July 22, 2018

That Many May be Saved

The Text

1 Corinthians, chapter 10, verses 31-33. Hear the word of the Lord:

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

The Point

The point of the passage is this: As followers of Christ, we love our neighbors in order to glorify God “that many may be saved.”

Orientation

This message only has the one point. But, like a good Baptist, I still have three sections. These will be three angles of looking at the passage. We’ll begin by getting the setting, by making an overview of the meaning of different parts of the passage. Next, we’ll meditate on what God commands us to do in the passage. Third, we’ll see what the passage shows us about Jesus.

Setting

So, we start this afternoon with the setting, getting an overview of the passage.

Food Matters

It begins with the Apostle writing “So, whether you eat or drink”. That’s an odd way to start—kind of in the middle of a thought. We can look up the page to see where this train of thought started. Paul had been discussing whether to eat meat that had previously been sacrificed to an idol in a pagan worship ceremony. It turns out that what we eat and how we eat communicates something about who we worship and how we worship.

Our Lord taught us to pray “give us this day our daily bread”; our food comes from God. In the temple in Jerusalem, the worshipers would complete the sacrifice eating it as a meal. In the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, we “remember the Lord’s death until He comes”, by symbolically sharing a meal. And, who can forget David’s words in the twenty-third Psalm? “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies”. A meal is a sign of peace between those who share it, even if enemies are on the outside looking in.

Food is something mundane. Eating is something we do every day. But, even these things that can seem small are important to God. As Jesus said, “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” Food matters. And if it matters “whether you eat or drink”, everything—as Paul says “whatever you do”—everything matters.

The Glory of God

The next big thing to understand is this idea of “the glory of God”. “Glory” is what it’s called when you’re famous and you deserve to be. God deserves to be famous, because of who He is and what He has done. That’s what we mean when we say “He is worthy of glory.”

Glory can be a difficult idea to us to grasp, because so much of what we see in this world is either simple fame or it is vainglory. To have fame is just to be well-known. Real glory is like fame, but different. People can have fame without deserving it. Many in our culture are somehow famous just for being famous. Think of almost anyone on reality TV. Fame is a kind of imitation of glory. On the other side, the other false kind of glory we see is vainglory—a good word that needs to come back. Vainglory is what you have when you think you deserve to be famous, but you don’t deserve it. Is everyone familiar with some of the terrible auditions on these talent shows like “American Idol”? (That’s a name for a show.) You know how some people with no talent argue with the expert judges? That’s vainglory.

This idea of “glory”—that God deserves to be famous because of who He is and what He has done—tells us what it means to do things “unto the glory of God”. We do things “to the glory of God” when we do them in a way that demonstrates how worthy He is. We do things to the glory of God when we help ourselves see how worthy He is. When we help others see it. And, when we proclaim His worthiness to the watching heavens. “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” We do things “to the glory of God” by helping people see Him more clearly.

Giving offense

After this weighty opening statement, Paul tells us to “give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God”. That combination of “Jews”, “Greeks”, and “the Church” is the Apostle’s very thorough way of saying “anyone and everyone”. So, we’re not allowed to give offense to anyone. That sounds impossible. We can’t always control whether people are offended. Even when we’re being as loving as we can, people may still come away offended. And, what about the Apostle Paul himself? Wherever he traveled, Jews or Greeks would riot. They clearly took offense.

Where it says “give no offense”, other translations translate that as “be blameless”. Another way to put that is “don’t cause others to stumble”. What all of this is getting at is: whether by word or by example, we must not lead others into sin. This makes sense with what Paul was telling us about food offered to idols. We don’t want to give offense by supporting the pagan idolater in his false worship. We “give no offense” by not helping others to sin.

That many may be saved

Last in this passage, the Scripture reminds us why we do what we do. We seek the advantage “of many, that they may be saved.” God is absolutely sovereign. He is absolutely sovereign in salvation. But, we must never forget that God uses means. He uses our prayers, so we pray for the salvation of our families. God uses us Christians to tell our neighbors about Him. Otherwise, “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” We glorify God and try to do the best we can for other people so that God might use us in saving people.

So, that’s the overview. Food—and everything else—matters. God deserves to be famous. When we talk about offense, we’re talking about sin. And, as followers of Christ, we love our neighbors in order to glorify God that many may be saved.

The Law

“God is the first and best of beings”. This gives Him the right to make demands of us.

Do all to the glory of God

God is worthy of all glory. Therefore, He—through the words of the Apostle Paul—commands us “to do all to the glory of God”. Everyone here is commanded to do everything in such a way that it shows God for who He is to ourselves or to others. Everything matters and God deserves the glory for it. This is the same duty Our Lord, Jesus Christ, named the greatest commandment: “The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” It is a requirement upon our actions and our attitudes. We ought to always love God and to express that love in the ways He has taught us.

The immediate application from the context is that we must not even appear to be at peace with idols. What idols are you making peace with? The Bible, in the epistle to the Colossians, tells us that covetousness is idolatry. Are you discontent with what God has given you? Do you cherish some sin, or wish that God had allowed something He has forbidden? Do you secretly think God is not good or that He is holding back good things from you? Do you grumble about it?

