17 April, 2024

March 17 Lesson | Selfless Liberty

by | 11 March, 2024 | 0 comments

Unit: 1 Corinthians (Part 1) 
Theme: The Living Church 
Lesson Text: 1 Corinthians 8:9-13; 9:19-23; 10:23-33 
Supplemental Texts: 1 Corinthians 8:1-8; 9:1-18; 9:24—10:22; Philippians 2:1-8 
Aim: Know that you are free in Christ, but use your freedom to help others follow Christ. 

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Download a PDF of this week’s lesson material (the study by Mark Scott, the Application by David Faust, and Discovery Questions): LOOKOUT_Mar17_2024

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By Mark Scott

In his book Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, Simon Sinek emphasized that “Great leaders sacrifice their own comfort—even their own survival—for the good of those in their care.” The apostle Paul could have written that line.   

The troubled Corinthian church had two overarching problems. Their first “disorder” was composed of two parts. They had an over-realized eschatology (i.e., they thought they already had arrived in an exalted state and therefore they gave themselves to the disciplines of legalism or living in pure license with no restraints). They also had an under-realized eschatology (i.e., they questioned whether resurrection takes place—so what difference does it make how one lives life?). Both misunderstandings caused problems that manifested themselves throughout the Epistle.  

Paul also had to address a second disorder. He did this in the “disorder” section of the Epistle—chapters 7–16—marked off with the rhetorical device, “Now concerning” (1 Corinthians 7:1; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1; English Standard Version). 

Paul addressed challenges related to eating meat offered to idols in a rather long and involved argument (chapters 8-10). Archaeologists have uncovered ancient Corinth’s meat market. Farmers would bring their meat to town to sell. The meat in the market was expensive. But the cheaper meat was sold in the pagan temples. After the pagan priests got their portion (not unlike the ancient Levites, who received a portion of that which was sacrificed), the meat was prayed over to the idol gods. Believers found themselves in a dilemma—should they eat this meat or not? At the heart of this very specific practice was the issue of Christian freedom. 

Forfeiting Freedom 
1 Corinthians 8:9-13 

Early in 1 Corinthians 8, Paul acknowledged that many “so-called gods” (v. 5) were worshiped in Corinth, but he proclaimed, “There is no God but one” (v. 5), and he is the creator and sustainer of the universe. Some believers, armed with that knowledge, knew that eating food sacrificed to idols did not matter. Others, maybe newer Christians who could be called weak, struggled with this freedom due to their pagan past. 

Paul did not want the exercise of your rights (authority) on the part of the “knowledgeable” Christians to cause others to stumble in their faith. To wound (cause to be struck down) one’s conscience (the moral umpire) is never good, and Paul did not want weak believers to sin due to the behavior of knowledgeable believers. Paul was willing to become a vegetarian and forfeit his freedom rather than cause a fellow believer to fall. 

Leveraging Freedom 
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 

To drive home his point, Paul used several illustrations about his freedoms, making applicable connections to apostles, soldiers, farmers, shepherds, and the Law (vv. 1-14). People who serve in these ways derive benefits from what they do. Paul chose not to use his rights as an apostle so that those benefits would not get in the way of the gospel. Paul could receive a salary or not for preaching, but he was compelled to preach nonetheless (9:15-18). 

Paul’s goal was to be a universal man. He desired to be culturally, religiously, and ethnically agile. He leveraged his freedoms in Christ for the good of his evangelistic cause. To the Jews he became a Jew (Acts 21:20-26 is an example of such). [Those under the Law would also be Jews, but Paul admitted he was not saved by law—cf. Galatians 2:16.] To the Gentiles he could become a Gentile (Galatians 2:11-14). Gentiles were not under the law, but Paul made it clear that he was under the Christ’s law. To the weak people he could become a vegetarian. One of Paul’s great missionary principles was to leverage anything to win people to Christ.  

Constructing Freedom 
1 Corinthians 10:23-33 

Not everything Paul had the right to do was “right to do.” He espoused this principle earlier in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. Some scholars believe these passages are the keys to understanding 1 Corinthians. Christians have been set free (Galatians 5:1) but using freedom in non-beneficial ways is not constructive. Loving God and seeking the good of others should always be the goal. 

Paul said it was permissible to eat meat offered to the idol gods based on Psalm 24:1. Everything belonged to the Lord in the first place. Paul constructed the model about Christian liberty as it related to conscience. Paul did not want Christians to be at the whim of just anyone’s conscience, but he did embrace letting “conscience be your guide.” When it comes to eating meat offered to the idol gods, give careful thought to the impact you may have on the new believer’s conscience. The unbeliever will not likely have any issue to raise.  

For Paul, the most important thing is the glory of God. He desired no offense (that which leads to stumbling) be given to Jew, Greek, or the church. He desired to please God and save people. That is liberty at the service of a greater dream. 


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