“An End for which God Created the World”, by Jonathan Edwards, Theologian (1703-1758)

AN END FOR WHICH GOD CREATED THE WORLD BY JONATHAN EDWARDS (INTRODUCTION)

To avoid all confusion in our inquiries concerning the end for which God created the world, a distinction should be observed between the chief end for which an agent performs any work, and the ultimate end. These two phrases are not always precisely of the same signification: and though the chief end be always an ultimate end, yet every ultimate end is not always a chief end. A chief end is opposite to an inferior end: an ultimate end is opposite to a subordinate end.

A subordinate end is what an agent aims at, not at all upon its own account, but wholly on the a account of a further end, of which it is considered as a means. Thus when a man goes a journey

to obtain a medicine to restore his health, the obtaining of that medicine is his subordinate end; because it is not an end that he values at all upon its own account, but wholly as a means of a further end, viz. his health. Separate the medicine from that further end, and it is not at all desired.

An ultimate end is that which the agent seeks, in what he does, for its own sake; what he loves, values, and takes pleasure in on its own account, and not merely as a means of a further end.

As when a man loves the taste of some particular sort of fruit, and is at pains and cost to obtain it, for the sake of the pleasure of that taste which he values upon its own account, as he loves his own pleasure; and not merely for the sake of any other good, which he supposes his enjoying that pleasure will be the means of. Some ends are subordinate, not only as they are subordinated to an ultimate end; but also to another end that is itself but subordinate.

Yea, there may be a succession or chain of many subordinate ends, one dependent on another, one sought for another; before you come to anything that the agent aims at, and seeks for its own sake. As when a man sells a garment to get money — to buy tools — to till his land — to obtain a crop — to supply him with food — to gratify the appetite. And he seeks to gratify his appetite, on its own account, as what is grateful in itself. Here the end of his selling his garment to get money, is only a subordinate end; and it is not only subordinate to the ultimate end — gratifying his appetite — but to a nearer end — buying husbandry tools; and his obtaining these is only a subordinate end, being only for the sake of tilling land. And the tillage of land is an end not sought on its own account, but for the sake of the crop to be produced; and the crop produced is an end sought only for the sake of making bread; and bread is sought for the sake of gratifying the appetite.

Here gratifying the appetite is called the ultimate end; because it is the last in the chain where a man’s aim rests, obtaining in that the thing finally aimed at. So whenever a man comes to that in which his desire terminates and rests, it being something valued on its own account, then he comes to an ultimate end, let the chain be longer or shorter; yea, if there be but one link or one step that he takes before he comes to this end. As when a man that loves honey puts it into his mouth, for the sake of the pleasure of the taste, without aiming at anything further. So that an end which an agent has in view, may be both his immediate and his ultimate end; his next and his last end.

That end which is sought for the sake of itself, and not for the sake of a further end, is an ultimate end; there the aim of the agent stops and rests. A thing sought may have the nature of an ultimate, and also of a subordinate end; as it may be sought partly on its own account, and partly for the sake of a further end.

Thus a man, in what he does, may seek the love and respect of a particular person, partly on its own account, because it is in itself agreeable to men to be the objects of others’ esteem and love; and partly, because he hopes, through the friendship of that person, to have his assistance in other affairs; and so to be put under advantage for obtaining further ends.

A chief end, which is opposite to an inferior end, is something diverse from an ultimate end; it is most valued, and therefore most sought after by the agent in what he does. It is evident, that to be an end more valued than another end, is not exactly the same thing as to be an end valued ultimately, or for its own sake.

This will appear, if it be considered,

1. That two different ends may be both ultimate, and yet not be chief ends. They may be both valued for their own sake, and both sought in the same work or acts; and yet one valued more highly, and sought more than another. Thus a many may go a journey to obtain two different benefits or enjoyments, both which may be agreeable to him in themselves considered; and yet one may be much more agreeable than the other; and so be what he sets his heart chiefly upon. Thus a man may go a journey, partly to obtain the possession and enjoyment of a bride that is very dear to him; and partly to gratify his curiosity in looking in a telescope, or some newly invented and extraordinary optic glass; and the one not properly subordinate to the other; and therefore both may be ultimate ends. But yet obtaining his beloved bride may be his chief end; and the benefit of the optic glass his inferior end.

