Text: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Today we are getting back to our study of First Corinthians after having taken a few months off. If you remember, in the first part of the book, Paul concerned himself with issues that the church was facing, namely division and immorality. Now, in the second part of the book, Paul is writing back to the Corinthians answers to some questions they asked him. The book actually gets a bit harder from here on out. We’ve already heard Paul’s answers regarding singleness, marriage and divorce and over the next couple of month we are going o follow along with Paul as he addresses the issues of Christian liberty and idolatry, women in the church, and speaking in tongues. These are very difficult and debated topics that make it tempting for me to put away the rest of the book of Corinthians. But we’ll press on in the hopes that we might be built up in all things in Christ.
Have you ever wondered why sometimes you meet people who call themselves Christian, or you visit a particular church and people acts so differently or teach differently that other churches you have been a part of?
- Why do some Christians preach against drinking alcohol of any kind, even a glass of wine at dinner, while other Christians actually drink wine during their worship services?
- Why do some Christians look down upon dancing and showy expressions of emotion, while other churches employ dance teams and light shows in their church?
- Why do some churches find an exception to the general no-divorce rule for the Christian, while others do not?
- Why do some churches allow remarried people to pastor or sere as elders where other churches do not?
- How can some Christians participate in Halloween events or even hold their own events, while others consider it a demonic holiday and forbid participation?
- Why do some Christians seem ok with watching certain types of movies, while others boycott Disney?
- Why are some churches elder-ruled, while others are congregational in their form of government?
- Why do some churches allow women pastors while others will not allow a woman to teach Sunday school?
- Why do they teach different things regarding baptism, spiritual gifts, personal standards of holiness, and the nature of the end times?
The church has been around for 2000 years. Shouldn’t we have gotten these things straitened out by now? Thinking about these issues can be very confusing for a person just starting out in learning about the Christian faith. What’s the difference between a Baptist, a Catholic, a Pentecostal, a United Church? Even within denominations its tricky – there are thousands of different types of Baptist churches! Our church is a member of the Evangelical Free Church of Canada. Free means this: that while we rally around the essentials of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the he is God, that he lived a perfect life and died for our sins and was raised from the dead to secure for us eternal life, and that he will come again one day to bring about our complete redemption – while we rally around the core of Christianity, we allow freedom within our denomination for our churches to make decisions regarding the less essential matters of life and doctrine. So you could come here to our Evangelical Free Church, and then move to Toronto and attend another Evangelical Free church and you might find they teach very different things about some of the topics I mentioned above. Some people get so overwhelmed by the diversity of personal preferences, church policies, and denominational differences that they deny the truth of Christ outright, for surely if God were the author of the church than the church would not be so divided and fractured.
What is going on? Why are there such differences of opinions, practice and theology among Christians who supposedly are guided by the same Bible and the same Spirit?
Over the next few weeks, I hope that we not only can understand something of an answer to that question, but also ask an even more important question for us who are Christians: how do I live alongside a Christian brother or sister who thinks and acts differently from me?
Why there are differences:
1) The Bible may not speak to an issue:
The Bible doesn’t give us commands to deal with every situation in life. Thou shalt not text message during a worship service. Thou must not shop at Walmart for they may promote unfair trade policies. Thou should tip the guy at Starbucks 10%. It would be impossible to do this, for the world could not contain a book that would give direction and speak specifically to every issue in every culture in every era of world history. So this is what the Bible does. It speaks to issue of salvation and our destiny with Christ. Then it gives us principles that we have to discern and use Holy Spirit and prayer saturated wisdom in learning how to apply those principles in our culture and lives. That means the Bible will be silent on many issues and it is up to us, the church, the discern which principles we are to apply and apply them appropriately. Different people may then see different principles at work, stress on principle over another, and come to slightly different conclusions. This is fine and God gives freedom to use our own judgment and wise application of his principles.
2) The Bible may not speak to an issues as clearly as it does toward other issues.
