My Way or the Highway?
Topic: Default Scripture: 1 Corinthians 8:1–8:13
My Way or the Highway?
Rev. Stuart Strachan Jr
Well we are continuing our sermon series we’ve entitled, “Body Building” looking at building up the Body of Christ in 1st Corinthians. What we’ve learned so far is that this young church in Corinth has gone through quite a bit of conflict and they need some good advice to begin to build the body back up again. This week, Paul is going to be dealing with one of the chief sources of conflict, which is whether or not it is permissible for Christians to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols. So let’s dive into 1 Corinthians 8 verses 1-13. 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 8 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.[a] 4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. 7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. 9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 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? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. Have you ever come across some weird laws before? Sometimes they are used by late night show hosts, sometimes you can find them on the internet, but they are often very funny, and often leave you asking, what would make someone come up with such a bizarre law in the first place. For a couple of our college fellowship gatherings we have played a game called Balderdash. Has anyone ever played that game? One of the categories you can actually play is, the weird laws game, where everyone except for one of the players comes up with a fake law and then everyone has to guess which is the actual law. So for instance…I would say…It is illegal in Nebraska to do what on Sundays…and then you come up with some random answer like…it is illegal in Nebraska on Sundays to sheer your sheep. Well, here are a couple of actual weird laws: If a frog dies during a frog-jumping contest in California, it can't be eaten. In Florida, there's no dwarf-tossing allowed. In Indiana, liquor stores can't sell chilled water or soda In Minnesota, any game in which participants attempt to capture a greased or oiled pig is illegal. Atheists aren't allowed to run for office in Texas In West Virginia, it's illegal to use a ferret for hunting. I’m not quite sure why any of these laws exist, except maybe the dwarf throwing…that shouldn’t be possible, but this was the kind of question that the Corinthians were asking about meat sacrificed to idols. To them, not being able to eat meat that belonged to a false idol didn’t make sense. I mean they were enlightened right, they knew that these pagan idols didn’t really exist, so why couldn’t they enjoy meat that came from the temples? Well that is what we’re going to talk about this morning. One of the significant conflicts that had arisen in the church was that some of the people were eating this meat while others were convinced, and the language used here is their consciences, their consciences would not allow them to eat meat sacrificed to idols. And so Paul is dealing with a rather complicated issue here. On the one hand, he has people in this church who have a correct view that idols aren’t real, right, they have moved on to believing in the one true God of the universe. In fact, the Corinthians seemed to grasp what the Hebrews had grasped before them, that idols are literally nothing…one of the Hebrew words for Idol has as its literally meaning this strving for nothing. When you worship an idol you are striving towards a falsehood. But on the other hand these same people are putting down others in their church because they haven’t been able to get to that same point where they believe it is okay to eat that same meat. And so how Paul deals with this situation is, in a lot of ways, really thoughtful, creative pastoral theology. It has to do with the real-life, nitty gritty questions that arise in the life of a church. It’s such a good scenario that you it could easily be the question on an ordination exam for up and coming pastors. Most of you probably don’t know this, but I actually have graded ordination exams and this is just the kind of question they like to ask because there is no easy answer…you can’t just point to a Bible verse but instead you have to think critically, use sound Biblical teaching and come up with a solution. And so what ends up happening with this text is that it gives us not simply one example of how to deal with conflict in the church, but it gives us a paradigm, that is it gives us a way of seeing, how we ought to engage conflict where two legitimate cases can be made, between two factions within the church. So let’s take this chunk-by-chunk and work our way through this really interesting text: Paul starts this way in verse 1: “Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know, as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.” So the first thing to be aware of is that Paul is actually quoting back to the Corinthians their own language, we can presume from a letter he received from then, when he says “we all posses knowledge.” And this was the argument they were trying to use to justify all eating meat sacrificed to idols. Their argument was fairly simple: We all know that this is just regular meat, we like meat, it’s very tasty, so we all ought to be able to eat it and it shouldn’t be a big deal. In other words they were focused on the freedom afforded to them as followers of Jesus. And that makes sense, especially as young Christians. But instead of simply contradicting them, Paul does what any good teacher of the time did, which was to make an alteration on their original point, yes he says, we all have knowledge, but that knowledge is prone to make us proud, to puff us up. The problem with knowledge is that just as easily creates divisions between people, whereas