2. An ultimate end is not always the chief end, because some subordinate ends may be more valued and sought after than some ultimate ends. Thus, for instance, a man may aim at two things in his journey; one, to visit his friends, and another, to receive a large sum of money. The latter may be but a subordinate end; he may not value the silver and gold on their own account, but only for pleasure, gratification, and honor; the money is valued only as a means of the other. But yet, obtaining the money may be more valued, and so is a higher end of his journey than the pleasure of seeing his friends; though the latter is valued on its own account, and so is an ultimate end.

But here several things may be noted:

First, when it is said, that some subordinate ends may be more valued than some ultimate ends, it is not supposed that ever a subordinate end is more valued than that to which it is subordinate.

For that reason it is called a subordinate end, because it is valued and sought not for its own sake, but only in subordination to a further end. But yet a subordinate end may be valued more than some other ultimate end that it is not subordinate to.

Thus, for instance, a man goes a journey to receive a sum of money, only for the value of the pleasure and honor that the money may be a means of. In this case it is impossible that the subordinate end, viz. his having the money, should be more valued by him than the pleasure and honor for which he values it. It would be absurd to suppose that he values the means more than the end, when he has no value for the means, but for the sake of the end of which it is the means. But yet he may value the money, though but a subordinate end, more than some other ultimate end to which it is not subordinate, and with which it has no connection. For instance, more than the comfort of a friendly visit, which was one ultimate end of his journey.

Second, the ultimate end is always superior to its subordinate end, and more valued by the agent, unless it be when the ultimate end entirely depends on the subordinate.

If he has no other means by which to obtain his last end, then the subordinate may be as much valued as the last end; because the last end, in such a case, altogether depends upon, and is wholly and certainly conveyed by it.

As for instance, if a pregnant woman has a peculiar appetite to a certain rare fruit that is to be found only in the garden of a particular friend of hers, at a distance — and she goes a journey to her friend’s house or garden, to obtain that fruit — the ultimate end of her journey is to gratify that strong appetite; the obtaining that fruit, is the subordinate end of it. If she looks upon it, that the appetite can be gratified by no other means than the obtaining of that fruit; and that it will certainly be gratified if she obtain it, then she will value the fruit as much as she values the gratification of her appetite.

But otherwise, it will not be so. If she be doubtful whether that fruit will satisfy her craving, then she will not value it equally with the gratification of her appetite itself. Or if there be some other fruit that she knows of, that will gratify her desire, at least in part, which she can obtain without such trouble as shall countervail the gratification — or if her appetite cannot be gratified without this fruit, nor yet with it alone, without something else to be compounded with it — then her value for her last end will be divided between these several ingredients, as so many subordinate ends, and no one alone will be equally valued with the last end.

Hence it rarely happens, that a subordinate end is equally valued with its last end; because the obtaining of a last end rarely depends on one single, uncompounded means, and infallibly connected with it. Therefore, men’s last ends are commonly their highest ends.

–Third, if any being has but one ultimate end, in all that he does, and there be a great variety of operations, his last end may justly be looked upon as his supreme end.

For in such a case, every other end but that one, is in order to that end; and therefore no other can be superior to it. Because, as was observed before, a subordinate end is never more valued than the end to which it is subordinate. Moreover, the subordinate effects, or events, brought to pass, as means of this end, all uniting to contribute their share towards obtaining the one last end, are very various; and therefore, by what has been now observed, the ultimate end of all must be valued more than any one of the particular means. This seems to be the case with the works of God, as may more fully appear in the sequel.

Fourth, whatsoever any agent has in view in anything he does, which is agreeable to him in itself, and not merely for the sake of something else, is regarded by that agent as his last end.

The same may be said of avoiding that which is in itself painful or disagreeable; for the avoiding of what is disagreeable is agreeable. This will be evident to any bearing in mind the meaning of the terms. By last end being meant, that which is regarded and sought by an agent, as agreeable or desirable for its own sake; a subordinate, that which is ought only for the sake of something else.

