Summary: Sermon gives basic guidelines for making decisions.
Knowing What to Do
It’s been said that although some things are permissible, not all things are profitable. Each day we are confronted with countless choices and make decisions that collectively determine the course for our lives. Sometimes our decisions result in unintended consequences. Consider food for a moment. Food is necessary to nourish our bodies and help our bodies grow strong. Over time, our food choices affect our health and life expectancy. Although food is a spiritually neutral subject, how we interact with food has spiritual consequences. At the two extremes, we have the anorexic who eats too little, and the glutton who eats too much. Now, at over 225 pounds, I’m not going to throw stones at anyone who likes to eat, however, I must recognize that late evening snacks and love affairs with chocolate are unhealthy both physically and spiritually. It is our aim as Christians to make healthy decisions for our souls and bodies. Even spiritually neutral things like money, dancing, food, entertainment, dress, and work ethic can cause us to sin. That’s why we should consider applying biblical principles to our decisions making process.
Mature Christians consciously evaluate their decisions and conduct. They are also aware that their conduct in seemingly benign activities can affect the spirituality of others. Today’s epistle from St. Paul to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 8:8 - 9:2) reminds us that other people observe our conduct and we must behave in such a way that we do not cause our Christian brethren to sin.
Our actions may have negative consequences for our Christian brethren and St. Paul reinforces this point with an example from his era. At the time, the Roman Empire was predominately pagan. Pagan temples were decorated with idols and statues of false gods. Early Christians knew that the pagan idols were not real gods, but false gods made out of wood and stone. St. Paul makes the point that a mature Christian at the time would not see anything initially wrong with eating meat at a pagan temple that was offered to idols. Christians firm in their beliefs were not tempted to deny their faith and to return to accepting the pagan customs back into their daily lives. These mature Christians could associate with pagans because they were spiritually strong and their association posed no threat to their Christian beliefs.
St. Paul cautions that although mature Christians know that eating food does not affect their relationship with God, they should be cautious to eat meat offered to idols because it could affect the faith of others weaker in the faith. Weaker Christians lack the discernment of their more mature brethren and be drawn into renouncing their Christian beliefs and return to their pagan past. St. Paul is advising that although each of us has certain rights, we must be careful how we use our freedoms. St. Paul points out that if weaker Christians see their more mature Christians eating at the pagan temple, they may misinterpret the situation and conclude that it is also permissible for them to participate in eating idol meat. Unfortunately, the weaker brethren are susceptible to spiritual dangers associated with pagan ritual and the weaker Christians lack the discernment and spiritual foundation to resist sin. St. Paul advises that we must exercise our freedom carefully because it can have unintended consequences and becoming a stumbling block to other Christians. The Greek word used for stumbling block is “proskomma.” A stumbling block is something that is in one’s direct path; it’s an obstacle that might cause the unwary traveler to trip, stumble, or fall. St. Paul is advising us that we don’t want our behavior to be an obstacle where others imitate our behavior and stumble in the faith because they lack our spiritual discernment and maturity. In order to avoid being a stumbling block in other Christian’s lives, here are four suggestions that apply today’s epistle to our modern world.