What is Paul saying when he says the kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking? He is saying that this kingdom is not about moral, ethical areas because there is a higher ethic that is at work with the coming of Christ. An ethic to love one another. There are certainly indisputable matters when it comes to morality, certain ethical standards we are expected to live up to. But things are not as clear-cut as we might think.
In 1 Cor 6, the chapter that contains the verse — “Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial — and we love that verse. But let me read you the context, starting in v9,
1 Cor 6:9-10 – 9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Everything is permissible, but there is an absolute standard of morality according to the Word of God. Sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, prostitution, homosexuality, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander or swindling others — these are sins. These are not permissible for someone who hopes to inherit the kingdom of God. Meaning no one who commits these sins will inherit the kingdom of God. This is indisputable. Committing one of these sins is not a gray issue open for discussion. It’s black and white. It is sin. End of discussion. It’s indisputable.
Does this mean that if I was greedy in the 1st grade and I didn’t share my lunch with my friend who forgot his lunch, or I got drunk once when I was in college, does this mean I will not inherit the kingdom of God? No, we are not expected to be completely sinless or perfect. But if these sins are committed repeatedly and you are unrepentant, then you will not inherit the kingdom of God. Because this repeated committing of sin and subsequent unrepentance over a period of time demonstrates that you really don’t understand the gospel and are not saved to begin with. You may have mouthed the words of the sinners prayer and even your theology may be correct, but the ultimate proof of whether one is saved or not saved is how you live. Is there fruit? No fruit? Well, at least, is there repentance? And brokenness and a contrite heart? If not, then, you have to wonder, am I really saved?
These sins are moral absolutes. You might think adultery or sexual immorality is okay for you, but the Bible says, no, your opinion on these matters is irrelevant. Because they are sins, these are indisputable matters.
Many foods back then were associated with pagan practices and idolatry. That’s why what you eat or do not eat was a big deal to them. Now, we have to consider the individual contexts where these verses reside. That’s why these concepts are not so clear cut. In the Corinthian context, the weaker brother refers to a group that formerly worshipped idols. These weaker brothers are accustomed to idols. They grew up worshiping idols. And they are completely unaware of the Old Testament and the Christian God of the Bible, but God saved them later in life. Let’s say that a weaker brother from the Corinthian church sees a stronger brother eating meat and so they start eating meat, too. And they reason, I saw Paul eating this meat and that’s why I am eating it. And given their past, it’s easy for these former idol worshippers to drift back into their old way of life. Because these foods, in some cases, were linked to pagan gods and idolatry. And they think, okay, I acknowledge that Christ is the supreme God but these other lesser gods that I used to worship, I can worship them on the side. And so by eating the meat they are stumbled.
The Roman context is the exact reverse. The weaker brothers are highly religious Jews who are now Christians. They have practiced the Mosaic law their entire lives. And given their past, they abhor idol worship. These Jewish Christians don’t even want to associate with Gentiles who eat unclean food, much less eat the food themselves. This is part of their heritage. And similar to the weaker brothers in Corinth, if the weaker brothers in Rome start eating the meat, they, too, can be stumbled.
So if you compare the situation in Rome with the situation at Corinth, 2 views on evil emerge. For the Roman weaker brother, evil is so contagious that we have to avoid evil and avoid even the possibility of evil situations because of the danger of stumbling. These are the fundamentalists or the legalistic types who like to restrict freedom. And this group tends to be vocal so they also end up restricting the freedom of those around them. Because the world is evil. They are so scared of evil that they pile up the sand bags and build fortresses.
The other view is that evil is all around us. We can’t escape it. We live in the world and we ask God to lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil but this doesn’t mean that we put our heads in the sand. We still need to live out our lives in the real world.
How do we address both camps? The fundamentalists, who restrict. And those who say we are all free in Christ. The fundamentalist say that evil is dangerous so we should distance ourselves from evil as much as possible. And then the other guys say that freedom in Christ trumps everything else. We shouldn’t restrict, we are free to live and make mistakes and learn from our mistakes and grow up.
Let’s go back to v17 — For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…
Eating and drinking. These are disputable areas, not indisputable like adultery and drunkenness.
This may shock some of us, but things are not all black and white. In God’s moral universe, there are moral absolutes, indisputable matters. And these indisputable matters are clearly laid out in Scripture.
But what do we do about the things are not clearly laid in Scripture?
One principle emerges right away from this, that is, the Bible has to be our only authority when it comes to determining what constitutes a moral absolute and what does not. If the Bible is clear on an issue, then it’s a moral absolute, it’s indisputable. But if the Bible is not clear or is silent about a particular topic, then it’s disputable, meaning it’s open for discussion.