Fifth, from hence it will follow, that, if an agent has in view more things than one that will be brought to pass by what he does, which he loves and delights in on their own account, then he must have more things than one that he regards as his last ends in what he does.

But if there be but one thing that an agent seeks, on its own account, then there can be but one last end which he has in all his actions and operations. But only here a distinction must be observed of things which may be said to be agreeable to an agent, in themselves considered:

(1.) What is in itself grateful to an agent, and valued on its own account, simply and absolutely considered; antecedent to, and independent of all conditions, or any supposition of particular cases and circumstances. And

(2.) What may be said to be in itself agreeable to an agent, hypothetically and consequentially; or, on supposition of such and such circumstances, or on the happening of such a particular case.

Thus, for instance, a man may originally love society. An inclination to society may be implanted in his very nature; and society may be agreeable to him antecedent to all pre-supposed cases and circumstances; and this may cause him to seek a family.

And the comfort of society may be originally his last end, in seeking a family. But after he has a family, peace, good order, and mutual justice and friendship in his family, may be agreeable to him, and what he delights in for their own sake; and therefore these things may be his last end in many things he does in the government and regulation of his family. But they were not his original end with respect to his family. The justice and the peace of a family was not properly his last end before he had a family, that induced him to seek a family, but consequentially. And the case being put of his having a family, then these things wherein the good order and beauty of a family consist, become his last end in many things he does in such circumstances.

In like manner we must suppose that God, before he created the world, had some good in view, as a consequence of the world’s existence, that was originally agreeable to him in itself considered, that inclined him to bring the universe into existence, in such a manner as he created it.

But after the world was created, and such and such intelligent creatures actually had existence, in such and such circumstances, then a wise, just regulation of them was agreeable to God, in itself considered.

And God’s love of justice, and hatred of injustice, would be sufficient in such a case to induce God to deal justly with his creatures, and to prevent all injustice in him towards them. But yet there is no necessity of supposing, that God’s love of doing justly to intelligent beings, and hatred of the contrary, was what originally induced God to create the world, and make intelligent beings; and so to order the occasion of doing either justly or unjustly.

The justice of God’s nature makes a just regulation agreeable, and the contrary disagreeable, as there is occasion; the subject being supposed, and the occasion given. But we must suppose something else that should incline him to create the subjects, or order the occasion.

So that perfection of God which we call his faithfulness, or his inclination to fulfill his promises to his creatures, could not properly be what moved him to create the world; nor could such a fulfillment of his promises to his creatures be his last end in giving the creatures being.

But yet after the world is created, after intelligent creatures are made, and God has bound himself by promise to them, then that disposition, which is called his faithfulness, may move him in his providential disposals towards them; and this may be the end of many of God’s works of providence, even the exercise of his faithfulness in fulfilling his promises, and may be in the lower sense his last end; because faithfulness and truth must be supposed to be what is in itself amiable to God, and what he delights in for its own sake.

Thus God may have ends of particular works of providence, which are ultimate ends in a lower sense, which were not ultimate ends of the creation.

So that here we have two sorts of ultimate ends; one of which may be called, original and independent, the other, consequential and dependent; for it is evident, the latter sort are truly of the nature of ultimate ends; because though their being agreeable to the agent, be consequential on the existence, yet the subject and occasion being supposed, they are agreeable and amiable in themselves.

We may suppose, that, to a righteous Being, doing justice between two parties, with whom he is concerned, is agreeable in itself, and not merely for the sake of some other end: And yet we may suppose, that a desire of doing justice between two parties, may be consequential on the being of those parties, and the occasion given.

It may be observed, that when I speak of God’s ultimate end in the creation of the world, in the following discourse, I commonly mean in that highest sense, viz. the original ultimate end.

Sixth, it may be further observed, that the original ultimate end or ends of the creation of the world is alone that which induces God to give the occasion for consequential ends, by the first creation of the world, and the original disposal of it. And the more original the end is, the more extensive and universal it is.