The doctrine of the clarity of the bible is called “perspicuity”. As Hank Hannegraffe explains "When the Protestant Reformers spoke about the perspicuity of Scripture, they meant that the Bible was clear when it came to its central message. Contrary to the dominant Roman Catholic idea which said that the Bible was difficult and obscure, Protestants said that anyone who is literate could comprehend the gospel and the Scriptures. The Reformers were not saying that all of Scripture was equally understandable or even that scholarly study wasn't necessary, what they were saying was that the essential clarity of the Word of God was self-evident.” So the Bible is clear when it came to the central message – the message of redemption, salvation, who Jesus is. Yet not all scripture is equally understandable, or clear, and they require us to dig, to study in order to find the meaning. Even with an amount of study, the lack of clarity may be such that godly, spirit-filled, and careful interpreters of Scripture may disagree. We talked about this with the divorce exceptions. That’s why in those messages I focused on what the Bible clearly teaches about divorce and remarriage, and then simply introduced the minor controversies. We need to hold loosely on those matters and emphasize the clear positions that scripture takes.
3) Our interpretation may be incorrect
We quite simply are wrong sometimes in our interpretation. Nothing super mystical, we are just simply human and you or your church could just be flat out wrong. It might be politically incorrect to say it, but some churches are just wrong. So guess what, we are not going to be able to function together in church because we completely disagree on certain issues and when it is all said and done one of us will be shown to be right and the other wrong. Hopefully, I can convince you before that day of the truth, and hopefully you can correct my interpretation where I am incorrect. That’s why we dialogue. But if one church says women can be elders and another church says they cannot be, we cannot both be right and one of our interpretation is wrong.
4) Cultures are diverse
Tattoos in North America are a means of personal expression and identification, many Christians have even tattooed their life Bible verse or something. Yet in Japan, if you have a tattoo, any tattoo, you signal yourself as a member of a gang. Imagine a young person feeling called as a missionary to Japan damaging her cause because she got in college. Something may signal on meaning in one culture and mean something completely different in another.
5) Peoples personal journeys are different
This can be personal: drinking, music, etc. In seminary I wanted to use real wine in a communion service once, but found out that one of my classmates was a recovering alcoholic, so I didn't do it. It wasn’t worth it.
This can also be cooperative: For example, membership is not connected with baptism in our church because people were getting baptized and not sticking around to become members. So we changed our policy so that membership is a second step for believers who are committed not only to Christ, but also to serving him in our congregation. Other churches do this differently.
So that’s why there are disputable matters among Christians. It’s not something to get bent out of shape about, or something that should undermine your faith. They are the natural consequence of God’s revelation to us in which he has made some clear commands, given some clear principles and left the rest for us to wisely apply in our cultural and personal situations.
Alright, now to the text. How do we handle disputable issues? Or even better, How do we relate to Christian brothers and sisters who hold different convictions than we do?
1) Its not what you know, its how you love. (8:1-3)
I Corinthians 8:1-3 Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that "all of us possess knowledge." This "knowledge" puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
Here’s the issue for the Corinthians – meat offered to idols. Umm, sure we face that every day don’t we? That’s why we are mining this texts for principles, because they can be applied to any of the situations we have already talked about. Here’s the principle: Love generously, Hold what you know in humility. Basically, some in the Corinthian church were writing to Paul and saying, "Duh – we all know that idols are like blocks of wood or gold, they are not really gods, I don’t know why some people make such a big deal of it. They’re just dumb or something.” Again, Paul points out their spiritual pride. Don’t exalt in your knowledge, exalt in your capacity to show love to people who haven’t yet “arrived” like you have. Use your great and exalted knowledge to build others up, not tear them down. Paul uses a great line in verse 2: If you think you know something, than you don’t yet know what you should know. This is actually part of maturing in your faith – knowing what is essential to believe and how to act in Christ, and knowing what things are disputable. I am fully ready to admit that there are some areas of the faith that I hold very humbly because other good interpreters of the Bible differ with me. My faith is still a journey. I don’t have a firm position when it comes to the rapture, or spiritual gifts, or divorce exemptions. I am content to say that I don’t fully know or have all the answers on these things but I am on a journey. So if you hold a different stance on these sorts of things, want to learn from you and discuss these things with you and maybe that will help both of us. So while I might formulate positions on these things, I hold them loosely. You are known by God if you love others – that is the supreme principle here.
2) Knowledge Can Bring Freedom, So Teach Away: (verse 8:4-6)
1 Corinthians 8:4-6 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." For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth--as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"-- 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.
