Whatever, anyone and every way

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 everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1

This is the summary of Paul’s teaching about a believer’s freedoms (rights) and constraints. Although the issues pertain to food sacrificed to idols, idol feasts and food in general, the principles remain the same.

  • Everything that we do, no matter how neutral the action is, needs to glorify God. Food in itself is neutral, it doesn’t bring us closer or further from Him (1 Corinthians 8:8), but if eating it causes a weaker brother/sister to stumble, then it isn’t glorifying to God (1 Corinthians 8:9, 12-13).
  • In Christ, we have freedom. That means we no longer live under the Law, instead we enjoy living in grace. Whatever is neutral (not sin by commission or omission) is open to our enjoyment. Yet, we do not indulge in this right to enjoy our freedom. Instead, we position ourselves as servants of others (1 Corinthians 9:19), giving up even the most basic of our rights so that others might be saved (1 Corinthians 9:12). Who are the “others”? It’s simply every and any one – Jews, Gentiles, weaker brothers/sisters and even the church of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:20-22, 10:32; our witness is strong in unity, John 17:20-23). And we endure this, Paul make no illusions that this is a painful process (1 Corinthians 9:27). This doesn’t mean that we commit sin to reach out of course, but in times when we are placed in difficult positions, God is with us (1 Corinthians 10:8-9, 13-22).
  • How far do we go to seek the good of others? How far do we go to serve them? As far as their freedom will take them (1 Corinthians 10:28-29) if they are involved. No freedom or right of ours stands before the conscience of others (1 Corinthians 10:24). Yet God is gracious, the concession for us is that we are free to indulge where others are not involved (1 Corinthians 10:25-27, 30).

These words cast a wide net on the things we do, the people we consider and the lengths we go in our daily walk with God. It seems like an impossible task, but still Paul says “follow”.

This task is important because brings salvation, the ultimate benefit for any man. It is our witness for Christ. Just as it was Christ’s witness and Apostle Paul’s witness, it is our witness. By doing so, we make ourselves walking and living pieces of evidence that Christ is real.

Take up the cross

“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
Matthew 10:38

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Matthew 16:24

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. ”
Luke 9:23

“And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
Luke 14:27

I sense that there is a theme going on here. In Matthew 10 and Luke 14, Jesus was elaborating the need to put Him first above all other allegiance – above the people arounds, above our own family and above ourselves. In Matthew 16 and Luke 9, Jesus teaches that all of us need to face the death of our self – just as He faces his death. The context in which he says the same phrase might be different and the lesson might differ slightly, but the practice of it is the same. To be Christ’s disciple, Jesus needs to be supremely alive in us and we need to be buried deep.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20

The cross sent a strong message to the public. It was used as a strong public display to dissuade people from going against the Roman Empire. Anyone carrying a cross was doomed to a slow, painful and agonizing process of death. But one thing was absolutely certain – death. If you saw someone carrying a cross, chances are by this time tomorrow, he/she would be dead. The cross was a symbol of sure death.

This is what Jesus meant when He said “take up their cross”. It is not a picture of bearing a heavy burden and suffering, it was a picture of going to one’s death. It was a picture of crucifying your life and dying to it. Only when our life is 6 feet underground can we truly raise Christ as the centrepiece in our life. This is when Christ fully defines us – when everything we are and have comes under His dominion, because we have nothing and are nothing outside of Him.

Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).
John 19:17

It is a tall order, but only one that He examplifies first with His own life. He says “follow me”, because He knows with full certainty where He was heading – to the cross and to life eternal. He asks for no more than He gave. He wants us to continuously carry our death as we walk toward eternal life in Him. So we carry our own cross and end up following Him. Just as Christ carried His own cross and is found eternally with God the Father.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
Romans 6:5-8

When we consider His grace and love to be the single most important thing that we have received, we are driven to place Him first. More often than not, placing Him first means something in us needs to die so that He can be exalted. This sits right at the core of our Christian life. This comes hand in hand with our continuous relationship and faith in Christ. When we believe Jesus Christ to be God’s grace poured out to us and believe Him to be of absolute importance because He is God, then other things naturally fade in importance.

It isn’t a bad thing at all, it means the things that holds us bound to sin (and exploited by the law) are dead (Romans 7:4; Galatians 2:19). So we glady give up ourselves, bury us 10 feet deep if need be. We willingly take up our cross. We confidently face our own death. And when we find it hard or scary, hey, no worries.  His grace is here to cover. His love is here to take away the guilt and blame. His Spirit is here to help.

“If, then, you suffer from moral anaemia, take my advice and steer clear of Christianity. If you want to live a life of easy-going, self-indulgence, whatever you do, do not become a Christian.”
John Stott

“Among the plastic saints of our times, Jesus has to do all the dying, and all we want to hear is another sermon about his dying.”
A.W. Tozer

No no, Christians are not prudish kill-joys trying to earn our own salvation through suffering. We have hell shaking parties – God’s way.