That which God had primarily in view in creating, and the original ordination of the world, must be constantly kept in view, and have a governing influence in all God’s works, or with respect to every thing he does towards his creatures. And therefore,

Seventh, if we use the phrase ultimate end in this highest sense, then the same that is God’s ultimate end in creating the world, if we suppose but one such end, must be what he makes his ultimate aim in all his works, in every thing he does either in creation or providence.

But we must suppose, that, in the use to which God puts his creatures, he must evermore have a regard to the end for which he has made them. But if we take ultimate end in the other lower sense, God may sometimes have regard to those things as ultimate ends, in particular works of providence, which could not in any proper sense be his last end in creating the world.

Eighth, on the other hand, whatever appears to be God’s ultimate end, in any sense, of his works of providence in general; that must be the ultimate end of the work of creation itself.

For though God may act for an end that is ultimate in a lower sense, in some of his works of providence, which is not the ultimate end of the creation of the world, yet this does not take place with regard to the works of providence in general; for God’s works of providence in general, are the same with the general use to which he puts the world he has made.

And we may well argue from what we see of the general use which God makes of the world, to the general end for which he designed the world. Though there may be some ends of particular works of providence, that were not the last end of the creation, which are in themselves grateful to God in such particular emergent circumstances, and so are last ends in an inferior sense; yet this is only in certain cases, or particular occasions. But if they are last ends of God’s proceedings in the use of the world in general, this shows that his making them last ends does not depend on particular cases and circumstances, but the nature of things in general, and his general design in the being and constitution of the universe.

Ninth, if there be but one thing that is originally, and independent on any future supposed cases, agreeable to God, to be obtained by the creation of the world, then there can be but one last end of God’s work, in this highest sense.

But if there are various things, properly diverse one from another, that are absolutely and independently agreeable to the Divine Being, which are actually obtained by the creation of the world, then there were several ultimate ends of the creation in that highest sense.

Read full Dissertation at Mongerism.com

Learn about Jonathan Edwards, Theologian from Wikipedia

“God, Freedom and Love”, from Tim Keller, Gospel in Life (Love One Another, Common Grace)

God, Freedom and Love by Tim Keller

Christians and Culture

Roman culture was saturated with idol-culture. Every town and people group had their own particular gods, as did every guild and craft, and even most homes had household gods. There were “gods many and lords many” (1 Corinthians 8:5) that oversaw every aspect of the society. If you visited any country, city, or home, you were expected to participate in some ritual of honor to the house gods, which usually involved eating food. Whether it was a gathering of craftsmen, a class in a school, a town council, or an audience for an artistic presentation—it was done in the name of a god. So every morning there were animals sacrificed, prepared, and eaten in tribute to the deities in opening exercises across the city.

This meant that when people became Christians they were faced with an enormous challenge. They were forbidden to honor idols in any way. But schooling, socializing, political discourse, employment, and commerce were normally done in settings that paid tribute to idols. Not only that, but in an age before refrigeration, a great deal of the food and especially the meat sold in the marketplace and the shops of the city had been dedicated to pagan gods in various ceremonies earlier in the day.

Did this mean Christians had to withdraw almost completely from society? Some Christians believed they did. Since idolatry was behind nearly every gathering and even the food in the shops, they wanted to withdraw deeply into the church and to form their own alternate social world. Others, however, thought that there was no real problem with participating in society (with the obligatory idol-feasts) as long as you didn’t worship them in your hearts.

The result was a bitter divide between Christians in Corinth. Believers with the same doctrinal beliefs were grievously split over how to relate to the culture around them. Those more on the side of withdrawal (the ‘conservative’ party) accused the other side of compromising with the spirit of the age and giving in to idolatry. They pointed to the importance of being holy. The other side (the more ‘liberal’ party) thought of their opponents as hopeless legalistic. They pointed to their Christian freedom, and insisted: “I’m not going to let you compromise my freedom in Christ!” Each side – the cultural withdrawal party and the cultural engagement party – saw the other as being unfaithful to the Lord. [1]

Today, many Christian believers—who often share virtually identical doctrinal beliefs—are just as divided over how to relate to our increasingly pagan culture even though the issues are often presented as political. Just to take one example, there are numerous Christians who adhere to the biblical teaching about the sanctity of human life and who are pro-life in their beliefs and sentiments, yet who are active in the Democratic party, which has a highly pro-abortion platform. Other believers insist loudly that such involvement is absolutely impossible for a Christian, that they must have nothing to do with the party, much less ever vote for a Democrat.

