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1 Corinthians 8: Our Knowledge, Our Love, Our Rights Print E-mail
1 Corinthians
Sunday, 25 October 2015

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When I was a youth minister in college, I was approached one Sunday night by an older lady in the church who said that she needed to speak with me. We went into my office and I could tell that she was struggling with exactly what to say. She told me that she was concerned about something that I was doing as the youth minister and she wanted me to consider a change. What was the issue that prompted this discussion? She was concerned at my wearing shorts to church on Sunday nights. When you hear that, where does your mind go? If I remember correctly, mine probably started listing off all the reasons why what I wore to services was no big deal, especially shorts on a Sunday night. I probably had a whole theological dissertation written in my head about how shorts would help me reach out to lost teenagers and that she would need to produce some Scripture that addressed the way I dressed. But God in His kindness and grace kept me from saying all that. And you know why? Because I really did love this dear sister in the Lord. We didn’t agree on this issue, but that did not change how I felt about her as a person. Through God’s grace, love triumphed in that situation. (I wish I could say the same about all of the other similar situations I have had).

As a church, a local body of believers, we should have great love for one another. And when situations of disagreement and struggle arise (and they will), our behavior should always be influenced by our love. I think this is the heart of what Paul is teaching the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 8 (and in other places in the letter). Their love for each other should inform their behavior toward each other. This is how he begins to address the next issue that they apparently brought up in their letter to him. He introduces the issue in verse 1a. Look at that with me. Paul will spend three chapters (8-10) addressing the issue of food sacrificed to idols.

For the Corinthians, there were two particular cultural situations in play. First, many people went to eat at the temples. This was a mixture of social and religious custom. The temples were almost like our restaurants. It was where you went for social gatherings. The question is should the Corinthians continue to go and eat at the temples? Second, much, if not most, of the meat that was sold in the market had previously been offered to idols. In regards to this, the question is should the Christians in Corinth buy and eat such meat? Although Paul will ultimately give an answer for both of these questions, he begins by addressing the heart of the issue, namely their love for each other. They wanted to answer these questions with knowledge and reason, but Paul wants them to begin with love. Therefore, he makes three statements about their knowledge and how they should apply it in this situation. Consider those with me.

First, knowledge puffs up but love builds up (v. 1b-3) 

Apparently in their letter, they had brought up the issue of knowledge concerning food sacrificed to idols. So Paul addresses that first. Look at verse 1 again. Paul does not deny the knowledge or its importance, as we will see, he just wants them to see it from the right perspective. So he tells them: This knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Although Paul is referring to some specific truths that he will identify in verse 4, I think his statement here can be generally applied to knowledge. There are times when our knowledge will lead us to be arrogant. It can cause to look down upon those who do not share our knowledge. We shake our heads and whisper to ourselves: “If they only knew the truth like I know it...”

Thus, knowledge can puff us up at times, especially spiritual knowledge. Yet, love will build up those around us. Love leads us to care more about people than what we or they know. Knowledge can lead to pride, but love keeps us humble. Paul comments further in verses 2-3. Look at those with me. We need to understand that all of our knowledge is limited. We will never know all that we need to know on this side of glory. Instead of using knowledge as a way to condemn our brothers and sisters, we should chose the path of love. For those who love are known by God, who is love. Paul will return to the importance of love at the end of chapter 8. Here he just wants them to see that knowledge puffs up, while love builds up.

Second, knowledge is important (v. 4-6)

There are those who quote verse 1 out of context and conclude that knowledge is bad and we are better off to avoid it all together. Yet, one of my commentator’s points out: “Ignorance is not a Christian virtue.”1 Paul affirms the truth of what they know in verses 4-6. He lays out what they are claiming as knowledge in verse 4. Look at that with me. Two simple truths here. First, we know that “an idol has no real existence.” Idols are not real deities. They are not real gods. How do we know this? Because, second, “there is no God but one.” Paul agrees with these statements and goes on to spell them out for the Christian. Look at verses 5-6.

