The church in Corinth had more than its fair share of problems. If you read through the book of 1st Corinthians, it often can feel like a long counseling session by Paul who is simply helping these people with every little issue they have. When we arrive at chapter 8, Paul is addressing, to put it in common day vernacular, their “woke-ness”. The people knew something quite significant: that idols are not real gods. Because idols are not real gods, then anything and everything about them is insignificant. In that culture, there were a lot of pagan gods and there would be rituals at temples where animals were sacrificed to them. After the ritual was over, the meat from those animals would be cooked and then sold in the market. These Christians in Corinth then would want some bacon wrapped filet and head to the market to buy the meat that was from animals that had been sacrificed to the idols. But who cares? Idols are not actually alive so why promote the fantasy that they are? By avoiding that meat they might perpetuate the myth that they are actual gods and they do not want to do that.
But Paul turns the tables on them. He starts off in verse 1 saying that, “this ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.” These Christians in Corinth were so committed to their right “knowledge” that they were missing something. Paul actually does not seem to flat out disagree with their point. He does not scold them for a wrong belief. Instead he starts talking about another group of people. In verse 7 he mentions those who used to worship idols but they are now followers of Christ. Because of their past, they actually find a real issue with eating the meat that is sacrificed to idols. Not only do they think it is an issue, they believe it is sinful to do so! After Paul explains those people’s struggle, he makes this statement in verse 8: “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” He levels the playing field! The people who have the “knowledge” that it does not matter if you eat the meat are no better than the people who think it is wrong. Likewise, the people who think it is wrong are not “lesser” Christians. Paul then takes it a step further and says in verse 12 that those who eat the meat, if they do so in the presence of those who find it wrong and wound their conscience, are actually sinning against Christ! Paul does not say that eating the meat is actually wrong, but if they hurt the conscience of someone who does, then he writes that it is sin. Which leads him to conclude in verse 13, “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” Talk about loving your neighbor! Paul, even though he knows it is ok to eat this meat, which might be delicious, is willing to forgo it just to protect the conscience of others, and even goes so far as to say it is sin if he did not forgo this right!
“Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
What does this have to do with today? Let’s imagine that we write a letter to Paul and we say something to the effect of: “Paul, we have people in our congregation who believe masks and social distancing are worthwhile and work. On the other hand, we also have people who think it is all a scam and made up. What do you suggest we do?” Well, I imagine that if Paul were to write to us, he probably would not even take a side in this debate. He might write back and say that we are completely missing the point. The point is that Paul wants us to not wound the conscience of our brothers and sisters. He was even willing to give up meat forever! No questions asked, yet far too often we fight for our “rights.” Unfortunately, those of us who exercise our “rights” and do not practice social distancing or wear a mask while indoors do not apply the words of Paul to this situation.
At NAPC, we have chosen to meet outside because we want all who want to come to church and worship in person to do so. As of now, we do not require face-masks because we are outside and the state and local orders as well as the CDC guidelines say that you do not need one outside, as long as you practice social distancing. This last week we starting using spray paint to put markers on the ground so that it is easier to practice social distancing. There are people in our congregation who came to our first outdoor service, noticed people were not practicing social distancing, and have decided not to return. Those of us who do not practice it have become a stumbling block to people who want to come to church and worship in person. I am not writing to ask you to change your view, no matter which side you are on. What I am doing is asking you to consider 1st Corinthians 8 and ask yourself if you are willing to set aside your “rights” and stay socially distant so people will come to church. That way, people can feel free to come and they will know that their caution will be honored. May we never place exercising a “right” above the consciences of our brothers and sisters, because doing so is sinful.
To those who have been made uncomfortable and have not attended because of a lack of caution, we apologize for not caring for you better. We hope that you see the effort that is being made and return to worship like you originally planned to do.
Pastor Brady Robinson