love, true love, will always build up the body. We’ve all had to live with people who quote unquote “know it all” right. They are filled with knowledge. Whether or not all that knowledge is accurate is another matter. But my question to you would be, are these kind of people that build bridges in community? Do they bring others together with a sense of collegiality, a sense of warmth and fellowship? Of Course not! And Paul knows that as well, and so as important as knowledge is, love is going to be far more important for this fledgling church to survive and thrive as the body of Christ. Let’s skip forward a little bit in our text: 7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. So what is Paul saying here? He’s saying that for those who up until very recently worshipped these idols, to participate in any activities associated with them, would be for them a sin. In other words, to them it would be a sin, and the rest of the Corinthians ought to respect that in their brothers and sisters in Christ. Many of us have known people who have these kinds of experiences. For some who have battled the addiction of alcoholism, alcohol for them has become a sin. And so if they are in a state where alcohol is a real temptation, the question is, are we willing to give up our freedom in order to love them, and to care for their well-being. For me, I remember as a child my mother told me, with very serious words that the Christian faith prohibited tattoos. And there is in fact a verse in the Old Testament that would imply that tattoos are i not allowed, now whether or not that teaching in the Old Testament is still binding on Christians is another question, but nevertheless, that teaching that she gave me when I was a child, I just can’t get myself to the point where I feel comfortable getting a tattoo. But of course, I know a lot of Christians who do have tattoos. Not as many out here in Western Pennsylvania, but in my last call, a lot of Christians had tattoos. In fact, I was asked by a young man to translate a phrase into Greek so that he could have it tattooed on his arm. I got the translation right but unsurprisingly, the tattoo artist wasn’t fluent in Biblical Greek and he kind of just smushed all the letters together so you couldn’t really make out what it meant very well, even if you could read Greek. However, I can say, that that tattoo was better than his previous one, which was in Hebrew, In Hebrew letters go from right to left, and he wrote it, somewhat understandably, from left to right…so that tattoo made absolutely no sense. But all that to say, for me, a tattoo feels like a sin, but for others, they have no such convictions, and since scripture doesn’t seem to be clear on the subject, it falls into the realm of Christian liberty. But this liberty needs to be held in check by our common care for our brother and sister in Christ. And this is precisely what Paul is trying to tell the Corinthian church. Let’s keep reading in the text: 9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 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? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. Do you see what Paul has done here? He’s come back to the question of knowledge. Does knowledge in and of itself warrant behavior? Or is there something else that acts as an intermediary, and that of course is love. Let’s look at our last section of text, picking up in verse 12: 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. This is very interesting I think for us Westerners. As individualists of various stripes, we tend to think of sin mostly in terms of my relationship with God. But Paul here is saying that if we hurt another person’s faith by our actions (even if those actions are not sins in and of themselves) that we are sinning against Christ. And not only that but we are hurting the body of Christ, which is the church. Paul understood this very personally from his own experience, especially when we remember his conversion account. What are the words Jesus uses when he confronts Paul on the Damascus Road? Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? Did you catch that? Jesus is in his glory in heaven, and yet for those who are being persecuted on earth, he says that Saul is actually persecuting Jesus. How can that be? It is because to persecute the church is in a very real sense to persecute Jesus, the body of Christ. And so Paul’s understanding of the church has been profoundly impacted by those words he experienced in his own conversion, that the church is not merely a collection of followers of Jesus, but that Jesus is actually in them through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is in other words, Alive! And when one part of the body is suffering, the whole body suffers. And so the solution to this problem, the solution to a body that is divided, to a church that is divided, is not to tell one group you are right and the other you are wrong. But rather to remind them that what is going to keep them together is love. The truth is, both knowledge and love are essential for the health of the church. A church without knowledge is heretical and a church without love turns into legalism. What is necessary is a knowledge of God that recognizes love as the primary movement of the Christian. “For Paul,” as one commentator puts it, “the definitive knowing is God’s knowing of us, which, if love for God is properly in place, will result in our being known, in our receiving God’s love in a way that not only claims us for God but also engages us in love toward others” In other words, when we are known by God, and when we know God, it prompts us to think beyond our freedom and toward the good of the whole body. We have great freedom in Christ. The question is, how will we make use of that freedom to build up the body of Christ? Will you pray with me?