Sunday school lesson for the week of July 13, 2014
By Beth Barnwell
Lesson Scripture: 1 Corinthians 8
Key Verse: But watch out or else this freedom of yours might be a problem for those who are weak (1 Corinthians 8:9).
Purpose: To understand that we abuse our freedom as Christians if our actions jeopardize the faith of others.
If you remember from Lesson 5, during the time Paul was speaking to the Christians in Corinth, the city was comprised of a rather large diversity of religions, most of which were pagans. Part of the ritual worship of those various pagan gods included animal sacrifices. Some of the meat from the sacrifice was eaten during the time of worship, however most of it was left over and then sold for private consumption. The wealthy members of the community purchased the meat for various parties, weddings, and other celebrations that were attended by the upper crust of society, including Christians. To decline to eat the meat, whether politely or not, would have been insulting to the host. Therefore, Christians ate meat previously dedicated to a pagan god. This concern was sent to Paul in a letter probably written by Christians newest to the faith. This lesson’s scripture is Paul’s response to this issue.
I love Paul’s initial comment: “We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes people arrogant, but love builds people up.” So often the people with the “knowledge” will hold it very close, because they adhere to the old adage, “with knowledge comes power,” which can often lead to a somewhat condescending attitude toward others. What was the special knowledge that the Christians in Corinth had? There is only one God.
The recent converts to Christianity (babies in their faith), with all their wealth of knowledge, were highly indignant that their brothers and sisters in Christ would eat something given to an idol. Paul recognized the concern of the new converts by stating they were due respect, albeit not because they were necessarily correct. The mature Christians knew that food was spiritually insignificant. They did not need to keep Jewish dietary laws in order to win God’s approval. Paul is asking the mature Christians to ignore the offense and help build up the new converts with love. Personally, I think it’s very difficult to return a personal attack with love and acceptance. I have a feeling that I am not alone in this thought process. But, that’s what God asks us to do every day. And, to take it one step further, He asks us to love and accept almost everyone, even those who are drastically different from us. Love is the key.
I recently came across an article in old issue of Southern Living in which a Hindu family arrived in a new subdivision. The people in the community were hesitant to approach the newcomers because they looked so different, but the neighborhood dogs were all about welcoming them, and their dog, to the area. This short time of pandemonium ended with everyone coming away with a newfound respect for each other – through knowledge, acceptance, and finally love. Seriously, if a pet can find it so easy to get excited at the prospect of meeting someone new and different, why can’t we?
Our culture today is very much like that of the days in Corinth. There are so many different religions practiced today, let alone so many different Christian denominations, each one practicing the doctrine in a slightly different way. The sacrament of Communion is one practice that differs drastically. I remember as a child, my parents would not allow us to take communion until we were old enough to understand its meaning. I was so embarrassed that I had to remain seated while others my age were able to go to the altar and receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ. My parents did not want us to simply go through the action of receiving communion without the knowledge of the importance of the sacrament. It took a long time to understand this, but as an adult I am eternally thankful that my parents loved us, and God, enough to ask us to wait. As mature Christians, we know that when we visit other churches, if we are not “allowed” to participate in communion because we are not of that particular denomination, we know that God still loves us and we are His. How or where we receive communion does not change that we are children of God.
What faith lessons have you taught to children or those new to the faith?
As we know, there are some people who are outwardly abusive in expressing their feelings of disrespect, whether it’s regarding the manner in which we receive, or are refused, communion all the way to how someone dresses when they enter the doors for worship. This does not even address the way we treat people of different faiths. When we insult the way other people carry out their faith, we become stumbling blocks to them. John Wesley gave us some very simple rules in which to live our lives. Rule #1: Do No Harm; Rule #2: Do All the Good You Can; and Rule #3: Attend Upon the Ordinances of God (including prayer, reading Scripture, worship and Communion as stated in the Student Handbook). It’s so easy!
Why do we insist on making it so difficult? How do you apply John Wesley’s three rules in your day-to-day living?
A United Methodist Church in my community offered magnets a few years ago. It simply said, “Love God; Love People.” It did not say “Love God, Love Other Christians.” As Christians, we should take a very hard look at the purpose of today’s lesson: To understand that we abuse our freedom as Christians if our actions jeopardize the faith of others.
How can your actions encourage others to seek a life in Christ? How can your experience and knowledge help new Christians grow in their faith?
Beth Barnwell is a staff member of the North Georgia Conference, serving as administrative assistant to the director of Congregational Development. She is a long-time Sunday school teacher. Contact Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org.