1 Corinthians 8:1-13
In the summer of 20__ I was fortunate enough to experience something most sports fans can only dream about; I was a guest of ESPN at their annual Awards Ceremony known as the ESPY’s. Like previous years, the event was held at the famed Kodak Theater in Los Angeles and being a guest of ESPN meant that I stayed in the same hotel as all of the athletes and celebrities and essentially had an all access pass to pre-event and post-event get togethers. Now this invitation had nothing to do with who I was, it just so happened that an athlete that my former partner and I had as a client was chosen to present one of the ESPY Awards being given out that night, and since he was chosen by ESPN to present, we were invited too. Nice little benefit I guess, but I want you to know this only happened to me once.
That summer also happened to be the summer XXXXXX graduated from high school. His senior year in high school was a carnival in my opinion because ESPN had earlier decided it would send cameras to XXXXXX, XXXXXX and practically film and air on national tv his every move. Every single high school XXXXXX game he played during his senior year was shown across the nation. So, XXXXXX just happened to be another ESPN guest at the ESPY Awards that year and since he and I were staying in the same hotel for a few days, he and I interacted with each other on multiple occasions, and at least back then he was the most self-absorbed, rude individual with whom I interacted. Now I have no idea what he is like now, but if I had to guess based upon everything I’ve read about him over the years, he is no longer an immature self-absorbed ego maniac who talks down to everyone else he deems unworthy of being in his presence, but during that summer of 20__ he absolutely came across as thinking he was worthy of being named king and the rest of us were unworthy peasants.
Now, on my second night there, we held a fundraiser/benefit for Alzheimer’s Research at a famous bowling alley named Lucky Strike. As people began coming in I notice XXXXXX and his high school cronies were there, and sure enough he just kept acting the same way as before. Then I pick my head up and saw two gentlemen sitting together at a table and once they see my looking their way they motion for me to come over. Now would you believe when I got to the table it was none other than XXXXXX and his longtime friend XXXXXX. They invite me to pull up a chair and we proceed to visit with each other for about forty-five minutes. Now, our time together was dominated by them asking me questions about who I was and how I came to be there that evening. Suffice it to say, those two men were two of the nicest men I have ever met, and at one point during my time with them I literally had one of those “split screen” moments you see in the movies. In my minds eye, on the left-hand side of the imaginary screen, I could see the new version of a pro athlete, one who is self-oriented and feels others are unworthy of being in his presence, and on the right-hand side of the imaginary screen I saw the older, more mature version of a pro athlete, one who was others-oriented and who genuinely cared about building relationships with people they don’t even know. On the left was the image of one orientated to only serve self, and on the right the image was that of those who are orientated to serve others. And here’s the big issue in my book, all three of these people possessed a unique ability to influence a lot of people who might have been watching their actions. In fact, I would submit that today these three men still possess this unique ability to influence tons of people, and where one’s actions only served self, two served others.
Will you choose to serve self or will you choose to serve others? This is the question that Paul seems to be addressing in this part of his response to the Corinthians. Before we go there though, I want to make sure we do our best to understand what Paul is doing here, so to put this in context the people of Corinth, at the direction of a woman named Chloe, sent messengers to Paul telling him about the ways in which they were not getting along, and this greatly disturbed him. This is how the entire letter we know as 1 Corinthians starts, just look at Chapter 1, verse 10-11, “1.10 ¶ Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 1.11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.” This is what sets up the advice that follows. Chapter after chapter that follow begin by Paul identifying the specific issue the Corinthians were wrestling with.
Now, as we discussed this past Wednesday evening at our Ask The Pastor time, today we only know one side of this two-way communication, which can make our attempt to understand all the more difficult, but if we remain focused on the proper overall context, then I believe we can begin to see that Paul wants the Corinthians to serve the needs of others first.
So last week Daniel helped us look a bit deeper into the advice Paul gave the Corinthians regarding marriage and relationships, and today as we start the next Chapter of this letter, Paul has moved onto a completely different concern brought to him, but no matter what each and every issue always points back to the overall serious issue of people not getting along, and in this section Paul is pretty clear that no one should ever try to manipulate anyone else. Paul is pretty clear that your selfish actions may have a lasting impact on others who might look to you as someone to emulate. More than anything, I believe, Paul is crystal clear that the only way to gain true everlasting life, the only way to experience unspeakable joy. The only way to truly follow The Way is to be a servant to others, and never a servant to self.
