In 1951, the Yale Divinity School professor, H. Richard Niebuhr, published his classic work, Christ & Culture. The book is still required reading in many seminaries today. In his book, Dr. Niebuhr discusses five ways that Christians have understood their relationship with culture throughout history. It’s an old book, but the ways in which Christians have understood culture in the past are still present with us today. I don’t want to take the time to go through all five categories, but I would like to highlight three of them for us this morning because they are relevant for our Scripture. The first category is “Christ Against Culture.” The title is pretty self-explanatory. All cultures are bad and the followers of Jesus should separate themselves. Christians have no reason to ever engage the culture. Niebuhr writes,
For the radical Christian the whole world outside the sphere where Christ’s Lordship is explicitly acknowledged is a realm of equal darkness. (Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ & Culture, pg. 106).
The second category Niebuhr highlights is “Christ In Culture.” Dr. Niebuhr wrote that those Christians who embrace this view oftentimes become absorbed into the culture and become “cultural Christians.” Culture determines what is good and right because these people believe that the Bible’s morality was written for a specific people at a specific time with very little application for the present day. Niebuhr says these people tend to play down the pervasiveness of sin, the need for salvation, and Jesus as the only means of redemption and reconciliation with God. Cultural Christianity most often becomes nothing more than humanism.
The last category I want to share with you is “Christ the Transformer of Culture.” Niebuhr uses St. Augustine and John Calvin as examples of this approach. Both men believed that what God created is good, but since the Fall of Genesis 3, when sin entered the world, every part of creation has become corrupted. Most importantly, people and culture can be redeemed through Jesus. Those who have been redeemed refuse to isolate themselves, but instead they engage the culture around them and work to transform culture. A great example of this is the way John Calvin and the followers of Jesus literally transformed the city of Geneva, Switzerland in the 1500s.
We can see expressions of all three of Richard Niebuhr’s categories in our own day. There are followers of Jesus who want nothing to do with unbelievers or our culture. They want to live in a Christian cocoon where they can minimize their contact with the outside world. There are tons of cultural Christians in our day and you can’t tell one bit of difference between them and those who want nothing to do with Jesus. Last of all, I know many people whose lives have been changed by Jesus and they are working in their communities and professions for transformation.
How would the Apostle Paul have identified his approach to culture? If you’ve been with me for our study of 1 Corinthians then I have to believe that you’d say Paul believed in the transformation of lives, marriages, families, and even cities. Make no mistake about it, there were parts of the culture of Paul’s day that he believed were incompatible with being a follower of Jesus. Paul urged the people to avoid them at all costs, but Paul definitely believed in transformation. In our Scripture for today we will find another example of how Paul encouraged the followers of Jesus to engage those around them with the Good News. Let’s read our Scripture for this morning found in 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1.
23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say– but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”– but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. 25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” 27 If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29 I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? 31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God– 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1 NIV)
When we read verse 23 you might have thought that we have already covered the Scripture, that you had heard that verse before. We have heard Paul say something very similar, it was in 1 Corinthians 6:12 where Paul wrote,
12 “I have the right to do anything,” you say– but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”– but I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12 NIV)
There’s no way to know how the Corinthians arrived at such a belief. Did they hear Paul speak about the freedom we have in Jesus and conclude that we are free to do anything? Did someone, after Paul left Corinth, begin to teach others that they were free to do anything they wanted because God would forgive them when they sinned? There’s just no way of knowing, but what we do know is that Paul never taught them they “have the right to do anything.”
In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul told the church that the unrighteous, the wrongdoers, will not inherit the kingdom of God. In the very next sentence he lists things we are not “free” to do. You can look them up for yourself in 1 Corinthians 6:9. There are some things that are spelled out in God’s Word that God’s people are simply not allowed to do. For example, the Ten Commandments is a good place to start. 1 Corinthians 6:9 lists some things that are not found in the Ten Commandments and you’ll find other lists in God’s Word as well.
But, there are many “gray areas” if you will, those things that the Bible doesn’t directly address, but we still have to make the decision as to whether we are free to participate or not. For example, you can search the entire Bible and not find any guidance on how we are to use computers. So, should we not use computers at all or are we free to use computers any way we like? There are so many areas of modern-life that are like the issue of computers aren’t there? Are we left to our own to make decisions about the “gray areas” or does God’s Word give us any guidance? I’m so glad you asked.
