Today’s text is bracketed with two strong verbs: “flee” and “follow.” Within the brackets, we learn to flee from idolatry and to follow Jesus.
Corinth was a city of great diversity. Many religious practices flourished there, including some that involved animal sacrifices to “deities” other than the true God. Followers of Jesus faced a dilemma when they purchased meat in the marketplace or ate in the home of an unbeliever. Was the meat from a sacrifice in a pagan religious ceremony? Did eating such meat endanger them spiritually? Did it compromise their witness to Jesus before unbelievers? Paul helped them steer through the questions with a true compass both theological and pastoral in nature.
Theologically, he reinforced right worship. Flee from idolatry! Do not compromise your relationship with God and your witness to Jesus by knowingly participating in any act of worship to any false “god.” Pastorally, he balanced responsibility and freedom in Jesus. If you know the meat came from an idolatrous ritual, out of spiritual concern for yourself and your neighbor, do not eat. To do so would smack of idolatry. Yet, if you do not know the meat came from a pagan rite, eat without fear of spiritual harm to yourself and your neighbor. Everything belongs to God, creator and redeemer of the universe in all its spiritual and material aspects. Give thanks to God, and eat!
Today, we may not have the same concerns about meat in the market or in a person’s home (though those of us who are finicky eaters of longstanding may have other concerns!). Yet, idolatry still exists and tempts us. Idolatry is anything – spiritual or material – that draws us from God to place our deepest allegiance, hope, and love in it rather than in God. We should flee from idolatry!
In all then – whether eating, drinking, or just plain living – we should honor and reflect God’s glory. We should live to glorify God. He deserves it! And – not so incidentally – others will see God’s glory in us, that God may attract them to himself, to his saving power and love.
How do we glorify God? Most simply yet profoundly, we live to glorify God by imitating Jesus. Follow Jesus then! Be like him, live like he did – to glorify God in all we are and do.