Listen to sermon by clicking here:
I'm Right, You're Wrong!
1 CORINTHIANS 8:1-13
Following the Super Bowl football game last Sunday, Bill Parcells, coach of the winning New York Giants, in the course of a television interview said, "God was on our side!" Do you suppose God really cares that much about a football game?
In a speech to religious broadcasters, President Bush said, "This is a just war, a war between right and wrong." In his State of the Union message, he said we are fighting a moral war in the Persian Gulf. Saddam Hussein tends to use the same language, but also throws in inflammatory words like "infidel."
During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was urged by churchmen to pray God to be on our side. Lincoln replied that he thought it to be more appropriate to pray to be on God's side.
There's something in many of us that wants to be right, and show others how wrong they are. An executive was visiting France. From her hotel room in Paris, she made a long-distance call to London. When she hung up, she asked the hotel operator how much the call cost. She was informed that the call cost $38.49. The executive was livid. She stormed, fussed, and hollered, "Where I come from we can call to hell and back for 38 dollars and 49 cents!" Whereupon the operator replied, "Yes, but where you come from it's a local call."
The Scripture lesson this morning points to a more excellent way, to something that is more important than whether you're right and the others are wrong. As you heard the lesson read, perhaps you thought it was a strange lesson to be reading today--all about eating food offered to idols and the controversy it caused in the Corinthian church. Remember, Paul wrote most of his letters, especially the Corinthian letters, to referee church fights, to sound a note of conciliation.
The populace of the Roman Empire believed there were many gods. Meat sacrifices were offered to these gods. In order to make the sacrifice as effective as possible, only the best of meat was offered. The priests and temple staff ate what meat they wanted, and the rest was offered in the markets for sale. Meat once offered as sacrifice to the gods was preferred.
There were many in the church who believed that such meat should not be eaten. Converts to Christianity should have nothing to do with meat offered to pagan gods. Some of the recent converts found it upsetting to eat such meat. It reminded them of their former religion. They wanted to make a clean break from the past, and serve Christ with their whole being. Having anything to do with the pagan religion was an affront to them.
On the other hand, there were those gourmets who ate the meat and could see nothing wrong with the practice. They said idols did not exist. There is no God but one, they said, the creator from whom all things come; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom we exist. Therefore, since there is no God but the Creator, idols don't exist, and it makes no difference, then, to your faith to eat the meat once offered to nonexistent gods.
Now, notice closely how Paul handled this argument. He said to the meat eaters, "You're right. You're absolutely right, but there is something more significant and important here than being right." There is something far more important than knowledge, Paul said. There are those in the church, he said, who do not have that knowledge. They haven't yet progressed to the point in their faith where they can handle the eating of sacrificial meat. Therefore, because it is a problem for them, don't eat the meat. You may be right, Paul said, and they may be wrong, but their welfare, their faith, their relationship with Christ are far more important than you being right!
Listen closely to what Paul said, 8:7-9, "Food will not bring us close to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak." And verse 13, "Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall."
What Paul is saying, the timeless principle stated here, is that concern for the welfare of the other, concern for the other person's spiritual development, is overriding, is of more import than proving you are right and they are wrong. A humble concern for people is far more important than a public display of your superior knowledge.
Now, I am not disputing there are times and places when we are called upon to stand up for the truth. Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake in Bohemia for attempting to reform the medieval Roman Church, said, "Woe unto me if I remain silent. For it would be better for me to die than not to take a stand against great wickedness, as this would make me an accomplice to sin and hell." There are times when we must speak out, take stands, and even die for truth.
But, what I am saying is that there are times and places in your interpersonal relationships when proving you are right is hurting people you are called as a Christian to help. Is it so important for you to be right, and to prove you are right, that you put other people down, damage their self esteem, put another obstacle in their growth and development, and generally provoke disharmony and disruption. If some people's faith is damaged by eating meat once offered to idols, then don't eat meat.
Can you dream, can you imagine what a world we would have if our leaders, if Hussein and Bush, for example, were both more concerned about the welfare of the planet, the future of humanity, the lives of young servicemen and women, the lives of innocent civilians, than being right and the other wrong? What a world we might have if we all were more concerned about being on God's side, than getting God to be on our side. What a world we might have if we, rather than proving we are right and they are wrong, sought the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
Our example is Jesus. Rather than proving to Pilate he was right, rather than attempting to prove to the temple leaders he was right, Jesus went to the cross to give his life for the world, that we all might see the love of God, turn to God, and be saved.
In order to live with primary concern for the welfare of others, rather than one's ego, it takes a personal, living, dynamic relationship with God; where your sense of worth and security are found in Christ, not in your own ego, not in the necessity of proving you are right. "I'm right, you're wrong; therefore, I am important" does not work in the long run. Your importance and your sense of worth do not come from being right; but rather from God's love of you. Because God made you, Jesus loves you, and the Holy spirit calls you, you are important and worthy.
May the receiving of Communion this morning deepen your relationship with Jesus Christ, and your concern for the welfare of others.
© 1991 Douglas I. Norris