Brothers and Sisters, whatever you eat, whatever you drink, whatever you do at all, do it for the glory of God. Never do anything offensive to anyone – to Jews or Greeks or the Church of God: just as I try to be helpful to everyone at all times, not anxious for my own advantage but for the advantage of everybody else, so that they may be saved. Take me for your model, as I take Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:31—11:1)
The instructions above from St Paul in today’s Second Reading are part of a discussion of the problem for Christians in Corinth about whether it was permissible for them to eat food – meat, in particular – that had been slaughtered and used in sacrifice to pagan gods. This meat would have been sold in the market place and members of the Church wondered if it was permissible to eat it. It led to a dispute between those who ate it and those who did not.
Some said there was nothing wrong with eating this meat as they knew that the so-called ‘gods’ to which the meat had been sacrificed were non-existent. These would mostly be pagans or gentile Greeks who’d become Christian. However, others in the Church – notably Jews who’d converted to Christianity – would never eat food that, as they saw it, had been contaminated or made ‘unclean’ by its use in pagan worship.
The leaders of the Church in Corinth brought this problem to Paul’s attention and in his First Letter to the Corinthians he deals with it. While he sees no problem with eating this food, he insists that the Christians who share his point of view must consider the feelings of their fellow Christians who had scruples and were scandalised by those who ate it. So he lays down certain rules.
This meat, he says, or any food in itself is not holy or unholy. However, if you are to eat it you must consider the effect this will have on the other members of the community, especially those whose faith may be weaker than yours. If the scrupulous are upset or scandalized by your action, then the community, the Body of Christ, is divided and, furthermore, an opportunity to bear Christian witness to pagans has been lost. So his general rule of thumb is: even if you feel you are in the right about this, it may better for the overall common good if you not insist on your way. So, he says, let your motive in life be to do everything for the ‘glory of God’ and try your best to please as many people as you can (in the sense of not giving them offense).
Paul concludes his advice with the appeal to “Be imitators of me.” As he is modelling his own behaviour as an apostle on the self-emptying and humiliation Jesus endured for others, so Paul asks them to follow his example.
Is there something helpful in Paul’s teaching that we can we apply to ourselves?
Well, what about those times when we are in conflict with someone or with our family? It could be that in a particular tense or angry situation we feel we are in the right over something and insist on getting our way, whatever the possible hurt, harm or disunity this might cause. In such a situation Paul says to us: you may be in the right and entitled to have your way but at what cost?
For a Christian, Paul asks that whatever we do in life we ‘do it for the glory of God’. He means that in all aspects of life, including situations of conflict, we try to think of what God would want of us, to serve God’s will or glory rather than our own. Is he being naïve? Paul would say not so, this is what modelling our behaviour on the humility and self-emptying of Christ means. For Paul it’s not about ‘giving in’ to someone. For him the Christian is one who seeks unity where there is conflict and tries to pursue a course of action that doesn’t give offence but serves the common good.
Where there currently is a falling-out or conflict with another or our families, we might feel like those Christians in Corinth who were determined to go on eating the meat sacrificed to idols even though it disrupted the community. What Paul said to them might be applied to us: yes, we may be in the right but what course of action is for the greater good of all?
Holy Name, Jesmond
14 February 2021