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Follow my example (1 Corinthians 10:21-11:1)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au
  1. Imitation

Who are you like and who are you seeking to be like? The people around us inevitably have an influence on us. The family we grew up in definitely shapes for good or for bad and whether we are conscious of it or not. We learn by imitating our parents, the things that they say and do.

We sometimes find ourselves sounding like them and we pick up habits and ways of doing things that we unconsciously learn that sometimes we might need to unlearn that weren’t so good. But often there are things that we do admire about them and that we try to emulate – perhaps they were generous and hospitable or maybe they were hardworking and resourceful or courageous and bold or people who knew what it was to be content and joyful.

  • Imitating my dad

I particularly admired the way that my dad was the quintessential handyman. He seemed to be able to do anything he put his hand to, whether that was repairing my Land Rover, fabricating galvanised stairwell, building an extension on to the house installing power points or lights, doing a bit of plumbing. Dad seemed to be able to do anything he set his hand to. With a little hard work and great deal of perseverance, he got things done. I’ve always aspired to be handy like him and to give up and persevere at things but sadly I have fallen far short of the example that he set me. We often seek to imitate those we admire and that we want to be like.

  • Imitating the apostle Paul

In the reading that we are looking at today the apostle Paul in chapter 11 and verse 1 called the Corinthians to follow his example as he followed the example of Christ. Literally, he commanded them to imitate him just as He [imitated] Christ. The NIV has rendered “imitate me” as “follow my example”. Paul used himself as the example of what it looks like for believers to be imitating Christ.

But what was it about Paul that they were to imitate? In what way was he an example of how we should be living? What was he doing that we need to be learning to do so that we might be more like Christ? Today I want to look with you at two other related exhortations that Paul gave to the believers in verses 31 to 33 of chapter 10. However, before we look at these what we need to understand where these verses fit into the letter.

From chapter 7 Paul has been addressing some of the matters that the Corinthians had raised with him. The first of these matters had to do with sex and marriage in chapter 7. Then in chapters 8 to 10 he addressed another issue that they had written to him about and there was obviously some disagreement about among the believers in Corinth; that of food that had been sacrificed to idols (8:1).

1 Corinthians 8:1

Now about food sacrificed to idols:

In Corinth eating food that had been sacrificed to idols would have been something that the Corinthians would have had to face perhaps on a daily basis. You didn’t have to go to a temple to find food that had been offered to idols. Their marketplaces would have been full of it.

Whatever would have been their equivalent to “Woolies” would have been selling such meat. Unlike today where we have lots of choices in our shops – gluten free, lactose free, vegan, kosher food, there would have been no section in the marketplace that said non-sacrificed meat.  Not only that, if the non-Christian next-door neighbours invited you over for BBQ, you could be pretty sure that the sausages on the grill would have been sacrificed to an idol as part of the butchering process.

Among the believers in Corinth opinion was divided about whether you should eat such food are accept an invitation. There were some who thought that there was no problem having a sausage sandwich at the neighbour’s house and others who felt that the meat was tainted and felt they needed to refrain from it.  There were some who thought that while it was OK to buy the meat down at the marketplace, it was another thing to be invited by the neighbours to dine out at dining halls at pagan temples where sometimes weddings and festivals were celebrated[1]. It was not Ok. However, others thought that there should be no limits on their freedom and who didn’t have such scruples.

Overall, Paul seemed to agree with those who believed that they generally had the freedom to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. The meat isn’t tainted for the whole earth is the Lord’s and everything in it is his and nothing changes that (see 8:4-6).  But this wasn’t a blanket freedom that was to be exercised without exception. For one thing it didn’t extend to eating at pagan temples. Paul explained that although idols are not gods, that the sacrifices of pagans that were going on in these temples were being offered to demons. Therefore, to go along and participate with what was going on there was to eat and drink from the cup of demons. It was akin to idolatry which they needed to flee from (see 10:14-22).

