1 Corinthians 8

Today’s chapter to read is 1 Corinthians 8.

This chapter takes up the next item in the list of things in the Corinthians’ letter to Paul. That item was whether or not it is acceptable for Christians to eat meat that had been offered to idols.

The world in which the New Testament was written was a world full of idolatry. Everywhere the gospel went, except for Israel, there were already established patterns of idol worship. In Corinth, people would bring animals to the pagan temples to offer as sacrifices. Whatever the altar did not burn up, the priests could eat, but whatever they did not eat was sold in the marketplace. The idol meat sold in that market was cheaper than the non-idol meat, so many people would buy it to save some money.

The Corinthian believers were divided on the morality of eating that cheaper idol meat. Some believers said it was acceptable for Christians to eat it. Others could not eat that meat in good conscience. So the Corinthian church included this question in their letter to Paul.

One side of the issue argued that (a) idols represent false, non-existent gods (v. 4a) and (b) there is only one real God (v. 4b-6), so what’s the harm in enjoying some Apollo sirloin? Paul actually agreed with that argument (see 1 Cor 10:25-26) but not with the hardhearted believer who made it.

Yes, it is true that idols are not real, so meat offered to them has no special powers or curses attached to it. Likewise, someone who bought and ate the meat did so in the open market, not in the pagan temple. That person was, therefore, not engaging in a worship feast or entering spiritually into idolatry.

All of that argumentation was true. So logic dictated that eating idol meat was totally acceptable for Christians based on these theological conclusions.

But what about someone whose theology was not yet developed? If someone had been heavily involved in idolatry before becoming a Christian, eating idol meat could create a temptation that led that person back into idolatry.

This chapter is one of several in the Bible that discussed the topic of “Christian liberty.”

The first thing Paul wanted every Christian to know about Christian liberty is that Christian liberty should never be used in a way that causes another Christian to be tempted to sin. That’s what verse 9 is saying when it says, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (v. 9).

While the topic of Christian liberty is too large to tackle in a devotional, it is important to understand the heart of Paul’s instructions in this passage. The heart of Paul’s instructions in this passage is to consider how your actions affect the walk of another believer in Christ. The stronger you are as a believer, the more you should consider how your example affects other believers. And, if you have reason to believe that your actions could cause another believer to sin, you should avoid those actions (vv. 12-13) for the good of that other believer.

How often do we think about our influence on others?

Are there things you do as a believer which may not be sins but might be harmful to the spiritual life of another believer by causing that person to sin?

Remember that if your children are believers. They are watching you more closely than anyone. Be wise, therefore, in the choices you make in life! Consider how those choices might affect the faith of other believers who look to you as an example of spiritual leadership.

Matthew 4

Read Matthew 4.

Frank Sinatra’s famous song, “New York, New York,” contains the lyrics, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” If success in someone’s line of work requires finding a really big audience, then this line of lyrics is true. Get famous and successful in New York (or Hollywood) and you’ll be famous and successful anywhere else on earth because New York and LA are trend setters for the rest of the nation and for most of the world.

Here in Matthew 4:12, Jesus began the public phase of his life and ministry. He had been living in Nazareth, a small town southwest of the Sea of Galilee, where his mother, Mary, and Joseph were from (Lu 2:4). When he heard that John the Baptist was put into prison (Matt 4:12), Jesus moved.

But he didn’t move to Jerusalem–Israel’s equivalent of New York, New York. Instead, he moved to Galilee (v. 12); specifically, he moved to Capernaum (v. 13b).Capernaum was probably a bigger town than Nazareth but not much bigger or more influential than Nazareth. So this move to Capernaum wasn’t about seeking the largest possible audience.

Jesus also didn’t seek out the most influential audience or team members either. In verses 18-22 we read about call of Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John. They were hardworking Galilean fishermen but they weren’t anything like Frank Sinatra in terms of influence or fame (or singing skill, probably).

Jesus also didn’t go minister to the wealthy and powerful. Instead, he went the the neediest, most neglected group of people there were–sick people (vv. 23-24).

So there you have it. When Jesus wanted to build a ministry he moved to a small town far way from the bright lights of Jerusalem, he called average guys to help him and they went to serve the least influential people possible.

Nobody would try to build a career this way–nobody but Jesus, that is.

But it worked. Verse 25 told us that “large crowds” from all over Israel–Jerusalem included–came to follow Christ. This is because Jesus’s ministry was about the power and grace of God, not the power of talent or networking or one’s hometown.

Are you relying on these things–talent, your network, or your place of ministry–for success?

Jesus did go to Jerusalem and he did minister there. I’m not saying it is wrong to go where the population and power is. I’m just wondering if we really trust God as we build lives and ministries for him or our confidence is in our cunning decisions.

