Studies in First Corinthians
by Bob Burridge ©2017
Attitudes that Harm Others
1 Corinthians 8:1-13 (ESV)
living in a mostly pagan world.
For whatever reason, this is the battle ground in which God calls us to live, to work, to raise our children, and to shine as lights for his Kingdom. We’re fortunate enough, at least for now, to be living in a less violent time and place than at some times and places. Not everybody’s been as blessed.
Believers have often faced horrible and in-human persecutions. In some periods of history Christians had to hide from open campaigns of torture and slaughter. In some eras idolatry was mandated by law, keeping the Sabbath was a crime, and the state protected and promoted the most perverted immoralities.
In some parts of the world today, people are arrested, tortured, and killed for their beliefs. God has blessed us with a nation which has for more than two centuries preserved our freedoms of worship and expression. The enemy of our faith is very clever and deceptive. In these less violent times, we still face temptations that catch us off guard, and destroy our message.
One way the enemy always strikes is to attack truth, worship, and morality directly. But another of his methods is to dull the effectiveness of those who know the truth. It’s a fact: that some believers are not as well informed as others about what the Bible says. They become victims of good sounding errors that get mixed in with what God has said.
One of the ethical problems we need to deal with is how believers can help one another, without creating divisions and arguments about unimportant matters. That sort of thing weakens the church, gives it a bad reputation, and confuses the gospel. It breaks up our fellowship and makes us less effective as God’s Kingdom on earth.
In chapter 8 of 1 Corinthians Paul deals with another of the questions the Church had asked. There were divisions within the church about eating meat which pagans had used in their rituals.
1. Now concerning food offered to idols:
Idol worship was very common in the Roman Empire. Corinth was a main shipping and trade port so it attracted all sorts of pagan religions. Many who became believers grew up in that culture with its common day-to-day paganism.
There were temples everywhere, and sacrifices were part of the normal way of life. It was built into the work day schedule of most businesses, and woven into the social structure.
but not everyone saw the danger.
1. … 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.
Some Christians had become very well informed about the errors in the culture around them. They could see both the danger and falsehood of things others accepted as normal. But not everybody in the churches learned as quickly about God’s truth.
This is a common situation in churches. Those who know more can become arrogant, dismissive, and show little concern toward those who are confused. The confused tend to see those better informed as being too intellectual about their faith, and uncaring. They develop attitudes and programs to make people feel good, but its not based on God’s truth. God isn’t honored by either extreme.
Knowledge of God’s word is a huge responsibility. It needs to be handled wisely. God’s word doesn’t just tell us what’s true. It also tells us how to behave toward others.
The first verse gives the ethical basis for Paul’s answer to their question: Knowledge can’t please God if it’s not joined with love as God defines it. Some who are brothers in Christ have a poor understanding of God’s word. Others, with a greater knowledge about God’s word, are poor in putting it into practice properly.
Love in Scripture is far deeper than just an emotional feeling. It’s a commitment to give of yourself to help others to benefit from God’s blessings.
Knowledge without love does not honor God. There is more expected of us than being right. We also need to be good.
Our union with God through Christ means we’re united to our Lord – along with others. Therefore knowledge without love can be cruel and dishonoring to God.
On the other hand, love without knowledge doesn’t know what loving behavior really is. Jesus said in John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
The Scriptures often link these two ideas together. They are inseparable. Knowledge without love is incomplete knowledge because it misses what’s most important. Love without knowledge promotes things that aren’t good. It hurts rather than helps.
Those who learn more should also grow more in showing the fruit and evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives. This is how our knowledge is used to honor God and build up his people.
applies to their question about sacrifices to idols.
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.
This lays out a most basic fact of Scripture: there is but one God only. This is a necessary pre-requisite for understanding Paul’s answer. Nothing could be more fundamental, and more opposed to the Roman world’s thinking. Moses taught in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” 1 Kings 8:60 explains, “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other.” Isaiah 44:6 says, “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.’ ” So here in 1 Corinthians 8:4 Paul reminds them that “… there is no God but one.”
This is the point: While there are imagined gods, there is really only one. There can only be one Creator, only one who sustains all things by his infinite power. There is only one Messiah who came to redeem his people. Jesus Christ is this one Messiah, our Lord, by whom we were made and exist.
Since there’s no other god, the idols have no power or influence. Food sacrificed to them in ignorance is not really changed or sanctified in any way. The well informed believer knows that there can be nothing outwardly wrong with eating it.
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.
The cooked meat from these pagan sacrifices was either eaten at the temples, or sold in the market and eaten in homes. This meat was evidently conveniently available, low priced, and of good quality.
Believers who wouldn’t have anything to do with idols still found this meat to be a bargain. Since they understood that there was only one true God, they saw nothing wrong with eating the meat, since they didn’t honor a false god in eating it.
The problem was that not all believers understood this. Some had a hard time separating from the pagan rituals they grew up with and were surrounded by. They ate the meat hoping to get some benefit from the power they were taught it contained.
Before we get too judgmental we should realize that there are many saved by grace today who still are superstitious, and believe in things like good luck, rituals, ceremonies, and the power of statues or charms.
The question about eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols was a wide-spread concern. It’s a question that comes up several times in the New Testament. It was dealt with in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, and in several of Paul’s epistles.
Some reasoned: if there was nothing changed in the meat and the idols are false anyway, then what could be wrong with getting this bargain priced food and eating it?
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.
