Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 8
People see Christian maturity as I don’t mess up a lot like I used to. I see it differently. Maturity is when you see others before you see yourself. That’s what 1 Corinthians 8 is about. It’s an encouragement to live the Christian life wider and bigger. And by that, Paul means that our decisions and lives are to help others grow. How I parent, how I treat my wife, what I do with my free time, what I listen to, and what I watch is not just about me, but it’s to be an example to others. As A. W. Tozer said, “There are rare Christians whose very presence incites others to be better Christians. I want to be that rare Christian.”
At our church we have four services every Sunday, each with the same message. One of our elders had a conversation with me one Sunday when I wasn’t preaching but was at each service since I was participating. His words both encouraged and inspired me. At our 5 p.m. service, he said to me, “I can’t believe the way you listened to that sermon. Wasn’t this the fourth time you heard it today?”
“Yes,” I said.
“You looked like you never heard it before,” he said. “You sat on the edge of your seat and took notes as if this were the first time you ever heard that sermon.”
What I learned from that interaction: (1) people are watching our lives; (2) we can inspire others unknowingly by our decisions.
I chose to take notes.
I chose to be excited four times.
I chose to sit on the edge of my seat and put myself in the posture of a learner.
I just forgot that it could be an example for someone else.
I realized that a good example is more powerful than a good sermon.
In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul is showing this same principle but from a different standpoint—but still with the power of influencing others. He speaks about the freedom that Christians have, though we must be careful if our freedom trips up someone newer and weaker in the faith. The challenge Paul gives us is that it isn’t for them to step it up; it’s for me to take a step back and a step down for their benefit.” Here’s what he says:
Christ gave up his life for that person. Wouldn’t you at least be willing to give up going to dinner for him—because, as you say, it doesn’t really make any difference? But it does make a difference if you hurt your friend terribly, risking his eternal ruin! When you hurt your friend, you hurt Christ. A free meal here and there isn’t worth it at the cost of even one of these “weak ones.” So, never go to these idol-tainted meals if there’s any chance it will trip up one of your brothers or sisters.
(1 Corinthians 8:11-13, MSG)
We must care for their growth by adjusting ourselves for their sakes. If a nice hotel that we stay at has a casino and if that trips up anyone who has stumbled with gambling, then guess what? We don’t stay there. For their sake. This could be with the music we listen to or a movie with a certain rating we watch. If it affects a weaker or younger Christian, we stop—for their sake.
Why? Because maturity in the Christian life is putting others first. It’s living a life that is not just about ourselves but about seeing and being concerned for others.
Young Christians are called children in the Bible. James Baldwin said something profound about elders and children that can apply to parenting and even in the church: “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” Paul is preaching that example in 1 Corinthians 8. He wants us to realize that it’s others before ourselves, which is a sign of maturity.
I remember as a teenager in church someone telling me, “Tim, do you know what joy stands for? Jesus first, others second, you last.”
That still holds true today. If you want joy . . . put others before yourself.