1 Corinthians 10:23-33
“All things are permitted,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are permitted,” but not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage but that of the other. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience, for “the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.” If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who informed you and for the sake of conscience— I mean the other’s conscience, not your own. For why should my freedom be subject to the judgment of someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why should I be denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do everything for 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, so that they may be saved. (NRSVUE)
It has almost become cliché in the church to highlight the distinctions in the Greek words for love (you might remember a Super Bowl ad that did the same).
- Storge – empathy bond.
- Philia – friend bond.
- Eros – romantic love.
- Agape – unconditional love.
Normally I do not make much of the differences because, like words in English, often the subtle differences between the terms did not truly matter in everyday use. But when Paul says “love is not self-seeking” it definitely highlights one of these distinctions. This distinction is also behind his words in 1 Corinthians 10:23-33. I am referring to the love of Jesus against the love of Cupid. When we think of Cupid we tend to think of a chubby baby in a diaper holding a cute bow with an arrow with a heart attached, but that was not the Greek or Roman conception. Cupid is the Latin name of the Greek god Eros (from whom we get the Greek word for love and many English words like erotic). In mythology Eros was either the son of Chaos of Aphrodite (sexual desire) and either conception seems accurate. Eros was depicted as a hunter stalking and overpowering his prey. He is not winsome or cute, rather he is to be feared; Eros is wild and uncontrollable, moved by his own passions and seeking to control the thing he desires. Eros being the personification of the “love” shows us it is not merely lust or sexual desire though those are motivators (as the god’s linage shows). Rather, Cupid’s love is one that views people as objects and seeks to bend them to one’s own will. Think about the image of a hunter, the hunter stalks prey to capture it for his own purpose.
Paul opposes this image of love in 1 Corinthians 10:23, where he says, “All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. It is easy to look at this verse in reference to sin, understanding Paul’s meaning as, “We are allowed to do anything in Christ but we should only do what is good for us.” And specific verses like verse 31 So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”, can bolster that idea, however I think Paul wants us to have a more complete picture. When I read verse 24, “Do not seek your own advantage but that of the other.” I see that in this passage Paul is talking about two definitions of love, he recognizes that many in Corinth—and probably many of us—struggle with the idea of love because we are too attached to Cupid’s love. It is easy to grasp the concept of legality, it is legal so I can do it, or it is illegal so I cannot, and that is what Paul is talking about in verse 23. Paul recognizes that many in Corinth are motivated by what is legal and what is not and this has become their morality. They still practice Cupid’s love, if it is not illegal and they desire to do it, then it is good and not immoral.
Paul though wants us to look in a different direction, asking am I seeking my own advantage? He is asking what is the definition of love you are using in your daily life. Are you using a definition of love that provides you with the things you desire at the expense of others or is your definition of love to live your life to build up others. Paul is reminding us that Jesus’ love brought him to a point that he willing humbled himself to be humiliated on a cross for us. Our lives need to reflect this level of focus on others. We need to be willing to be disadvantaged so that others can built up. The example Paul uses is about food and cultural practices, if me participating in culture harms the faith, witness, or health of my fellow Christian the proper response is not for me to react with, “deal with it.” The proper response is to recognize that I am doing damage to a brother or sister and change my actions. Paul calls me to recognize that if I am gratifying my desires or wants despite the harm it causes others I am complicit in the love of Cupid.
Paul even extends this definition of love to our treatment of the unbeliever, he specifically tells the Corinthians to politely accept what is offered them without a question of conscious unless the host raises the issue. He is telling the Corinthians to lay aside their own desires, namely the desire to not participate in any way with cult sacrifice, so they can show honor and concern for a gracious host. Only when the question is put to a head and they must put their allegiance on the line are believers to cause the friction of making their convictions known. It is very difficult to live out Paul’s words here because the desire of “self” is extraordinarily strong being bound up with our basic human needs. We might not explicitly understand our behavior being motivated by a desire to control another or a situation, but these desires are real. The only counter to this basic human instinct to sin is to ask oneself, “what is in the best interests of my neighbor?” Only through asking this question can we take our own desires out of the question and truly make sure we are not acting from the desire to control. And when we do this we begin to love like Jesus.
Leave a Reply