Hearts and Minds
The other day, Amelia (my daughter) wanted a lollipop after breakfast. She asked me and I told her no, that probably won’t happen but you’re going to Grammy’s house, maybe she will give you a lollipop. She then began pondering just how she could get this desired lollipop from Grammy. Then, the idea struck her- if I bring more than one lollipop for Bella (the other girl Grammy watches) then, I too can have a lollipop. My good will towards someone else will get me what I want. It in fact worked. She was able to, with that idea, get herself a lollipop. My point in sharing that silly little tidbit from Amelia’s life is that she wasn’t seeking how she could benefit her friend, but how she could benefit herself. Her generosity was motivated by selfishness. I think you and I struggle with the same issue.
Many of our relationships are motivated by selfishness, rather than self-sacrifice. This can be seen by simply stepping into any church, or gathering of humans and we end up seeing a lot of fake friendships that are used to help themselves get ahead. The heart and mind are not engaged in these relationships, but rather mostly just the mind. When the heart enters into the relationship, selfishness makes way for self-sacrifice. If it is simply the heart involved, we don’t always see the issues that need to be lovingly dealt with.
In many of our relationships, there is little to no balance of heart and mind. Yet, we are to love with both. We often desire to assert our own rights above others as well. We care more about ourselves than others, even when it comes to our freedom in Christ. The question then that must be answered is: Why must we balance love and knowledge with fellow believers? Which I believe this scripture answers for us.
Paul began to attack an issue that was of high debate in this church and the culture around them: food sacrificed to idols. The stronger Christians began to eat the meat that was previously sacrificed to idols but was sold in the market at a cheaper rate than the meat not sacrificed to idols. This caused frustration among the weaker Christians, who thought they were stronger for abstaining and became puffed up due to this abstinence. This caused problems between the believers in the church and they sought out Paul to answer the question: “Is it OK to eat food sacrificed to idols?” The broader question that meets us today is what does my freedom in Christ allow me to do? Paul then answers this question by talking about knowledge and love. Which he at first (last week) contrasted the two in our relationship to God, this week we will see him contrast it with how they (and we) interact with one another. What Paul is trying to get the church to see is that real freedom is being freed from the necessity to assert only, or primarily, one’s own rights. Knowledge alone is dangerous. What ultimately matters is that believers desire the well-being of others rather than insist on their own rights and privileges.
- Love is aware of others agony (vs. 7)
In verse six, Paul discussed how there is a knowledge that has been shared by the church that these idols amount to nothing and are powerless in comparison to God. In verse 7, he reminded the Corinthian church that for some, knowing it cerebrally isn’t enough due to past painful association with idols. He reminds them that Our past interferes with our perceptions. We are not called to stay in that place of the past dictating our understanding, but Paul was gently reminding the church that there was still some pain that creeps up with this issue of food sacrificed to idols for those who used to regularly sacrifice to those idols. Many in the church could see they were powerless, but for those who grew up in the pagan homes believing these were real, mighty and powerful beings, to say they were nothing and one could eat their meat without being defiled was preposterous. Here we can see that a person’s legalism may come out of their pain. When someone forces their legalistic beliefs upon us, we desire to react viscerally because after all, we are free in Christ! This knee-jerk reaction disables our ability to be compassionate. Instead of such a strong response, we should seek to first see: is this legalism coming out of a place of pain?
I know a pastor who is 100% against Christians drinking alcohol, especially pastors. He has made it his mission to ensure that no pastors or Christians feel comfortable drinking. This short-sited legalism frustrated me for a long time. I judged this pastor by his strong, un-biblical stance. Then, I finally struck up the courage to ask him why he was so staunchly against any Christian ever drinking even a drop of alcohol. In that conversation, it came out that his father was an alcoholic who abused him, his mother and his siblings. He began to tear up in his explanation of this reality. He then said: “It was through that I knew alcohol was evil”.
This pastor clearly was having his past interfere with his perceptions and his pain fueled his legalism. Paul was admonishing the Corinthian church and us to not be so arrogant in our “knowledge” and use that knowledge to beat others over the head with our freedom, but rather seek to use our hearts and understand the strong responses of our brothers and sisters
2. Loving one other brings our lives into communion with each other (vs. 8-13)
When we seek to know our fellow believers pain, we get to know them deeper and thus love them deeper as well. We then can share our own pain and our own mess and when this happens, we come in closer communion with each other and thus we are more patient.
Paul then would continue on in verse 8 and state that neither the one who eats or the one who abstains is more favored by God and thus no better off. Said another way: Neither engaging in or abstaining from our freedom make us holier. One commentator said: “some members of the Corinthian congregation thought that their cavalier disregard for what and where they ate demonstrated their superior knowledge and religious freedom”. Paul was trying to show that one group isn’t superior than the other. In fact, a person who feels they need to flaunt their freedom isn’t actually free. True freedom doesn’t need to flaunt itself. Taking to facebook to flaunt one’s freedom is unnecessary. Flaunting is a sign of insecurity or pride, as is judging. Paul was lovingly trying to correct this issue for the believers in the Corinthian church who were missing the point of fellowship altogether. We are to love and know one another as well as walk alongside each another. There is no need for one-upmanship in the Kingdom of God, because the ground is level at the foot of the cross. When we can understand and live in this point, we become a close, loving family rather than a rule enforcing organization.
Paul then goes on to state in verses 9-13 that the person who feels free to do certain things others do not (like eat food sacrificed to idols or drink alcohol) that their freedom should not be more important than their siblings in Christ. Due to the past pain of those who do not feel as free, seeing their brothers and sisters flaunt their freedom could lead down a path of destruction for them. As Soards, a commentator on 1 Corinthians once said: “if Christians give no thought to their actions when those actions are controversial, then although their actions are seemingly correct for them, others who do not share their convictions may misunderstand and be led astray.” Freedom doesn’t remove the need for love. If we live in our freedom may we do so without the feeling of flaunting it or “over exposing it” by having to live in it always in the public arena. Paul made a strong statement when in verse 12 he stated that when we put our freedom above our brothers hearts, not only are we sinning against them but against Christ. Our flaunting, enforcing and publically displaying our freedom is such a harsh move against our brothers and sister that God Himself labels it sin. Not what we were doing, because we cognitively know we are free to do those things, but it’s in the motive of the heart. In our relationships and even in our freedom in Christ, both our hearts and minds must be activated! We also see the corporate nature of Christian life. As Paul will later identify the body of believers to be the body of Christ, so here he recognizes that for one believer (member of the body) to harm another believer (another member of the body) is to inflict harm on Christ. Those insisting on their personal rights are in peril of violating the will and damaging the work of Christ in the world. Real freedom doesn’t need to assert its own rights
Loving our fellow believer takes a desire to be engaged with both our heart and mind. We must seek to know them and be known by them. This requires authentic living filled with grace. When we live in this manner, we put others above ourselves and we put the agenda of God above our agendas. My challenge to all of us is to seek to know God and be known by Him with our hearts and mind and then do the same with our brothers and sisters in Christ.