Sharing a Meal with Unbelievers

If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. (1 Cor 10:27)

It is easy to overlook parts of Scripture that aren’t the main focus of a passage. This week Paul mentions eating at someone’s house and the focus is on what you do while there. If they serve meat, do you ask where it came from? But let’s not overlook something that, for the early Christian convert in Corinth, may have been taken for granted. These believers were new to the faith and in the small minority among the religions in their city, so surely they had relationships with those outside the faith. Because of this, it would not be unexpected for them to share a meal with the pagans in the community.

I bring that up because what was a basis for this question is something that is increasingly a non-issue for many Christians today. How often are you actually invited over for dinner by an unbeliever?

If not, or at least if you have hardly any interactions with non-believers, that is a problem. How are we to have a witness to be concerned about in the first place if there is no one around us to witnes to?

Recently I saw an article on Christianity Today that revealed some statistics that display how big a problem this is becoming. In the article, which you can read in its entirety here, it is reported that “one out of five non-Christians in North America doesn’t know any Christians.”[1] That means 20 percent of the population, more than 13 million people, don’t personally know any Christians. How are they to hear of Christ? Do we assume here in the United States that they’ll just soak it in by osmosis? Christians need to be a people gathered, but not isolated. We gather to encourage each other, to worship, to be refreshed, and then we are sent. We need to see the “other”, a category Paul lifts up as deserving of our love, and seek them out.

Even if now you’re afraid of sharing your faith, let the first step at least be sharing a meal.


  1. In this report, North America is categorized along the lines that the UN uses, which designates Mexico as Latin America. ↩

All Things to All People for the Sake of the Gospel

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:20-23

Paul was a Jew. To remain there would have been more comfortable. It would have been familiar. But, Paul knew he had a call from God to reach out beyond the community with which he identified. After encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was given a new mission. Paul was going to reach out to non-Jews, the Gentiles, to bring to them the good news of Jesus Christ.

He didn’t leave behind his Jewish brothers and sisters. He still appeared in the synagogues teaching, he still taught from the scriptures of what we now call the Old Testament, and he did all he could in order to “win Jews.”

But he worked hard to be able to build a bridge to another group of people. He needed to learn a new language and interact with a new culture. Paul worked tirelessly in following his calling to reach the Gentiles. And he does it all for the sake of the gospel.

Can you imagine putting in the the time it takes to learn a new language in order to follow the call of God in your life? Or how about giving up whatever strength we have in order to meet people in their weakness? He does it all to better reach them with the gospel.

This pattern that Paul follows is the one set forth by Jesus Christ. God came to humanity and became human. Jesus took on flesh, lived a life just us, endured temptation, humbled himself, faced persecution, and he did it all so that he may make for himself a people.

What do we give up to identify with someone God is calling us to serve? What are we willing to change? Is the goal of bringing the gospel to more people so captivating that we’d even consider changing?

Vanity of Vanities! All is vanity!

Oddly, Ecclesiastes packs a punch even though it is talking about the listlessness of life. Life is vanity, we are a vapor, there is no point. If this were entirely true, then it is surprising that the author intends for you to keep reading more than one chapter.

There is meaning in life, and it comes through in Ecclesiastes, but much of the book is devoted to talk about what has no real worth.

I think this resonates with many in today’s world who have had the realization that they live a life with no purpose. Some leave jobs and lives behind to forge a new path searching for meaning. Others reject the values of wealth and power that society seeks to lift up hoping to live life according to a better principle or philosophy.

This creates a great opportunity to shine a light on what Christ offers. To those without, he gives direction. In Christ we all have a calling. We have a purpose as we seek to be his disciples, loving God and loving others. Participating in his kingdom work is of great worth and eternal value. The world offers goals like get a bigger house, have more cable channels on your bigger TV, and gain fame. But these are vanity and are nothing in comparison to the revolutionary purpose of living for Jesus.

A Great Mystery of the Faith

Acts 22 recounts a message delivered by Paul. He had been before the tribune asking for permission, and receiving it proceeds to speak to fellow Jews.

The crowd appears to listen intently, all the more because Paul speaks in Hebrew. He tells of his stirring conversion, meeting with Christ on the road to Damascus. He then was taken in by Ananias, received back his sight, and was given the call to be a witness. Paul repented and was baptized.

Paul is commanded in a vision to flee from Jerusalem, because the people there will not accept his testimony. Paul knows that people remember the role he took in persecuting the church, even standing by approvingly as Stephen was marytred.

St Paul Preaching in Athens, Raphael – Preaching to the Gentiles.

