A Little Consideration, Please

two women with heads bowed and covered
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/evergreenkamal/859318504/">Kamak Hamid</a>

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Now, concerning invitations to participate in other religious practices, we all know that “everybody claims to know God.” Knowledge just swells heads, love makes great people. Anyone who claims to know everything is full of crap. Anyone who loves is good with God.

So, concerning other religions, we know that there’s nothing to them, really, and the only God is our God. People call all kinds of things “God,” some of them things you can see, others things you can’t. There are lots of things that people worship. But for us, believers, there is only one God, the one who, as a parent, provides us with everything, and the one to whom we belong. The only thing that commands our allegiance is Jesus. Everything is the way it is because of him. We live by him.

However, not everybody knows this. Some participate in other rituals as if they were the real deal, because that’s they way they’ve always done it. They don’t know any better because they’ve been tricked. Ritual won’t bring us any closer to God. We’re no better off if we do it, and no worse off if we don’t.

Be careful that your freedom doesn’t hurt somebody else! What if someone who’s an addict sees you walk into a bar. Won’t that person think it must be OK for them to have a drink, too? And then that person – Jesus wanted that person in the movement – that person gets screwed up because of you. You’re not following Jesus if you lead other people to mistake libertarianism for salvation. In fact, if it would help keep a friend away from drink, I’d never drink again myself.

[See also, previous comments pertaining to verses 9-13.]

Paul’s original context for this is the practice of eating food sacrificed to idols. A context completely foreign to most modern readers. The closest thing in our experience is probably atheists looking down their noses at Christians insisting on saying grace before meals with atheists at the table. The atheists think they know better, and the Christians think they know better, but whose really to say. The sacrifice of animals to various gods was a religious practice, and one that weighed on the conscience of some Christians, and on the list of scruples for others. In Corinth, it had become yet another occasion for a church fight about whose Christianity is better, and people who just wanted to feel right with God were getting hurt.

The whole argument hinges on verses 2-3, “Anyone who claims to know everything [about God] is full of crap. Anyone who loves is good with God.” Paul can’t bring himself to take his own advice about not claiming to know everything about God, but just because he can’t take his own advice doesn’t make it good advice.

So, to go where Paul wants to go (but can’t quite get there), the ritual really doesn’t matter. Not even Christian ritual. If it helps some people feel better, fine. If not, it’s not required. If it creeps others out, it’s probably better to dispense with it. What matters is that you love.

Loving means, as a minimum, being considerate of what is helpful or harmful to someone else. It means being mindful of others’ weaknesses. It’s like a Hippocratic oath of religious practice: “First, do no harm,” or as ethicist Stanley Hauerwas says, “Let the Christians of the world resolve not to kill each other.”

2 Keys to Individual and Organizational Revival

Tuned Out1 Corinthians 11:17-22

Here’s something I don’t approve of one bit. When you get together you don’t share. When you go to church, I hear, some of you won’t even talk to others of you. I can’t say I’m surprised to hear it. You seem to be more concerned with posturing than being authentic. So you’re really only pretending to be a church. Each of you does your own thing without any consideration for anyone else. Take care of your own business at home, and stop insulting God and humiliating everyone else at church. What am I supposed to say about that kind of behavior? That it’s good? Hell no, it’s not good.

The Corinthian church was an utterly dysfunctional institution. Chances are, if you’ve been involved in a dysfunctional church you can identify first hand things in common. But human as churches are, you can find the same patterns in just about any dysfunctional institution.

The bottom line is that no institution can accomplish what it is supposed to (doesn’t matter what the stated purpose is or if it’s a church, a Rotary club, a teachers’ union, a fortune 500 company, or even a nation) so long as the people in it are more concerned with their own personal agenda than they are with the greater good the institution is supposed to achieve.

But Paul’s suggestion, implicit in his scolding, is that the way forward depends on individuals (and not necessarily the formal leaders, either) taking responsibility for

  1. being authentic – which means at least in part, being up front with yourself and others about who you really are and what you’re real interest in the greater good is, and
  2. being aware of the needs of people other than themselves – whether they are on your side in the institution’s politics or not.

It’s not too big a leap to imagine that authentic and aware institutions and organizations, the ones that are really making a positive impact on the world around them, are made up of authentic and aware individuals.

And it’s also not too hard to guess that being a part of an authentic, aware, and meaningful community is only really possible to the degree that one is aware of one’s own authenticity in relation to others. It’s self-selecting. And it starts with you.

So, the way forward: know thyself and give a damn about someone nearby.

Don’t Be the Weakest Link

Weakest Link1 Corinthians 8:9-13

Be careful that your freedom doesn’t hurt somebody else! What if someone who’s an addict sees you walk into a bar. Won’t that person think it must be OK for them to have a drink, too? And then that person – Jesus wanted that person in the movement – that person gets screwed up because of you. You’re not following Jesus if you lead other people to mistake libertarianism for salvation. In fact, if it would help keep a friend away from drink, I’d never drink again myself.

I confess, I’m not satisfied yet with the rendering of this passage. But perhaps you can suggest some revisions.

In Paul’s context, this was about eating meat from animals that had been sacrificed to idols. New Christians, having come into Paul’s churches with this kind of religious background, would have been told that idol worship is no longer permitted. They would have “had knowledge” of the rites of pagan sacrifices, and if they were to see Christians eating that meat, Paul thought they might revert to their former idolatrous ways and be lost.

In today’s world (well, the world most of us are likely to be familiar with) sacrificing animals, in the religious sense, isn’t a widespread issue. So I’m looking for another issue that might be more familiar. Above, I’ve rendered it as alcoholism:

  1. because consumption of alcohol is controversial in some Christian circles, and
  2. because there is a real element of danger to someone who is in recovery and is tempted by the bad example of another.

But I’m not sure it’s the best possible modern-day equivalent.

Having said that, though, it doesn’t really matter what the particular issue is. Even Paul is using the issue of food sacrificed to idols as an example of a larger principle: consideration. The issue here is that just because you can do something without risk to yourself doesn’t mean you should. In fact, if there is some question whether you actions might be harmful to someone else, you should refrain. This doesn’t mean caving in every time someone disagrees as a matter of conscience. But it does mean not leading others into temptation.

Or, to put it another way:

If a community is only as strong as its weakest link, people will tend to think of the person who has some kind of weakness (an addiction, a propensity to defect, peanut allergy, whatever) as the person who is that weakest link. But, Paul says that in fact the weakest link is the person who is the bête noire, the kryptonite, that sets someone else to self-destruct. Paul’s point: don’t be that person.