31 October 2013

Inconceivable: 1 Cor 10:31

I don't think that verse means what you think it means.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1Cr 10:31 ESV)
I regularly read of and hear this verse used to prove that we ought to live life, especially in mundane tasks, to the glory of God. This has been popularized by John Piper applying this verse to the drinking of orange juice.

My contention is that this verse has a very specific meaning in context. I affirm the truth that all of life should be lived for God's glory. But that is at best a peripheral concept to be taken from this verse. It has a more specific meaning. There might be ways to extend a principle from a given passage into a broader context, but when we only regard the passage's meaning in that extended sense my concern is that we forget the original sense. And it's pretty hard to get the extended application right when you haven't nailed the main point.

In my humble opinion, this verse is essentially identical to Romans 14:21:
It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. (Rom 14:21 ESV)
In the context of 1 Cor 8-10, "eat or drink" doesn't include drinking orange juice in private. Paul is speaking of specific issues of conscience, brought out more explicitly in Romans as eating meat or drinking wine. I don't know of any person or people group that has questions of conscience over orange juice. I don't know anyone that could possibly get offended if they saw me drinking orange juice. Drinking OJ in private doesn't even involve other people and is therefore really far removed from the context.

From the context and the place within the argument, "eating" and "drinking" has been in reference to eating and drinking food offered to idols. Paul's purpose has been to show that, "Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do," (8:8). Which is to say, food itself has no moral value. However, the problem in the Corinthian church being addressed is not that they lack this knowledge; rather, the primary problem is that those who have this correct knowledge do not use it properly toward those who do not. Some people still aren't quite convinced that such food is OK before God. While they ought in all things to build each other up through love, some having clearer understanding of their liberty in Christ became proud towards others, thinking themselves superior, and offended those with weaker consciences by eating and drinking food offered to idols, thus tearing down the bonds of unity. This, to me, is the primary sense of "eat or drink."

Applying this verse to our present day contexts still doesn't involve drinking OJ in private. To do all things for God's glory, from this verse, means to value other people's consciences before Christ as more important than my own freedom in Christ. Doing something "to the glory of God" is in contrast to behaving for one's own glory; it is to put the interests of others before yourself. The primary sense of "whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" is then, "In issues of conscience your guiding principle by which to act is not what is permissible for you but what is beneficial for others around you, that you may help guard them from sin in acting contrary to their conscience and promote belief in Christ. In doing so you demonstrate that your ultimate desire is God's honor. If, rather, you flaunt your own liberty before others, you demonstrate that you only seek glory for yourself."

Go ahead and enjoy orange juice to the glory of God. Please go ahead and consider how doing the dishes and other mundane tasks are actually valuable before God. But don't stick 1 Cor 10:31 on it. From its context such applications are, to me, inconceivable.

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