. Murder is sin. But was murder wrong behavior before God gave the ten commandments? Of course it was.
5C. So, how does all this tie into the verse before us? In this way: The reason Paul tells his readers that all things are lawful is because the Law is no longer used by God to measure conduct and behavior. The Law was fulfilled by Christ.
6C. What, then, is the yardstick of behavior that exists now? Expediency and edification. Expedient, from a Greek word that means to bring together, has to do with whatís good for the cause of Christ, what will get folks saved, what will reconcile them to Christ. Edify refers to building people up, strengthening them in the Lord. Edification almost certainly refers to building up and strengthening those who are already saved.
7C. This verse can be summarized thusly: Law is not the criteria by which you evaluate your behavior, Christian. You are to use expediency and edification as considerations. Will what I am contemplating bring people to Christ? Will it build up other Christians in the faith?
8C. The answers to those two questions are very important in determining whether or not your behavior is right or whether your behavior is wrong.
9C. Verse 24 then goes on to narrow the focus even more. What you are to seek after, the opportunities you are to search for, the things you want to do, are those things which primarily benefit others . . . not you.
10C. How can you do this? Itís easy if you really believe the Lord will take care of you as He uses you to be a blessing to others.
11C. The principles to consider when exercising liberty, then, are these:
#1 Is the exercise of your liberty expedient? That is, does it bring together, does it reconcile, men to God? Does it result in folks getting genuinely saved?
#2 Is the exercise of your liberty edifying? Does it result in others being built up in the faith? You see, Scripture gives no hint that Christians should seek their own edification.
#3 Is your liberty exercised for the benefit of others or for your own benefit? You see, He didnít give it to you for you. Amen? He gave it to you for the benefit of others.
2B. Having Considered These Principles In The Exercise Of Our Liberties, Notice What Practices Are To Follow (25-26)
"25 Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: 26 For the earth is the Lordís, and the fulness thereof."
1C. To remind you of what we have covered in past chapters, food that was purchased in the marketplace was oftentimes food that had been offered to the priests who presided over pagan sacrifices. Those priests would normally keep some of the animals offered for their own consumption, but would sell most of what they got either to others who were about to "worship" or to shop owners in the marketplace, who would then sell to consumers.
2C. What should a Christian do, then, who went shopping for food? Paul tells us that whatever you see being sold in the shambles, which refers to the marketplace area, can be bought without concern for where it came from. That is, donít you worry about who owned your food or what it was used for before you bought it.
3C. Now folks, donít use this passage to absolve yourself of the responsibility of making sure your food isnít soaked with insecticides or other chemicals. Paul is simply trying to let the Corinthians know that there are no spiritual implications involved in who owned food before you bought it.
4C. And to convince them that since the food is actually Godís it can be enjoyed, he quotes from Psalm 24.1: "For the earth is the Lordís, and the fulness thereof." Itís a verse Jewish people commonly used to bless their food before they ate it.
5C. So, letís see how Paulís advice compares with the principles he gave us in verses 23 and 24:
1D. All things being equal, would the purchase of meat in the marketplace that had previously been offered unto idols interfere with a believerís desire to do things that were expedient? That is, would it interfere with his winning of lost folks? No. Then itís okay on that point.
2D. Would it interfere with his ministry of edifying other saints? Not that I can see. So itís okay on that point.
3D. And are you being self-seeking by purchasing the meat? Not that I can tell. So itís okay according to this principle.
4D. Since the purchase of meat from the marketplace doesnít violate any of the principles that govern the proper use of liberty, go ahead and buy it, barbecue it, and eat it.
2A. OUR SECOND CATEGORY IíLL CALL CONSCIENCE
Three statements Paul makes in connection to oneís conscience and this issue of food that so concerned the Corinthians.
1B. First, Stated Permission (10.27)
"27 If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake."
1C. Look at the word "disposed." It refers to making a decision because you "feel like it." Many of the things we do are not the result of formal decisions, but because we just decide to do it. Thatís what this refers to.
2C. Hereís the situation: One of your unsaved friends asks you over to dinner and you think to yourself, "I think Iíll go," and you go. Itís okay to do that, friends.
3C. Hereís where Paulís permission comes in. No matter what your buddy serves you, itís okay to eat it. Do not let your conscience be troubled because he served you and you ate something that came from you know not where.
