1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1
23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 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.
11 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. 
From 8:1 through 11:1, Paul responds to a giant food fight taking place in Corinth between the Carnivores for Christ and the Victorious Vegetarians. The Carnivores for Christ “were arguing for the right to attend pagan feasts and were trying to ‘build up’ others by having them attend as well. Paul says No. Not only is the latter action totally unloving—and Christian behavior is based on love, not knowledge—but the action itself is totally incompatible with life in Christ as it is celebrated at the Lord’s Table. …he appeals, exhorts, and finally warns that such attendance is absolutely forbidden. But the matter is not completely finished. Not everything is absolute; there are still matters of indifference—even about things that are tangentially idolatrous. So, Paul must yet speak to the issue of ‘rights’ and ‘freedom’ on those matters, which is the concern of the final section (10:23–11:1).”
Although we do not have religious food fights in our modern Western church culture, there are still places in the developing world where such issues are still quite real. Wherever animism (ancestor worship) reigns, Christians must still wrestle with sacrificial food eaten in honor of dead ancestors treated like gods. In those places, the link between idolatry and the demonic realm is visible and real. In our culture, such lines are far less clear and rarely visible. But the same rule holds true, whenever a person, spirit, or thing is elevated to the place where God reigns and rules demons are lurking. It is their ultimately-futile mission to snuff out God’s glory. Though the apostle Paul repeatedly condemns the idea that the Mosaic Law is a means to right standing with God, the Christian faith has within it something so radical that it still absolutizes certain behavior. Being members of one body in Christ makes it impermissible to be involved in idolatrous practices. God’s glory, displayed in the love of gospel community for one another, is at stake.
Our text this morning shows Paul addressing the final gray area and summing up his argument. Here, Paul does not base his response on what an individual should or shouldn’t do. He addresses the issue based on what is best for one’s neighbor and what will bring the most glory to God. The key to the gray and controversial areas in life is the law of love. Paul writes of glorifying God by loving our neighbors with three ideas in mind: God’s glory; our neighbor’s good; and God’s glorious grace.
GOD’S GLORY (10:31)
In 10:31 Paul commands “31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” The concept of glorifying God gets lots of lip service from religious people, but rarely do we consider what it means. The word glory can be slippery since it’s rarely used properly in our language. Most often, we use the word glory in its negative sense. We might say of a particular movie that it glorifies violence. We might say of a public figure that he or she has a glorified sense of self-importance. Often the word is used in a self-directed way, “No guts, no glory” or “Those were the glory days.” The oldest and most concrete meaning of “glory” (δόξα,) in both Old and New Covenants is “light” or “radiance.” Paul instructs Christians are to live all of their lives, starting with the most ordinary things like eating and drinking, in such a way that God is publicly praised, honored, lit up, and made famous. He is indeed weighty and glorious in his being. Paul tells us that all of our desires should ultimately be aimed at making God gloriously known for who he is. Our daily activities, as simple and ordinary as they are, should be aimed at his glory. The shape of our lives is meant to make the beauty of God light up brilliantly to those around us.
Like the Corinthians, we often confine our glory-related activity to private devotion and public worship. We compartmentalize our lives and our worship. When we do that, we lose the glory-aimed potential of the ordinary. We tend to downplay the importance, significance, and potential for all of life to be glory-aimed. God wants more from us than our spiritual disciplines and our public worship. We need to see the clear connection between faith and work, God and science, faith and justice, God, and the ordinary things, making ourselves available as citizens pursing human flourishing and common good. Glorifying God is not simply a vertical activity. It is also a horizontal activity between the believer and neighbors inside and outside the gospel community. If this is truly the case, then what is the nature of the relationship between our doing good to our neighbors and giving glory to God?
OUR NEIGHBORS’ GOOD (23-30)
In verses 23-30, Paul calls us to think whether our personal choices are good for our neighbors. In the context of the great food fight and the question of eating meat sacrificed to idols, Paul asks the Corinthians to consider the far-reaching implications for their neighbors. He writes in 23-26:
23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.”