Then there is the issue of ‘systemic racism.’ Some Christians are concerned to listen to voices in the culture speaking of this and then to go to the Bible in order to possibly rethink their practices and beliefs. But others believe Christians should reject all the claims about injustice that come from the increasingly secular, progressive, and coercive wing of our postmodern society.

Therefore we should read 1 Corinthians 8-10 carefully. In these chapters, Paul addresses the ‘culture war’ going on within the Corinthian church. We must not get distracted by what appears to be a now-obsolete problem—meat offered to idols. These chapters contain theological and pastoral principles that are highly relevant for us today.

Paul begins by breaking down various aspects of idol-culture so we can see and address them individually. There were the ceremonies in which the priest sacrificed an animal for the god (10:14, 20). Then there was the consuming of the food as part of doing honor to that god (10:20-22). Finally there was the meat from the ceremonies and meals that had not been consumed which was sold in the marketplace (10:25, 28). Paul lays down three principles for navigating the issue. I’ll call them the worship, the freedom, and the love principles.

The Worship Principle

“For us there is but one God…through whom all things came and through whom we live” (8:8). Therefore, he says in 10:14-18 “Flee from idolatry” and proceeds to tell Christians they must not “participate in the altar” of an idol.

Christians cannot be present when a sacrifice is made to a god. They cannot participate in any ceremony that publicly proclaims there are many powers and deities, thereby proclaiming the Lord is only one among many. That is a lie, and Christians can have no part in any observance that promotes that message to the world. On that basis, “Paul flatly opposed believers accepting any invitation to join in the open worship of the various pagan deities—for example, by taking part in meals held as part of a sacrificial rite in honor of a deity. To take part…would be ‘idolatry.’” [2] This was a rebuke to the overly ‘liberal’ party, the one that insisted that Christians need not absent themselves from any social gathering as long as their hearts were right.

Golden Calf, ancient mosaic, Assyria

Ciampa and Rosner make a helpful distinction between “objective” and “subjective” idolatry.  Subjective idolatry [3] means to have one’s heart drawn to an idol-god, to love it and put one’s hopes in it. Objective idolatry was—regardless of one’s heart or one’s beliefs—to participate in a public ceremony that bore witness to the reality of an idol-god and strengthened that belief in the minds of onlookers. It was the latter that was the danger for the “cultural freedom and engagement” party. Even if you didn’t believe the god existed, to be present in such rituals was to promote the name of the god and therefore to commit idolatry.

Today, Christians who are engaged in the culture must consider whether, in doing so, they are actually promoting the gods of our society—sex, money, power, self-determination—to the world. If they are rising up in the secular business world, do they appear to be making money for the same reasons, adopting the same values, and by the same methods as everyone else?

If they keep their Christian identities a secret or if they do not differ in their practices at all, the end effect could be simply to strengthen the appeal of the idols of wealth and power to the world. And are they making money by funding commercial projects that only serve to make our society more consumerist, more image-conscious, more absorbed in themselves? The same can be said in reference to Christians in the arts, or in the media, or in many other sectors of culture.

The Freedom Principle

Secondly, however, Paul wrote that “an idol is nothing at all in the world and…there is no God but one.” (8:8) “Idols” have no power to bless or curse us, because they are imaginary representations of imaginary beings. [4] Since there are no “gods,” the food itself has no supernatural power to separate you from God or pollute you morally or spiritually. “We are no worse if we do not eat and no better if we do.” (8:8) Then in chapter 10 Paul goes on to speak of a Christian’s conscience. He says that Christians were free to buy and eat any meat available at the market “without raising any question of conscience” about its origin (10:23-26). There is no Scriptural law binding the conscience against partaking. They are not committing objective idolatry or subjective idolatry to do so. A Christian should, he argues, have freedom of conscience to eat it.

