Friday, June 15, 2012

The Glory of God

As a newly-minted working stiff, I don't have quite as much time to ramble as I used to. Continuing in the vein of Things God Has Been Teaching Me Lately, I'm going to talk about 1 Corinthians 10:31.
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
Yeah! The glory of God! This is how we Christians should strive to live! Sounds great, right? Well, unfortunately, I have come to realize that this verse is totally, completely wrong.

Just kidding--but now you're listening, right? I realized I never really understood this verse before today. Maybe I still don't. But here it goes.

"Do it all for the glory of God." The ESV (Extra-Spiritual Version) renders it as "Do all to the glory of God." For so long I thought this meant something along the lines of going through your day consciously directing your thoughts and intentions to Heaven. That if I'm coding, I should be thinking, "Here I am coding, God; it's all for You; help me to work well." If I'm in a conversation, I should be praying (without ceasing), "God, help me to love this person as You love them, for Your glory." And so on. My focus had to be on God in everything I did.

Here's a secret you may not have heard: people can only think about one thing at a time. (Well, unless the hemispheres of your brain have been separated or something) If you're constantly thinking about God, you're not thinking about what you're doing. If I'm using all my mental energy trying to "program to the glory of God", I likely won't get much quality programming done. But it's to the glory of God, right? No, it's just a poor day's work.

Since our relationship with God is often compared with marriage, consider the case of an actual marriage. A husband's every waking thought isn't occupied by his wife--that would be obsession, not loving marriage, and he is to be pitied. But though he isn't always thinking of her, a good deal of his actions are "for" her in some way--working to provide for the family, buying food to feed them, doing housework. And how much more with God, who demands our whole lives!

You see, we don't devote our daily lives to God by willing them to be His. If we have made God our Lord, then we are His because He says so and for no other reason. So we had better live like it! (This is a joy for the Christian, not a burdensome command) What does this look like? Let's reason the verse again in context.
23 “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. 24 Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience,26 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
27 If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake — 29 the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?
31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—33 even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
The context here is the early church in Greece, a nation with a strongly paganistic background. As a result, it was not impossible for a Christian eating with non-Christians to be served, say, meat that had been sacrificed to Zeus. Paul's argument in this chapter and earlier is basically that even though Zeus isn't real, not everyone knows this. In particular, non-believers and new believers still breaking free from their old superstitions might gain a very twisted picture of Christianity if they see a faithful Christian eating meat that had been sacrificed to an idol! They might have questions like "You mean I can worship God and Zeus?" or "Could God and Zeus be the same deity?" or "I don't think Christians should eat food that's been sacrificed to idols, but if Paul is doing it..."

This is the context that verse 31 is in. The verses before it are two questions that I don't think are rhetorical, because they seem to threaten Paul's argument. He wants us to answer them--we should follow his example and lay down our freedom if it removes obstacles to people believing the gospel! this is also the moral he lays out in the verses right after 31. 31 itself seems to offer an alternative to "causing anyone to stumble". It is the opposite: live in such a way as to make God "look good" to those around you and invite people closer to salvation. As I said in my post on work, this means being committed to excellence in what you do. This means that if I'm programming, I'm trying to write the best, clearest, most maintainable, and bug-free code that I can. This means that if I'm (say) a bus driver, my eyes and mind are fixated on the road ahead of me. I would go on, but I must go and bake some cookies to the glory of God.

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