4C. Notice how Paulís advice runs contrary to the advice of many today who would say, "Never go anywhere unless you know precisely what is orchestrated to occur, and never eat anything unless you know the precise recipe by which it was made."
5C. Paul would counter that nonsense by saying, "Go ahead and deal with the problems as they arise. Donít create problems where they might not exist."
2B. Second, Stated Prohibition (10.28)
"28 But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lordís, and the fulness thereof:"
1C. If, however, you are getting ready to eat and someone says to you, "That food was offered unto idols," then donít eat it.
2C. Why not? The fact that the person told you where the food came from indicates that itís a problem with him. Now, if itís a problem for him, you have to consider the three principles given in verses 23 & 24.
3C. If I eat this food, will it hinder my ability to win this person or build him up, depending on whether he is lost or saved? And if I ignore his obvious concern will I be acting selfishly?
4C. I think we can clearly see that the answers to those questions is a "Yes." For that reason, because the eating of the food is not consistent with the proper exercise of liberty in the presence of that concerned person, I am prohibited from eating it. I have the liberty to just leave it on my plate untouched.
3B. Finally, The Stated Purpose Behind All This (10.29-30)
"29 Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another manís conscience? 30 For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?"
1C. There are really two purposes that fit together here. Purposes that are valid and worthy.
2C. First, in verse 29, why should I place myself in a position or behave in such a way as to be judged by another person? Is the exercise of your personal liberty more important than offending another personís conscience? No. That other personís conscience is more important than exercising your liberty.
3C. Verse 30. And is the free exercise of your liberty worth it if it causes another to think it isnít liberty at all, but license? Again, no, it is not.
1. Isnít it great to have Christian liberty? Is this not a marvelous freedom that God has given to His children? But be careful. Some people donít like this kind of freedom.
2. Some Christians, and most lost people who are religious, feel tremendously threatened by the responsibilities that accompany genuine liberty. As well, many genuinely converted Christians completely misunderstand the biblical concept of this kind of sin and transgression.
3. When either of these things occurs you will oftentimes see very strange spiritual behavior. On one hand you will see some believers who are strict legalists, believing that God continues to work either through the ten commandments, or the whole Law of Moses, or through some New Testament system of rules and regulations.
4. The libertines, on the other hand, go to the other extreme, stretching liberty as far out of shape as they think they will get away with. These run the risk of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness.
5. From our study of First Corinthians, however, we realize that liberty and its proper exercise does not resemble either extreme, but is, instead, a question of balance, a question of judgment, a question of discernment.
6. And when liberty is properly and maturely weighed against three important considerations it can then be appropriately exercised. Here are the three considerations: Expedient, edifying, others.
7. Will it help folks come to know the Lord, according to Godís plan for getting folks saved? Will it help believers grow in the Lord, according to Godís plan for believerís growing? Is it motivated primarily by interest in others, not self-interest?
8. Using those criteria, letís evaluate certain kinds of behavior:
a) Gambling. It does not help lost folks get saved. It does not help believers to grow. It is entirely motivated by self-interest. Therefore, gambling is sin, even though there is no specific passage in the Bible which says "Thou shalt not role dice."
b) Fornication. It greatly harms evangelism. It greatly harms edification. It is entirely selfish. Therefore, it is sin.
c) Needlessly missing Church for trivial reasons. It hinders evangelism, diminishing the importance of Church and preaching in the eyes of lost family members. It hinders edification, interfering with your own instruction and those who miss Church with you. And it is selfish, since missing Church is usually for selfish reasons, demonstrating little concern for the spiritual welfare of others. Therefore it is sin.
9. Do you see how wonderful a Christianís liberty in Christ is? And the principles used in exercising it are also very helpful. Itís so much better than any law, where you ask what is wrong with behavior before doing it. With liberty you ask "Whatís right with it?" before doing it.
10. With liberty, asking "Whatís wrong with it?" is an immediate red flag. Amen? Asking, "Whatís wrong with this?" shows that you are not operating within the framework of Christian liberty at all, but that you are contemplating licentious behavior, or that you are operating within a legal framework of some kind.
11. I like liberty better. Donít you? Itís simpler. And itís easier for the child of God who seeks to glorify God.