IN SEARCH OF A CHRISTIAN ETHIC

1 CORINTHIANS 10:23-33

The question of ethics arises whenever people come together. Every argument anticipates them. The way in which we live indicates that we have definite opinions on them. Even in this age where situation ethics is the norm and when relativism is assumed, we continue to operate on the basis that there is such a thing as right and wrong.

The Christian has different ideas of right and wrong than those of the world. This is becoming increasingly clear as our society moves into a post-Christian era. As western society moves further and further from its Christian roots, the gap between Christian ethics versus the ethics of our society also has widened.

Here lies a danger. It is that, as we are complacent about this widening gap, our ethics will follow in the wake of the worldís ethics. This is the problem we have seen in Corinth. The believers had begun to focus on living a lifestyle that was somewhat better than that of the society around them. They had ignored the fact that Christianity is not merely a cut above the ethics of the local community. Christianity has its own set of ethical principles that operate independently of local ethics.

Another problem is that many times Christians cannot come to an agreement on what constitutes a proper Christian ethic. How are we to live? How are we do determine the standard of our lives? How are we to find the proper ethic?

Any ethic that is adopted will have one of three factors as its base:

This ethical basis reached it epitome in Judaism as seen in the legalism of the Pharisees. Their entire lives were structured around a rigid code of conduct. The problem was that they came to the point where they began to worship the code instead the God behind the code.

We do indeed have liberty in Christ; but that liberty is not a license to loose living. It is not a license to sin. Rather it is a freedom to serve Christ.

When we think of love, we are bound to think of the example of Jesus. The question is often asked, "What would Jesus do?" That is a good question. Yet there is also a problem with seeing only love as the basis for the Christian ethic. It is that this opens the door for a "situation ethic" in which anything is considered to be okay as long as it achieves a loving result. Under this philosophy the end justifies the means. It is okay to partake in immorality if it will show love to someone. It is acceptable to steal if it will produce a good result. Lying and cheating are not wrong if they are done to achieve and honorable end.

What approach is taught in the Bible? I would like to suggest that the Biblical approach includes all three of these factors.

1. A Christian Ethic is Legal.

There are certain things that Godís people do or donít do simply because we have been told to do or not to do them. This does not mean that God is a legalist. It does not mean that He deals with us only on the basis of how we measure up to certain rules. But He IS a God of law.

This does not mean that God is legalistic. Legalism has a wrong attitude toward law. It involves self-glorification on the basis of keeping laws. It involves self righteousness.

2. A Christian Ethic involves Liberty.

There are certain areas of liberty in the Christian life. We have been set free from the Old Testament ceremonies and customs. More than that, we are free to do al things that fall between that which is commanded and that which is forbidden.

This means we can eat anything that is not absolutely harmful. It means we can wear anything that does not involve immodesty. It gives us freedom in grooming. It gives us freedom in the observing of days.

However, liberty without corresponding responsibility can be dangerous. This brings us to the third point.

3. A Christian Ethic must include Love.

When Jesus sat with His disciples in the Upper Room, He gave them a new commandment. It was a command to love.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35).

We are to love one another. The measure of this love is the love that Jesus had for us. He says to us, "Love one another, even as I have loved you." That is the kind of love we are to have for one another.

At this point, you might be thinking, "That is all very nice, but what does it have to do with the epistle to the Corinthians?" It has everything to do with it. Paul has been dealing with an ethical problem in Corinth. It is the problem of eating meat that had been offered to idols.

When you went to the marketplace in Corinth, the best slice of sirloin that you could buy had Apolloís stamp of approval. This made it "kosher" in Greek society. Some Christians saw no problem with eating such meat and exercised their liberty accordingly. Other Christians views the eating of such meat as sinful participation in idolatry.

As Paul has dealt with this problem, he has already given the law of God concerning idolatry. He has shown the Corinthians the liberty that they have in Christ to eat or not to eat. And now he comes to the responsibility of love.

 

THE PRINCIPLE OF EDIFICATION

All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24).

Paulís desire is to go beyond the law. He will not to this the way the Pharisees did it. The Pharisees wanted to go beyond the law, so they made up a whole bunch of other laws. They thought that the more laws they had, the closer to God they would be. The missed the point. The way you go beyond the law is not by making up more laws. The way you go beyond the law is by LOVE. More accurately, love is the fulfillment of the law.

