1 Corinthians

Imitators of Christ. 10:23-11:1


This short passage concludes Paul's discussion on eating food offered to idols, chapters 8-10. It underlines his basic philosophy that when dealing with believers and non-believers alike, we act, not for our own good, but for the good of the other.

The passage

v23-24. Paul has been theorizing on the issue of a believer's association with pagan rituals and now he looks at the practical issue of eating foods which may have originally been offered to a pagan idol. The chances are that much of the meat sold in the Corinthian market had at least some association with pagan deities. The Corinthian libertines obviously saw little problem in purchasing food associated with a no-god. Paul does not denounce their affirmation of Christian freedom, but he points out that what is helpful, what builds up, is a better understanding of the mind of God than all things are permissible.

v25-27. On the practical side, Paul's advice is that we buy our meat from the butcher, take it home and eat it without getting into the whys and wherefores of a theological and ethical debate, and this because "the earth and its fullness belongs to the Lord." This also applies to when we are a guest at someone's home - eat and enjoy.

v28-29a. Yet, freedom has its limits. All things are permissible is fine as long as our freedom doesn't damage another person. If, for example, we were at a dinner party and someone pointed out to us that the food we were eating had been offered to an idol, then it would be best to stop eating it. If this person had a pagan background they could be left confused by our action so it would be wise to apply the principle, what is helpful, what builds up, than all things are permissible.

v29b-30. Paul at this point employs what we call today responsive listening; it's where you restate another person's point of view so that they know that you have understood what they are saying. Paul does understand the point of view of those Corinthians who affirm their freedom under Christ, that all things are permissible, but he will go on to argue that what is helpful, what builds up better reflects the mind of God. "You say, why is my freedom being subjected to another person's conscience? If I take part in a meal with thankfulness, why should my character be defamed over something I thank God for?"

v31. Yet, what is more important is acting positively in a way which brings glory to God. God is not glorified if our actions have negative consequences.

v32. Paul's advice to his readers is that they don't "cause anyone to stumble" - that they don't place a barrier before someone that makes it difficult for them to hear and respond to the gospel, and that they don't similarly trip-up a believer leading them to renounce their faith.

v33. Rather than causing others to stumble, Paul sets out to "please" - not to hurt. He seeks to act in a way that is not so much profitable for himself, but rather profitable for others - for the many rather than self. The ultimate end of his behavior is that the many might be saved.

11:1. This, says Paul, is the way he acts, and it was the way Christ acts; let it be our example.

Integrity in personal relationships

A friend of mine recently went into a car yard to purchase a second hand car. The sales staff were extremely friendly, courteous and helpful. In fact, by the end of the transaction he felt that he was their friend, until he had actually signed the sales document. At that point the friendship seemed to end.

I wonder if Paul was really suggesting that we should befriend people, be nice to them, agree with them, say nothing that might upset them, socialize with them, love what they love and hate what they hate.... so that we might get an opportunity to sell them the gospel? Was he really saying that when he said "I try to please everybody in every way..... so that they may be saved"? I think it goes by the name friendship evangelism - how to make people believe you really care for them so that you can influence them and get them to do what you want them to do. "I'm nice to you, I'm your friend, so will you come with me to my church's seeker service?" All a bit like an Amway line.

I'm sorry to say that many believe we should actually run our church services in the same way. They argue that church should be run, not for those who attend, not for those who think they are about meeting with Jesus, but for potential converts who may, if we manage the group dynamics of the meeting in a clever way, get hooked on the gospel.

Our passage for study is often taken out of context and misapplied to the business of evangelism. Take note, Paul says the example he is setting was already set by Christ. In no way did Jesus soft-sell the gospel. In no way did he grease its access by becoming either a religiously scrupulous Jew (Pharisee) or an easy-living Gentile. He lived as a member of the Kingdom of God, in particular as its Messiah, which has its own social framework apart from either the compromised religion of Israel, or that of corrupt secular society. In proclaiming the gospel he was himself, not a fraud.

Clearly, we should take care not to hinder a clear understanding of the gospel by the abuse or otherwise of social custom. For example, Paul worked to pay for his evangelistic enterprise so as not to align himself with the paid teachers of the day. He also maintained his Jewish traditions when he was with Jews. Yet above all we must understand that Paul's prime concern in chapters 8-10 is for the brother who may be led astray by the freewheeling freedom of a theologically secure brother. He wants to see everyone "saved" and not led to reject Christ by the unthinking application of Christian freedom.

So, rather than doing what we want to do, we do need to consider the welfare of the other members of our Christian fellowship. We should seek their good rather than our own, and if that means limiting our freedom, so be it.


1. "For freedom Christ has set us free", so why isn't it true to say that "I have the right to do anything"?

2. In grammar a final clause can express purpose or end-view. This slight difference in nuance applies particularly to Paul's words "I am not seeking my own good but the good of the many, so that / in order that they may be saved." Identify the difference in Paul's words and apply each.

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