In our Scripture for today Paul gives us great guidance. Take a look at verse 23 again. The people say, “I have the right to do anything” and Paul says, “But not everything is beneficial.” The people say, “I have the right to do anything” and Paul says, “But not everything is constructive.” Is it beneficial? Is it constructive? Does it build up my character, enhance my relationship with Jesus and does it build up those the Lord has put in my life and enhance their relationship with Jesus? Those are two incredibly important questions to ask about the gray areas that are not addressed in God’s Word.
I want to stop for a moment and take a look at the word “constructive.” In the Greek New Testament, the word which is translated “constructive” is the word “oikodomeo” and it means, “to build a house, erect a building, or to build.” In Matthew 7:24, Jesus said, “Anyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house upon the rock.” Paul takes this same word and uses it to describe the building up of the followers of Jesus. Let me give you an example. Turn with me to 1 Thessalonians 5:11.
11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV)
As followers of Jesus we are to think about what we say and do. Is what we are doing and saying building up those around us, blessing them spiritually? When we come to the gray areas of life, such as how we use computers, we have to think before we engage. We have to ask, “Is the way I am using that machine enhancing my relationship with Jesus, deepening my walk with the Lord, or is it causing me to compromise my intimacy with Jesus and leading me away from Him?” We can ask these questions about any of the gray areas that are not directly addressed in God’s Word.
In our day there is only one question: “What is best for me?” That question is not an aberration from the norm–it is the norm for our society today. That’s not the question for the followers of Jesus. Paul couldn’t make this more clear than he does in verse 24. Read it with me.
24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10:24 NIV)
Some translations, like the English Standard Version and New American Standard Version, translate the word for “others” as “neighbor.” I want us to focus on the word “seek” just for a moment. The Greek word that is translated “seek” is in the present tense, meaning it is a continuous action. We should constantly seek the good of others. We don’t simply look out for what is best for our neighbor on Sunday morning, or at Thanksgiving and Christmas when people are more generous towards their neighbors, or when it is convenient. No, no, we, you and me, as followers of Jesus are to continuously be mindful of the best interest of our neighbors, even before we think of ourselves. Now, I know that is an absurd statement for many of you to hear, but I didn’t make it up. In Mark 10:45, Jesus said he did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. In Philippians 2, Paul urges us to have the same attitude of Jesus as we go through life. Read with me beginning in verse 3.
3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. 5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8 NLT)
Do you want to have an impact on those in your office, those working alongside you on the midnight shift at the factory, those you serve while you wait tables at the restaurant, those in your neighborhood, those in the locker room at football, softball, or cross country practice this Fall, or those in your own home? Then serve them, encourage them, be their cheerleader, and stop working to make sure everything turns out in your favor.
I love this next section of Paul’s counsel to the folks in Corinth. Before we read verses 25-28 I want you to know how the meat market worked in Corinth. Many of the animal sacrifices that were made in the pagan temples ended up for sale in the meat markets. Not all of the meat that was for sale came from the pagan temples, but some did. Those that Richard Niebuhr categorized as “Christ Against Culture” would never dare visit a Corinthian meat market for fear that the cut of meat they bought would be tainted. Paul said, “Relax, buy that honey glazed ham and enjoy it! The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” Let’s read these verses together.
25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” 27 If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. (1 Corinthians 10:25-28 NIV)
Paul takes this approach to food that could have possibly come from a pagan temple because he knows that “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” The people of Corinth weren’t allowed to eat the food dedicated to pagan gods, but when the meat left the temple and was sold in the open markets then it was just meat, a part of God’s good creation. God’s creation is good, what He has created is good. We can misuse it, but that doesn’t change the fact that what God has created is good. In Romans 14:4 Paul said that no food is unclean in and of itself. If a person chooses not to eat certain foods then that is their choice, but God gives us the freedom to enjoy the food He provides.
Simon Peter learned this lesson in Acts 10. In the Old Testament, God prevented His people from eating certain foods. There are different ideas as to why He did this, but for the sake of time, He simply told them not to eat some foods like pork and shellfish. In Acts 10, Peter had a vision, a dream in which a sheet was let down from heaven and in the sheet there were all kinds of animals he had been taught not to eat. Then he heard a voice, “Take and eat!” Peter said, “Surely not Lord! I’ve never eaten anything unclean.” He heard the voice again, “Do not call anything unclean that God has made clean!” So Peter grabbed a bacon and tomato sandwich, a rack of pork ribs, and a big bowl of shrimp etouffee and he had the meal of his life! “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it!”
