Message # 26 | 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 | September 25, 2016
Gray areas in the Christian life. There are a lot of commandments in Scripture that are very clear. You probably never had to argue with someone over whether or not lying, stealing, cheating, or murder are wrong. In fact, even most unbelievers would likely agree that those are not appropriate actions. There are clear passages in Scripture that condemn these types of actions, but not all actions are directly addressed in Scripture.
There are a lot of areas that might be considered “gray areas.” These are the areas over which we more often debate and argue. Is it okay for a believer to drink alcohol? Should Christians gamble or dance? Should parents home school their kids, put them in public school, or send them to a Christian school? What kinds of entertainment are appropriate for a Christian – R rated movies, which TV shows, Youtube? What apps should we let our kids have on their electronic devices – Snapchat, Facebook, or Instagram? How much screen time should kids have? What kind of discipline should we administer in our home? Is online dating acceptable?
We believe the Bible is our sufficient and sole source for faith and practice. How does the Bible address these issues? Does it address these issues?
The Corinthian culture in regards to food offered to idols. Paul addresses one of these “gray issues” in 1 Corinthians 8. The discussion was over whether or not it was appropriate for a Christian to eat meat that had been sacrificed to an idol. The first verse of chapter 8 starts off with, “Now concerning food offered to idols.”
We can tell from the rest of the chapter how some of these arguments might have gone. There were clearly people within the church that couldn’t understand how a Christian could consume any meat that had been offered to an idol. Whereas there were others within the church that would argue that it doesn’t really matter, after all there is really only one God. Even though someone might have offered some meat to a god, that god wasn’t actually real and nothing happened to the meat, so what’s the big deal? You can probably sense or imagine the dismissive nature and bewilderment of both sides.
This might be similar to a discussion on alcohol in a church today. Some might struggle wondering how any believer could ever purposefully consume an alcoholic beverage. After all, the Bible does say that you shouldn’t even “look at wine when it is red” (Prov 23:31). The more sarcastic in the group inquire into the appropriateness of white wine J They argue that Jesus turned water into wine and that communion involved wine. And, the argument goes on, sometimes never ending with neither side being satisfied with the arguments of the other.
So what’s the story with food offered to idols? When food was offered to an idol, the food was divided into three sections. (1) A third would be burnt in the offering to the gods. (2) A third would be kept by the priest and if not consumed by them would be sold in the market. (3) A third would go to the individual who made the offering so that they could consume the blessed meat. This meat would be either eaten at home or become part of the food at a feast in honor of some idol. It could even potentially be sold in the market.
Imagine the scenarios in which you might come across food offered to an idol. It might be comparable to us looking for a restaurant where alcohol isn’t served or sold. This doesn’t seem to be an issue anymore, but I recall while growing up that we would try to only go to a restaurant that didn’t sell alcohol. Today, you’d be left going to Culvers or McDonalds all the time. This would have probably been similar to the Corinthians trying to find meat that hadn’t been offered to an idol. As well, any event they were invited to outside of the church may very likely have had meat that had been offered to idols.
What should the Corinthian believer do? Should they offend those who invited them to the party? If they ate the meat would they be in some way condoning this practice? Should they only buy meat from the Jewish vendors? Should they only eat the meat they raised and slaughtered themselves? These were some of the issues the Corinthian believers were struggling with.
Paul addresses the principle first and then he addresses the issue. Paul did address the issue but only after he taught first a principle that would direct their decisions. The principle is outlined for us in the first three verses of chapter eight.
Purpose Statement. True knowledge will result in loving others as you navigate gray areas in the Christian life.
1 Corinthians 8:1–3 (ESV) 1 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.
All of us possess knowledge. Paul has on many occasions alluded to a Corinthian “proverb.” You might recall, in chapter six, that Paul addressed their proverb that “all things are lawful for me” and “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.” In chapter seven Paul quotes the proverb, “It is good for a man to not touch a woman.” In each of these cases, he seems to acknowledge a little bit of truth in these statements but then proceeds to offer quite a bit more explanation and correction to their conclusions. He does that again here. It seems likely that the phrase “all of us possess knowledge” is a Corinthian proverb. He does agree with this statement a little bit, but like he does in all the other instances, he feels the need to qualify and correct how they had abused the statement.
While it may be true that we all possess some form of knowledge, there is a kind of knowledge that puffs up and there is a different type of knowledge that humbles and results in love for others. It is this latter type of knowledge that Paul desires for the Corinthians – and for us.
