When Being Right Isn't Right Enough

So what do you win if you are right?” I have no idea what issue Lynn and I were arguing over at the time... there is a good chance I didn't know at the time. But I clearly remember her ending it with that question. What would I win if I continued to press the issue until (in my own mind) I won the argument? What I would “win” was a seriously ticked off wife. If I would have stopped and thought about it, I would have known that I didn't want that! But at the time, whatever the issue happened to be, it was more important to me than me having a happy wife. Sometimes it's not right to be right. Sometimes it’s a whole lot better just to be wrong or wronged and get on with life. (It's fun to kiss and make up, but it is possible to skip the argument and go straight for the kiss!)

In our reading for today from 1 Corinthians 8, Paul begins a discussion of a burning question in the church at Corinth—“Is it OK to eat meat that has been offered to idols?” This was the second of a series of questions that the church evidently sent to Paul, kind of a “stump the apostle” exercise. (The first one was some simple little query about marriage and divorce). Meat for sale in pagan cities was often dedicated to pagan gods and then sold on the open market. So was OK for a Christian to eat meat dedicated to false gods? Or... was it OK to ever eat any meat and risk eating something dedicated to some pagan god or which proceeds were supporting some pagan temple? As is necessary for any good brouhaha, there were believers on both sides of the issue.

I like to call this the “pagan ham issue.” This is a fun issue to debate because none of us have a dog in that fight. No one argues about silly stuff like this today. No, we have much more important fish to fry-- like “Can a woman make an announcement in church?” Or “Is it sinful to sing praises to God if someone happens to be playing a piano in the same room?”

Arguing over a pagan ham sandwich is just silly... unless you read Acts 15:28-29 and decide it wasn't so silly after all! There was a direct command and approved apostolic example (two of the biggies) telling the Gentile Christians not to eat meats offered to idols. Paul himself was present when that letter was written to the earliest Gentile converts. Can we see why some Christians were ready to fight over not eating the pagan ham and thus being faithful to the truth of the gospel?

So Paul is now expected to wade in and side with some of the Christians at Corinth over other Christians at Corinth. Paul doesn’t duck the question, but he prefaces his answer and application with something he sees as more important—
Now I will write about meat that is sacrificed to idols. We know that “we all have knowledge.” Knowledge puffs you up with pride, but love builds up. 2 If you think you know something, you do not yet know anything as you should. 3 But if any person loves God, that person is known by God. (1 Cor. 8:1-3, NCV)

Paul in essence asks, “What do you win if you are right?” The side (whichever side) that pushes this issue to the point of division is wrong even if they are right. Paul will basically argue that is isn’t wrong to eat meats offered to idols BUT you don’t really win anything by being right! When we think we know “the truth,” we tend to get puffed up with our own importance. We never really argue with the other person, we always tend to argue DOWN to the other person. Thinking we’re the ones who are right usually drives wedges between us and them… and between us and God. Paul says that it ultimate doesn’t really matter so much WHAT you know as WHO you know… or Who knows you.

I like a good theological debate. I think if we keep the heat down and our hearts open, a good theological tussle can be an “iron-sharpens-iron” opportunity to grow in God. At least that is the way it should work. I am afraid that the way that it usually works is the way it was working at Corinth—battle lines are drawn and sides are chosen. Paul encourages us to choose the way of LOVE over the way of WISDOM. It’s better to be LOVING and give in than to be RIGHT and be divided.

Unless the issue is of God Himself, it’s better to GIVE IN than to BE RIGHT. I can say that with absolute confidence because I know for a fact that Lynn hardly ever reads my blog!