Paul then addresses the issue of private dinners, which “were extremely common and served as a key to establishing the social and political network that was essential to advancement and even social survival…in that society.” [5] Here again Paul appeals to conscience. Paul says even if it is likely that the food on the table had been earlier dedicated to an idol, Christians can eat it “without raising any questions of conscience” as long as the host is not explicitly asking people to join in to a tribute to a god (10:27-28).

Through the rest of 1 Corinthians 8-10, Paul refers to this as the believer’s ‘freedom’ (9:1, 19, 21; 10:29). While the “worship principle” alone might pull us out of a culture altogether, the freedom principle critiques people who were overly scrupulous and withdrawn from culture, who felt that just being out among idol worshippers could make us somehow spiritually unclean.

That, Paul says, is to attribute far too much power to the culture and its gods. The culture does not have the ability to separate you from God just by your contact with it. Paul argues that Christians who feel this way have a “weak conscience.”

They believe any contact makes them “defiled” (8:7), a word that means to be excluded from God’s presence. The over-scrupulous, then, do not have a good grasp on the gospel. A weak conscience is too easily cast into guilt and a sense of being separated from God. It does not grasp that “now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The withdrawal-party was too much like the Pharisees who complained about Jesus because “he welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1)

Those who grasp the implications of the gospel have an enormous freedom to participate in culture.

These two principles create a remarkably balanced, nuanced approach. As New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado concludes, Paul’s strategy combined both strictness and flexibility so Christians could be both distinctive and faithful to the uniqueness of the living God and at the same time “remain part of their families and the wider social fabric of their city.” [6] Look at how balanced Paul’s advice is about private dinners. Don’t eat if the host actually is asking everyone to raise a cup to Apollos. Do eat if there is no explicit idol-tribute, even if you know the food was dedicated to a god previously.

The Love Principle

Paul knew that the principles he was laying down would not end all debate. There would be many individual situations that would not be easy to judge and to which people might apply even his wise rules differently. He knew that the different parties with regard to culture would not vanish, because they were based to some degree on personal temperament and because there was genuine room for difference of opinion about particular cases. And so he introduced a third principle to adjudicate the many difficult cases of conscience and cultural conflict—love. And this principle itself has at least three applications.

First, we must not exercise our cultural freedom if it harms other believers in any way. 8:1-3 says “knowledge puffs up”—that is, it leads to pride—“while love builds up.” “Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.”

(8:1-2) Paul says that these debates about culture must be marked by a loving humility, not caustic, imperious, condescending attitudes.

And then, as soon as Paul says the over-scrupulous conservative party does not have a conscience deeply grounded in the gospel of grace (a strong critique), Paul turns back to the cultural freedom party and says: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” (verse 9) Some believers still feel that the idol-gods are actually present when they eat the food (verse 7). In other words, eating meat offered to idols, though biblically permissible, might lead former idol-worshippers back into subjective idolatry. Their hearts might be drawn to the old gods for “insurance.”

It takes time for the gospel believed with the head and confessed by the mouth to sink deep into the heart.

You must not then, Paul says, press people to do things they may not have the spiritual maturity to do yet. The theologically and spiritually ‘strong’ and mature should not scorn the cultural withdrawal party or look down on them. They should lay aside their ‘rights’ and do everything they can out of love to maintain their relationship with the brothers and sisters who differ with them. Yes, help educate their consciences. But do so patiently and with the greatest humility and do not separate from them over it.

Secondly, we must not exercise our cultural freedom if it has a bad effect on non-believers. Paul lays this out famously and eloquently in 1 Corinthians 9.

