From the start the American flag represented our cry for liberty. Through the years the mantle of freedom has become more than the pursuit of independence from merry ‘ole England. Rather, it has morphed into empowering lifestyle expectations.
Whether expressed with finesse or with a rough crudeness on the morally low end of the spectrum, the language of freedom became a tool for the ego justifying the pursuit of unbridled desires. “I should be able to do whatever I want.”
Polite society discovered at the other end of the spectrum, the comfortable reality of being empowered to engage in anything not inherently wrong. Engulfed within such an environment, Christians can easily acquiesce toward this higher ground to feel justified in simply exemplifying a moralistic lifestyle.
Yet, God calls disciples to a much higher standard than merely abstaining from intrinsically evil acts.
From 1 Corinthians chapters eight through ten, Paul sought to overturn such a fleshly mindset, a perspective which likewise threatens our spiritual journey. The Christian life is to be shaped by giving preference to encouraging others spiritually, rather than focusing upon our freedoms.
In addressing their specific situation, Paul wrote: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. … With regard then to eating food sacrificed to idols, … We are no worse if we do not eat and no better if we do. But be careful that this liberty of yours does not become a hindrance to the weak. … For this reason, if food causes my brother … to sin, I will never eat meat again.” (1 Corinthians 8:1,4,8,9,13 NET).
No intrinsic evil existed in eating meat sacrificed to idols. Yet, love could demand they abstain.
Being astute, Paul knew that when you strike someone’s emotionally charged lightning rod, especially when it is connected to their stomach, they typically have difficulty hearing your message.
Accordingly, Paul temporarily digressed to his own entitlements:
“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? … Do we not have the right to financial support?” (1 Corinthians 9:1,4).
Yet, Paul repeatedly revealed his willingness to lay aside what he could demand in order to pursue promoting their spiritual well-being.
“I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22,).
His words not only characterized his Christian lifestyle, but also sum up how encouraging others should take precedence over entitlements.
Perhaps our ego’s retort, that while it is noble for someone to exalt the spiritual well-being of others over one’s own rights, just how critical is this attitude for the Christian life? Paul’s concise words are terse.
“Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
As Christians living in America we enjoy many rights. Without religious food laws, we are free to arrange our diet as we desire. We experience liberty enabling the pursuit of happiness as well as when we might pray and how we will choose to use our time or to manage our resources acquired in a capitalistic system.
Penetrating questions remain: If our lifestyle were on trial, would it be convicted of seeking the spiritual well-being of others or would it emerge as being a race after our own rights?
Sometimes I just wonder. How would God’s kingdom grow or our society be transformed if all Christians embraced exalting the spiritual encouragement of others above pursuing their own entitlements?