1 Corinthians 8
Now as I always do, I want to give a little bit of a brief as to how we got to here from the beginning of the book. You must always keep in the back of your mind that this letter is the second of four corrective letters to the church at Corinth, clearly the one that had the most issues that we read about in the new Testament. We must not initiate the building of theology from this letter without understanding the greater context of the Scriptures as a whole before using 1 Corinthians to draw any theological conclusions. You’ll see what I mean when we talk about our second paragraph this study.
In chapter 1, we learned that basically, everyone is some kind of fool, and concluded from our study that if we have to play the fool anyway, we should play the part of God’s fool, because the so-called “foolishness” of our sovereign God will put any of the logic or wisdom of the world to shame. Come, give your life for a carpenter’s son – for “a madman who died for a dream,” according to Dr. Albert Schweitzer. But only the foolish can tell of the wonderful grace of God in their own salvation and the wisdom found in His word through His Spirit.
That brought us to chapter 2, where we had opportunity to examine the nature of this heavenly wisdom, that the world calls foolish. We learned that not only was that true wisdom a spiritual, and nor earthly wisdom, but also that such wisdom could only be revealed to those who are aiming at maturity in Christ by walking “in the Spirit,” where for lack of better words, we obey what the Holy Spirit informs us through the Word of God and the New Nature that Christ gave us to walk in instead of the old nature that we are still very capable of falling into no matter how long you have been a real Christian.
Then in chapter 3, we considered that God’s reality is the reality to which attention must be paid. We like to manufacture our own at times to avoid responsibility toward God, but believers cannot afford that luxury – all believers are doing a great work, and Paul speaks to the details of that. Our conclusion is that because we are actually collectively building the naos of God, that is the Sanctuary, where God sits and lives and speaks and works, we must take great care with the construction in terms of the material we use. There are good and bad choices, and we want to make the best possible choices, because if we are careless, then we will suffer loss. And that loss is unimaginable, though we will still be saved – “yet so as through the fire, according to Paul.
Then the Apostle presents a choice in chapter 4 – which Paul would you like to face? The angry disciplinarian that wrote the letter to the Galatians, or the loving, humble, meek servant that wrote Ephesians and Philippians, etc.? It seems that the dividers were already hard at work trying to separate the sheep from the fold in Corinth, and it had to be explained that although Paul and his fellow servants perhaps appeared to be without honour, instead of discarding them, they should rather be imitated – because the kingdom of God does not exist in eloquent speeches, but in the power of changed lives, and that should be the measure for a preacher. It seems that we need to obey God and walk in the Spirit at this point, because that is what the Lord is mandating.
That brought us to chapter 5 and an example of the use of church discipline. We saw that it was to be used seldomly if possible, relying on the Holy Spirit to resolve our minor differences, but in the case of the persistent sin being expressed without any kind of repentance, it should be engaged to remove the covering of protection from an individual so that he may begin to understand through his own wrong choices that brought him into the place where he is so as to make him repent, and even be brought back in as occasion allows. It is specifically used in cases where a brother or sister WILL not repent, but because most of us want to become more like Christ, it should remain a rare thing.
That brought us to chapter 6 and a consideration about our spiritual choices, because you must remember that Christianity is a faith based on our motivations and choices of heart and mind, not an external religion of liturgy and external ritual, or of refined and well-presented words, but in the demonstration of power that comes from a changed life. Two things became clear. 1 – if your life is not changed as a result of turning to Christ, something is wrong. 2. If you ARE His, you are no longer your own, you don’t get to do what you want, you have been bought with a price – His lifeblood. And if that is true of you, how could you NOT follow Him? Really, how DARE you not follow Him?
That brings us to the first part of chapter 7, which we will now call 7A. We looked at verses 1-24, where we learned that although there were some things about marriage we needed to pay attention to, that again, Christianity is not a religion of rules, ritual, and rote, but instead is one of heart and attitude. One thing is very sure – the need to pay attention to the principles of marriage in the New Testament show that God still has His Law in place to be obeyed; so much for unhitching from the Old Testament, Andy. In the next portion of 7, which we called 7B, we learned that Paul was actually applying a biblical principle to a number of issues, and that principle is that anything we do should be done “in the Lord,” as Paul informs the Corinthians believers. We discovered through this that the principle of walking with the Lord and following His instructions that the Holy Spirit illuminates for us in His word applies to pretty much everything in life and practice.
