One: 1 Corinthians 8.1-13
Topic: New Testament Passage: 1 Corinthians 8:1–8:13
Good Morning! Since the beginning of the year we have been preaching through the book of 1Corinthians. The first several chapters focused on reminding the church in Corinth good doctrine centers on the person and work of Jesus. This should bring greater unity to the church than individual teachers; regardless of how well-spoken or well liked they are. The letter shifted several weeks ago from doctrine to practice. Meaning, how does what a Christian believe impact how they live their lives as individuals? Specifically, this past month we were in chapter 7 looking at Marriage, singleness, sexuality, and divorce. This week we are shifting to chapter 8 where Paul is moving on and addressing another issue facing the Corinthian church, which has implication for us as modern Christians, namely how should we engage with a culture and society filled rampant idolatry while being faithful to our God and to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
8 Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God
4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
7 However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
That last verse may be the most challenging in the New Testament! There is a lot going on here. It is easy for us to write off what is being said here because so much of the issue of something like food offered to idols seem to be culturally and historically distant. Yet just two weeks ago it was national news that a Dearborn Michigan McDonald’s paid out three quarters of a million dollars in a lawsuit because chicken sandwiches where advertised as being prepared Halal, Islamic dietary law where any meat must be sacrificed in the name of allah, were apparently were not properly blessed or handled before being sold. While we see kosher or halal markings from time to time and some of us do have dietary restrictions and preferences like gluten intolerance, organic, vegan/vegetarian, or hormone free, food issues can be relative simple to navigate in our world of super and specialty markets and clear nutritional markings. We can go online and find restaurants and products that cater to all of our desires or preferences. This was not the case in first century Roman society where food culture was bound to religious, political, and social life.
As Paul is writing this letter Nero is the Roman Emperor. He was worshipped as the “son of god” “equal to the beginning of all things” “Sent as a savior” People pledged allegiance to the emperor at sporting events, and public and private meals. Additionally there were countless Collegia associations that served as supper clubs based on occupations, philosophical and political preferences, national or ethnic background but many/most were specific worship of a Roman diety, but all had patron god’s, lord’s, or idols; and all were under the control of the Roman government. There were numerous temples and shrines to gods, heros, and emperors in Corinth. The ruins of the temple of Apollo can still be seen. Pausanias, an ardent traveler of the era, lists more than a dozen temples and shrines devoted to worship of god’s that formed the public square of the city. Temple and feast culture permeated every aspect of society. Apart from the Jews of the time, who had their own sub-culture, all members of the city were expected to participate in temple feasts or festivals for business, government, and socialization. Banquets started with extended cocktail hours that could easily, and was intended to, lead to drunkenness as well as entertainment was often highly sexual in nature. The center of the feast was ceremony dedicating to worshipping Caesar and any other temple gods, finally followed by a meal including meat that had been offered to the temple idol. In the middle of the dining room was a statue of the idol to show the god was present overseeing the meal. There was no such thing in Roman society as a non-religious banquet. This means Corinthian Christians were regularly faced with navigating issues associated with temple society.
Many in Corinth had already decided they knew their doctrine well enough; they were not concerned participating in temple activities would have any impact on their personal relationship with God. It’s very likely they’re not asking Paul “what should we do here?” They’re telling him they know, and know best.
Part I : v1-3 – Love over Knowledge
Before Paul even attempts to address these issues of idolatry he has to address the issue of the Corinthian heart. Often surface questions come from deeper issues. The outward issue of their public behavior cannot be dealt with until Paul shines a light on their inward attitude. Namely how their knowledge has led to pride, and pride is the opposite of a genuine Christian spirit. The knowledge Paul is talking about is theological knowledge. He’s specifically referring to their knowledge about God, about Christ, about salvation, about the future hope, about the church, and about Christian behavior. What could possible go wrong with knowing more about any of these glorious things? We preach sermons, lead small groups, and teach classes with an express purpose to teach people about these things. The challenge is, knowledge on its own, particularly knowledge about God, can artificially “inflate” individual and groups with strong sense of spiritual and intellectual pride. Conversely this pride quickly leads to conceit for those and towards those with less knowledge. For all they knew about God they had become arrogant. They looked and sounded mature and intimidating but it was all artificial and their balloon was about to be popped.
