For The Unbeliever's Sake
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First Corinthians

For The Unbeliever's Sake

1 Corinthians 10:15-33

Paul now continues his argument regarding our intellectual responsibilities towards others – by extending it to the unbeliever.

(1 Cor 10:15-33 NIV) I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. {16} Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? {17} Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. {18} Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? {19} Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? {20} No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. {21} You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons. {22} Are we trying to arouse the Lord's jealousy? Are we stronger than he? {23} "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is constructive. {24} Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. {25} Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, {26} for, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it." {27} If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. {28} But if anyone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' sake-- {29} the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience? {30} If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? {31} So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. {32} Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God-- {33} even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

Paul’s argument here is roughly the same as before, but with differing circumstance. In particular, this passage concerns our obligations to the unbeliever, rather than our weaker brother. He appeals to us to be the guardians of the faith as seen by the unbeliever:

· First, so that his conscience will not be defiled – for it is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin and judgment.

· Further, so that his understanding of the true faith will not be darkened by our poor example.

As before, this must be set against our own liberty in Christ. Having just made the argument regarding the weak brother, Paul now appeals to us in the same vein – as sensible people. Perhaps we have grown less sensible since his time; the argument seems to be in need of explanation these days.

What’s an unbeliever to think?

Paul is concerned – at least to begin with – with the logical conclusions the unbeliever might reach while observing our conduct. Because of the decline in intellectual Christianity in America, the matter needs some of the more obvious points to be stated.

Symbolic Communication

I once heard a worship leader explain of communion, “this is not a ritual.” If it isn’t, I’d like to know what is a ritual. Ritual is nothing more than acted out symbolic communication – and symbolic communication is the highest form of communication known to human beings.

You think not?

· What does that wedding ring on your finger symbolize? Or is it meaningless, just something people do?

· You consider yourself a patriot? How does someone burning the flag affect you? Or is it just a piece of cloth? Is it not a symbol of the highest worth to you?

· If these are not sufficient, consider that God, throughout the Old Testament, used the symbols of sacrifice and offering to explain his purpose and love for us.

So then, what does this ritual say – to us, and to the non-believer?

· Paul calls it the cup of blessing – thanksgiving, in the New International – even though it represents the shed blood of our Lord. In what higher, more powerful way could our Lord proclaim his love for us? Paul’s readers would have seen this.

· The bread is said to be sharing (participation in the New International). Is there are better symbol of fellowship than this? We still “break bread – together.” So in this we see the strong unity of the church, and our care for each other.

· Taken together, the act of eating what is clearly called the body and blood of Christ must say – at least to an alert mind – that we are become the body of Christ. For – symbolically, at least – you are what you eat.

These are the logical conclusions of our ritual; believer and unbeliever alike may easily discover them.

Union with demons

But – if this is so, then surely participation in idol worship carries with it the same meaning with regard to the demons those idols represent. Now consider this: if an unbeliever of this time saw such a thing, what would he conclude?

· He might conclude that you hold both beliefs. Or, as we would say it today, “all religions are equally true.” Which is to say, they are equally false. Which then points him to the perfectly logical conclusion that you think the faith you proclaim in communion to be false.

· He might conclude that you don’t really believe anything. You might be one of those folks who say, “it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re sincere.” It is just possible that this unbeliever might be smart enough to recognize just how dumb that statement is – and just how dumb you are.

· He might otherwise conclude that you are more afraid of what other people will think – let’s not offend those idol worshipers, now – than you are of God. This doesn’t seem to accord well with the image of the Almighty, now does it?

· He might just reach the logical conclusion that you’re a fraud, a hypocrite. It’s also logical to assume that you think this a perfectly reasonable thing to be.

So, then, our conduct as observed by the non-believer can indeed have serious consequences. Think of it today: what would one of your unbelieving friend think?

· What would they think about you, as a Christian, from the way you behave?

· What would they think about the church, seeing you as their best known example of same?

· What would they think about God – seeing you as the person who knows him best?

There is a more serious consequence. You must be concerned not only with what the unbeliever thinks – but also what God thinks. Suppose you are one of those church members who really doesn’t see a problem with being a sophisticated drunkard on Saturday night (after all, your naïve Christian friends could never understand the sneering sophistication of your intellectual life) and a pious believer on Sunday morning (the spiritual side your night life friends would never be able to come up to).

· Look at it this way: if you brought some sweet young thing home to your wife, with the explanation that “It’s not that I don’t love you honey, I just needed a little variety. I can love you both.” – just how do you think she would react?

· Have you not read that the Lord your God is a jealous God? How then – given the example above – do you think He will react?

· It is faintly possible your wife might just take action. My wife is often quoted as saying, “Divorce? No. Murder, yes, but divorce, no.” Have you no fear of the Living God?

Christian Liberty

The balance point of all this is Christian liberty. It is possible – tough these days, but possible – to get hung up on all possible implications of all possible actions. So what does God expect?

Not the rules

Rules and regulations in the faith have their place:

· First, they are useful in strengthening those who are weak. Are you an alcoholic? Make it a rule never to touch the stuff.

· They are also useful for the beginner. As a child, I was forbidden to play in the street. Later, as a driver and a father, I understood why.

Mastery of the self

We are expected, however, to master ourselves.

· The objectives of self-mastery are the same as those of the rules: proper conduct of the Christian life, pleasing to God. We need to see that losing the rules did not mean losing the purpose of the rules.

· The method is different. When the rules become a burden, we leave them behind – so as to do greater things, not lesser ones.

What would Jesus do?

It’s a useful principle. Older generations of Christians would have spoken of “the imitation of Christ.” I would suggest these principles to you:

· In all your ways, explicitly acknowledge God. It reminds you of your duties and others of your Lord.

· Be wary for the souls of others, especially the non-believer – Christ died for such, and you are his imitator.

· Indeed be wary for the non-believer – for such were you, once. Remember what your Lord has done for you.

For the sake of the non-believer

What then should we do? Let’s put it into the terms that Paul might have used:

For the sake of the non-believer, EAT

· The faith is superior to all other beliefs – act like it. Take that thought seriously. Some things are good; others are better; you have the best of all. Don’t be ashamed to say so; don’t be ashamed to act like it.

· Have no fear of those other “gods” – even the little tin ones who sit in the high places of our world.

· Act like you know the TRUTH – personally. Because you do. Don’t be ashamed to do what is right. Even if all around you laugh, you will be bearing witness to your Lord.

· Don’t be afraid of “what people will think.” Especially the politically correct people, who consider their understanding that there is no truth to be so superior to your old-fashioned view. If gravity ever goes out of fashion, you may count on it: it will still work. Same with the truth.

For the sake of the non-believer, DON’T EAT

· Ask yourself, “Is this something Christians ‘don’t do?’” If your friend is convinced of this, are you not attacking his conscience by doing it .

· Are you omitting something Christians should do? Even the non-believer may have reasonable expectations of your charity. A gift to a man with a cardboard sign feeds the man – but may also enlighten the soul of your friend.

· Beware the conscience of the non-believer. If you help sear that conscience into nothingness, how then does the Holy Spirit do his work of convicting the world of sin and judgment?

Cause no stumbling – but do all for the glory of God

· Make it a point: in prayer and in words, give thanks to God in all things, so that others may know from whom you get all things.

· In wisdom restrain yourself, so that wisdom may be seen in you.

· In doubt? No idea what Jesus would do? Ask, “Is this something I can do for the glory of God?”

Remember his words: “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.” Lift him up – and see.

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