That brings us to chapter 8, this study’s consideration. I broke down like this:
KV3: The Defining Mark of God’s Servants
“…but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.”
1-3: We all have knowledge – have love [agape] with it
4-6: The world’s knowledge contrasted with heavenly reality
7-13: Lovingly approach people with their needs not yours
I didn’t expect to look at eschatological considerations (that is, things dealing with the end times) in chapter 8 of 1 Corinthians. I really didn’t, but I need to look at the book of the Revelation for just a moment. In chapter 13, verses 16 and 17 read, “And he [the image of the beast] causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name.” That mark is a mark of loyalty, and whether you want to take this as literal or allegorical, it will set you aside for the beast and his purposes, without further chance of redemption.
My own opinion is that this will at least have clear physical manifestation because of the detailed description, and for those that would make this allegorical, it is a mark that will clearly indicate by actions (the right hand) or thoughts and opinions (the forehead) that is not necessarily mutually exclusive with a physical marking of some kind. I think it will be both, as things in Scripture can often have more than one level of meaning, particularly dealing with things of the enemy that he unveils. Today’s marks of loyalty include showing up for BLM protests and eschewing the police, neither of which I will do. Reverse racism and anarchy are not biblical concepts.
The reason that I want to look at this is because in this chapter, a clear and identifying mark for the servants of Almighty God appears, and it seems very clear and stands in contrast to what the Corinthians saw in their society, and what we see in our own day. We could talk about tattoos or RFID devices until there was no air left in the room, but it is the spiritual component of these so-named marks of loyalty to which we should pay attention, because they are the indicators of deliverance or damnation of one’s eternal soul. We can speculate about the so-called mark of the beast all day, but in this chapter, we see a defining mark – if not THE defining mark – of a servant of Jesus Christ in this chapter.
KV3: The Defining Mark of God’s Servants
“…but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.”
That mark, put in very simple terms, is love. In order to say that, you must understand in Greek that there are four different words for the concept of love in Greek, and we are NOT speaking of all of them. For example, we are not speaking of eros, the sensual kind of love, which can describe anything from the proverbial pleasures of the flesh out to a pleasing odour that one appreciates, like me and good coffee. We must acknowledge it is there, however, and is based in the physical realm. We are not talking about phileo either, the kind of brotherly affection between friends. This is a different thing, and is based in emotions, a more soulish thing. We are also not speaking of storge, which is the higher love that say a parent has for their child, though it is approaching what we are talking about, because the idea of sacrifice for their benefit can become involved. If you don’t believe me, try to get between a mother bear and her cubs. You might be a scary-looking Tyrannosaurus Rex, but mama bear will take you on to save her cubs. But this too is based in instinct and therefore the soul.
No, beloved, we are speaking of the highest kind of love, and I can assure you that love does not necessarily equal love. Love is NOT love is NOT love, to contradict the common notion I hear expressed these days. We are speaking of agape, the idea of that self-giving, self-sacrificing love of God that is based in a spiritual commitment rather than an emotional feeling (although emotions can and do accompany that commitment). This is not expressing emotional love, it is often maintaining a commitment in spite of what all your emotions are telling you at times. (Yes, but I know that God’s word says I can’t be with her because I’m already married…) That kind of thing.
I took verse 3 as my Key Verse for the chapter, and it simply says, “…if anyone loves [agape] God, he is known by Him.” With agape, there can be no pretense of emotion, you are either committed to it or not. There can be no pride attached to it, it is self-giving and self-effacing, to the point of self-sacrifice. And the word for “known” is the Greek is ginosko, the very same word used in the Septuagint in Genesis 4:1 to describe Adam “knowing” Eve so that she bore a son (Cain). This “knowing of us by God is a very deep, intimate, experiential knowledge that God has of us, and that He wants us to have with Him also! Read John 17 yourself, but that’s what my comment here is based on. Why is the Septuagint important? Because that is the word that 70 Jewish Rabbis chose to translate the Hebrew word ya|da’, rendering it as the Greek equivalent. What is that all saying?