We could not even breathe if God had not made our lungs. Yet we use those lungs he made—and the air he fills them with—to breathe out complaints about the world He made. Brothers and sisters, do not be at peace with those idols. Tear them down and “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Covetousness is not the only variety of idolatry we must reject. If you are here today and you are not a Christian, I must warn you that God will get the glory He deserves. The Scriptures promise that, one day, “every knee [will] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The question is will you give God the glory He deserves in this life or, will He be glorified when He gives you what you deserve in the age to come? Your failure to love and glorify your maker is a sin and “the wages of sin is death.”

Give no offense/Try to please/Seek the advantage of many

The first command of our passage echoed the greatest commandment. The rest of our passage tells us three things we must do to fulfill the second greatest commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The first thing Paul tells us to do is “give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the Church of God”. We remember that this means we must not lead others to sin. Jesus has strong words about this. He says, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” Christian, what example are you setting for your neighbors? Your friends? Your coworkers? How is your example affecting your brothers and sisters in this congregation? Husband, lead your wife and be her example. Parent, what an awesome responsibility you have to lead your children! Non-Christian, consider that Jesus, the meek and gentle teacher, warns you so strongly about what you deserve for setting an example of sin.

Next, the Apostle teaches by example that we should try to please everyone in everything we do. This sounds like such a burden. Yet, this is an idea the Paul repeats in Romans, where he says “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Just as we should not give offense, we should be slow to take offense. Are you “quick to hear, slow to speak, [and] slow to anger”? As a church, let us be always patient, “bearing with one another in love”. Are you willing to forego your rights to help the weaker brother? Do you do things “from selfish ambition or conceit,” when you should “in humility count others more significant than yourselves”?

Paul’s further example is to not seek our own advantage, but that of many. Are you ready to seek the advantage of others when God calls you to? The non-Christian may take offense when you seek his advantage. You may lose relationships when you seek the eternal advantage of others. Remember our brother, Andrew Brunson, in prison because he did not seek his own advantage but that of many in Turkey. Remember the brothers in hiding and in chains around the world. Remember those whose names you know, and those whose names we’ll never know in this age. Remember those who are afflicted for seeking the advantage “of many, that they may be saved.” May we be as loving as they.

Let us tear down our idols. Let us replace our coveting with thankfulness. Let us not lead others to sin, but let us try to please others and seek their good. As followers of Christ, let us love our neighbors in order to glorify God that many may be saved.

The Gospel

We have laid the setting with an overview of the passage. We have meditated on the commands God has given us in this passage. Now, we come to the four happiest words of Scripture we read this afternoon:

“they may be saved”.

God is glorious!

We do all to the glory of God, and we are thankful that God is already glorious. Millions of saints though the Church’s history have known and loved God for who He is. We have loved Him for His perfect goodness, as he is both “just and the justifier”. The Apostle John has revealed Our Lord’s unmatched beauty, having “the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around [His] throne [the] rainbow that [has] the appearance of an emerald.” We have believed His perfect truth that spoke creation into being and promises that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful to forgive our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.”

Uncountable hosts of heavenly beings have watched as our great triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—has unfolded His plan and accomplished His works since He created the heavens. The throne room of heaven watched in wonder as the Lord delivered Israel through the Red Sea. The angels listened as God spoke words to the prophets. Words of matters into which the angels longed to look. The armies of heaven stood ready as God the Son took our place on that Roman cross, as He bore the weight of our sins, as He defeated death, rising on that best of all mornings.

God is pleased

As we try to please everyone, God is pleased with us through Christ, and by his gracious works he pleases us in everything He does. As it is written in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus fulfilled “what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,

my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.

I will put my Spirit upon him,

and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.

He will not quarrel or cry aloud,

nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;

a bruised reed he will not break,

and a smoldering wick he will not quench,

until he brings justice to victory;

and in his name the Gentiles will hope.’ ”

If you are in Christ, you have put on His righteousness and God is pleased with you. If you have been wronged and you long for justice, take heart. God is just and Christ will return to judge the living and the dead, and He will set all things right. If you have done wrong and you fear justice, flee to Jesus for mercy before He brings that final justice. If you are hurt or near a breaking point, Jesus knows your sorrow and has compassion for you. If you despair, turn to Christ and find hope.

He sought our advantage

We seek the advantage of others, because Jesus Christ sought our advantage. We can look “to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” God the Son could have remained in heaven and would have been perfectly righteous and just to leave us humans to die in our sins and misery.

Instead, He gave up His rights for a time, by “taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

We now confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and Our Lord is on a throne in heaven. And from that throne, He continues to seek our advantage. He continues to intercede for us. We pray in Jesus’ name and we are heard, because He is in heaven working for our benefit.

We may be saved!

Brothers and sisters, we play two parts in our passage this afternoon. We are like the Corinthians, to whom these words were first addressed. But just as much, we are the “many”. Let us remember and be grateful for all those who came before us. We are thankful for those who worked to the glory of God. We are thankful for those who refused to give offense. We are thankful for those who sought our advantage. We thank God that he used those who came before us as the means by which we ourselves have been saved.

If you are here, and you are not a Christian, turn to Christ that you too may be saved. You know you have not given God the glory He deserves. You know that you have lead others to break God’s commandments. You know that you have put yourself ahead of others. But you should also know that whoever comes to Christ will never be cast out.

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