“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law…I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

Paul’s main point is that he does not exercise his freedom (for example, from the Jewish dietary laws) if that will make it harder to love and reach his Jewish brethren with the gospel. Yes, he is free, but he gladly forsakes his freedom out of love for the people around him. He constantly gives up his rights out of love, to help those around him find their way, stage by stage, into the freedom he has in Christ. “In every culture it is important for the evangelist, church planter, and witnessing Christian to flex as far as possible, so that the gospel will not be made to appear unnecessarily alien at the merely cultural level.” [7]

Paul then applies this aspect of the love principle in chapter 10. If a Christian is at a dinner party and a non-believer says “you know that was sacrificed to a god,” Paul says, “then do not eat it…for the sake of the one who told you” (10:28). This is in order to bear witness to the non-believer that there is only one living and true God. In this case, Paul asks Christians to limit their freedom out of a desire not to mislead the observer.

Finally, we should not exercise our freedom if it turns out that an allowed practice ends up having a bad effect on our own spiritual growth and health. (1 Corinthians 10:1-13). In his book, Authentic Church, Vaughan Roberts outlines the ‘decision tree’ of 1 Corinthians 8-10. I have adapted it [8]:

Paul ends the three chapters like this:

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved” (10:31-33).

We are to stay true to God, but to do absolutely everything in our power to not unnecessarily offend, to “try to please everyone in every way” (10:33). We are not to be only ‘valiant for truth,’ regardless of whom we unnecessarily insult. Nor should we care only that no one gets upset, regardless of the loss of our witness to the truth.

Applying this Today

How do we apply this today? The Bible gives us a remarkable amount of freedom—there is no new Book of Leviticus in the New Testament, dictating exactly how we should dress and what we should eat and what we can watch and read and where we can work. Also, the gospel itself gives us great freedom of conscience. because we are saved by grace and righteous in Christ. We no longer have to fear being spiritually contaminated through contact with the world.

The Bible makes moral issues clear—we must care for the poor, love the immigrant, support healthy families, protect unborn human life, make justice impartial for all races and peoples—but it does not tell us exactly how to do so. Christians have freedom to work out for themselves how to proceed. But this has and does lead to sharp disagreements between Christians, divisions that are similar to those in the Corinthian church.The Bible makes moral issues clear—we must care for the poor, love the immigrant, support healthy families, protect unborn human life, make justice impartial for all races and peoples—but it does not tell us exactly how to do so. Christians have freedom to work out for themselves how to proceed.

What has Paul given us in these chapters that we can use in our conflicts today?

I think the primary, radical message of these chapters is clear as we see Paul standing the modern idea of “tolerance” on its head.

For modern people, being tolerant means first, they do not make “value judgments” against anyone else; they don’t criticize anyone else’s values or beliefs. But second, they insist that no one should do that to them, either. They assert their rights to live as they see fit, and that no one can define that for them. So modern people offer no judgments, and give up no rights.

Paul is reversing this for believers. First he makes definite critiques and judgments. He says that the “weaker” brethren are weak. Their understanding of the gospel is shallow. They have not grasped yet how sharply different the Christian identity and worldview is. Christians have more freedom of conscience in Christ than the weaker brethren understand.

But then he speaks to the “strong.” They are the ones who do have much more doctrinal and theological knowledge. But in 8:1-3, he rebukes them for their arrogance and condescension. He challenges the so-called strong to give up their rights and freedoms in order to maintain unity and help believers come to common convictions and views on things. Or if they cannot agree, they should still respect the sensibilities and consciences of brothers and sisters. The modern “tolerant” person says, “I don’t criticize you, but if what I am doing upsets you that is not my problem.” The Christian says the opposite– “I do criticize you, but I will bend over backwards to keep this relationship even if it means giving up some of my rights.”

After a very similar passage, Romans 14, Paul calls the stronger Christians to “bear the weaknesses of the weak and not please ourselves” (Romans 15:1).  What can that mean? It surely cannot mean we are to adopt the errors of the weak. Biblical commentator Doug Moo writes, “They are to sympathetically ‘enter into’ their attitudes, refrain from criticizing and judging them, and do what love would require toward them. Love demands that the ‘strong’ go beyond the distance implied in mere toleration.” [9]

How would that work today? Here’s my suggestion. In our modern Christian culture clashes, let each side consider themselves the more mature, the stronger Christians. (We are doing that anyway!) So we should consider the letters of 1 Corinthians 8-10 and Romans 14 to be written directly to us! Now—if you are the strong Christians, you must follow Paul’s very demanding rules for the strong, along with his warnings against thinking you are so smart. Take Doug Moo’s three steps and apply them to yourselves.