It is saying that if anyone makes that kind of agape-level commitment of love to God, then God will make that same loving commitment to said individual in return! Beloved, the mark of the true servants of Christ is an agape-based relationship with Him, whereby God makes us alive, and because of the finished work of Christ, gives us the Holy Spirit (the 3rd person of the Trinity) to live inside us so that we CAN know God, and that relationship with Him only deepens over time, and as such begins to exhibit fruit – Love Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness (Meekness), and Self-control, like that! And over time, those things increase naturally and in augmented fashion at times when God reveals things to us. This is the defining mark of the true servants of God in the world. Let’s get into the chapter.
1-3: We all have knowledge – have love [agape] with it
This first paragraph for me was a sobering reminder that knowledge can serve the negative purpose of puffing me up. This past weekend was a kind of reminder for me in a conversation I had about how much I hate our “pastoral prayer” on Sundays. To me, it is a representative mark that God’s people got lazy and hired a pastor to pray for them, and for years, that is what the case was, until we recently began meeting for prayer every Monday as a church to pray for things that affect us as a local representation of the body of Christ. Actually that started more than 6 months ago, so maybe the word “recently” is misplaced – but not by a lot. Another pastor had a different perspective on it, and we “discussed” it (read disagreed over quite a bit of it) for over an hour. It was a peaceable enough discussion, and we both ended up yielding parts of our argument in favour of what we could both agree on was true in the Scriptures and in our congregation (we have a lot of old people and a couple of false teachers that are clever enough to stay off of most peoples’ radar and are cagey and difficult to draw out into their false teaching). (No worries, a case is being built for church discipline, and we both knew that and are involved in that.) His argument is that some of the folks in our pews are real believers that just don’t know any better, and they derive comfort from it. I accepted that, but I still think that is why we stand at the front every week and open the Scriptures and exposit the word! He agreed, but he kept going back to the comfort derived from the pastor doing this. Where the agreement at the end came was that it’s fine as long as the pastor isn’t the only one doing it.
This conversation reminded me that I can be a little less than loving at times, and that I can take a very confrontational attitude inappropriately. It’s one thing if a dear sister in Christ in her 90s says she wished she could learn more about the Lord’s Prayer for example, than a 40-something guy wanting us to SAY the Lord’s Prayer so that his kids can learn it. (My thinking is that it is his responsibility to teach them.) As we have been seeing recently, God is not in, nor does He respect rote ritual and liturgy. He cares more about what is in our hearts, and He always has. I have been quick to take on the attitude that says, “That’s the way we should do it, and if you don’t like it, don’t let the door hit you in the rear end on your way out.” Our conversation has made me revisit that for more than just a few cases, and I had to let go of some pride for that. There are a good number of people that are truly Christian and just don’t know better. Where I am right, I should be the one doing the teaching. I need to reflect agape love for everyone in His house, not just with people who will agree with my point of view. I could talk about other things here, but they aren’t all about me, and I don’t want to needlessly speak about anyone in cases that have already been acceptably resolved and reawaken old issues, so I’ll move on. Let’s dig in.
1: Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.
- Paul is stating the issue and then introducing the principle to be discussed here. He uses the idea of meat that is sacrificed to idols here to illustrate how even if we are right, if we do not have Christian affection to accompany our knowledge, it is not going to have the desired good outcome, even if the situation surrounding it moves in a perceived positive direction.
- What Paul is saying here, is that as Christians, we know that there are no other gods, and stuff sacrificed to an idol is basically being sacrificed to the air. All the claptrap about “sacrificing to demons” for the Christian has no bearing, because we belong to the King of the universe. What ever we eat in terms of meat, whatever we play in terms of games (card or otherwise), all the nonsense about it being “demonic” is just that. We belong to the King, and the King has already won the war, if not the individual battles yet to be fought. In fact he is going to state this in three verses from here.
- But what do we do with this knowledge? This is the operative question. We could take the position that we do it this way, and we have no other practice, nor does any other true church of God, so go pound sand. Some in fact have. We would not be “wrong” per se to do so, from a legalistic standpoint. But would we EVER be wrong to do this. Where would be the loving understanding of our more junior brothers? We could argue (rightly) that they need to be taught, but beloved, did you know how to walk when you were a newborn? No, me neither.