The other exception to eating such food was when it would cause a brother or sister whose conscience was weak to sin. These were perhaps new Christians who didn’t have the same depth of understanding and for whom eating would be to fall back into sin because it would go against his or conscience.  Paul said that if, by eating, he caused one of his brothers or sisters to stumble, then he would never eat meat again (8:13).

  1. Paul’s example

Today we are looking at the conclusion of this section and the three exhortations that the Paul gave to the Corinthians that were to govern how they were to behave. The words in verse 31 to 33 to chapter 10 and verse 1 of chapter 11 sum up Paul’s whole argument about eating food that had been offered to idols. In these verses there are three present imperative verbs which exhort believers to keep on doing three things.  We are told to…

  • Do all things to the glory of God.
  • Don’t be a stumbling block – don’t seek your own good but the good of others.
  • Be imitators of Paul as he is of Christ.

Ultimately God calls all believers to be like the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s what you are to be doing in everything you do. But you can’t do that without also following the first two exhortations. They all hang together, and the apostle Paul was good example of how the three came together in a believer. But let’s look at them one by one.

The first command is found in verse 31. Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God[2].

2.1 Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

All things in life are to be done for the glory of God.  That’s how life is meant to be lived.

When Paul in Romans 1 wrote to the Romans about why God’s wrath was coming on the wickedness of people, he explained that although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him (see Romans 1:21). But if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come, the old has gone, the new is here (2 Corinthians 5:17). And we are being inwardly renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16) in knowledge of the Son (Col. 3:10) until that day when we see face and face and we will be completely like him and will glorify God as we ought. But because we are growing more like Christ Paul calls on us to to glorify God in everything that we do. In verse 31, Paul has broadened his application out beyond just the immediate matter of what someone might eat or drink to include absolutely everything that we do. He wrote, whatever you do, we are to do all of it for the glory of God. We want God to be praised and honoured as he ought. We are to live glory and not our own. The Corinthians were not just to consider whether they had the freedom or right to do something, but the important thing was whether they were doing what they were doing for God’s glory or not. They might have been free to eat but would eating glorify God? That’s really the question that we need to ask ourselves in whatever it that we are doing.

While living in this world, the temptation that we constantly face is to glory in ourselves, to do things that bring us praise and honour. We might freedom to do something but that doesn’t mean we are doing to glorify God. We can things that are not wrong in themselves but if they are all about us and our glory then things become distorted and we start making idols of things that we shouldn’t – our careers, or our job, our families, our education, our money, our leisure, and pleasure. We can be more concerned for our own rights and freedoms to do thing we want to do than we are with loving and serving others. But life isn’t about us but about serving the Lord and glorifying him in the way we love and serve others. Paul wrote something very similar to the Colossians.

Colossians 3:17

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

We must ask ourselves why we are doing what we do? Why are we working the way that we are at work? Are we seeking to glorify God or is all about us? Why do we do what we do at church or at home? Is it about God’s glory? Is it all about God being praised and honoured or has it become more about us. If we are going to be like the apostle Paul and the Lord Jesus, we have to be learning to do whatever we do for the glory of God.

2.2 Don’t be a stumbling block

The second thing that Paul told the Corinthians really works out of the first. Living for the glory of God means loving and serving others like the Lord Jesus loved and served us. If we love others, then we won’t become a stumbling block for them (v32). Instead, we will be like the apostle Paul who tried to please others in every way. Paul used himself as an example of what he means in verses 33.

1 Corinthians 10:32-33

32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—33 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.

  • He sought to please everyone

Instead of causing anyone to stumble whether that be his fellow Jews or Greeks or his brothers and sister in Christ Paul tried to please everyone in every way. By this he doesn’t mean he is trying to curry everyone’s favour to gain their approval. What has in mind is what he explained earlier in chapter 9 where he talked about putting up with anything himself rather than hinder the gospel of Christ (9:8). He went on to explain that he had become a slave to everyone and became all things to all people so that he might win (or save) as many as possible.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 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. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Paul sought to serve others. He did what was good for the many rather than seeking his own good. Instead of insisting on things that had the right to ask for, he removed anything that might have hindered the preaching of the gospel.