Knowledge puffs up but love builds up. Knowledge, on it’s own, puffs up an individual and does very little to help anyone else. It lacks humility. Any study of theology or growth in knowledge should lead us away from pride and towards greater humility as we see God’s as bigger and us as smaller. In Paul’s riddle, in verse two, he’s saying those who think they know a lot about God, in fact know next to nothing! Their knowledge can be completely useless. 1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 1 Cor 13 Love, on the other hand, has the ability to build real and lasting Christian character in us as individuals. It moves beyond us, to build up others in their understanding of the faith. I often resist this concept of the importance of Love because I wrongly assume love has to be weak or mindless. It can be when it is divorced from knowledge. I can error on being right, rather than being loving, when they do not have to be mutually exclusive. Paul is not pitting knowledge of truth against love. Knowledge needs to be empowered by Love. They should be dance partners with love leading. Knowledge is a boat. You don’t want holes in it or you’ll sink, but without an engine of love you won’t go anywhere. Love is empowering because it comes not from our knowledge about God but because God know us. He is the source. We can know about God but it is meaningless if we are not known by God. His love for us leads us to love others.
10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4
If knowledge without love is arrogance and pride, Love without knowledge is foolishness and folly. We may lack love, but we certainly lack knowledge. Our struggles are less often with theological arrogance and more often with biblical ignorance. If you want to truly know someone you have to know things about them that are true. Because you’ve been loved, you love. Because you love, you seek to know more about that which you love, so you can love them more effectively and more completely. Love leads to knowledge; knowledge stirs your affections which lead to greater love. Paul reminds the Corinthians about what is true.
Part II – Truth over Fiction
There is truth about God and there is fiction. The Corinthians were not necessarily wrong about the true nature of their cities idols, just incomplete in their understanding. They argued, and Paul did not disagree, idols have no real existence and there are no god’s but one. They are right. An idol is anything worshipped that is ultimately empty. It may have physical presence but no spiritual substance, or it may have a spiritual component but is not God. It may have some power to enslave, but no power to save. The temples in Corinth and the god’s and lord’s in them were all built by human hands. The bible is consistent in in its open mocking and condemnation of idols as false and its calls to worship the one true God.
6 Those who lavish gold from the purse, and weigh out silver in the scales, hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; then they fall down and worship! 7 They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it, they set it in its place, and it stands there; it cannot move from its place. If one cries to it, it does not answer or save him from his trouble. Isaiah 46:5-7 Earlier in Isaiah, the prophet says people are cutting down trees and using one part as fire wood to cook and heat while foolishly carving the other part into a god and worshiping it.
In Corinth and today there are a plethora of god’s and lord’s begging for time, money, energy, and devotion each with their individual spheres of environment, politics, sexuality, education, money, etc. and the world worships them all. Some are evil, wicked, or even demonic, but many are simply good things we have turned into god-things. They are all ultimately meaningless. It is not loving to the pagan world to encourage the continued worship of idols when only one is worthy of our worship. Verse six echoes the Shema, the creed repeated multiple times daily. Deut 6: 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Paul goes beyond the elementary truth of one God creator of all, to teach He is the loving Father,whose sphere is over EVERYTHING. We come from Him, we live for Him. He is both our origin and our goal. God the Father is united to The Son, Jesus Christ. Our life comes from the Father through the Son. Jesus is united with His people through his death on the cross and resurrection as he prepares for a new creation.
And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 Peter preaching
5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 1 Tim 2:5
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Rev 1:8
Such simple doctrinal clarity, such elementary knowledge, was necessary in Corith as it is today, in a world filled with spiritual confusion. Our society’s highest value is to “Coexist”, unless we are talking about the exclusivity of Jesus Christ, one God. There is only one God, all others are worthless idols. This offends those who know about Him but are not know by Him and do not worship Him as they aught. Ignorance is not bliss it is destruction. It is more loving to the world, to our friends, family, coworkers, to be faithful to the truth, to hold up the truth, to find joy and peace in the truth; to call, invite, woo with the truth, than to affirm, encourage, or celebrate the fiction of idolatry. This fiction is not a game, idolatry is sin because it is an offense to the God who made us for His glory and our Joy to worship something less than the Almighty God. Turn from, repent of, idolatry and follow the Lord Jesus. Bowing to Jesus, following Jesus will necessarily change the way you live. A life devoted to idols and a life devoted to Christ will look different. The circumstance may not change but your heart and actions will.
