By Archbishop Dr. Thabo Makgoba
Today Paul has more to say about not confusing liberty with license. To say that ‘everything is permissible’ is very different from saying that ‘everything is helpful’. When facing choices, we need to give far more weight to asking ‘what helps others?’
The reason for this is that we are not actually independent individuals with no responsibility beyond ourselves and our own desires for self-fulfiment. As Christians, we are reminded of this whenever we share the Lord’s Supper (or Holy Communion, Eucharist, or Mass), and hear Paul’s words again: ‘We who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.’ In Christ, our lives are intimately connected with those of other Christians, and our choices must reflect this. We must think again, if we are looking at actions that will harm their faith.
We must also be aware how our words and actions affect those outside the Church, and should avoid ‘causing them to stumble’. This does not mean that others exercise a veto over our lives, but it does call us to live with sensitivity. When wondering what others will make of us, we need to ask whether what we do and say will be understood as ‘all for the glory of God’.
In our Old Testament chapters, we read how Ezra came to Jerusalem, several decades after the first wave of returning exiles. His priority is to restore faithful worship, mirrored in faithful lives. He is appalled by the unfaithfulness he finds, which he sees reflected in the many marriages to neighboring women of other religions. He demands these men separate from their wives (who, according to Persian practices, would have retained custody of the children). To us, this seems very harsh – and indeed, Paul tells Christians to stay with unbelieving spouses who do not oppose our faith (1 Cor 7:14-15). But the underlying principle remains to challenge us: is there coherence in our faith, reflecting Jesus and glorifying God and giving praise to him (as in our Psalm), for all to see, across the whole of our lives?
‘God is faithful, and will not let you be tested beyond what you can bear … but will provide a way out.’ How can these words be a helpful part of your decision-making when faced with choices over what is ‘permissible’ but perhaps not ‘helpful’?
What sort of ‘giving up’ or ‘putting aside’ by your Christian community might help communicate the good news of Jesus Christ more effectively to society around? What church practices are not seen by outsiders as being ‘for the glory of God’?
Dear Lord, help me to be someone who doesn’t just talk the talk, but walks the walk – following you – both within the church, and for the whole world to see. Amen.
Archbishop Dr. Thabo Makgoba is the archbishop of Capetown, South Africa.