Gale Sayers was one of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL. When he wrote his autobiography, he called it “I Am Third.” A lot of people didn’t understand the title at first. His explanation was simple: “God is first, others are second, and I am third.” If you want to describe how the gospel changes people, that sentence would be a good way. It can be put even shorter by using JOY: Jesus, Others, Yourself. What both of these issues have in common is the need that we as Christians have to think about others as we do whatever we may do. This concept is a challenge to a world that tells us to look out for number one: with number one being yourself. It is a challenge to those who believe in trash-talking and putting others down.
When Paul brought this subject up, he was dealing with the attitude that some Christians had that made them think they could do practically anything they wanted and not worry about its effect on others: Christian or non-Christian. In Greek philosophy, many viewed the physical as bad and the spirit as good. One of the ramifications that some took was that once you came to Christ, your spirit was taken care of, and you could do whatever you wanted because you were now strong. Paul spoke to that. “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.” (Romans 15:1-2)
As mentioned in an earlier thought, the big issue for the Christians of that day revolved around eating meat that may have been offered to idols. Interestingly enough, that was one of the few things that the Council of Jerusalem put on the “no” list for Gentiles to do. It was a real problem even still in Rome and in Corinth. That meat was cheaper. The pagan temples got the meat from sacrifices so it didn’t cost them anything. It was cheap – and after all, God wanted them to be good stewards. Besides, those idols are to gods that don’t really exist. The strong ones knew who the one true God was. The problem they didn’t anticipate was that those who were new or weak in the faith might not be able to handle dealing with idols. Perhaps they wondered, “what difference does being a Christian make? I can keep living like I used to.” The meat issue was most likely a symbol of other sins that were accepted because they only affected the body and not the spirit.
We use similar arguments today. We’re free from the law, so we can do what we want to. We can do business the way we do because it makes more money, or saves us money; there are no worries about the people we take advantage of when we commit to making the most money or buying at the cheapest price. We can live like we want to and use our bodies how we want to because we are followers of Jesus Christ. In the face of that, Paul reminds us to think of others. How we do business affects others. Do we perpetuate slave labor that exists in some parts of the world, or do we find ways to break people out of slavery? Do we use others sexually for our own pleasure or do we follow God’s plan for sexuality? As followers of Christ, we need to live each day with a concern for the physical and spiritual well-being of others. When we do things God’s way and love our neighbor as ourselves, we do that well.
Lord, remind me to think of others each day. Remind me that You put others, including me, first when Jesus died on the cross to bring forgiveness. Let me be willing to sacrifice for others also.