Paul is not too hard on knowledge, because in these verses he actually agrees with the pro-meat Corinthians. Yeah – you’re right, there is one God. There may be other things that people worship as gods, but only God, the Father, is the true God and Jesus Christ is the true Lord. It is through from God through Jesus that we live and have our being. An idol is only a piece of gold or wood. So it is a bit ridiculous to think that the meat you put in front of this piece of wood has anything actually happen to it.
Here’s the point. Paul is teaching here. This letter was to be read in the Corinthian church, so maybe there were some in the church who were struggling with this issue as a matter of their conscience and when they heard the word of Paul they said, you know what, that’s true. I hadn’t thought about it that way before, and therefore they no longer thought of eating this meat in the same way. So recognizing that there are disputable issues doesn’t mean that we don’t clearly teach God’s word. Love does not mean that we accept every teaching, it means that we speak the truth in a humble and edifying way.
I had an experience like this with a older man I know who many many years ago had committed adultery and remarried. He repented and he and his wife came back to the Lord and have now been faithfully restored for years. He has served his church faithfully now for decades, but though he feels he has a call of God on his life for ministry to the church, he has never sought leadership in the church because of the way he interprets 1 Timothy 3:2 – “the overseer must be the husband of one wife”. I shared with him that that is not the only way that the passage is interpreted. I humbly suggested that he consider a different interpretation and whether his conscience would approve of it. This is why we do theology in community, so we can grow and challenge each others interpretation of God’s word together.
3) Don’t Act on your Knowledge if it will hurt Someone Else (Verse 7-13)
1 Corinthians 8:7-13 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. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 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? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
the issue is this – some people, be they newer Christians who haven’t yet understood the principles of Christ, non-Christians whom don’t understand at all the issues of Christ, or people who have had significant bondage in their past to particular rituals or sin, are not ready to accept in certain areas of their life the freedom which Christ offers. In this passage, they used to worship idols and eat the food as an offering to false gods and they can’t get over the association between meat and idol-worship. It’s like one of my youth leaders who couldn’t listen to Christian rock music because before he was a Christian he played in a rock band, did drugs, lived immorally and now associates that music with that lifestyle. The meat wasn’t the issue, the music wasn’t the issue – the association was the issue and the person was still weak in their faith to get past that association. So you don’t let your freedom to do this hinder them who do not yet have that freedom for themselves. You might eat meat out of knowledge, but if they were to eat it, they may eat it with mixed feelings, violating their conscience and thus stumbling into sin and guilt. The principle is this, be careful that the exercise of your convictions do not cause someone else to stumble over issues their conscience is not ready to deal with.
For example, let’s say the young adults are getting together to watch a movie and someone brings an R-rated movie that they thought it had a lot of poignant things to say about relationships, friendships, and settling down. Yet a guy in the group watches it and is overcome by lust after seeing a love scene with nudity in it. A young lady begins to envy the designer clothes and affluent lifestyle and fashion of the divas. Another young persons values are eroded by the cavalier attitude toward sex. Another person sees a homosexual relationship portrayed in a positive light and starts to question whether her beliefs about the lifestyle being a sin are not simply outdated. I want you to understand that perhaps the person who first brought the movie fell into none of these traps. She wasn’t tempted to lust. She doesn’t struggle with materialism. She has very firm beliefs about the biblical principles of sexuality that were in no way eroded by the movie. Yet this person has done a terrible thing and sinned against Christ because in promoting the movie to her friends and showing it to them, she has caused every other person to stumble with the sins that they uniquely deal with. She has not built up the body of Christ, but tore it down. Be very careful what you promote and to whom you promote it because what may not be an issue for you may be an issue for them. Paul says this, if my eating meat causes my brother to sin, I will never eat meat again. I will give up my right for the sake of my brother.
The same principles can be Pokemon or videogames or manga. Maybe you can read, watch or play them without getting interested in the animistic and magical worldview they promote, but perhaps your friend can't.
Maybe you can practice Tai Chi or Yoga simply for the exercise, but you friend starts getting really interested in the spiritual meditation that accompanies it.
What is our model in loving this way? look at verse 8:11, "By your knowledge, your brother or sister for whom Christ died, is destroyed." Remember, Christ died for your brother or sister – in insisting on your freedom in to the expense of your brother, you are killing him. Die for his sake, just as Jesus died for yours.