- My point is that our tendency here on what are matters of conscience (and we looked at this in Romans) is to be puffed up about our knowledge. Oh, but WE know BETTER than YOU. You can go sit in the back row and be quiet now, and shut up and learn from the big boys. Wrong, brethren, wrong, wrong, wrong. Is that kind? Is that gentle? Is that patient? NO! It is not any kind of display of the fruit of the Spirit. There is NO LOVE IN IT. It certainly doesn’t create joy in the hearer, it isn’t peaceful, it is actually violent in intent, I could go on.
- No, it is arrogant in the extreme, and arrogance is caused by PRIDE, the original sin of Satan. That’s what “knowledge” gets you. What tree was the fruit in the garden from they weren’t supposed to eat? The tree of the “knowledge” of good and evil. You see, in our natural and fallen condition, knowledge puffs up, literally, that is it makes us nothing but arrogant if we are not careful to walk in the Spirit and have Christian agape motivations with it. Only THEN can our knowledge, though God’s love, build up our brethren and the naos of God – the house of God Himself.
2: If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know;
- Matthew Henry said in his commentary on the Whole Bible, that “There is no proof of ignorance more common than conceit of knowledge.” I have to agree. Nothing says “I’m an ignoramus” louder than trying to establish you are the smartest guy in the room, usually at everyone in the room’s expense. I hearken back to a certain Systematic Theology professor in Bible College. The very first thing he did in the first class was ask a question about what the Bible said about something. No one was answering, so I gave it a try, from what I had read in the Scriptures. His immediate answer without any pause for consideration was, “No. It was this,” and it was the answer I would have given if we had all understood what he was asking. We ALL got the impression he was just trying to establish who was the smartest person in the room. I knew by the end of the course it sure wasn’t him. I won’t guess at who actually was, though if I had to say anyone, there was a brother named Peter who had a pretty good grasp of what the Scriptures actually said.
- What Paul is saying here is something I once heard put like this a very long time ago. “It’s what you learn after you know it all that really counts.” Brothers and sisters, we here at BereanNation.com know a lot. I guess it’s kind of an occupational hazard of being a member of BereanNation.com – we read the Scriptures every day to so we can see what they say about everything. But our knowledge actually makes us accountable to God for what we know, and that is no small thing. Jesus, speaking of the unfaithful steward in Luke 12:48, said that “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” God forgive us, have we taken our knowledge gained from the Scriptures and gone out and made the world a better place by preaching the gospel of the kingdom, or have we gathered in our holy huddle and tried to design a no-risk play that will make us look like heroes without the slightest amount of work or risk to ourselves? I personally feel that it has mostly been the latter.
- Beloved, we have just demonstrated that we do not know anything God has taught us as we should know it. Instead, we hold ourselves above other brothers and sisters in knowledge proudly, not showing humility but pride. How backwards is that? More importantly, how opposite to that is the gospel?
3: but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.
- We talked about this a little earlier, but it really bears repeating. Beloved, we must LOVE God. We must not love Him in the physical sense (eros), nor in the soulish/emotional sense alone (phileo), or even in the spiritual and family sense (storge). I said it before here, love is NOT love, is NOT love, is NOT love. We must love God in a different way. It must be HIS way. It must be agape. It is that divine, self-effacing, self-giving, self-sacrificing love that puts the Beloved’s needs and wishes above our own. In this case, our Beloved is Christ! (Yes, we are His beloved as well.)
- That love is not physically motivated, nor is it emotionally driven, although emotions are often involved. It isn’t even driven by spirituality, contrary to what the wingnuts of the New Age movement tell us. They seem to have a total misunderstanding of the concept of the love of God. Whether it is deliberate or not is a different discussion, and we will maybe discuss that at another point, but not here and now.
- This love is commitment-driven. It is not apart from emotion, but it is not driven by it, and is often managed in spite of emotion. You may get the impression that I like Steve Camp, but in the either the late 70s or early 80s, he wrote a song called “Love’s Not A Feeling.” The lyrics go something like, “Love’s not a feeling / Oh, we’ve got to learn / To get past all emotion to the meaning of the word / Love’s not a feeling we can lose or throw away / God give us the courage to live it ev’ry day.”
