Sunday Services at 10:00am
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“Everything is permissible”-- but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”-- but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)
One of the challenges when reading the Bible is differentiating between two fancy theological terms: historical particularity and eternal relevance. In other words, when Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man,” was he addressing a unique concern in the Ephesian church (historical particularity), or was he saying something that is meant to apply to all churches in all cultures in all time periods (eternal relevance)? This challenge is one of the trickiest parts of Biblical interpretation.
There are many instances in the Bible where a command is meant for a particular historical and cultural situation. Even when that is the case, however, there is often a principle that still applies to us today. A great example is a situation we looked at during my last sermon series through the book of 1 Corinthians. Beginning in chapter 8, Paul addresses the issue of eating food sacrificed to idols, something that most of us will never face in our lifetime. In Corinth, it was difficult to participate in society without taking part in meals in pagan temples or in people’s homes where meat was offered that had been sacrificed to an idol. This posed a challenging dilemma for the church in Corinth. There were some who believed that because an idol was a fake god, the meat was simply meat and not a participation in idolatry. Others, however, saw eating that meat as aligning themselves with another god, something that was not right for a Christian to do.
Paul spends three chapters dissecting this dilemma. In one of his key exhortations to the Corinthians, he tells them that “‘everything is permissible’-- but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"-- but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24). In other words, your conscience may be clean when it comes to eating this meat, but if the exercise of your freedom will cause your brother to fall into sin, then don’t eat that meat! Paul repeats this theme over and over throughout his letter: In Christ, you have been given many freedoms. Use those freedoms not to please yourself but to serve your neighbor and to glorify God. Paul skillfully weaves this exhortation throughout the various issues raised in the letter, from sexuality to lawsuits to the Lord’s Supper to relationships of the genders in church to the use of spiritual gifts.
Despite the fact that the historical particularity of eating meat that has been sacrificed to an idol is no longer relevant for most of us, the aforementioned principle still remains, and is very relevant to our situation today. In Christ, we have freedom from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15), and so we do not have to be afraid of the coronavirus. Nevertheless, as Christians we should not exercise our freedom in such a way that we are pleasing ourselves but harming our brother. I believe this means, for example, that even though we may feel free from wearing a mask or socially distancing, we should keep 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 in mind and be sure that the exercise of our freedoms does not harm others or bring dishonor to the God we represent.
As badly as I long to worship again with my church family, I will not exercise my freedom in a way that harms others or dishonors God. This means that until we have all the necessary precautions and education taken care of, we will continue to worship together virtually through Zoom and Facebook Live, and encourage one another to listen to the recommendations of our local government and health officials. The day will come when we can gather again, and when we do, let us do it with the mindset that we will always look out for the welfare of our brothers and sisters and the glory of our God.
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