We are in a series where we are talking about how we can be transformed from thinking selfishly to thinking selflessly. In our first lesson, we overviewed the book of 1 Corinthians and saw that the message is that life is not about me. God has ordered the world and salvation so that no one will boast in themselves. Instead, if anyone will boast, they will boast in the Lord (1:28-29). In our second lesson, we noted that Paul is teaching us to consider ourselves as simply servants. In our third lesson, we learned that our bodies to not belong to us, but to God. God created us and purchased us. Therefore, we are to glorify God with our bodies. Our fourth lesson on thinking selflessly will come from chapters 8-10 of 1 Corinthians.
Your Knowledge (8:1-13)
It is easy to think about 1 Corinthians 8-10 to be merely about meat sacrificed to idols and desire to move on from the text. But eating food sacrificed to idols is only the symptoms of the problem. It is important that we look closer at the heart of the problem so that we can see the solution Paul provides that will help us move from being selfish to selfless. The first three verses of chapter 8 deliver a crushing blow to selfish thinking. The Corinthian Christians are saying that they have knowledge about idols. Verse 4 further explains what they know. They know that idols are nothing. They do not really exist. There is no other god but the Lord God. Now I want us to see something. Their knowledge is accurate. But listen to what Paul says in verses 2-3. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone thinks he knows anything, he does not yet know it as he ought to know it. But if anyone loves God, he is known by him.” (CSB) Notice that Paul is saying that knowledge leads to arrogance and selfishness. We have noted that these are the two problems throughout this book. These Christians are being arrogant and acting selfishly. This is what they are doing with their knowledge. They know the truth. What they know is correct. But even though they are right, they are wrong because their knowledge has led to arrogance and selfishness. If this is what you do with your knowledge, then you do not know anything at all (8:2)! Rather than being concerned about what you know, you need to be far more concerned that God knows you (8:3).
Here is the problem: these Christians are using their knowledge to the harm of our people’s consciences (8:7). So they are eating the food that has been sacrificed to idols because an idol is nothing without consideration that their right is harming the faith of other Christians. “But be careful that this right of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak” (8:9). Paul’s concern is that they are using their knowledge to ruin another believer. The Christian would say that I know that I am right about this issue. Paul’s response is that you are right. But just because you are right does not make you right in what you are doing. Your right knowledge does not vindicate your actions.
This is such an important truth regarding selfless thinking among the people of God. You have knowledge. How long did it take for you to come to your knowledge on a particular issue? How long did it take for you to come to your understanding on a particular doctrinal topic? Have you ever changed your mind about your knowledge of the scriptures and your knowledge of God? Then we also need to give other people time to come to understand the truth. Just because we have knowledge and just because we are right does not give us the license to blow other people up who are not where you are. We do not use our knowledge or our strong faith to damage the faith of others.
Your Rights (9:1-27)
Now our natural inclination would be to say that we have a right to do something based on the knowledge that we have. Notice in chapter 9 that the apostle Paul is going to address that response. Paul declares that he has all kinds of rights. In particular, he has all kinds of rights as an apostle. Paul says that he has a right to eat and drink. He has the right to be married. He has the right to work for a living. He has the right to receive payment for his labor as an apostle. But look at verse 12. He has not made use of the right that he has. “Instead, we endure everything so that we will not hinder the gospel of Christ” (9:12). Paul is showing that there are all kinds of rights he possesses. There are all kinds of things that he could do as a right that he has as a human, as a Roman citizen, as an apostle, and as a Christian. But he forfeits his rights for the sake of the gospel. He would never want to exercise his right so that it would stop people from hearing and believing in the gospel of Jesus.
In verse 18 Paul says that he will not make use of his full rights in the gospel. Even though he is free, he will make himself a slave to others in order to win more people (9:19). He will become all things to all people so that he might by all means save some (9:22). Why does Paul do this? In verse 23 he says that he does this so that he himself can share in the blessings of the gospel. He says in verses 24-27 that he does this so that he does not become disqualified in this spiritual race.