The don’t ask, don’t tell approach was not only to be used in the meat market, but it was also to be used if an unbeliever invited them over to their house for dinner. First of all, many would never go into the home of an unbeliever for dinner, but Paul knew that Jesus had dined with unbelievers often. The Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11) Paul used Jesus as his model. He told the people of Corinth that when they did go to someone’s house, eat whatever was set before you, don’t ask questions. Just eat what they set before you, unless…Unless you are told the food had been sacrificed to some pagan god. If that happens then don’t eat it. Why? Because no follower of Jesus should ever condone pagan idolatry and eating the food would be an affirmation of the sacrifice the unbeliever had made to some god.
I’ve been thinking about this during the week. I’ve been to lots of houses to eat lunch or dinner with friends, but I’ve never been told a dish was dedicated to Artemis or Thor or Zeus. I bet you haven’t had that happen to you either. The lesson I take away from Paul’s instruction has more to do with the follower of Jesus being encouraged to go to the house of an unbeliever to share a meal. Sharing a meal was an intimate experience in biblical times. That’s why the Pharisees were so puzzled by Jesus and His willingness to dine with sinners and tax collectors.
I mentioned to you earlier that because of the direction of our society more and more of the followers of Jesus have chosen to circle the wagons and build their own little Christian cocoon for themselves and their families. We are called to go into the world, not retreat from the world. We huddle up together on Sundays and Wednesdays for worship, Bible study, prayer, and fellowship to be renewed, reinvigorated, and reminded of who we are and what He has called us to be and do, but then we scatter all across this city to infuse our community with the Good News of Jesus.
Christian culture can very much encourage the cocoon mindset. We’ve created all kinds of alternatives so that the followers of Jesus don’t have to interact with those who don’t want anything to do with Jesus, with those we think are beyond the pale of God’s grace. You and I have no idea how God will use us if we will only be willing to step out of our comfort zone and befriend those who couldn’t care less about Jesus.
In 1997, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield was living the good life. She had earned her Ph.D. from Ohio State University and accepted a position as professor of English and women’s studies at Syracuse University. Rosaria was attracted to feminist philosophy and LGBT advocacy. Her primary academic focus was critical theory, specializing in queer theory. She was an adviser for LGBT students on campus, she wrote Syracuse’s policy for same-sex couples, and aggressively lobbied for LGBT causes with her lesbian partner.
At about the same time the rise of the Promise Keepers Men’s Ministry was happening all across the United States. Rosaria heard they were coming to the campus of Syracuse University. Though she had never heard of Promise Keepers up until that point, she did some investigating. As a lesbian/feminist, she was horrified at what she learned. She wrote a scathing Op-ed piece for the Syracuse Post-Standard and immediately was deluged with responses. She said she kept one box for “hate mail” and one box for “fan mail.” One day she received what she called, “The kindest opposition letter she had ever received.” It was from Pastor Ken Smith, the pastor of the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. There was something about Ken’s letter that she really liked. In his letter, Ken invited Rosaria to have dinner with he and his wife, Floy, at their house. Rosaria described them as a humble couple, living in a humble house, who served a humble meal, and they were so warm and engaging. At the end of the evening Ken and Floy didn’t invite Rosaria to church, they didn’t tell her that she was lost, or give her a tract describing the “Roman Road to Salvation.” They simply invited her to come back for dinner the next week.
What Ken and Floy didn’t know at the time was that Rosaria had just begun doing research for a book she would write about the religious right from a feminist/lesbian perspective. She knew that to write the book she would have to read the Bible. Rosaria knew she needed to understand the Bible from the perspective of a true believer, something she was not. She asked Ken and Floy for help. Over the course of the next year Ken, Floy, and Rosaria meet together for dinner and became intimate friends. No topic was off the table, but every time they got together the Bible was the source of information on how to understand the issues from a biblical perspective. In 1999, Rosaria became a follower of Jesus. She wrote a book, “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert” that goes into great detail about how she became a follower of Jesus.
What was it about Ken and Floy that God used to radically alter Rosaria’s life? It was their love for Jesus and their genuine love for Rosaria. Ken and Floy welcomed Rosaria as she was, loved her with no strings attached and no expectations, and trusted Jesus to do what only He can do. Rosaria described her experience with Ken and Floy.
