1 Corinthians 8
This is a pretty important chapter in all of Paul’s writings, and I wish I had time to respond in such a way as to do it at least some justice. But alas, this blog is for me to log my responses as I read devotionally, not as a (feeble) attempt at a running commentary or something. So without further adieu, I’m going to jump right into the heart of what this passage is saying to me tonight.
Leeches are ugly. They give me the creeps. While they were once thought to be a normal part of human medicine, it turns out they are not the healthiest of creatures, either. They’re parasites that suck the blood from a healthy host and then move on to another, concerned only about from where their next meal will come.
The same can be said for individualism in the life of a church.
Individualism is ugly. It goes against the very heart of the command to love our neighbors. When I hear someone describe his/her Christian faith in terms resembling “just Jesus and me” (Or as Paul Bassett once said, “Just Cheez-its and me”) it gives me the creeps.
“Take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block for the weak” (v.9 NRSV). That dynamic is at the heart of this whole food sacrificed to idols thing. It’s not that eating that food is a sin. Eat or don’t eat– you’re not sinning either way in the eating in and of itself. What is a sin– and an ugly, bloated sin at that– is to eat without discerning your neighbor. The attitude that says, “I have my own personal thing with Jesus, that’s my focus, and whether my actions affect you or not isn’t important to me” is a parasite that sucks the lifeblood out of a church and infects it with a disease that can threaten its continued existence. Paul will go further with this theme later, but the main point is this: We are not Christians alone. We must pay attention to the Body or we’re sinning. Like, sinning. In Paul’s definition of the church, there is no room for the kind of “Me Church” individualism we find so rampant here in the west. Now, for years the church catered to Western individualism. We thought the leech was a good thing, with our over-emphasis of a “personal relationship with Jesus.” We structured our churches to meet the individual felt needs of people. And we’re paying the price for that, because it turns out the church never has existed to meet people’s felt needs. The church exists to bear witness to a new way of living in the world together, being reconciled with God and each other. The church supposed to be the beginning of the end of “me first” individualism.
Honestly, it’s way past time we killed the leech.