Yes, in this part of Paul’s letter, the specific issue concerns the consumption of food sacrificed to idols but remember every specific piece of advice always ties back to his overall concern that people are being selfish, manipulative and hurting others. Just listen to the way The Message translates vv. 9-13:
8.9 But God does care when you use your freedom carelessly in a way that leads a Christian still vulnerable to those old associations to be thrown off track. 8.10 For instance, say you flaunt your freedom by going to a banquet thrown in honor of idols, where the main course is meat sacrificed to idols. Isn’t there great danger if someone still struggling over this issue, someone who looks up to you as knowledgeable and mature, sees you go into that banquet? The danger is that he will become terribly confused—maybe even to the point of getting mixed up himself in what his conscience tells him is wrong. 8.11 Christ gave up his life for that person. Wouldn’t you at least be willing to give up going to dinner for him—because, as you say, it doesn’t really make any difference? But it does make a difference if you hurt your friend terribly, risking his eternal ruin! 8.12 When you hurt your friend, you hurt Christ. A free meal here and there isn’t worth it at the cost of even one of these “weak ones.” 8.13 So, never go to these idol-tainted meals if there’s any chance it will trip up one of your brothers or sisters.”
Friends, self-orientation is a killer. Exercising your freedoms in ways that only serve your own self-interests crushes souls. We are here to build relationships. We are here to serve others. Survival of the fittest has never been God’s plan, no matter how much our leaders and other people of influence try to convince us it is. The old-school American Dream of getting all that you can and winning at all costs. That old school American Dream of always seeking the spotlight for self-gratification, or so that others will think you are important… that understanding of the American Dream has long ranging negative ramifications. You see, that understanding of the American Dream allows you to flaunt your freedoms, and there IS great danger in acting that way. Especially when others, who might be struggling, look up to you. We are all impressionable and at the same time we all have the power to teach others. If you are self-oriented, then you are teaching others to be self-oriented. If you are others-oriented, then you are teaching those around you to be the same way.
Paul, it seems, is trying his best to teach the Corinthians how to be servants of others, not servants of self. It is timeless advice. It is advice that has the power to change people for the better. It is advice that we need to hear over and over and over again. And you want to know something, it’s on us to be the voices of this advice today, and our world needs it.
Serve others, don’t serve self!
Serve others, don’t serve self!
Serve others, don’t serve self!
It could make all the difference in this world, for you and for those you influence. Flaunting your freedoms just to satisfy yourself is never good, yet far too often our world teaches people to be like that. Tell an eighteen-year-old boy he is King and at some point he will believe it. Broadcast his life and his high school XXXXXX games on national tv and I promise you that more times than not, he will start to believe the world revolves around him. And ultimately that young man’s outlook becomes self-oriented. Paul knew self-orientation would make the lives of the Corinthians a living Hell. Self-orientation always does, but there is another way. A way that leads to a different orientation, an orientation that focuses on others.
There is an ancient Chinese parable about an old man who knew he would die soon. He wanted to know what Heaven and hell were like. He visited a wise man in his village to ask “Can you tell me what Heaven and hell are like?” The wise man led him down a strange path, deep into the countryside. Finally, they came upon a large house with many rooms and went inside. Inside they found lots of people and many enormous tables with an incredible array of food. Then the old man noticed a strange thing, the people, all thin and hungry were holding chopsticks 12 feet long. They tried to feed themselves, but of course could not get the food to their mouths with such long chopsticks. The old man then said to the wise man “Now I know what hell looks like, will you please show me what Heaven looks like?” The wise man led him down the same path a little further until they came upon another large house similar to the first. They went inside and saw many people well fed and happy, they too had chopsticks 12 feet long. This puzzled the old man and he asked, “I see all of these people have 12 feet chopsticks too, yet they are well fed and happy, please explain this to me. The wise man replied, “in Heaven we feed each other”.
Oh what might our world look like if we were truly servants of others? One answer might be HEAVEN ON EARTH!
Dear God please let it be. Amen!