I wanted to know how this book, the Bible, got so many well-meaning people off track and how this man Jesus persuaded so many people to believe that he was actually God Himself. And so, Ken and I, and his wife Floy became friends and we poured over matters of life, and books, and politics in a deep and forthright way. Ken never made me feel erased. Ken absolutely never said to me that my life was unfilled, I would have laughed out loud if he did. Ken never said to me that Jesus was the answer to all of my problems. I would have laughed out loud if he did, but instead what we did was that we poured through the Bible and we poured through the implications of a Christian world and life view. And in that process, something happened that was crazy really. (Rosaria Champagne Butterfield)
What an amazing story of what can happen when God’s people refuse to cocoon, but are willing to love those that most Christians would label our enemies. I’ve read two of Rosaria’s books and she is absolutely brilliant, but what I remember most is not Rosaria’s brilliance but Jesus’ grace exhibited through the lives of Ken and Floy in welcoming her into their home week after week.
We have only got time to take a look at one more verse and it has to be 1 Corinthians 10:31. Won’t you read it with me?
31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV)
In whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. It is amazing to me that Paul recognizes that something as mundane as eating or drinking should nonetheless be done in a way that glorifies God. What is “the glory of God?” How do you describe and define it? There are actually two aspects to the glory of God. First, there is God’s inherent glory or God’s intrinsic glory. God, all by Himself, is all glorious. His glory is the sum total of all of His attributes combined. There is nothing we can do to add one smidgen of glory to the glory of God and there is nothing we can do to diminish His glory. He was all glorious and will forever be filled with glory.
Second, there is the glory that is ascribed to God. Ascribing, or giving glory to God, is an invitation for you and me to give God the glory that is due His name. Ascribing glory to God means honoring Him, praising Him, thanking Him, and living in such a way that reflects His holiness, grace, majesty, and mercy. Jesus put it this way, in Matthew 5:16.
16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 NIV)
Paul said that whatever we do, in everything we do, we are to do it in such a way that God will be glorified. I know you. Now that you know that the Lord wants you to do what you do in a particular way, a way that glorifies Him, you want to do that beginning now. You might be wondering, “How can I do that? I’m not a preacher or Bible teacher.” No, you aren’t, but you are blessed to do what you do so do it in such a way that others notice you are different and the way you do what you do is different–it honors God and blesses people.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Christopher Parkening. Chris started playing guitar when he was 11 years old. By the time he was nineteen he had signed a record contract with Capitol Records. At 20, he traveled the world and played 75 shows that first year on tour. The Washington Post called him “the leading guitar virtuoso of our day, combining profound musical insight with complete technical mastery of his instrument.” Chris has played at the White House, he’s been featured on 20/20, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and he’s played twice on the Grammy Awards.
When Chris turned 30 he retired and bought a big ranch with a river that ran through it in Montana because he had more money than he could ever spend and he loved fly fishing more than anything in life. Chris did what he wanted to do, but at some point, four years into his retirement, he recognized that his life was empty. He thought, “If you’ve got more money that you need and you get to do what you’ve always dreamed of doing, but are still empty…what is there?”
Chris was visiting a friend in LA when a neighbor invited him to go to church with him. Chris was raised in a Christian home, he knew some facts about Jesus, but Chris really had no interest in Jesus at all. Still, he agreed to go. Chris left the worship service thinking about what the preacher had said. That night he prayed to receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior.
Chris started to spend time in God’s Word every day. He ran onto a verse in 1 Corinthians 10:31 that hit him between the eyes: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Chris said, “I only know how to do two things and I don’t think fly fishing is what God wants me to do.” So Chris picked up the phone and called his old manager and told him, “I want to start playing again, but this time I want to honor and glorify my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
In 2002, Chris was invited to teach at Pepperdine University. It was a unique opportunity because Pepperdine is a Christian university and they agreed that Chris could teach classical guitar and disciple students. What in the world is the classical guitar virtuoso of our generation doing teaching guitar at a small Christian college? Chris would tell you there is nothing he would rather do than share Jesus with young people through the vehicle of his gift with a guitar. Whatever you do…do it all for the glory of God!
What about you? If you are here this morning and you are not a follower of Jesus, I hope you have recognized this morning that everything you are is a gift from God. Won’t you thank Him by committing the rest of your days to live for Jesus? Won’t you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior? For those who are followers of Jesus…are you living your life, doing what you do to build your own kingdom, to make a name for yourself in our community, or are you doing what you do for His glory and the blessing of His people? I hope this morning the Lord has spoken to you with clarity and that today will be a new beginning for you. Whatever you do…do it all for the glory of the Lord.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 15, 2021
1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1