The Law of Liberty & Love, 1 Corinthians 8
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In the next three chapters (8-10) of the Apostle Paul's epistle to the Corinthians, the focus will be on "Christian liberty," freedom in Christ.
Chapter 8 specifically deals with the liberty to eat meat, meat sacrificed to idols (vs. 1)
And, though, this means little to us today, the principles of "knowledge," "love" (vs. 1) and "conscience" (vs. 7, 10) have wide application for us today as we seek to live rightly before Christ.
Because many in the Corinthian church were "carnal," "babes in Christ," (1 Cor. 3:1-3, NKJV) and the contemporary church today has many of the same issues, Paul's teaching is pertinent for us as well.
As an example, in today's church, people ask: Is it okay to:
- Drink alcohol
- Watch an "R" rated movie
- Dress immodestly
All these, and more, are questions that require answers.
All are questions from a "gray" area, not questions that can be answered specifically from the "black and white" of written Scripture.
So, the guidelines of "knowledge," "love" and "conscience," as taught by the Apostle will enable us to navigate in the murky gray waters of today.
Paul primarily was addressing the stronger Christians in Corinth, believers who were more mature, had spiritual "knowledge," experience and understood their authority and freedom in Christ.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Eph. 5:1)
It is the strong in the faith Christian who must care for the weaker brother or sister.
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.
"Now about food sacrificed to idols:"
To understand the "how" and "why" of Paul's answer to their specific question, we need to know the cultural and historical context of the Corinthian church:
* "Food" was meat.
* The best meat was left over from pagan temple sacrifices, not bought from the public market place.
* It was also the least expensive, often free and freshest.
The problem for the Corinthians was that many had been saved out of this pagan religious system, and anything associated with it was offensive.
"We know that we all possess knowledge."
* "Knowledge" - Spiritual knowledge, able to discern truth from the Word.
The "stronger" members of the church understood that idols meant nothing, could not contaminate the meat and ate it freely, this offended the "weaker" believers.
"But knowledge puffs up while love builds up."
* "Puffs up" - Makes arrogant
* "Builds up" - Edifies
The Corinthians were known for their "knowledge," and were proud of it.
For in Him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge—
(1 Cor. 1:5)
Knowledge can be a weapon to fight with or a tool to "build" with, depending on how we use it. If it "puffs up" then it can't "build up."
"Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know."
* A know-it-all attitude is proof of ignorance.
* One who knows the truth, understands how little he really knows.
It is good to know "the Bible of God," but much more important to know the "God of the Bible."
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought,
but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
Additionally, many of us think we have "knowledge" without all of the facts and make decisions based on less than complete "knowledge."
To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.
It is a trap to dedicate something rashly and
only later to consider one’s vows.
“Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”
"For if a man thinks he "knows," he may still be quite
ignorant of what he ought to know."
(1 Cor. 8:22 N.T.M.E.)
"But whoever loves God is known by God."
* A better translation: “But whoever loves, truly knows God, and is known by God.”
* For God is love.
Love and knowledge must go together "speaking the truth in love."
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body
of Him who is the head, that is, Christ.
"Truth without love is brutality, but love
without truth is hypocrisy."
The problem was that the strong believers were not using their "knowledge" in "love." Instead of "building up" the weaker believers they were only “puffing up” themselves.
"So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols:"
* Now Paul will specifically answer their question, in hope of creating church unity.
"We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world..."
* An idol has no power, it is not a god, it is made by human hands and must be served by men.
But you are less than nothing and your works
are utterly worthless; whoever chooses you is detestable.
"There is no God but One."
* Paul shows his Jewish ancestry:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
"...so called gods..."
* In ancient Greece it was said in Athens: "It's easier to find a god than a man."
* As Paul experienced in Athens:
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
"...there is but one God...from who all things came and for whom we live..."
* God created all things and gives us life.
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does
not live in temples built by human hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He
needed anything. Rather, He Himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else."
"...there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and for Whom we live..."
* The Son was with the Father at the beginning of creation.
"Then God said, "Let us make man in our image..."
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created:
things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him.
"...and through Him we live."
* "We live" - Both here on earth, but more importantly "we live" into eternity with Christ by His sacrifice and resurrection. (1 Cor. 15:3-4, 20)
Paul here demonstrates by this creedal statement that Christ is one with the Father, co-equal in the Trinity. (Col. 1:15)
"But not everyone possesses this knowledge..."
* The knowledge that idols have no power or ability to affect the meat. So, there is no problem eating it.
* The idol is not "honored" by a believer eating the meat, for the "idol is nothing" (vs. 4) and has no power.
"...when they eat...food...sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled."
* "Conscience" - Simply means to "know with."
"Conscience is the internal 'court' where we judge our actions
and they are either approved of or condemned."
Conscience depends on spiritual "knowledge," the more we have and act upon, the stronger our conscience becomes.
The "carnal" Corinthians didn't have "this knowledge" (vs. 7) and their weak consciences bothered them. So, they criticized their "stronger" brothers who ate the meat, causing disunity in the church.
Unfortunately, we still have this issue today in the contemporary church.
Weak believers say if you smoke, drink, dance, watch movies, etc., you're not saved!
They think they're so "spiritual," when actually they prove they don't have "knowledge" and strong consciences and are easily offended by more mature Christians use of Christian "freedom" (liberty).
Most of these "weak" believers have "weak consciences" because they aren't growing.
They ignore studying the Word, fellowshipping with others, communion and corporate prayer (Acts 2:42).
And they remain as "babes in Christ," carnal Christians (1 Cor. 3:1-4).
"...food does not bring us...to God..."
* Food has nothing to do with our relationship with God.
* Recall Simon Peter at Joppa (Acts 10:14-15).
"What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them,
but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
"Be careful...that...your rights...do not become a stumbling block to the weak."
* "Rights" - Freedom, Christian liberty.
* "Stumbling block" - Proskomma (Gk.), to entice one to sin, or an occasion for apostasy (falling away from the faith). (Strong's 4348)
It is not a question of being able to exercise your liberty, it is a question about where is your love for a weaker brother. Remember:
"Knowledge puffs up...love builds up..." (vs. 1)
"For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols?"
* Simply: If an immature believer decides to imitate his stronger brother, he might be led to sin.
The reason many pastors don't do certain things, is because it might cause others to stumble or be offended.
There are many things we are at "liberty" to do but don't do them out of love for others and their weaknesses.
I don't want to hurt my "weak" brother, I don't want to be responsible for leading him away from the Lord.
"So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge."
* Again, it isn't a question of an activity being right or wrong.
* It is a question of its effect on that "weak" brother.
"Knowledge" can be a dangerous thing if used without "love." (Vs. 1)
"When you...wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ."
* Paul understood this:
"...I will not cause them to fall."
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to
do anything”—but not everything is constructive."
(1 Cor. 10:23)
The liberty of a Christian is not controlled by legality, he is not held in check by rules of conduct.
The Christians liberty is limited by love. Love for his brother.
Our liberty should be a blessing for our brothers, not an offense.
We must remember that the conscience of a "weak" Christian is easily:
- Defiled (1 Cor. 8:7)
- Wounded (1 Cor. 8:12)
- Stumbled (fall) (1 Cor. 8:9, 13)
The stronger believer defers to the weaker in love. So that he might help him mature.
This is not "pampering," but "edifying," discipling, for:
LOVE BUILDS UP!