Exploring the Scripture
The Christians in Corinth disagreed bitterly. They faced socio-economic tensions within their group, accused one another of sexual misconduct, and disputed over the matters of the Lord’s Supper and prideful claims of spiritual giftedness. Paul preached and converted these predominately Gentile Christians. He understood them. They knew him well. Three years before this letter, Paul spent about 18 months in Corinth.
When this letter was written, around 54–55 CE, Corinth was known as the most magnificent, contemporary, and bustling city of its size in Greece. It was a multicultural city with lively commercial and religious activity, interesting people, new trends, and high employment. In such a city, the Christians struggled with ethical improprieties of their culture. They had fallen prey to the trappings of a boomtown. Like any major port city in the Roman Empire, decadence and sexual promiscuity ran out of control.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes he had received reports that made him aware of the continuing issues and scandals within the congregation. Today’s text discusses one problem. Superficially, the topic of meat sacrificed to idols seems mundane and useless in our frame of reference compared with the complex and divisive issues we face. However, this text provides suitable and normative guidance critical to life as disciples. It begins with a discussion (chapters 8–10) about the ethical tension between individual freedom and communal responsibility.
How does the Christian navigate agency, freedom of choice, and decisions that affect the common good? Paul promotes a particular responsibility. His idea of Christian freedom is not a right to do what one wishes. Instead, it is grounded in love for one another and the community. Paul argues in verse 1: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” God’s love edifies us through and in Jesus Christ.
In verses 7–11, Paul cautions the reader to ask how decisions and actions affect others. He writes, “‘Food will not bring us closer to God.’ We are no worse off if we do eat, and no better off if we do” (v. 8). In verses 9–11 he cautions, “take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak....those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed.” We have the liberty to choose but must consider how our actions and decisions affect others—particularly the most vulnerable.
Martin Luther stated this principle: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” Today’s text is much deeper than a discussion of whether to eat sacrificed meat. It clarifies two of Community of Christ’s Enduring Principles:
- Responsible Choices: “God gives humans the ability to make choices about whom or what they will serve.”
- Blessings of Community: “True community upholds the worth of persons while providing a healthy alternative to self-centeredness, isolation, and conformity.”
Fundamentally, it highlights Doctrine and Covenants 163:4a: “For in their welfare resides your welfare.” We are responsible for and to one another in our decisions and the actions we take.
Project Zion Podcast
Co-hosts Karin Peter and Blake Smith consider how this week's scripture connects to our lives today.
- “Knowledge puffs up…love builds up” (v. 1).
- “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all” (Martin Luther, “On the Freedom of a Christian”).
- As Christians, our freedom of choice and individual actions must always be considered for affecting others, particularly the most vulnerable.
Questions to Consider
- What current issues are there in your community where individual freedom collides with social responsibility?
- What cultural improprieties might influence your congregation?
- How do you define Christian freedom?