The Carnivores for Christ were licentious. Paul quotes their slogan in verse 23, “All things are lawful.” They were using the liberty of the gospel as license to do anything and everything they wanted without regard for those in the gospel community who disagreed. The Victorious Vegetarians, on the other hand, were legalists. He writes to them in verses 25-26, “25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market….” They lacked an understanding of gospel liberty and were attempting to impose their scruples on the whole gospel community. They sought to improperly bind the consciences of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul answers their error by quoting Psalm 24:1, “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” That verse was part of the Jewish mealtime prayer.
The modern church has both the licentious and the legalists. We have publicly legalistic folks who are privately licentious, publicly ascetic people who are privately hedonistic. The biblically sound advice to both groups is, “24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” The legalists sought their own good and ignored the fact they were attempting to bind the conscience of their neighbors. They demanded the horizontal approval of being right. Their licentious brothers and sisters sought their own good and ignored the fact that they scandalized their neighbors’ consciences. Both are told to stop seeking their own ideas of good so that God receives glory.
Treading upon the sacred Jewish tradition that a devout person would not enter the home of a Gentile – much less dine with them – Paul explores three potential approaches to dining with pre-believing neighbors (27-30). The legalistic pietist would attempt to glorify God without loving his neighbor, refusing the meal set before him (v. 27). In the legalist’s view, loving the neighbor was unnecessary, at best it would be an accessory to one’s spiritual life – nice but not necessary. God gets no glory because the legalist is seeking horizontal glory for his “eating righteousness,” his self-directed spirituality. Such privatized moral conformity ends up making people imperialistic and rigid.
On the other side of the pendulum, the libertine believers were attempting to love their neighbors without glorifying God. “28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?” This person is more concerned about their own freedom than God’s glory. Paul does not say that the Christian has no liberty but calls on believers to curtail their liberty for the sake of their pre-believing neighbors. For the libertine, “loving one’s neighbor” is more of an excuse to partake in the delicacy of meat. But even so, this “love” is more self-seeking glory than God-directed glory. It ignores the goal of God’s glory in favor of self-generated good works that give only the appearance of evangelism.
The underlying heart sin of both the libertine and the legalist is an apathy toward God and neighbor. The libertine can be sectarian against the legalist who wants to restrict his or her rights. The legalist can be intolerant of the libertine who threatens their sense of relative morality and self-generated good works. Paul commands a third way forward: love your neighbor in order to glorify God. Loving one’s neighbor is a means of glorifying God who first loved us. In this third way, loving one’s neighbor is necessary, but it is not an end to itself. The glory of God is the end to which all means are directed. God gets glory because he receives it by the means he has directed. We are called to give God the glory he deserves in the way he receives it. God’s desire must shape and direct all of our activity to his glory. This is the approach of gospel sanity.
The problem is we’re not really interested in loving our neighbors. Our flesh wonders, “What’s in it for me?” Approaching God’s command to love our neighbors without an interest of what we get or don’t get out of it is not really love. It’s simply using someone else to make us feel good about ourselves. We are not ultimately interested in giving glory to God, so we end up becoming glory thieves. Even when we acknowledge that God is ultimately worthy of all glory as the supreme being, our flesh is always looking for a piece of the glory for ourselves. Paul is ultimately trying to show the congregation at Corinth that underneath this broad concept of love is the quality of unselfishness or selflessness. The idea of unselfishness is not primarily about securing good things for others, but about going without them for ourselves when it benefits others. Shortly, Paul will devote an entire section to defining love.
How can believers move beyond the self-centered cycle? How do we move past the dangers of pietism and legalism? How do we steer away from libertinism? How do we love our neighbors as ourselves and so bring glory to God?
GOD’S GRACE (10:32-11:1)
Paul writes, in 10:32-33, “31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 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.” Paul calls for believers to have an other-centered, self-giving love on a mission. We are to have more concern for the needs and interests of others than for our own needs. We are to be self-giving and not self-seeking. The Corinthian believers were to cultivate God’s glory and their gospel community by being disadvantaged for the sake of others, “that many may be saved.” Paul can give this command because he has lived it out in his own life. This is the purpose clause for the Corinthian church. It is our other-centered, self-giving nature that makes us good neighbors because we are concerned with our neighbors ultimate good, their salvation. This cannot be our exclusive aim in relating to our neighbors, but it is our primary aim. In other words, God is glorified when we love our neighbor whether or not our neighbor comes to faith in Christ.