When among Jews he didn’t insist on his freedoms to eat whatever he might have wanted to eat even though he knew that he’d been freed from the law and was no longer under the law as he had once been. But among the Jews he didn’t exercise that freedom but would have eaten kosher food and followed their customs (see also Acts 21:20-26). He did this so that what he was eating didn’t become an obstacle to them hearing the gospel. He did it so that some might be saved.

But when it came to the Gentiles, he said that he behaved like one not having the law, although he wasn’t free from God’s law because he was always under the law of Christ. With the weak who had tender consciences he became weak to win them and see them saved. He did what he did for the sake of the gospel that he might share the blessings of the gospel with others.

  • He didn’t seek his own good but the good of many

He did this because life wasn’t just about doing what was good for him. Like his the Lord Jesus he didn’t seek his own good, he sought the good of the many. This is what I think he means when he said he tried to please everyone in every way. Earlier in chapter 10 he wrote…

1 Corinthians 10:14

No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

God’s people glorify God when like the Lord Jesus we seek our not own good, but the good of others. The good that we seek for them is ultimately their salvation – that they might be saved. When it comes to our brothers and sister we don’t them to stumble even though we might have the freedom to do something. When it comes to unbelievers we become all things to all men that we might save some  We forgo our own freedoms, our own rights, our own advantages, our own ambitions in life that we might save some. The apostle Paul sought to do everything that he did so others might be saved whether they be Jews or Greek or other believers.

Hudson Taylor was one who also understood this. In 1853 he sailed out of England for China. He was only twenty-one years old at the time. When he arrived in China, he decided to remove whatever he thought might have been an obstacle for the preaching of the gospel to the locals. He decided to dress like the local people and grew a pigtail as was the custom for men in those days. Other missionaries were either very critical of him or incredulous, but it was Hudson as best he could trying to become all things to all people so that by all possible means he might save some and share the blessings of the gospel. Taylor wrote

“China is not to be won for Christ by quiet, ease-loving men and women”. He said, “The stamp of men and women we need is such as will put Jesus, China, [and] souls first and foremost in everything and at every time – even life itself must be secondary.”[3]

We might not be called to go and preach the gospel somewhere else in the world, but that doesn’t mean we get to stay and live our lives for ourselves. The great apostle Paul calls believers wherever they are to follow his example because we are to follow the example of Christ. We belong to him who died for us and we, like the apostle Paul, are to live to glorify God and for the good of others so that they might be saved.

  1. Imitate Christ

This is how the apostle lived and it is the way that he also expected other believers to live. It wasn’t just something that was unique to him because he was the apostle to the Gentiles. He called the Corinthians to be imitators of him as he was of Christ. This is the calling of all of us who are believers because we are all called like the Lord Jesus.

Who is it that you are seeking to imitate? Who are we seeking to be like? Paul wrote following my example, as I follow the example of Christ. There are lots of other examples that our world holds out. There are examples of those who have had successful careers or who have done well in business or have grown their wealth or done well at sport or love to travel or those who seem to have the perfect family or the perfect home, and many of us are tempted to imitate them. But let’s fix our eyes on Christ and be like the apostle Paul who followed the example of Christ. Let’s learn to live for the glory of God not seeking our own good, but the good of many so that they might be saved.


[1] In the NIV Application commentary Craig Blomberg has written that wedding parties and clubs often used the temple dining halls for parties and festivities (page  159-160). Paul Barnett also mentions a number of archaeological discoveries that have been made of invitations inviting friends and family to join someone for a meal in the temple. “1 Corinthians. A Letter of Love”Reading the Bible Today Series (page 112).  d

[2] Unless otherwise indicated all Scripture references are taken from the The New International Version (2011). Zondervan.

[3] Quoted from 131 Christians Everyone Should know” From the Editors of Christian History Magazine..