Selfish thinking says, “I have a right to do something” or “I have a right to not do something.” I want us to think about our rights that we see ourselves having as human beings, as Christians, and as Americans. Do you value a right in your heart to the harm of the gospel? Do you think something is so important that it is worth damaging the faith of someone else? Do you think your right is so important so as to hinder people from seeing Jesus and hearing the gospel?
I am heartbroken at how often Christians are using their knowledge and their rights and knowingly or unknowingly harming efforts in spreading the gospel and harming the faith of other believers. It does not matter if you think the current president is great or terrible. It does not matter if you think the last president was great or terrible. It does not matter if you think masks are great or terrible. It does not matter if you think the vaccine is great or terrible. It does not matter if you think our government is great or terrible. It does not matter what you think about the election. It does not matter what you think about all kinds of arguments that are going on in our culture today. Here is what matters: is your knowledge hurting the faith of others or hindering people from seeing Jesus and listening to the gospel? Here is what matters: are your rights that you think you should be exercising hurting the faith of others or hindering people from seeing Jesus and listening to the gospel? The only person we promote is Jesus. The only position we proclaim is the gospel. Do we understand that people are listening to what we say? Do we realize that while we might be speaking to someone who completely agrees with us, there is someone in this room who does not and that you may be damaging their faith or at minimum may not understand what you are saying? We promote and boast only in Jesus and display only the gospel to the world.
It does not matter if you think you have certain rights. God tells us to forfeit those rights for the good of others and especially for the sake of the gospel. Jesus showed us that he would even lay down his right to life for the sake of our salvation. Paul is telling us throughout chapter 9 that he has refused to use all kinds of rights he possesses as an apostle. What do you think they would tell us about what we should do with our perceived rights as humans, Christians, and as Americans? Selfish thinking says, “I have a right!” Selfless thinking says, “I do not care about my rights. I care about you and I care about the gospel.” We must become all things to all people so that by all means possible save some (9:22).
Can’t Fall When You’re On Your Knees (10:1-33)
The final picture for this section is in chapter 10. Chapter 10 contains a serious warning. Here is the problem about acting on your knowledge and acting on your rights without regard for the well-being of others: you will fall. The scriptures tell us that pride comes before a fall. I loved a comment a brother in Christ would make in the congregation I attended in college. He would always say, “You can’t fall when you are on your knees.” When you are already on the ground, you are not going to fall. Knowledge puffs up. Paying attention to our rights makes us selfish. The apostle Paul addresses this by looking at the history of Israel. Israel enjoyed all the blessings of God but God was not pleased with them and struck them down in the wilderness (10:5). When you think you have knowledge and you think you have the right to exercise your rights, watch out (10:12). When you think you are standing, temptation is going to come and bring you to your knees. You are on a journey of spiritual shipwreck when your concern is your rights and how you should exercise them. You are on a journey of spiritual shipwreck when your focus is your knowledge and how everything should think like you. Listen to what Paul says in this chapter to move us to selfless thinking.
No one is to seek his own good, but the good of the other person. (10:24)
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God (10:31)
Give no offense to Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I also try to please everyone in everything, not seeking my own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved. (10:32-33)
Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ (11:1)
These teachings must be in our minds if we are going to move from selfishness to selflessness. Stop seeking your own good. I do not care what you know or what your right is. Seek the good of the other person. Do everything for the glory of God, not your knowledge or rights. Do not put stumbling blocks in front of people that hinder them from hearing and believing the gospel. Do what will benefit them so that they will come to salvation. Instead of thinking about how you will use your knowledge or your right for yourself, think about how this right can be used for the glory of Jesus. If you cannot use your right in that way, then it needs to be forfeited for the sake of the gospel. Let us look to Jesus…
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant. (Philippians 2:6–7 NIV)