Knowledge that puffs up. There is a kind of knowledge that produces pride. Paul further defines this knowledge as a knowledge that is imaginary (vs. 2). This is not true knowledge. If you’re wondering if you have this type of knowledge, ask yourself whether or not the knowledge you possess produces pride within you. If it does, you possess false, imaginary knowledge. You may be in possession of certain facts, but you don’t have the whole picture. You don’t correctly understand how those facts work together within the structure of God’s truth.
Knowledge, produces pride, not love. This inadequate or false knowledge produces pride and this pride leads to a lack of love for others. Paul says that “knowledge puffs up” but in contrast to this type of knowledge “love builds up.” Love is set up against or in contrast to a knowledge that produces pride. Therefore, knowledge that produces pride, does not produce love for God and others.
Have you ever learned a certain truth or fact and as a result felt like you were superior in some way to others? Did you ever gloat? Did you ever find yourself wanting to be a blessing to all the other poor ignorant saps around you? I would imagine most of us have either felt that within ourselves or been on the receiving end of that kind of treatment. That is not the product of real substantive knowledge. It is imaginary and destructive.
Knowledge that destroys others. This inadequate and false knowledge results in the destruction of other people. Jump forward in the passage a few verses to verse 11. “ And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died” (1 Cor 8:11). Paul condemns a knowledge that produces pride within its’ owner resulting in a failure to love and the destruction of others. He reminds them that their pride resulted in the destruction of someone who was of such great value that Christ had died for them. The spirit of this admonition by Paul is as well expressed by Jesus in Mark.
Mark 9:42 (ESV) Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.
Knowledge that builds up. In contrast to false and inadequate knowledge is true and robust knowledge. The results of this type of love are quite different, and they as well start off in a different place. Look with me at verses 2-3.
1 Corinthians 8:2–3 (ESV) 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.
You might expect Paul to follow up verse two with something like “But if he does know as he ought to know.” Instead he says, “But if anyone loves God.” In essence Paul equates loving God with knowing as you ought to know.
Knowing as you ought to know begins with being known by God. Take note of the last phrase in verse 3, “he is known by God.” The order of this verse might indicate that if we love God then God will know us. This would place our love for God prior to his knowledge of us. Instead the word known is in the perfect tense. It could be translated as “he has been known by God.” Therefore, we draw the conclusion that if anyone loves God he was already been known by God. This knowledge conveys an idea of intimacy. If anyone loves God, he has already been intimately known by God. Our love for God is a by-product of his having already established a loving relationship with us. Isn’t this the same truth that the apostle John teaches in his first epistle? “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
True knowledge produces humility not pride. God initiates this wonderful and illuminating relationship with us. As a result, we obtain true and beneficial knowledge. But unlike the knowledge that produces pride, this knowledge produces humility. If you are not humbled by the greatness, holiness, and righteous justice of God starkly contrasted to your own depravity and sinfulness; then you’ve missed truth.
True knowledge results in humility and love for God and others. Truly understanding the wonder of God helps you see a couple of things. (1) You are humbled by your own sinfulness and God’s abundant grace, and (2) you better understand and relate to the struggles and sinfulness of others. You are more patient with others. You want to help them because you really do understand that you are fellow strugglers and sinners.
The result is that others are built up and not destroyed. Building up someone else carries the idea of making them stronger or more able to accomplish their tasks.
Now to the specific issue at hand. What should these Corinthians do about meat offered to idols? One of the arguments brought to the table (do you like that play on words) by those eating the meat was that there was truly only one God, therefore anything offered to an idol was offered to actually nothing and thereby wasn’t negatively impacted by the ceremony.
Knowledge of one God. Paul acknowledges that there is only but one God. With this logic, Paul implies that what is offered to an idol is in no way affected by this. The meat is still edible and hasn’t been contaminated by being offered. Since there is only one God, all that has happened is that the food was burnt on something and offered to a non-existent God, therefore nothing is wrong with it. There is really no reason why someone couldn’t eat the meat.
However, not everyone processes this fact the same way. Even though there is only one God; and the “gods” that are being sacrificed to are not real and as a result do no harm spiritually or physically to the meat offered to them, there are a number of people who were deeply engrained in sacrificing to idols. For them, this is a really hard discussion. They had once truly believed that they were warding off evil spirits by consuming the meat offered to good spirits. They had truly believed that in eating the meat offered they were being blessed by the gods. While they may have come to realize that those sacrifices didn’t really do anything, they were still really sensitive to the practice. They struggled understanding how a believer could have anything to do with that kind of practice.