Part III – Self-denial over Liberty
While this may seem basic Christianity 101, Paul says, not everyone yet knows how the truth of the gospel impacts each area of a believer’s life. We are all called to Christ from our individual lives. We all had various flavors, preferences, and experiences with the addictions and idolatry of the world and our hearts. If we are Christians we all have much to repent of, and turn from. Being empowered by the Spirit, and being built up in love by other brothers and sisters we strive towards maturity in Christ. But since we all have different starting points our journeys are going to start out very different and disjointed, but will grow together in greater unity as we are pressing and growing more and more towards Christ. This means our individual understanding of how the gospel impacts our lives, our conscience, may be different from others. Additionally, we have freedom and liberty in Christ to whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Cor 10:31. This closing section shows diversity of conscience and exercise of liberty can lead to real conflicts and disunity when it is not governed by a humble spirit of self-denial. Love and truth need to lead to actions. For those who possess both it means considering others needs more than your own desires.
Paul doesn’t compare between those who are weak and those who are strong. He compares those who are weak in conscience (understanding/knowledge of the gospel) with those who “have knowledge” only and are weak in love. Both are found lacking, both are insufficient, and both can easily fall into destructive sin. For those who have a weak understanding of who they are in Christ participating in past activities (even those not expressly sinful) can lead them to sin. For those with knowledge but have little consideration for their brother, they value their “rights” more than helping a brother be encouraged in righteousness.
Their actions become a stumbling block and an encouragement for a brother to sin. Stumbling block is the same word as “trap”, encouragement is the same as the word for build in verse one. When we are in a battle against sin we don’t need to be hit by friendly fire or have our brothers actively enabling us to sin.
but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea Matt 18:6
Jesus apparently takes sin, and causing others to sin, very seriously. What does this look like for us? How do we avoid causing brothers and sisters, and ourselves to sin? The easy answer would be what many fundamentalist do and just make a lengthy list of activities that may have a potential to possible lead to sin in ourselves or others and simply abstain; regardless of how much potential joy God may have intended for them or how necessary they may be to reach the lost world with the gospel. Or we could simply embrace and indulge in any activities the world has to offer with the hope we “coexist” regardless of how much destruction it may cause our brothers and how much offense it brings our God. Neither of these are valid options for those with knowledge of the gospel who love God and His people, both lost and found. It will need to be more difficult than legalism and more joyful then license. Love will lead Knowledge, truth will confront fiction, and self-denial will govern our rights.
We will grow in knowledge of one another for the purposes of loving each other as brothers and sisters more effectively. This mean we will actually need to know each other well enough to know what might causes each other to stumble. We will have to be in Gospel Community with each other. Love each other enough ask deep questions. Be discerning enough to know your brother might not know or easily admit what will make them stumble. We seek to know and understand the idols of our hearts and the hearts of our brothers and sisters and encourage ourselves and others towards that which builds towards Christ.
When we go into the world, rather than choosing to reclining at a temple or protesting outside it we will have to engage with the fallen world showing them they are meant to worship more that empty idols. As a sent people we are always seeking to display the truth of the gospel while exposing the fiction of idolatry. All while remaining faithful to the God who commands us to go into the world.
If you consider yourself weak in your understanding of the gospel you need to seek knowledge, ask questions, and grow. Move past endless recovery towards restoration so you have the strength to build up others towards Christ.
If you know about God but are not loving others as if you’re known by God, seek humility.
If you have stumbled and fallen into sin know it does not have to be eternal. Christ died in our place for our sin so our destruction doesn’t have to be final. He rose again so our lives could be empowered with freedom from sin to have the liberty to worship Him who saved us. More than merely us as individuals, He saves us to united family, the weak and the unloving. He calls us to know Him more fully and accurately and love Him and each other more completely.
Look around! These are our brothers and sisters for whom Christ died. They matter, you matter, to Him. Enough that he set aside His liberty going to the cross in our place, with full knowledge of our sin He choose sacrificial love to pull us out of our fiction of idolatry to show us the truth of the Kingdom where we serve the one true God who loves us a perfect Father.