If someone eats this meat understanding that it’s nothing more than cooked meat, but he does it in such a way that those still struggling with pagan ideas believe he’s honoring the idol, or hoping in superstitious help from it. This could make the one with less knowledge believe that superstition is OK. He might assume that even these better informed Christians accept the Roman ideas along with their faith in Christ.
The well informed need to be sensitive to how it comes across to the less informed. In love, he should avoid things that might cause problems, even if it might cost more for food. We should not let our liberty become a stumbling block to the weak.
Things that are not wrong in themselves can become wrong if they cause others to sin, or to be confused spiritually.
If we callously satisfy our own desires, yet we hinder another person’s spiritual growth, then we turn our liberty into sin — even when it’s something not forbidden.
But this wasn’t put in our Bibles just to deal with that one narrow problem in Ancient Corinth. There’s a general principle here that continues to be important for us.
In God’s world facts and feelings can’t be kept separate. Both need to be taken together. Someone who knows a lot, but doesn’t consider how to treat others, has a lot to learn. And those who think they can love without being concerned about studying God’s word, call their sincerity into question: how can they love God, but not care much about what he says?
The Bible sets the boundaries, and we need to know where they are. It tells us what things are commanded by God,
things that ought to be done no matter how others react or what the consequences may be. And it tells us what things are forbidden by God, things that must not be done regardless of how tempting they may be, or how we justify them.
But God’s word also tells how to deal with allowable things. Things neither commanded nor forbidden are called the “adiaphora” — indifferent things. They’re left for us to deal with them by a biblically informed Christian judgment. The redeemed heart is made able to grow in understanding God’s word. It’s also made able to put God first and put the real needs of others above ourselves.
We need to be aware of how the allowable things we do can some times effect other believers negatively, particularly the weaker ones. In Galatians 5:13 Paul warned, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
we still face similar ethical problems:
All of us can be tempted by sinful ideas and habits. Some less informed Christians either justify those things, or they add things to the “sin list” which nothing in God’s word indicates that they’re wrong. Those who have a better understanding need to consider the needs of these weaker ones. This means that we aren’t free to do just anything God doesn’t forbid.
Our liberty is limited by the law of love. We need to be concerned for the spiritual growth of all other believers. It might mean avoiding unnecessary things that would confuse them.
In Corinth, it was meat sacrificed to idols and the surrounding pagan culture.
For example: Some less mature believers still be superstitious. That’s a dangerous pagan idea and is clearly wrong according to the Bible. Though they might rest in Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness of their sins they still hope in superstitions and good luck to make things work out well.
When around people like this we need to be careful we don’t encourage this error. We know there’s nothing inherently evil or powerful in a rabbit’s foot, a statue of a saintly person, a four-leaf-clover, or angel knick-knacks set around the house (some think they bring protection). But they aren’t innocent items to those who wrongly trust in them. It’s far better to do without such things if they become confusing to a brother in Christ.
Some who sincerely profess faith in Christ see nothing wrong with re-defining sexual boundaries. There are some even in evangelical churches who defend homosexuality, same-sex marriages, and sex changes. I’ve seen some argue that it’s the way God made them and we should allow such things. We need to be careful that we show compassion for those who hold those views. But at the same time, we need to be humbly and lovingly trying to help them to see that God’s word forbids such things.
Other believers go in the other direction as they struggle with where to draw moral lines in their lives. They might condemn and abstain from all sorts of things seeing them as being worldly. There are some who see eating chocolate, or drinking a cola or coffee is sinful. Some condemn wearing jewelry or playing games with cards or dice. Some have said that anyone who uses any tobacco products or drinks alcoholic beverages can’t be Christians. The lists can become long and complicated by well meaning Christians.
In their company it would be disrespectful to intentionally flaunt such things. Though the Bible calls us to moderation rather than abstinence of things not forbidden, it also calls us to be careful not to morally offend other Christians within reason.
Of course this doesn’t mean that we have to join in their total abstinence. It doesn’t mean that we hypocritically pretend to agree with them. And it doesn’t mean that everything that offends somebody’s good taste should be avoided. It’s impossible to adjust our lives to everything since no matter what you did or didn’t do someone somewhere would probably take offense at it. But while we try to encourage a more biblical standard for things like this, it’s good for caring believers to avoid confusing the less mature believers. Paul was even willing to stop eating meat, if it made another believer fall into sin.
We need to be careful about things that might be taken the wrong way by the spiritually immature.
Being a mature Christian isn’t found in having the longest list of things we abstain from. But it isn’t just being intellectually accurate either. We’re stronger neither for our lists or our liberties. Jesus didn’t say that the world will know who his people are by how smart they are, by how well they answer theological or Bible questions, not even by how many Bible verses they’ve memorized. He said in John 13:35 , “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
When Jesus warned about false teachers among us in Matthew 7:16-20 he said, “You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
Twice in that passage, in verses 16 and 20, Jesus said, You will recognize them by their fruits.
So, what are the fruits by which we can recognize them? The Bible specifically lists what should be exhibited in every believer. Galatians 5:22-23 itemizes them for us: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 Paul expanded on the characteristics of love as God sees it: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends … ”
This sincere and self-sacrificing love for others is the way our regeneration shows itself. If we exert our liberties without considering how we effect other believers, we show ourselves to be very immature in Christ.
To be growing up in our Christian faith, we need to learn what Paul taught these Corinthians; to live less for self, and more for those who are part of our spiritual family, for the weak as well as for the strong. This is what God says is right and good.
(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)