Our study has taken us through 8 principles to make clear the grey areas. In essence we have learned to seek for the well-being of others over ourselves. From convenience to self-discipline, from inner struggle to outer peace, from example to evangelism, we learned that true love is found in the action of those who serve others. For the most part, each lesson was primarily geared to the service of other believers. But considering all principles, there is one that remains. This one principle has risen bit by bit in our other lessons and yet demands that at least one be exclusively dedicated to it. It is the Principle of Execration. “Execration” is a synonym for “condemnation.” In context, it refers to the condemning of yourself by refusing to love another believer. It is a description of disunity.
It is best understood in the illustration of the body. We are made up of many parts. Yet all parts are uniquely placed together as one. Though they act individually, their purpose is for the body as a whole. When we stump our toe, the rest of the body reacts. The legs strengthen and send circulation to the foot. The hands reach down to comfort. The vocal chords cry out a loud “Ouch!” Each part serves a unique purpose, yet they all work for the same goal – soothing the ache. No part is so unique that it can operate independently of the others. Your legs cannot decide to go rest in bed while the arms remain in the kitchen cleaning dishes. Rather, they all work collectively as one body.
When one body part does not operate in a way that helps the rest of the body, it causes division. In human work processes, it causes one to condemn another. The Bible calls the church “the Body of Christ.” It is an illustration of the Christian community. Like the human body, believers work collectively for the same end. And in like manner, we must seek unity at all times.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Usually you hear this verse as parallel to the Golden Rule (as defined in Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 7:12, etc.) which states that one should love others as he loves himself. It means that just as much as we look out for our own well-being, we should more so look out for the well-being of other people.
But in this particular passage, Christ is saying something more. He is sitting at the table with his true disciples – the twelve minus Judas Iscariot. It is the night before his arrest and crucifixion. It is his last night with his closest. On this night, he announces his departure. He begins in verse 33 saying, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
After His announcement, he immediately proceeds with this great command, “Love one another. As I have loved you” (v34). In essence, Christ foretells that the He is leaving the disciples on their own. And the first thing that comes to His mind is not that they remember everything He said, nor be bold in their proclamation of the gospel. Rather, it was a simple call to love. It must have been important.
We have discussed love throughout our lessons to be the laying down of our own liberties, pleasures, and lives for the sake of others. It meant to be selfless and not selfish. He called us to seek the well-being of others before seeking our own. Grasping this concept was clutching the E’s of Christian Liberty.
But the Greek words tell us more about just what Christ was commanding. We find it evident in verse 35, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples.” It has a ring of our last lesson in it (Principle of Evangelism). But it is much more specific. The Greek word for “another” literally means “mutual others.” It does not refer to all people other than yourself, but people like you. It is those others who are the same. Jesus is using this word to mean other believers. He is telling His disciples to first love other believers and that by this, “all men will know that you are my disciples.”
1 Corinthians 10: 25-33:
“Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.’
If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 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 – the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God– 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.”
Our last principle returns us to where we began. We have back tracked to find the Purpose, Pattern, and the Principles to clear our grey areas. This portion of Scripture is a short illustration of our last Principle to study. Paul paints the picture to set up the most difficult gray area of them all. What do you do when any choice you make will offend?
It reads that there are two believers who are invited to dinner at an unbeliever’s home. The unbelieving host is serving meat. Paul’s first command is that we do not cause problems over food being “clean” or “unclean.” It would be more edifying and helpful if we were to just be grateful and eat. This was not much to weigh.
But then Paul throws a wrench in the mix. The believer is an immature believer who would be violating his own conscience if he were to eat the plate set before him. His conscience cries out, “We cannot eat this! It has been offered in pagan sacrifice.” As we just learned, it would be better to not eat the dinner for his sake. So we have a problem. If we do not eat the food, our host might get upset. If you are a loving Christian with a passion for the sinner, that would seem like a lost attempt at Evangelism. On the other hand, if you eat the meat in order to “become all things to all men,” you can surely crush the faith of this believer. It is a catch twenty-two. You will have to settle with potentially offending one person.
Paul echoes Christ’s command that we should love our brethren before all others. His instruction points out that the nonbeliever might envy your undying unity and charity for each other. It could easily push the host to be more anxious to know your God. In fact, that is exactly what Jesus said it would do. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples.” Moreover, one cannot truly give thanks to God for food by which another believer stumbles.