May 31, 2020
Dear friends and family of Gethsemane,
“Take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” 1 Corinthians 8:9
As we move along in this time of a world-wide pandemic people are becoming frustrated, anxious, worried, even angry. We want life to be “normal” again. We want this all to go away. In this time of stress people are lashing out at one another. As there are differing viewpoints as to how to handle this pandemic, there is anger and resentment. While some insist everyone should remain at home, others insist that they have the right to do as they please, claiming their personal rights and freedoms. And on and on the arguments go.
As decisions are made in our worshiping community, there may be disagreement as to the way forward. When shall our church open for in-person worship? Should we ask everyone to wear face masks? Shall we insist upon physical distancing? What about communion? Singing? How do we move ahead and keep unity in our midst?
The early church in Corinth faced a time of making difficult decisions that could lead to division. Here’s some context. In Corinth at that time food that had been first offered to idols in pagan temples was then offered for sale in the market place.
The question for the Christians was, “is it ok to eat food that has been offered to idols?” Some believers had grown up with the practice of idol worship with many gods in their society and for them to eat that food represented a denial of the one true religion, Christianity. Others believed since there is only one God and God created everything for the good of people, it didn’t matter if the food had been offered to idols before being sold in the market.
The Apostle Paul addressed the issue this way:
“We know that all of us possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.”
This is where we begin. We all have some knowledge, but it’s easy to believe our intelligence surpasses that of our neighbor. There are times when I know that I am right and you will not convince me otherwise. I am proud of how smart I am. In fact, I bet I’m smarter than you. And because I’m smarter than you, I’m better than you…. How can you possibly think that? What a stupid thing to say, you knuckle-dragger! You see where this is going?
Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Maybe I am smarter than you, but God loves us both. And in light of the wisdom in God’s love, I’m not so smart after all.
Paul then goes on to state his well thought out opinion of the subject at hand and concludes it is alright to eat the food offered to idols. He then says, “but not everyone has this knowledge, and for them to eat the food offered to idols violates their conscience.” So what to do? “Take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”
In Romans he writes a similar thought, “Let us no longer pass judgement on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.” If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died.”
“The one for whom Christ died…” This is where we begin. When I see the one who disagrees with me, who’s got it all wrong, as the one for whom Jesus died, I am humbled. The wind goes out of the sails of my pathetic argument, even when I am right.
Yet, there is still the need to establish a path forward. What do we do when we cannot have something both ways? Here Paul urges the one who is mature in love and grace to make accommodation for the weaker one, as he calls the other. “If food is a cause for their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.” That’s what it means to be a Christian.
In practical terms, this might look something like this. One believes wearing a face mask is an effective way to reduce the spread of the corona virus, therefore everyone should wear a mask in public. They would not go to worship in a place where people do not wear a mask. Another believes there is little to no value in wearing a mask, so they choose not to wear one. Both might even be able to quote research studies which prove their points. What’s a church to do?
Follow scripture. The one with a mature faith would say, “I don’t believe wearing a face mask is going to make a difference, but I will wear it in order to reduce your fear. Since Jesus loved you so much he went to the cross for you, I can wear a mask for you. I will not let my liberty cause harm to your sense of well-being.”
As we move forward to return to gathering, many such issues may arise. Let us commit to caring for the vulnerable in our midst. Let us always use our freedom to love and serve others for Christ’ sake.