31-33 So eat your meals heartily, not worrying about what others say about you—you’re eating to God’s glory, after all, not to please them. As a matter of fact, do everything that way, heartily and freely to God’s glory. At the same time, don’t be callous in your exercise of freedom, thoughtlessly stepping on the toes of those who aren’t as free as you are. I try my best to be considerate of everyone’s feelings in all these matters; I hope you will be, too.
First Corinthians 10: 31-33 The Message
How do we respond to the hot-button issues of our day? Do we loudly proclaim that “God is our side”? Do we think we have all the answers and everyone else is wrong? Are we obnoxious or arrogant? Or, do we take a more calm and careful approach? Do we share our opinions or thoughts with respect?
Sometimes, HOW we approach an issue is as important as WHAT issues we address, especially when there is widespread disagreement on a topic.
I have always found the Apostle Paul’s approach to a hot-button issue in Corinth to be very instructive. Although Jesus had already died for the sins of all, there were non-believers who continued to offer meat to idols. The issue here was not about eating meat, but rather Christians eating meat that had been offered to pagan idols. It was apparently cheaper than other meat, so it appealed to the thrifty. Yet some Christians had qualms about eating anything which had been offered to a pagan god, or idol. How does Paul choose to navigate this difficult and thorny issue?
He brings forward two principles which would help all of us, with many thorny issues on which there is considerable disagreement and debate.
First, Paul encourages fearlessness. “Eat your meals heartily.” This is not a passage about overeating, but rather a passage about enjoying life. God does not want us to spend time wringing our hands and second-guessing ourselves. I can’t help but think of Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof” singing “To Life, To Life, L’chaim!''. It is a song of robust celebration. Paul knows that our Lord and Savior did not come to give us a spirit of fear and shame, but rather a spirit of might and freedom. Therefore, Paul encourages us to make choices that are pleasing to the Lord, and then to sleep well at night. Knowing we are saved by God’s grace gives us boldness to live our lives without fear. Praise the Lord!
Paul also encourages us to be courteous and respectful. In other words, a little humility and sensitivity are always in style. Paul doesn’t endorse flaunting our choices, or taunting others who have chosen differently. Most of all, Paul doesn’t want us to bully others. While it is fine to share our own opinion, we do not have a license to be a pest, an annoyance, or a thorn in someone’s side. That is not our calling. How we approach others who have a different take on things is where Paul is warning us to be careful, wise, and kind.
Our world could use a little bit more respect. A case in point was found in Oklahoma, where PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) put up a billboard, mocking the governor of the state. They called him a “meathead.”
How did Governor Kevin Stitt respond? He held a barbeque right underneath the sign! Photos showed him with an apron on, in front of a large grill filled with hamburgers, hot dogs, and steaks.
Two wrongs do not make a right. Both sides in this conflict lacked respect for each other.
The hot-button issue of Paul’s day is no longer an issue. Yet the larger theme of this passage is how we approach and interact with people of different opinions. A lack of respect can sometimes escalate a conflict quickly. We cannot control how someone else responds to us, but we can control ourselves. We ought to strive for peaceful resolution, or at least peaceful coexistence, by doing our part to be wise and pleasing to the Lord.
So, let us be robust and celebrate what the Lord has given us. Do not worry or be callous and thoughtless towards others. Instead, live in the freedom of choice that the Lord has bestowed upon everyone. May we live up to Christ’s example of love and respect, especially in the way we act towards those with whom we disagree.
Lord of all,
Celebrating all the blessings You have given to me is such an honor, and a great responsibility. Forgive me when I push my own agenda ahead of Yours. Help me to be at peace with the choices I make when they honor You. May I be an instrument of Your peace, and a beacon to others who desire to know You more intimately.
With an open heart, I pray this prayer in Christ’s name, Amen