I CORINTHIANS 10
[Song: "To God Be the Glory"]
In First Corinthians, chapters 8, 9, and 10, Paul has been discussing Christian liberties and rights versus our responsibilities to each other. "Liberty" is a word with which we Americans are well acquainted. We are guaranteed liberties, or freedoms, by our Constitution and Bill of Rights. We so much believe in freedom that we are willing to lay down our lives that we might have them and that others might have them.
Those freedoms and rights have some limitations. Our court systems are kept busy defining just where our individual freedoms begin and end. I am free to drive down the street, but I must yield my freedom at a red light to allow you to also get on or cross that road. I am free to go hunting and shoot innocent animals at times, but I am not free to shoot you or your neighbor no matter what you have done to me. I am free to earn all the money I care to make, but I am not free to take it from you against your will. Any time someone tries to make exceptions to these freedoms and where they end by claiming qualifiers, we give the court system more work and the lawyers end up with the money anyway.
Legislators make our laws. The courts determine how those laws should be interpreted and applied to our lives. It's not an easy task. There are a lot of variables to consider. Quite often our judges will disagree with each other, so we have the court of appeals - to seek another ruling. Our court system has become so complicated and overburdened with each citizen trying to stand up for and assert their individual rights. "You're infringing on my rights!" "You don't have the right to take that freedom away from me!" "Who gave you the right?" "Did you stop to consider my rights when you exercised your liberties?" "What about me?"
What about me - my rights? It is nice to have liberty, freedom and rights, but it easily leads to self-centeredness and self-indulgence. It makes you wonder what our founding fathers must have been thinking when they set up our government. Most governments of that time thought first of the government itself and what the citizens could do for the country. And now here is a group of people who have declared themselves independent and free and who want to put individuals first and the government later.
It was not a new concept. The Greeks and Romans had tried democracy and republics, but they eventually collapsed from within, perhaps because of the self-centeredness that the concept inherently produces. Our founding fathers were aware of this. So what were they thinking when they set out to form a democratic republic? Were they thinking, "We should have the right to do or be anything we want; individual rights should only end where others' rights begin"? We've heard that often enough.
I submit to you that was NOT what most of them were thinking in the beginning. If you
read many of the writings from those founding fathers, it becomes clear that they were not attempting to set
up a country where we would be free to do what we want and be what we want--the "RIGHT
TO BE FREE,"--as much as they were trying to set up a country where the individuals would be
"FREE TO BE RIGHT."
FREE TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT AND BE WHAT WE
OUGHT TO BE.
FREE TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT AND BE WHAT WE OUGHT TO BE.
That is a different concept. It is not "free to do... [anything imaginable]," but "free to do what ought to be done." Remember, they were seeking a place where they could worship God as they interpreted the Bible, instead of worshiping God as the government said in the church sanctioned by that government. It is not "Freedom is right," but "Freedom to do what IS right." What is right was originally defined by God's law. They wanted the right to do what was right with God. The other ideas - free to be what I want to be - were conceived later.
They wanted to be free of a caste system where "my grandfather was a blacksmith, my father was, I am a blacksmith, my child will be a blacksmith, and we'll never rise above that status." I might move laterally in society, but never up. They did want to be free of that also, but when it was interpreted after this first concept, free-to-be-right individuals would choose what they did more responsibly. When you apply that concept to today, instead of "I'm free to drive down the road until I have to yield my freedom to your freedom at the stop light," it becomes "God allows me to drive down this road and He allows you the same privilege." The same thing happens, but it is a whole different attitude.
As we discuss Christian liberties and rights, let's take into consideration that our traditional American definition of rights and liberties in our "I've got to be me" society may be somewhat missing the target. Which may be what Paul is telling the Corinthians. Paul begins this chapter with a warning against self-indulgence. He uses the Israelites just freed from slavery and in their "new privileged society under God's guidance" as his example. Paul reminds them that most of the Israelites died in the wilderness because of five different areas of self-indulgence. They did not finish the course and win the prize of a home in the glory land.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to recognize that a privileged society with freedoms has an extra responsibility not to put themselves first, as is the temptation to any privileged society. Paul feels the need to warn the Corinthians of this because they had a new freedom - from sin. And freedoms tend to lead toward self-indulgence. Paul warns them that, just because they are in this new privileged Christian society, that did not mean that God would be pleased with everything they chose to do and that they would win the prize while abusing their freedoms. They would have to keep an eye on tendencies toward self-indulgence.
History shows what can happen to people who have been greatly blessed with privileges. The people who enjoy the greatest privileges from God were far from being safe from temptations. Special privileges are no guarantee of security. If we look at the Israelites miraculously freed from an oppressive, Godless government as a privileged society, and the Corinthians Christian freed from sin as a privileged society, where does that put us who are free from an oppressive government and free from sin? We are major privileged. We must keep a sharp eye on tendencies toward self-indulgence.
We live in a tolerant society which wants to exercise every freedom to its fullest extent. Anything goes if you don't get caught. "I'll stop at the red light, but I'll try and race through the yellow light if I think I can get away with it. And if it turns red while I'm in the intersection..." [shrug]. Our society more and more tolerates people who are pushing to the limits these so-called rights - pursuing their own self-indulgence.
What does Paul say about rights? "All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful or build up. Don't seek your own good, but seek your neighbor's good."
Our country depends on laws, our society on rules. For years, even these rules were "written in stone," rigid and only crossed by criminals or uncouth individuals. Everyone wanted to follow Emily Post's rules. In the 1960's that "stone" was shattered by liberals who wanted unleashed from burdens of laws, society and religion. "God is dead. We can do as we want - seek our own advantage - I'm free to be me." It didn't take too long for that self-indulgence to permeate the church. "We don't have to do that. I want to do this. Who are you to judge me and tell me how to dress, where to sit, when to stand, when to attend?"
Like our society, we relaxed and got rid of some our legalism. But did we sacrifice some ideologies, like considering our influence on others? We are our brother's keepers. Everyone of us has an influence. You may say, "I want to be free of being anyone's influence. If you don't like what you see me do, don't look at me. I don't want the responsibility of being your influence. Let me do my thing and you do yours."
Yeah, we got rid of some of the legalism, but what did we replace it with? Freedom? Self-indulgence? Or love and the good of the neighbor? The way I read I Corinthians 10, Christian liberties do not give me the right to ignore my influence on others just to do what I want. That is looking after my own interests and not those of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:21). It's self-indulgence. That is thinking of self and not the good of the neighbor. I read that the word that is translated "neighbor" in verse 24 literally means "one who is not like me; the one I am most likely to disagree with." That is the person whose good I am to seek.
When you consider your Christian liberties, please consider the influence your liberties have on others as well as on others' children. Remember the next generation will be tempted to take any liberty we indulge in - another step further. It may not be against the laws of our country, but when you want to wear that mini-skirt that you don't think is too short, remember my daughter and everyone else's daughter wants to dress real cute, too, and will possibly want to define an even shorter length as not too short. Where will that lead the next generation?
I've made up my mind that if someone questions what I've taken as a liberty - I've probably gone too far if I can't readily explain my reason without a hint of defensiveness. My rights are not that important that I should risk offending anyone inside or outside the church. One soul is more important than my rights.
Consider my Guyana dress on Friday, the last clinic day this past summer.
When considering your Christian liberties, run them through this little test first, that Paul gives us in this chapter:
This statement permeates every aspect of our lives and should define our liberties (I Corinthians 10:31): "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR