Saturday, January 31, 2015

Vices and Victories

1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Lectionary 4B, February 1, 2015

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

This second lesson sounds so strange with all the talk of eating meat offered to pagan gods. It is completely foreign to us, yet we face similar dilemmas every day. Consider these three modern situations:

Consider Daphne. Throughout her life, she struggled with her weight. She tried her best to diet and exercise, but she had a terrible guilty pleasure - McDonalds. There was something about a double quarter pounder with cheese, a large fry, and a large soda that she just could not resist. 

Then Daphne was diagnosed with diabetes. She then began following a strict doctor-ordered diet that did not include McDonalds. Her friends listened to her complain how she would never be able to eat her favorite food again. But these friends were all thin and athletic. Daphne’s friends could eat at McDonalds without ruining their weight.

Then one day, Daphne was walking out of the local book store and saw her friends across the parking lot heading into Micky D’s. They saw each other and waved. Daphne wanted to join her friends and break her diet, but was that the right thing to do?

Now consider Bruce. He and his wife Caroline are a happily married couple who love watching NCIS together. For years, they have sat down on Tuesday night to enjoy the antics of Gibbs, Abby, and Ducky. Both busy people, this was a time every week that they knew they could spend together. 

Then Bruce started to work on his doctorate. Still working full time, he could only do his school work in the evenings. With a class each Wednesday, he had to spend his Tuesday evenings reading and completing assignments. So Caroline is mostly left to herself in the evenings. She has to decide, will she watch NCIS without her husband?

Consider a third example. Craig is a recovering alcoholic. After a full decade of constantly drinking beer, Craig is struggling to stop this addiction. For the past few months, he has been on again/ off again. His wife Tracy has helped him by keeping all alcohol out of the house. Although she has never been an alcoholic herself, she does not drink. Craig is grateful for his wife’s support. 

But outside the home is another story altogether. Whenever they go out to eat, the beer list seems to always tempt Craig. Now Super Bowl is coming, and they are going over to a friend’s house to watch the game. Craig is afraid that everyone will be drinking beer. He is afraid that he will plunge deeper into alcoholism. Will his friends be drinking during the football game?

Knowledge vs. Love
Here we have three situations that are all too common today. We seem to be surrounded by temptations - not just in the media. Whenever we interact with friends or spouses, they can unintentionally tempt us to stray from what we know is right. For them, eating fast food, watching a TV show, or drinking a beer might be perfectly fine. But for you? That may be a different story.

This is exactly what Paul is talking about in today’s second lesson. He shows us the deep contrast between knowledge and love. Knowledge is self-promoting, arrogant, and conceited. When we use knowledge for personal gain, we often destroy relationships. 

Love is the complete opposite. God’s love that we share with each other restores relationships, benefits everyone, and brings people closer together. That is what Paul means when he says, “Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.” (1 Cor 8:1b NRSV)

Paul shows us how some of our peers can slip into bad habits, sometimes without realizing it. But we can help them onto the right path. If we look at our three stories from before, we can see examples of how we can build up each other in love.
First, Daphne. As she waved to her friends at McDonalds, her stomach immediately growled. She had a smile on her face, but it was only halfhearted. She so desperately wanted to join her friends, but instead she slowly walked to her car. 

Along the way, her phone beeped. It was her friends, who were still standing outside the restaurant. One of them texted her, “Do you want to eat with us? We can go grab a salad at my house.” Delighted, Daphne immediately perked up. They could spend time together and eat healthy!
Next, Bruce. When it was almost time for NCIS to come on, Caroline got off the couch downstairs and went into their home office. Surprised Bruce asked her what she was doing. Certainly she would rather be watching their favorite show? 

“No,” she said, “If you can’t watch it, then I won’t either. I’ll read here with you. We can watch NCIS on Thursday after you have recovered from your class.” Grateful, Bruce set to work on his assignment. He could focus a little more with his wife silently reading nearby.

Third, Craig. He was worried about what would happen during the Super Bowl. While he and Tracy were on their way to their friend’s house, Craig wondered how badly he would slip. Then, as he walked in, everyone shouted a warm welcome. 

They lifted their cans as if they were toasting him. Craig saw that they were not holding beer cans but pop cans. There was no beer in the house to tempt him. Craig was able to enjoy the Super Bowl with his friends and stay sober. 

Love Prevails
These are perfect examples of what Paul is talking about. These simple things - eating out, watching tv, and enjoying a beer - may not be sinful to some. Yet if they cause someone else to sin, then we must refrain from them. Paul is pretty hard on those who do not take these simple steps. He says, if you aid and abet your weak friend to the point of sinning, then you are ruining them and sinning against Christ. We are not alone in this world. We need to help each other.

Now certainly, Daphne’s friends may go to McDonalds when they know she is busy. Caroline might watch her own favorite shows while her husband works. Craig’s friends might drink beer without him. These actions are not sinful as long as they don’t tempt another.

But, in refraining from these things when they are with each other, these friends are building each other up in love. When they think of someone else before themselves, they are being Christ-like. By doing this, these friends have inspired hope and confidence in Daphne, Bruce, and Craig. 

This is what Paul is talking about. By making seemingly insignificant choices, we can build each other up in the body of Christ. I pray that as you consider your friends, family, and fellow church members, you might discover what God is calling you to do. Small, simple changes can make the world of difference in another. May God give us the strength and encouragement to do so. Amen.

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