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Iím Right, Youíre Wrong!
January 30, 1994


Following the Super Bowl football game several years ago, Bill Parcells, coach of the winning New York Giants, in the course of a television interview said, "God was on their side!" Do you suppose God really cares that much about a football game?

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 Godís side.

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 hell is a local call."

Thereís something in many of us that wants to be right, that wants God on our side and show others how wrong they are. The Scripture lesson this morning points to a more excellent way, to something that is more important than whether youíre 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 meat.

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, they said. Recent converts found it upsetting to eat such meat because 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 Christian gourmets who ate the meat and could see nothing wrong with the practice. They said idols did not exist. As idol worship was just a lot of superstition, why waste a good steak! There is no God but one, they said, the creator from whom all things come; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom we exist. Because there is no God but the Creator, idols do not exist. Therefore, it makes no difference 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, "Youíre right. Youíre absolutely right, but there is something more significant and important here than being right." There are those in the church, Paul said, who are not as advanced, as sophisticated, in the faith. They havenít 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, donít eat the meat. You may be right, Paul said, and they may be wrong; but their spiritual welfare--their faith, their relationship with Christ--is 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 personís 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.

Last week at the seminar on Hmong ministry, I learned that this issue is still alive in the church. Several of the nonHmong clergy and laypersons urged the Hmongs to use native instruments and music in their worship services. The bamboo flute is especially unique to the Hmongs. We wondered why the bamboo flute is not played in Christian worship. It was carefully explained by the Hmong Christians that perhaps sophisticated and mature Christians could accept the flute and praise God with its music, but the new Christian and the nonChristian would hear the flute and immediately associate it with animism. Because the bamboo flute is an expression of Hmong pagan culture, nonChristians would immediately assume that there is little, if any, difference between Christianity and the old ways. Out of concern for the faith development of Hmongs, Christians will not play the bamboo flute in church; in other words, they will not eat meat once offered to idols. There are more important issues than being right.

Now, I am not disputing there are times and places when we are called upon to stand up for the truth. Jan Hus was burned at the stake in Bohemia for attempting to reform the medieval Roman Church. Ellie and I have stood at the foot of his statue in Prague. Jan Hus, who preceded Martin Luther by 100 years, 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. When spouses insist on being right, they set themselves up for a win-lose combat in which no one wins. A few weeks ago, I said, Donít win arguments with your spouse, for if you do, it means your spouse loses, and who wants to live with a loser! 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 the way of their growth and development, and generally provoke disharmony and disruption. If some peopleís faith is damaged by eating meat once offered to idols, then donít eat meat.

Can you dream, can you imagine what a world we would have if our leaders were 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 Godís 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 silently 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.

Wanting to be right, needing to be right, is an ego problem. To be primarily concerned for the welfare of others 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. "Iím right, youíre 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 Godís love of you. Because God made you, Jesus loves you, and the Holy spirit calls you, you are important and worthy.

Rather than proving, "Iím right, youíre wrong", be more concerned about helping others grow and mature in their relationship with Jesus Christ.

ã 1994 Douglas I. Norris