Click here for General Assembly coverage

Do what is helpful (November 26, 2023)

"For any of us to be right, all the rest do not have to be wrong. Always more important than being right is being loving," shares Ted Foote Jr.

Outlook Standard Lesson for November 26, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; 10:23 – 11:1

The pre-story

At Corinth in Greece, Paul was the primary evangelist and mission worker sharing the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. This, of course, occurred after his conversion experience.

As we see in his writing, Paul realizes that the Corinth church had strong personalities among its members. As William Countryman notes in Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today, Paul writes as if there are three groups among their membership: (1) Strong-minded rule-enforcers of Jewish purity customs; (2) self-confident Jesus-disciples who resisted pressure from the Jewish-custom advocates because the gospel includes freedom from such legalist purity observances; and (3) recent converts who were asking, “How can we know the rules or the freedom related to food which will correspond to Jesus’ gospel?”

Laws and rules without respect, and with …

If God in Jesus Christ is the Lord of all – really Lord of all! – (8:6), Paul reasons: “All things are lawful (in freedom through Christ), but not all things are beneficial … not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of others” (10:23-24).

Into this mix of (1) those believing it crucial to follow Jewish purity rules and legal observances, (2) those practicing freedom that disregarded all purity rules and legal observances, and (3) those attempting to figure out what they believed, Paul teaches ethical considerations in dining together when the religious and/or dietary customs of those dining together vary and may be in conflict. He intends his teachings on how we respect and honor each other’s religious and eating customs to go beyond dietary decisions. He offers a method for how we consider, how we interact, and how we model our relationships in additional categories such as intimate friendships and public relationships.

This applies how?

My spouse Joanie and I were preparing baked beans for a gathering where we knew at least one person would attend who did not partake of meat. I thought I would fry a few pieces of bacon which Joanie and I (and our pup) might share. Then I could use some bacon grease in the baked beans. Joanie entered the kitchen, saw the package of bacon on the countertop, and noted, “That package of bacon should be in the refrigerator.”

“I thought I would fry up a few pieces, then put two tablespoons of the bacon grease in the beans before I put them in the oven,” I replied.

“Put that package back in the refrigerator. No bacon grease in these baked beans,” she said.

“But no one will see bacon…”

“No,” she said.

I put the bacon back in the refrigerator. She was right. It’s a matter of respect, honor, and integrity in the relationship with the person who does not eat meat or meat by-products.

Equipped and engaged

Dr. John Williams, a colleague in ministry where I currently serve in Sherman, Texas, says, “For any of us to be right, all the rest do not have to be wrong. Always more important than being right is being loving, and therefore being respectful.” Isn’t this Paul’s message to the factions of Corinthian Christians, all of whom believe they are in the right? Isn’t this Paul’s message to Corinthians who see differences in the church and don’t know how to move forward? Perhaps we can relate. Perhaps this message is for us too.

Questions for discussion

  1. In your personal experience of church, work, political, and/or community life, what questions or dilemmas have arisen related to different practices of faith (even diet)?
  2. When you suspect that differences in opinions, beliefs, and practices might create uncomfortable feelings among people who will be gathered together, what contributes to your decision-making related to the details – such as: Who will be invited? What drinks will be served? What food will be served?
  3. Example: In planning a community-wide interfaith remembrance service on a 9-11-2001 anniversary, participants to be invited included Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others. More than one Christian church pastor declined to participate on the basis of a conscientious decision “not to pray where those participating do not all believe that Jesus is fully God and fully human.” When the planning committee regathered to share information on who would participate and who would not, what sorts of conversations do you suspect took place? How might “freedom in Christ” lead some Christians to participate, and lead others to decline?

Want to receive lectionary content in your inbox on Mondays? Sign up here.