- Evangelicalism as a whole, particularly Charismaticism, seems to be driven by emotional experience. It is sought, and can be produced by an environment of low lighting, sappy music, and a certain tone of voice when you speak, not to mention repetitive songs, which is related to the sappy music but not the same as it. They accuse more reformed believers of deliberately and surgically removing all emotion from their service, but as a Reformed guy, I can’t actually manage that at all. I am not capable of it. Neither was Dr. R. C. Sproul, neither is Steve Lawson, John MacArthur, or any of the other more reformed preachers I know of. Every single one of them felt emotion, and every single one of them did not or does not allow emotion to make the decision – their commitment to God in a self-giving sense drives that decision, and so it must with us.
- And moreover, if we love God in that way – God’s way – as His gift to us, really, like all of His other gifts of grace – it tells us in this verse that we are known of Him. I spent a little time earlier establishing that word as ginosko, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word ya|da’, the same word used for a man intimately knowing his wife in Genesis 4:1. We are known intimately, experientially by God Himself if we will make that agape commitment to Him. THAT is what it means to love God – that we commit all of our life to Him – all our problems, all of our needs, all that we have, and all that we are. It is a total commitment. And beware, beloved. It WILL change your commitments and your life.
Now how this relates to us having that agape with our knowledge is like this: Beloved, when we are in that committed agape love relationship with God, we will take care to be humble and display the fruit of the Spirit. We will not become arrogant in our knowledge because we will know and understand that our ability to love God like this is actually His gift to us. We did nothing to earn it. And if we are displaying otherwise, please beloved, repent. If you’re having trouble with that, talk to me later. We can go through some steps for repentance together.
In the next though unit we will see that proverbial “worldly wisdom” contrasted with that factual reality of God, and see that we are always to be driven by those facts, not by what others think or even what they think is polite or correct. That way leads to – well – what we see around us today.
4-6: The world’s knowledge contrasted with heavenly reality
We have already seen in our study of 1 Corinthians so far, as we did in Romans, as we did in Hebrews, and all the studies before that, that the way of the world is pretty much always diametrically opposed to God’s ways and truth. Those voices that tell us what they want in an attempt to impose their will on us and make us “believe” their lie (even if they don’t know it’s a lie, see Romans 1:18-32) so that we will fall into line. Most times, at least to this point, we can blend in and say nothing and be what I call an undercover Christian. But what happens when they want us to do something that does not glorify God or goes against His Word and will? Like say, pull the plug on your comatose spouse, who according to the doctors has no chance of recovering? I’m telling you, they would have to handcuff me to make me watch that, and even then, they’d have to put me out. I cannot and WILL not participate in a murder of convenience just to free up a hospital bed. That’s the bottom line, beloved. They tell you it’s about quality of life, and dignity, and all that nonsense, but it really is not. Or how about when they want to take your kids away because the “school board” doesn’t “approve” of your more biblical curriculum? I know in Canada, we can still homeschool kids – but what if you’re in Germany where it is law to send your kids to public school where they will browbeat the faith out of all the kids they can? Or if they start to enforce abortions on sections of the population they see as unfit? Don’t think that can happen? You don’t know anything about the history of the eugenics movement, or about the enforced abortions and sterilizations of native women in America in the 1950s and 60s (and possibly early 70s). Not to mention all the abortion done on people of colour here in Canada and the secret sterilizations that happened. I’d say Google it, but they’ve started scrubbing their searches because this doesn’t fit their desired narrative or in fact the liberal media’s, so search it with DuckDuckGo and you’ll see. I’ll tell you this. I won’t be bending my knee or raising my fist in support of any of this madness. Beloved, don’t you let this stuff fool you. It is the OPPOSITE of godliness. Maybe we can get into this another time.
That’s human wisdom and where it ends. It cannot see the heavenly ramifications nor consequences of this kind of sin. Now the examples I’ve cited are all what we are facing in the here and now, but in Paul’s day in Corinth, this was what they were facing. There was an issue with new converts from the temples of Apollo or Aphrodite that knew what happened when a sacrifice was offered to those false gods to the meat after – how it was sold off cheap to make more money for the temple, in particular the high priest, I suspect. (There’s nothing new under the sun, is there.) We know that that bull was basically used in a nonsense ritual for a false superstition, and today, we would more likely complain about the dignity of the bull than of the false god it was being slaughtered in the name of. But many Christians saw it as good financial stewardship and took advantage of the fire sale (so to speak) on the meat. That’s wehre this all started. Paul now examines what we should do with this.