Paul shows himself as a model of this kind of self-giving love. His ministry is a model for how we can adapt to all kinds of settings in order to make the gospel of Christ compelling. Paul’s model comes from the Lord Jesus Christ himself. The only way we can live lives free of self-interest and self-centeredness and become other centered, self-giving is to see that we are the recipients of God’s other centered self-giving love in Christ. The only way we can be driven out of ourselves is to trust that the love of God in Christ Jesus was poured out for me. Jesus did not seek his own good but the good of his enemies! The ultimate glorified one in some sense became de-glorified in order that we, his enemies, might receive his love.
Jesus was the only person in the history of the world after Adam’s fall who perfectly loved his neighbor (his enemy) for the glory of God. He perfectly fulfilled God’s law of love and navigated through the trap of legalistic pietism. He never tried to avoid his neighbors because they weren’t good enough or moral enough. He secured and exercised freedom but steered clear of the trap of libertinism. He never attempted to use his neighbors to gain glory for himself. We can only love our neighbors for the glory of God because Jesus first loved us, his enemies, for the glory of God. We can disadvantage ourselves for others because Jesus disadvantaged himself for us.
How does receiving the other-centered, self-giving love of God in Jesus change our hearts? Our spiritual capital is no longer invested in trying to get God’s love but in demonstrating the love we have already freely and completely and eternally been given. The struggle of our Christian lives is trusting, really trusting, that we are already fully and completely and unconditionally loved by God in Christ Jesus. We must come to believe that we live under a banner that reads, “it is finished.” As we trust that increasingly, we will be able to begin to turn away from ourselves and turn toward our neighbor. When we understand that God’s love and acceptance is completely unconditional, then we are free to love and serve others.
We work for others horizontally because God has worked for us vertically. We live from belovedness to loving action. His love for us causes love from us. Because we have everything in Christ that we need, we are free to do everything for others without needing others to do anything for us. We are free to spend our lives giving rather than taking, moving towards the back instead of pushing our way to the front, sacrificing ourselves for others instead of sacrificing others for ourselves. This truth is able to free us from the tyranny of people’s opinions. We want to hear the kind the verdict that declares we are good, competent, and worthy. That forces us to perform and pretend because we wrongly believe we’re always on trial. Our lives are fixated on other people’s responses. Paul wants us to know that the trial is over. There is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). Because Christ has gone to trial for us, we are no longer on trial. The court is adjourned. We are free to love our neighbors and glorify our God. We have been escorted out of the courtroom and set free. All of the advantages Jesus once gave up he now pours out upon us so that we can be disadvantaged for the good of others. We can now live a life of freedom without abusing our liberties. Instead, we can use our liberties for the glory of God by serving our neighbors.
In John 21, following Peter’s threefold public denial of Jesus, the crucified, buried, and resurrected Jesus confronts Peter. Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” Jesus doesn’t design a recovery program for Peter. Rather, in the midst of his brokenness, Jesus gives him one job: “feed my sheep.” Loving God means loving one’s neighbor. Glorifying God means doing good for our neighbors. Just like Peter, we are all broken in our sin. We all deny Christ and rob God’s glory with our self-centered lives. Though we are functional atheists, disbelieving and betraying God with our self-centeredness, he constantly reinstates us and bids us to love him by emptying ourselves and serving others. That kind of radical, restoring love is worth sharing at any cost.
Paul tells the church at Philippi:
So, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 10:23–11:1.
 Fee, 474.
 Um, 187. Kindle Edition.
 Gerhard Kittel, “Δοκέω, Δόξα, Δοξάζω, Συνδοξάζω, Ἔνδοξος, Ἐνδοξάζω, Παράδοξος,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 235.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Php 2:1–11.