Sometimes as we look at passages in the Bible, it can be easy to take scriptures out of their context and lose the overall force of what the writer is trying to say.
That’s why I’m lumping chapters 8-10 together for this blog, and then later will take different parts of it individually. Because while there are interesting things we can learn in the individual parts, I don’t want to lose the overall gist of what Paul is saying. Put another way, I don’t want to lose sight of the forest for the trees.
What is Paul trying to say here? Basically he’s saying the kingdom of God is what is most important, not our “rights.” And sometimes, we need to sacrifice our “rights” for the sake of the kingdom.
We saw this in chapter 8. Paul said, “We have the right to eat anything we want, even food sacrificed to idols.” But then he said, “But if what I eat is going to call my brother to stumble because he thinks eating such food would be sinful, I’m not going to eat it. In fact, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.” (8:13)
He then anticipates the Corinthians complaint, “But it’s my right to eat it! Why should I give up my freedom for others?”
Part of it he answers in 8:12, pointing out that if we cause a brother to fall, we are sinning.
But then he points out to his own life. He says, “I have a lot of rights as an apostle of Christ, but I don’t insist on them. I have the right to get married and take my wife with me on my missionary journeys, but I don’t. I have the right to get money from those I preach the gospel to. In fact, scripture and Christ himself commands it.” (9:1-14)
Why didn’t he take advantage of these rights. Most probably because he was preaching to a lot of poor people and he didn’t want to take their money knowing it might cause them hardship. Another possibility was that he didn’t want anyone to accuse him of trying to profit off of the gospel and taking advantage of those he was preaching to. All of these things would hinder the gospel.
He then talks about how he made other sacrifices for the gospel. For those Jews who were bound by the law, he lived by the law. One way he may have done that was by only eating kosher foods when he was with them. For the Gentiles, he became like them, eating whatever food they put before him. For those who were weak in faith, he avoided doing things that would offend them.
That may have seemed too much to the Corinthians. Like he was giving up too many of his rights. But Paul compared it to like being in training for a race. Sometimes you have to give up what you like to do or eat so that you can be ready for the race you’re going to run. And if you don’t, you could lose out on the prize because you lived for yourself instead of Christ and his kingdom.
And so he concludes in chapter 10,
“Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. (23-24)
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God… Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God– even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. (31-33)
So as you’re considering your “rights,” the question you really need to ask is this: “Who and what are you living for? Yourself? Or God and his kingdom?”
If it’s the former, you will find ultimately find reward. If it’s the latter, you will find yourself saved, but only as one escaping the flames. (I Corinthians 3:15)
Who and what are you living for?