First, “sympathetically ‘enter into’ their beliefs and attitudes.” Listen, with this as a test of your listening skills: Can you express and articulate the other side’s belief in such a way that they say to you, “we could not express it better ourselves?”

Until the other side says that to you, you have not been patient enough. You have not been ‘bearing’ with the weaknesses of the weak.

Second, “refrain from criticizing and judging them.” It is obvious from a reading of 1 Corinthians 8-10 and Romans 14-15 that Paul does critique believers.

Don’t be reluctant to do that. But you must do so with the greatest expressions of affection and respect. There can be no shaming, mocking, and denunciation in the hope they will go away. As Jonathan Edwards often says, to love someone is to put your happiness into their happiness. To love someone is to get joy out of their joy, to get pleasure out of their pleasure – and to not be happy if they are despondent.  (1 Thessalonians 3:8). As Paul says, we are in this relationship “to not please ourselves.”

Third, we should “do what love would require toward them.” There are always two basic things that love requires.

First, we must tell loved ones the truth and get them to study more thoughtfully biblical truth. That means helping people understand more fully the uniqueness and depth of the gospel identity and the Christian worldview.

Much of our cultural and political conflict happens because Christians are so deeply influenced by social media and news feeds, which create echo chambers. As Paul would say, the effect is to “weaken our consciences”—making us slaves to particular secular ideologies of left and right, all of which are based on secular, one-dimensional, non-biblical accounts of human nature and moral values.

Christianity appreciates all cultures (the concept of “common grace”), but critiques every culture as well—including every secular political and social theory. If Christians were far more educated in this kind of biblical theology, they would have more  freedom of conscience (rather than being pawns of political ideologues) and more appreciation for Christian brothers and sisters with different political affiliations.

Finally, regardless of whether other Christians grow in their understanding of biblical truth the way we understand it, in love we are to do everything possible to stay in relationship, to stay in community with other believers, even those with different cultural opinions.

It may mean that in your local congregation you don’t get your way in a number of areas. The worship music is not as you’d like it. The preaching is not as emphatic about certain topics as you’d like it to be. As Paul says throughout, that may mean refraining from language and practices that you believe are valid, that you have a right to, but that grieve some of your brothers and sisters. If they are making their own sacrifices toward you in love, then there is a genuine possibility of a growing unity of mind. (Philippians 2:1-4)

How is all this possible? Christ makes this possible. When Jesus went to the cross he was making one of the most negative evaluations of us possible! When he died on the cross, he was saying, “You’re so lost that nothing less than the death of the Son of God will save you.”

But at the same time he was entering into our condition, making himself vulnerable to us, making room in his life for us, sacrificing for us. 

There are enormous resources in the gospel for being receptive and loving to people with whom we deeply differ. If you build your identity on what Jesus did for you, you will become something far better than ‘tolerant.’ You will be able to disagree honestly and sharply with people and yet do so without the slightest bit of ill will, without the slightest need to exercise power in those relationships and friendships, without the slightest bit of superiority. We will be able to sharply disagree with all love, respect, deference and humility.

Secularism does not give us the resources to have these kinds of conversations and relationships, as desperately as we need them. Secularism says, “Let’s all be tolerant, our way! You’ve got to adopt our relativism, our skeptical epistemology – or else we will consider you not SAFE.” That makes a mockery of the very idea of tolerance. Christianity says, “Jesus sacrificed his freedom so we could be accepted as we are– and yet that sacrificial love enabled us to grow and change. We will try to love you in the same way.”

Right now, the church looks more like the world. But that is not what the world needs from us. There are few things more needed today than millions of Christians who know how to talk and love across barriers of difference.

Source: Tim Keller December 2020 Gospel in Life.com