This is an important verse for our understanding of Christian doctrine. Paul clearly believes in monotheism, that there is only one God. As a Jew, he was raised memorizing ‘the shema’ (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), which begins with the words: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. He affirms his belief in this truth in verse 6. Yet, he also affirms the truth that God the Father is God and God the Son is God. Many struggle with what to do with this. How can Paul claim one God, then call both the Father and the Son God and Lord? This is why we believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. There is one God who exists in three persons (not three gods): Father, Son, and Spirit. Each person is equally God, a truth that Paul affirms concerning the Father and the Son in verse 6.

Paul knows that such knowledge, such doctrine, is important. He is not telling the Corinthians to just forget about all of that (as some are doing today). Rather, he is warning them about using such knowledge in an unloving way, which is what he does in verses 7-13.

Third, knowledge should not be used to cause a brother to sin (v. 7-13)

Some of the Corinthians had decided that since idols don’t really exist, it did not matter if they went and ate at temples. Their knowledge set them free to do what they want in such situations. Paul corrects such thinking in these final verses of chapter 8. He does this by bringing up the weak brother, who has not yet come to grips with such knowledge. Look at verse 7. There were some in Corinth who had idolatry in their background. They grew up worshipping at temple feasts. Yet, the Lord had saved them and drawn them out of such practices. For them to return would defile their conscience. Now Paul knows that the ultimate issue is not food. Look at verse 8. It is not so much about the food but about the brother. Loving the weak brother is the heart of the matter for Paul, which is what he turns to in verses 9-10. Look at those with me.

Paul sets up the scenario. Let’s say one of you brothers who have this knowledge about the non-existence of idols decides to go and eat the temple. And let’s say that one of our weak brothers sees you and decides against his conscience to join with you. Perhaps he is confused about the whole idol issue and remembers well (maybe even fondly) his time worshipping at the temple. He is not sure where he is on all of that, but your presence encourages him to violate his conscience. Paul is asking the Corinthians: ‘Don’t you see the problem here? Your freedom has actually led another person to commit a sin.’

Of course, the strong might respond: ‘Yeah, well no big deal, it’s just a sin right? And besides, he needs to get over it and get some knowledge.’ But Paul drives the weightiness of his argument home in verses 11-12. Look at those with me. This brother that Christ loved has been led to sin by your actions. You have not just sinned against him, but you have sinned against your Savior and Lord. Your knowledge has puffed you up and your lack of love has torn down your brother with the weak conscience. How could you treat your brother like that? Rather, Paul says, you should have been willing to lay down your rights, lay down your freedoms, for the sake of your brother. Look at verse 13. Paul makes a broad statement to drive home the point of how hard we should labor to never cause a brother to stumble into sin. He will continue to discuss his own rights and what he would do in chapter 9. Here, he is simply encouraging them to love their brother sacrificially.

The whole chapter comes down to this question: How will you treat your brother for whom Christ died? Again, Paul is bringing the gospel to bear on this situation. When Jesus died on the cross, He laid all His rights down to rescue us from our sin and shame. He left His Father’s side in glory and became a man. He lived a perfect life, only to be given a completely unjust trial. He obeyed the Father in every way, including death on cross, where He suffered under the Father’s righteous wrath, not for His own sins, but for ours. If you are looking for an example of true, sacrificial love, then look to Christ. He gave up all His rights to save us from our sins.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we should gladly give up our rights to keep each other from committing sin. Paul will go on to deal with how we should apply these principles in various circumstances. He is not telling us to just let people with weak consciences determine our every move. Yet, he wants us to know that we must begin with love for each other. We must consider others more important than ourselves. We must be determined to never lead a brother into sin. Why? Because our Savior’s blood purchased that brother just like it purchased us. If we really want to be like Jesus, then we have to learn by His grace and His strength, to lay down our lives for each other. Amen.

1 David Jackman, Let’s Study 1 Corinthians (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2004), p. 131.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 17 November 2015 )

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