1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Today, I am going to tell a story about some people who lived in ancient Corinth. Just for fun, I’ll call them Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.
Ancient Corinth was a very cosmopolitan city, perhaps very much like New York City. Because Corinth was a port city, there were people of all colors and beliefs, and they came from all parts of the Mediterranean world and beyond.
There were Jews living there, as well as people who believed in the many different gods of the time. There were twelve main gods in the Greek system: Apollo was the god of music and prophecy; Ares was the god of war; Artemis was the goddess of maidens and childbirth; Demeter was the goddess of agriculture; and Dionysus was the god of wine; Athena was the goddess of wisdom, and so forth.
Each god and goddess had their own temples, several of each scattered throughout the city, for convenience. There were statues of the gods in the temples, and smaller statues of them available for the home. There were even pocket-sized statues. These statues are also called idols – which for us carry a negative meaning. But for those who worshiped them, they were as important as the cross is for us.
People worshiped at the temple of the god who they believed could provide whatever they needed or wanted. Very often, worship rituals for these gods included sacrificing an animal. People would worship at the temple, most likely in the morning, and purchase their meat for the day at the market in front of the temple.
Jews would avoid these meat markets, since the meat was sacrificed on the altar of a god whose name was not YHWH. Bob and Carol and Ted and Alive were non-Jewish people, and happy to get their meat from these idol markets.
One day, Bob and Carol met the Apostle Paul, who told them about Jesus. The more he taught them, the more they began to believe. Soon, Bob and Carol made a commitment to worship only Jesus and they were baptized. They began to tell Ted and Alice about Jesus, and after many conversations, they also were baptized.
Now, they faced a dilemma. The only meat available for purchase was from the idol markets. Bob and Carol were not troubled by this. They understood that the meat for sale was just meat. It did not matter to them that prayers were said Apollo or Athena as the animal was slaughtered. But Ted and Alice were troubled by this. How could they eat meat that was offered to a god other than Jesus?
Here is where Paul’s commentary comes in. He says, “Yes, meat is meat; it has no added value or detriment because it is purchased at an idol market. However, if it troubles you or someone you know to eat such meat, it is better to not eat meat at all.”
... In our time, we usually purchase meat at the supermarket or the butcher store. If it has been prepared especially for Jews, it is labeled Kosher. Otherwise, it is just meat. In fact, many people don’t even make the connection between the animals we see in the fields and the packaged meat we see in the store. Meat just happens.
In today’s world, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice would more likely have concerns over certain types of people. They might have trouble accepting people who are illegal – or legal – immigrants; people who are Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist; people who are gay; people who are right or left wing politically; people who are obese or anorexic; people who are older or younger; people who like hip-hop music and wear their pants below their hips. And so forth ...
I’ll use a different example. Today, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice have had no particular relationship with God. They all grew up with a little basic knowledge of God and religion, but their parents did not take them to church, except for the occasional Christmas and Easter service. As adults, they liked hanging around in bars and drinking and line dancing until 2am. They loved dancing because it was lots of fun and great exercise. They always slept until noon on Sundays and read the newspapers over a late breakfast.
Bob and Carol met some new friends who introduced them to Jesus, and to a few friends from Hope Lutheran Church. Bob and Carol began to go home early on Saturday nights, and to attend worship on Sunday mornings. They also introduced Ted and Alice to Jesus, and to their new Lutheran friends. Since they were not sure if they had ever been baptized, they all were baptized one Sunday morning at Hope Lutheran Church.
In their new life as believers, Ted and Alice wanted to stop going to the bars at all, since it reminded them of the days when they didn’t know Jesus. They were concerned that they might slip back into their old ways and forget about Jesus. They found it best to change their lives altogether and stay out of bars.
Bob and Carol knew that their faith was strong enough to go to the bars, enjoy some line dancing, and go home early enough to make it to church. However, out of respect for their friends, Bob and Carol invited Ted and Alice to start a line-dancing club at Hope Lutheran Church. That way, they could still get their exercise, but not their alcohol and late nights and friends who did not go to church. Over time, Ted and Alice’s faith grew stronger, and they occasionally went back to the bars for line dancing; but they always left in time to get up for worship.
... We are called to take into account how other people might consider our words and our actions. If what we say or do might lead others away from Jesus, we want to reconsider what we are doing or saying.
For example, if we have a habit of using God’s name as a swear word, it does not help others respect and revere God. If we cheat on our taxes, it teaches others to be dishonest. If we disrespect some people because of what they look like, what they do, or where they come from, it shows others that it’s OK to disrespect those they dislike.
On the other hand, if what we say or do might lead others into a relationship with Jesus, we want to do more of it. If we treat all people as important, as children of God, they learn from us that God loves all people. If we give generously to the church, others learn from us that generosity is a good thing. If we enjoy being part of a community of faith and serving God alongside other members of the church, and we tell others about it, they learn from us that having God in their lives is a good thing.
Like Bob and Carol did with Ted and Alice, we can try to model behavior that brings others into a relationship with Jesus. This week, I invite you to check out the way you behave. What do you do to bring people closer to God? What do you do that might lead people away from God?
... Please pray with me: Jesus, you came to reach out to all people. Help us to be aware of what we do and say so that others can find you through us and be led to believe in you the way we do. Amen