From a different perspective, maybe when they saw another believer consume the meat, they wondered if somehow that practice fit with Christianity. “Do we offer meat to Jesus now, and that’s how he blesses us?” Either way, their faith was drastically and negatively impacted when they saw these other believers consume the meat. Paul concludes that it would be better to never eat meat again, just to keep his brother from stumbling.
Causing a brother to stumble. What does it mean to cause a brother to stumble? We often use the word offend in this context. We don’t want to offend another brother or sister. The problem with using this word is that it carries two potential meanings and while one of them fits this context, the other doesn’t. Often when someone says that they are offended, they mean that they are bothered. Their faith is not necessarily affected in anyway. They aren’t necessarily tempted to sin. They don’t necessarily stumble in their faith. They’re just bothered that you would choose to do something. That is not what this context is referencing.
In this context, offend means to cause another brother or sister to stumble into sin. This other believer is weak in their faith or in their knowledge, and as a result of your actions, they choose to act in a way that conflicts with their conscience. Their conscience might be wrong. In fact, in this case it is. But Paul doesn’t argue that the weaker brother should just grow up and get over it, he charges the more mature brother to give up the action that might cause the weaker to stumble into sin.
We shouldn’t necessarily stop doing something because another believer is bothered by it, but we should be willing to give up something if it truly is causing others to stumble into sin.
Brief look at the weaker brother. Let’s take a brief look at the weaker brother through the lens of Romans 14. While I’m not going to take the time to read the whole chapter, Paul does conclude a few things about the weaker brother in this chapter. (1) They were observing this practice as to the Lord and Paul commends this.
Romans 14:6 (ESV) The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
As well, Paul concludes that their abstinence is being done in faith.
Romans 14:23 (ESV) But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Also, Paul hated legalism and would have condemned these believers if they had been acting in a legalistic manner, and yet he doesn’t. We can safely infer from this passage that these weak brothers were not being legalistic. Not only does Paul not condemn them in this chapter, but he does command the strong to welcome the weak (v. 1) and he tells them not to despise the weak (v. 3)
Why then does Paul refer to them as weak? The stronger brother, in this case, realizes that you can glorify God through either through eating only vegetables or while eating meat. On the other hand, the weaker brother thinks you can only glorify God if you eat just vegetables and refrain from eating meat. The weaker brother desires to glorify God by acting in accordance with their conscience. This is a good thing. What makes them weak is the fact that they don’t realize you can glorify God either way.
If we go back and consider 1 Corinthians 8, we realize that the weak brothers were choosing to glorify God by refraining from eating meat offered to idols. What makes them weak is that they don’t think you can glorify God unless you refrain from eating meat offered to idols. The stronger believer realizes that you can glorify God either way, whether you eat meat offered to idols or you don’t.
First, the value or true substance of our knowledge can be assessed by whether or not it produces humility within ourselves and love for others. If it produces pride and destruction of others, we may imagine we possess knowledge but we are not actually possessing true knowledge.
Secondly, the spiritual health of other people is of far more value than any Christian liberty you may possess. We must be willing to sacrifice any of our freedoms for the sake of others.
Finally, and I cautiously offer this – I, not Paul – if you come to realize that you are weaker brother, in a certain area, strive to grow out of your weakness. Be careful that you don’t hold others hostage by a sustained lack of knowledge.
 οἰκοδομέω (1) literally; (a) as constructing houses, temples, tombs, etc. build, erect (LU 6.48); (b) absolutely erect buildings (LU 17.28); substantivally οἱ οἰκοδομοῦντες the builders (MT 21.42); (c) build again, restore (MT 26.61), opposite καταλύω (destroy, tear down); (2) figuratively; (a) of the establishment and increase of a Christian community known as the house of God build, establish (1P 2.5); (b) of the process of spiritual growth and development of the spiritual community and each member within it edify, make more able, strengthen (1C 14.4); (c) in a negative sense, as setting up (again) a wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles build (again), restore (GA 2.18); (d) as imparting strength and courage to someone to do what is right (1TH 5.11) or wrong (1C 8.10) strengthen, embolden