Love is always action oriented. If I love someone, then I will seek what is profitable for him. If I love someone, then I will try to edify him and build him up. If I love someone, then I will seek what is good for him. I donít need a law to tell me not to murder him or not to steal from him or not to commit adultery with his wife or to refrain from bearing false testimony against him. If I love someone, I will not covet his possessions.

This same love fulfills the law when it is directed toward God. If I love God, I will not seek to replace him with the worship of other gods. If I love God, I will view it as improper to attempt to make an idol or other physical representation of Him. If I love God then I will want to take a day apart to devote to Him. Indeed, if I really love God and am resting upon Him, then every day becomes a Sabbath rest.

  1. Edification is Rooted in Liberty: All things are lawful (10:23).
  2. The Pharisees used the law to try to bind people, restricting their liberty. Paul counters by saying that all things are lawful. If it is not forbidden, then it is lawful.

    This goes against the grain of a lot of Christian thinking today. Some preachers seem to teach that if itís fun then it must be wrong. It is no wonder that Christians walk around with such long faces.

    Paul presents a very different picture of Christianity. We are free! We can do anything that isnít forbidden. We are a lot like Adam in the garden of Eden who was told, "You can do anything you want except to eat of that tree over there." We are also like Adam in that we find our attention continually drawn back to that forbidden tree.

    We have great liberty that has been awarded us. But with that liberty comes responsibility.

  3. Edification looks to the Good of Others: Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor (10:24).

This involves every area of life. It involves a totally new way of thinking. It applies when you are wronged. It applies when a brother sins. It applies when you see someone in need. It applies in the marriage and in the family and in the work situation.

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4).

This is not natural. The natural man does everything from selfishness and empty conceit. We live in the "me first" generation. But this is not the example that Jesus gave us. He did not think of Himself first. He put aside His own desire in order to serve us. We are to do the same for others.

 

SITUATION #1 - SHOPPING IN CORINTH

Eat anything that is sold in the meat market, without asking questions for conscience ' sake; 26 for the earth is the Lord's, and all it contains. (1 Corinthians 10:25-26).

Paul proceeds to put into practice what he has already stated in theory. He does this by citing three illustrations.

Situation #1

Situation #2

Situation #3

Shopping in the marketplace in Corinth

Eating with an Unbeliever

Eating meat without knowing its history

Eating Labeled Meat

Eat and donít ask about the pedigree of the meat

Donít eat

The first illustration is that of a Christian housewife who wants to go grocery shopping. She is faced with a problem. Much of the meat that is sold in the marketplace has been offered to idols. It is Hellenistically "kosher." It has been identified with idolatry. If she buys the meat from the marketplace, she will not know whether or not it has been a part of this ceremony. What is she to do?

  1. Permission to Eat: Eat anything that is sold in the meat market, without asking questions for conscience ' sake (10:25).
  2. Paul says to go ahead and buy the meat from the marketplace and eat it. You do not have to quiz the butcher on the pedigree of the meat.

    Christians have no business going into a heathen temple to buy meat. That is not because there is anything wrong with the meat, but because something is wrong with the temple.

    On the other hand, if the meat has been brought into the marketplace, then there is nothing to prevent a Christian from buying it and eating it.

  3. Reason behind the Permission: For the earth is the Lord's, and all it contains (10:26).

To prove his point, Paul quotes from Psalm 24:1. This passage teaches that everything is Godís. It means that things in themselves cannot be considered to be bad. Only the way in which they are used is bad.

Being a Christian means that you can enjoy Godís creation. Everything that God has made is good if it is used properly. The world is Godís gift to you.

 

SITUATION #2 - EATING WITH AN UNBELIEVER

If one of the unbelievers invites you, and you wish to go, eat anything that is set before you, without asking questions for conscienceí sake. (1 Corinthians 10:27).

The second illustration is that of a Christian who has been invited to the home of an unbeliever for dinner. Should he accept the invitation? After all, it is possible that the unbeliever will have brought meat that has been offered to idols.

Paul says that it is permissible to go. He adds, if you do go, donít ask about the food that is set before you. Just eat it and enjoy it. Donít make an issue of it.

