A Stumbling Block to the Weak – 1 Corinthians 8:9

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. – 1 Corinthians 8:9 NIV

Should I or shouldn’t I? As a Christian is it OK for me to [fill in the blank]? Sometimes the Scripture is clear, or at least reasonably so. But at other times the Scripture is silent or vague. When the Bible is not clear, how can I know what is OK? As a general rule, at least with these ‘disputable matters’, let your conscious be your guide. If you have any question about the appropriateness of your action you should abstain.

But Paul, in this chapter, is more concerned about how my actions impact other believers. I may recognize something as OK and indulge with a clear conscious. But what if another believer, whose conscious is weaker, sees me do that. Might they be encouraged to follow my example? And if they do, they have sinned, not because the action was inherently wrong, but because it violated their conscious. And I bear some responsibility for that sin.

I do not drink; at all. For two reasons. The first is that I have never developed a taste for alcohol of any kind; it is just nasty. And the second is because of the example I set to other people. I have absolutely no qualms about a glass of wine with a meal; I could drink it with a clear conscious. But what about the young believer who has doubt about it? If they see me partake, they may also be encouraged to drink. And I then have sinned against them, wounded their conscious, and sinned against Christ (1 Cor. 8:12). Paul ends this chapter with a pledge to not do anything that is going to cause another person to fall into sin. Seems like a good, and loving, pledge to take.

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A Prayer for Unity – John 17:20-21

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” – John 17:20-21 NIV

As Jesus is preparing to go to the cross he prays for his disciples and for those who will come to know him through their ministry; for us today. There are many things he could have prayed for, after all they were going to be without his physical presence in what would become a hostile environment for them. His prayer did ask for protection from Satan, but not from the people they would face. He did not pray for wisdom or love or resources. Instead he prayed for unity. Jesus prayed that we in the church today would be one, just as he and the Father were one.

How can we, as individual humans, experience the unity of the Father and the Son? I believe the only way we can even come close is because of the working of the Holy Spirit within us. Each believer has been baptized, or immersed, into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). We are a part of one body and share something together that the world does not have. But all too often that unity of the Spirit is missing. If you find that true in your own experience, consider following Paul’s direction to the Philippian church.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. – Philippians 2:1-4 NIV

Working Worthy – Ephesians 4:1-6

One of the most fascinating creatures to me is the Portuguese Man o’ War.  Many people mistakenly think of the Man o’ War as a jellyfish, but in reality, while bearing superficial resemblance, it is something else all together.

The Man o’ War is actually a colony of four distinct types of polyps.  The float/sail is a single polyp, and the original polyp of the colony.  Attached to the sail are collections of three additional polyps; one for food capture, a second for digestion, and a third for reproduction.  This colony of organisms are so tightly integrated together that they are unable to survive apart from the colony.  The only exception to this is the sail polyp from which all the others are formed.

So what does this have to do with walking worthy?  In Ephesians 4:1-6 Paul urges us to walk worthy of the calling we have received.  He then proceeds to tell us to be humble, gentle, patient, put up with each other, and to make every effort to live at peace.  Followed by a long list of things for which there is only one: body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, and God & Father.

Paul has been talking about what Christ has done to heal the division between Jew and Gentile, working to produce a single man; 2:11-22.  And then discussed the revealed mystery of Christ, that we are to be members of one body; 3:2-6.  And he is going to go on from here to challenge us to live as a single body growing and building itself up in love; 4:11-16.  The common theme to all of these passages is that the body of Christ, rather than being like a herd of zebras racing across the savanna as independent creatures who travel together, should seek to mimic the Man o’ War, to be a single body.

If I am called to be a part of a body, then how do I walk worthy of that calling?  Some will look at this expression and see in it a call to live such a good life that I become worthy of God’s calling.  But given the context I believe he means something else altogether.  I walk worthy of my calling as a body part by functioning as best I can as that part, losing myself for the good of the body.

The body parts for the Man o’ War are simple; you’re either transportation, food capture, digestion or reproduction.  There is no question about your role, and each member of the colony does its job to the fullest.  The body of Christ is much more complex, with many more parts, and each part with a history of acting independently.  But none-the-less, I believe the Man o’ War has a powerful lesson to teach the body of Christ in the unity we are called to achieve.

Walking worthy of being a body part is actually pretty hard for me, it is contrary to my nature.  So how can I pull it off?  By being completely humble, by being patient, by bearing with other body parts in love, by making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (4:2-3).  All of those actions are concerned with interpersonal relationship within the body, looking to put the interests of the body ahead of my own. The Man o’ War does that and prospers as a colony, resulting in the individual members also prospering.  Is it not possible that if we all put the good of the body ahead of our own good that the body would prosper, and that as it did we would also?

Stay tuned for part 2.

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