Genesis 6, Ezra 6, Psalms 1-3

Read Genesis 6, Ezra 6, and Psalms 1-3 today. This devotional is about Psalm 1.

God created us to be social creatures. It is natural for us to seek acceptance from others, to try to find a group where we fit in and belong. One way to belong is to do what others are doing. Find a group that seems like they might accept you, do what they do and sooner or later, they will accept you as “one of us.”

People have differing personalities so the desire for acceptance is stronger in some of us than others. But we all want to fit in somewhere. Our happiness is largely determined by the quality of our relationships, so we look for friends in order to be happy.

That desire to fit in can be a positive force for good in our lives, but it can also be destructive. I said above that, “our happiness is largely determined by the quality of our relationships,” but Psalm 1 says that a happy person (that’s what “blessed” means in this context) is one “who does not walk in step with the wicked.”

This statement runs counter to our instincts. If people accept us and offer us friendship, we naturally want to “walk in step” with them. Psalm 1:1 warns us, however, that the happiness we find in acceptance will not last if we find our acceptance with wicked people. Wickedness is always destructive. Ultimately, God will judge the wicked but even before that judgment, the Bible teaches us that wickedness leads us into destructive ways. The feeling of acceptance and safety we find among wicked friends will lead us to do wicked things to “keep in step” with them. Those wicked actions are like seeds buried in the ground; eventually, they will bear fruit in our lives and the fruit of wickedness will always be painful and destructive.

The contrast to those who seek acceptance from the wicked is found in verse 2. The happy person, the “blessed one” (Ps 1:1a) is the person “whose delight is in the law of the Lord.” Because God is eternal and perfect, his word points us to eternal principles that will always be right. They may bring short-term pain but, if we love God and his word, if you are one who “meditates on his law day and night,” you will find stability and fruitfulness in your life (v. 3). Meanwhile, the wicked seeds sown by the wicked will cause them to be blown away (v. 4), rejected in God’s judgment (v. 5). Ultimately, their ways will lead “to destruction.”

I’m glad you’ve subscribed to these devotionals and I hope they are a blessing in your life. My goals for them are (a) to help you be in the Word each day by making it as easy as possible and (b) to help you look at your life through the microscope of God’s word, think about what you see there, and make changes accordingly.

The first thing I want you to consider is, who do you spend your time with? Do you spend your time in God’s word and with his people? Or are you trying to keep in step with wicked people–ungodly friends as school, ungodly co-workers or family members?

Through technology, we can spend time with celebrities, actors, athletes and journalists. We don’t spend time with them in real life, of course, but media and the Internet and apps allow them to communicate what they do with their time, what they think is good or bad, cool or uncool, etc. These people may have a strong following but most them them care nothing about God. If you aren’t careful, you can be heavily influenced by their ungodly lives by spending lots of time uncritically in their “virtual” presence.

The beginning of a new year is a great opportunity to re-assess  your life. Maybe it is time to look at where your time is spend and make some changes for God’s glory and for your own flourishing (v. 3).

Joshua 23, Acts 3, Jeremiah 12, Matthew 26

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Joshua 23, Acts 3, Jeremiah 12, Matthew 26. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read Joshua 23.

People are social creatures and that means we are drawn to conform to whatever the people around us are doing. Part of our desire to conform is social acceptance. This gives us comfort because we feel like we belong; we blend in to feel accepted. The other part of our desire to conform is called “social proof.” This means that, if enough people are doing something, we feel confident that it is the right thing to do. 

As Joshua neared the end of his life, he was concerned about the social affect of other nations on Israel’s worship of God. In verse 6, he urged the people to be obedient and dedicated to God’s law. In verse 7, he warned them not to “associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them.” He knew that associating with these nations would cause them to reject the Lord and turn to idols. Verses 12-13 spelled out the consequences that would follow if they “intermarry with them and associate with them… they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you.” Israel’s history played out exactly as Joshua warned that it would. Their example reminds us to be careful about our associations. While we should not isolate ourselves from unbelievers, we also should not be too comfortable among them. Their beliefs, their lifestyles, and their outlook will create social pressure for us to turn away from obedience to the Lord. Our natural, human desire to be accepted will wage war against the desire to become holy like God is. And the “social proof” aspect will tempt us to minimize the differences between God’s will for us and the lifestyles of those around us.

Isolation is not the will of God for us because the Lord wants us to love unbelievers and use our social influence to gain a hearing for the gospel. But the Bible reminds us not to love the world, either, because it is corrosive to spiritual growth. This passage warns and reminds us to be careful about how we are being influenced by those around us who do not know the Lord.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.