Hope you are having a glorious Easter Sunday! Blessings! Consider it good timing, or Providence, but my wrap-up post on idol food fits well with the theme of Good Friday and Easter. I want to end this series of posts on what I consider Paul’s understanding of true freedom: not doing what I want, but forsaking my rights in order to serve my brother or sister in Christ. In fact, this ethic of freedom trumps Paul’s previous instructions on the permissibility and non-permissibility of idol food consumption.
In what is probably the most provocative statement made by Paul in 1 Cor 8-10, he exclaims:
- “Therefore, if food stumbles (σκανδαλίζει) my brother [and sister], may I never ever eat meat for all eternity!! (οὐ μὴ φάγω κρέα εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα) in order that I do not cause my brother [or sister] to stumble” (8:13).
Not only does Paul employ the strongest negative formula to describe “never ever eating” (the double negative οὐ μὴ + the subjunctive φάγω) but he also adds the striking phrase “for all eternity” (εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα).
He later explains the basis for this radical ethic through three interlocking texts (lexically, the chain links which interlock the texts are highlighted in blue and green):
- For while I am free with respect to all (ἐλεύθερος … ἐκ πάντων), I have made myself a slave to all (πᾶσιν ἐμαυτὸν ἐδούλωσα), so that I might win more people (1 Cor 9:19)
- Just as I try to please all people with all [that I do] (πάντα πᾶσιν ἀρέσκω), not seeking my own benefit but that of many (τῶν πολλῶν), so that they may be saved (σωθῶσιν). 11:1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Cor 10:33-11:1)
- And whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all (πάντων δοῦλος). 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom (λύτρον) for many (ἀντὶ πολλῶν)” (Mark 10:43)
In this radical move, both rhetorically and theologically, Paul turns to the ransom saying of Jesus (Mark 10:44-45) and presents the following thesis: Though he is free to eat idol food at the temple banquet halls or at homes, he will not do so on the basis of love. He surrenders his freedom to eat what he wants so that he is free and blameless to love those who, given their past association and participation in idol worship, might be tempted to return to pagan idolatry if they see other Christian believers eating at a temple (8:10-13).
If we can imagine a modern-day group of Christians who decide to give up drinking—not because they feel it is inherently dissolute, but because someone in their small group has a past addiction to alcohol and with it is tied to a system of fallen values that can ruin his or her life upon returning to it—we can then begin to understand why Paul would rather never eat meat again than cause another to stumble (σκανδαλίζει; 8:13).
So if you have been journeying with Christ throughout this passion week, imagine being at the foot of the cross and seeing the Son of God give himself fully as a ransom for our sins. If Christ gave himself to us fully, how can we not give ourselves fully to Him! But our response to the cross and resurrection does not stop there.
The risen Lord comes to us and says: just as I have given myself to you fully on the cross, I want you to give yourself fully to your brother and sister! Become a servant of all (πάντων δοῦλος)!” True freedom is not doing what I want to do, or following my own desires, but giving up my rights, even the joys of eating inexpensive high quality food at a cheap price at the market, for the sake of the other. I give up the good pleasures of creation from a good Creator so that I can sacrifice for, and serve, those in need. This is the kind of life for which Christ died and rose to grace us with. God forbid that we sell the gospel short by not living our lives as servants of all! Blessed Easter everyone!
|See ch. 7 “The Reality of Freedom in Christ”
If you want to read more on idol food and being a servant of all, I refer the reader to my essay on Christian freedom (co-written with Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom) in ch. 7 of the above book: Living Faith (2010). For a more technical treatment, but worth every minute you spend reading it, please see the article by Seyoon Kim, “Imitatio Christi (1 Corinthians 11:1): How Paul Imitates Jesus Christ in Dealing with Idol Food (1 Corinthians 8–10).” Bulletin for Biblical Research 13 (2003) 193–226. In the article, Dr. Kim does the textual work of connecting the ransom saying of Jesus with Paul’s idol food exhortations, convincingly arguing that the former is the basis for the latter.