Not doing anything that will cause another to fail seems like a good idea, an excellent spiritual practice, as a matter of fact. However, in this age of political correctness we run risk of taking this too far, forgetting the context in which these words were written. We tend to err on the side of not giving offense or, conversely, having absolute right and wrong. The people in Corinth were a Christian community, struggling to sort out what they should or should not do as Christians. It wasn’t about who was welcome and who wasn’t or even the rules of membership. Paul’s advice was really to pay attention to what people needed so as to experience the presence of Christ, the love of Christ.
It wasn’t really about the food sacrificed to idols or who was eating it. It was about what it looked like and felt like to some people who didn’t understand. As Christians, our behavior matters. If our behavior gets in the way of someone being able to experience God’s love, then we’ve got a problem. It doesn’t mean we tolerate destructive behavior so as not to offend. Nor does it mean that every situation has clear rights and wrongs. It does mean that we take into consideration the people in the room with us, the ones who are looking at us to see what we will do.
Years ago, when I was struggling to find welcome in church after coming out, a friend was trying to be helpful. She told me I had to learn to worship with people who did not accept me. This did not go over very well with me. She referenced this passage in 2 Corinthians. I wanted to believe her, but I couldn’t and I ended up being more hurt. My not being straight was not getting in the way of anyone experiencing God’s love. However, the body of Christ, the church, condemning me did make me really question God’s love for me.
As Christians we have an obligation to struggle with how others perceive our behavior. What we do matters in a world that is increasingly secular, increasingly skeptical of religion, and increasingly in need of community. And if we start to fool ourselves into thinking that no one is looking and it doesn’t matter, the gospel text reminds us that Jesus taught and acted with authority. For all of us who make up the church, we act with the same authority.
And when it comes right down to it, if we are getting in the way of another experiencing the love of God, the unconditional, transformative love of God, then we seriously ought to rethink what we’re doing or not doing.
RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday after Epiphany – February 1, 2015
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Child photo. Pixabay.com. Used with permission.