The crowd was listening throughout all of Paul’s message, but in verse 22 it says that at his last line they raised their voice and called for him to be cast out. What could he have said that would cause them, after listening throughout his message so intently, to turn so quickly?

In verse 21 Paul says that God commanded him to, “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

Paul’s opponents will tolerate his words up to the point that he claims God calls him to go to people unlike themselves. They appreciate that he is like them, that he is from a place like them, and that he speaks a language like them. They do not appreciate that he is ministering to “the other.” Their vision is so clouded and their understanding of God’s intent so narrow that they cannot hear the good news of Paul’s message.

God’s love for the gentiles is described as the core of a great mystery of our faith, revealed to us now. We now know how great is this new word that Paul speaks of in his letter to the church in Ephesus. I, a Gentile, for one am thankful for the ministry of Paul, as called by God, and need to follow suit to seek out not only others who are like me, but to bring the gospel to others.

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Ephesians 3:1-6

Paul and Barnabas Split Up

Barnabas Curing the Poor, Paolo Veronese, 1566

As I mentioned yesterday, the early church struggled over what laws still apply to converts to Christianity, and we see that in the first chapter from this week’s readings from the book of Acts, chapter 15. Some among the Pharisees thought the Gentiles needed to first be circumcised, or in other words, the Gentiles had to become Jews first, to be followers of Jesus. The council in Jerusalem took time to decide matters and believed God was taking away any distinction between Jews and Gentiles and that all are saved by God’s grace, not the law.

The believers sent out delegates to bring this news to the early church, and this group included Paul and Barnabas (v.25). The news was met with rejoicing in the churches and Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch to continue teaching and preaching the word of the Lord.

Having just made a proclamation of unity to the churches that signified that the council was of one accord and that two groups who had been at odds were now being brought together, a sharp division arises. Paul and Barnabas intend to return to the churches they have ministered to, but Barnabas wanted to bring along John (called Mark), and Paul is not pleased by such a choice. Paul’s objection is that John has left them previously (Acts 13:13), so it would be better to choose another. We are not told explicitly why John left, but perhaps he returned to Jerusalem because he was uncomfortable with the mission Paul had to the Gentiles. This causes “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabas, causing them to separate–Paul goes with Silas, and Barnabas with John.

Do we lament that division followed such unity? I don’t think that needs to be the response.

This was not a break over what the council had just decided. They do not disagree on their mission, just on the manner in which they will carry it out. Certainly it would have troubled these men to part over such circumstances, but even though they were divided, they still shared unity in their purpose. They both were committed to bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever they went and continuing to care for his church. God may have even been able to use them for a greater good given that these two esteemed disciples divided their time and energies to reach different geographic areas. It also gave opportunity for Paul and Barnabas to take on new partners with whom to serve.

God is given glory in the unity brought about in the work of Jesus Christ to break down barriers that had once separated peoples. That good news is heard by the churches as the Jerusalem council sends word and the people rejoiced. But I do not think God’s glory is diminished when two faithful servants of the gospel part ways and divide to spread their ministries in new directions. God still worked great deeds in and through these early missionaries, and the story even has a happy ending. Paul’s letters reveal reconciliation with John (Mark), and he has changed his view of his role in the ministry. In 2 Timothy 4 Paul calls for him to be brought back because he believes that John is of great use to the work of God.

Sent by Jesus

Our focus passage this week asks the question, “What does it mean to be sent by Jesus?” and “In what way had the Father sent him?” These questions refer to John 20:21, in which Jesus says:

Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.

We could spend a great deal of time pondering that one verse. In John, Jesus is constantly drawing attention to the fact that he is sent from God. He says that the Father has sent him, the Father has given him words to say, and he is doing his Father’s work. His being sent is a crucial element to his being here among us. And now we’ve been sent “as the Father has sent [Jesus].”

So as you finish John, and then as we’ll next read through Luke, look for what characterizes the way in which Jesus is sent. See how Jesus puts the Father’s will first and the way his goal is to speak what the Father has spoken to him. Look elsewhere in the New Testament like Philippians 2 and see that in being sent, Jesus humbled himself–even to the point of the cross. Jesus took on flesh, faced temptation, was mocked, was hungry, and of course, in his being sent, he was to go to the cross. His sending was for a mission of love in which he put the needs of others and the will of the Father first. Jesus died on this mission, and after he was raised, knowing full well all that being sent entails, speaks a word of peace to the disciples, and charges them to go into the world. If we head his words, how much do we need his peace to face the fears we will encounter, and how thankful are we that he has breathed upon us his Holy Spirit to strengthen us and comfort us along the way?