This is important. When we are with unbelievers, we should not be making issues over minor matters. An unbeliever does not need to be lectured on the evils of rock music or the importance of being morally pure or how bad it is to smoke or drink or gamble. There is one thing he DOES need to hear. He needs to hear the gospel. He needs to hear that Jesus died for us, bringing us repentance and forgiveness of sins. He needs to hear that Jesus rose from the dead to give us eternal life.

The world will always try to change the issue. Do you remember Jesus and the Samaritan woman? She said to Jesus, "Letís enter into a religious argument about whether men ought to worship in Jerusalem or in Samaria. Letís debate the ramifications of the regulative principle." Jesus refused to allow her to change the subject. He brought her back to the point of her need of salvation. We ought to do the same.

 

SITUATION #3 - EATING LABELED MEAT

But if anyone should say to you, "This is meat sacrificed to idols," do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience ' sake; 29 I mean not your own conscience, but the other man's; for why is my freedom judged by another's conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? (1 Corinthians 10:28-30).

The third situation is also assumedly that of a Christian who has been invited to the home of an unbeliever. In this instance, the host makes an issue of the fact that the meat was blessed by one of the false gods of the Greeks. In this instance you are not to eat of it.

Why? What made the difference? The meat did not change between the two instances. In each case, there was the possibility of eating meat that had been offered to idols. Now you are to restrain from eating it. What makes it wrong to eat now?

It is because now the idolatrous aspect of the meat has become an issue. Now the meat has become a religious symbol and to eat of it will seem as though you are identifying yourself with the heathen false god. To eat such meat after it has been pointed out as such would look as though you were giving approval to the heathen religion. It would offend the conscience of your host.

Paul explains this when he says: I mean not your own conscience, but the other man's (10:29). You might know full well that meat does not make you more or less spiritual. Meat is Godís creation and is not bad in itself. But not all men know this. That unbeliever who invited you to dinner views that meat as having special properties. He things that anyone who knowingly eats of that meat is identifying himself with the god to whom that meat was offered. If he sees you eat that meat, then he will think that you look with favor on his religious system. Thus it is not because of your conscience that you did not eat, but because of his.

 

THE PRINCIPLE OF GLORIFICATION

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31).

In verse 24 Paul gave the principle of edification -- that we are to seek to build others up in all that we do. Now he gives us the principle of glorification -- that we are to seek to glorify God is all that we do.

What are you to do? Are you a fire fighter? Fight fires for the glory of God. Are you a postal worker? Deliver those letters to the glory of God. Are you a housewife? Work in your home and in your family to the glory of God.

There are not some occupations that are spiritual in nature and others that are merely secular. There are not some men who are paid to be good while the rest of us are good for nothing. You can do anything that is not sin to the glory of God.

This tells me something about Christianity. It is a full-time occupation. You are not just a Christian on Sunday morning when you come to church. If you are a Christian, then you are a Christian when you go to work on Monday morning and that fact should make you work differently. You are not merely working for a paycheck. You are working for the glory of God.

If you are a Christian, then you are a Christian when you go out on a date on Friday night. God is with you on that date and you are to date in a way that glorifies God.

What kind of difference has Jesus Christ made in your life? He ought to make all the difference in the world.

 

THE PRINCIPLE OF WINSOMENESS

Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved. (1 Corinthians 10:32-33).

We have seen the principle of edification in verse 24 and the principle of glorification in verse 30. Now we come to a third principle.

10:23-24

10:25-30

10:31

10:32-33

Principle of Edification

Illustrated by three Situations

  • Shopping in Corinth
  • Eating with an unbeliever
  • Eating unknown meat

Principle of Glorification

Principle of Winsomeness

We are to do that which edifies others

Do all to the glory of God

Please all men that they may be saved

This third principle is that the Christian is to be winsome. He is to live in such a way that his life does not offend others and he is to live in such a way that others are attracted to the faith.

Jesus was like that. He lived in such a way that people were attracted to Him. That is not to say that He never offended anyone. But those who were offended were offended by what He taught, not by His manner of life.

Paul says that we should give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God (10:32). There are three groups mentioned by Paul. They are the groups that were present within Corinth. If we were to apply this to todayís society, we might see them as the secular, the religious and Christians.

No action that I take should ever cause someone from one of these groups to be offended. They may be offended at my message. The message of the cross has a way of doing that. But that is okay because then they are being offended with Jesus.

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