4: Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one.
- See the “therefore?” Paul is drawing a conclusion based on what was said immediately before. What was just said? Don’t just have your knowledge, be that generalized trivial pursuit knowledge, expertise on a topic, or even that Gnostic (and apostate) concept of “secret” knowledge without controlling it with your agape love for all. That is you must temper your response, and even understanding of other people with God’s self-giving, self-sacrificing love. Now let’s address the topic in that context.
- Paul discloses that there is really no such thing as an “idol” in the world that has any efficacy, nor are there any other gods besides our one God (who is a trinity), and we know this because the third person of that divinity is living inside us by order of the Father and work of the Son (first and second persons of that triune God) if we are true Christians.
- Now, lest any schismatic in the back row of the internet take issue with me and yell “that isn’t in the text” at me, you’re right, but it is in other texts, and that isn’t my point, I am – well, supplying colour commentary. In case you haven’t guessed it, I’m doing this just to smoke you out, so that you can self-identify and we can know who you are. Just wait a couple verses to see what Paul is going to say! What Paul’s subject here is has to do with meat or other foodstuffs sacrificed to so-called idols to non-existent other gods.
5: For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords,
- What? Is Paul allowing the possibility of other Gods? No, he isn’t – this is Paul saying something like, “And even if YOU want to say they exist, I’ll give you that there are many small-“G” gods, that is there are many gods against God that tell you THEY are Lord, and not the Lord Jesus Christ. Since you want to talk about them, fine – I will tell you that Paul in Ephesians 6:12 like so: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” These are demonic forces that are arrayed against our holy God and would love nothing better than to trap all of us “little Christs” in error and legalism if not outright apostasy. (You did know that “Christian” actually means “little Christ,” did you not?)
6: yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.
- I suppose Paul is saying that so that these folks can go and believe the lie if that’s what they want to do, but Paul is very clear – for us, we who follow the only true [real. Same word in Greek] God, there is one God, and look now. PAUL is providing COLOUR COMMENTARY! Amazing that…and he does the same thing I did – he points out that there is more than one person in that Godhead. There is one God the Father – everything comes from Him and we exist for Him – and one Lord Jesus Christ BY whom are all things, and we exist THROUGH Him! He names two of the three persons of the divinity! That should be enough to show that there is multiplicity within the Godhead or the Divinity. Why no mention of the Holy Spirit? Well, frankly, it’s His job to point people to Christ, and doesn’t seem to need the attention.
- Notice – Creation – all of it – was the will of the Father. All things come from Him. By His will. And we exist because He wills it to be so – or we just plain would not be here. And it was the actual work of the Son – I have a neat story there. For a number of years now, I have been referring to the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son, as “the very agent of creation.” I came up with that term on my own, but I was hesitant to use it publicly because I’m more shy than I let on, and I don’t want to speak it if I am in error. Now nothing actually came to mind when I tried to examine the notion for error, so I was encourage – and about 3 weeks ago now, I was watching some R. C. Sproul recorded lectures on John 1 – and R. C. Sproul himself used that phrase – “Christ, who was the very agent of creation.” You should have seen the smile on my face. You won’t hear me hesitate to use that phrase ever again, because as far as I’m concerned, that was the Holy Spirit confirming to me that I had heard that phrase correctly from Him. But Jesus is the agent of creation. He is the very One that caused it all. BY whom are all things, just like it says in John 1:3. “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” And we exist through Him, as Paul said to the Colossians in 1:17: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together,” speaking of Christ.
Paul very quickly and very adeptly sets up what people believe wrongly against what the actual facts of the case are before God. To summarize what Paul has said, it goes roughly like this: “Look, we know that there is only One God – the Father, the Son, [and the Spirit, my addition]. And even if you want to allow for other gods (small g), okay, but I have to tell you they are servants of Satan pretending to be divine. Are they powerful? Sure. But He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4b), so they can do what they want. In Ephesians 6, Paul goes through all the heavenly armour and weaponry with which God Himself has equipped us and has sent us to stand against the forces of the enemy. And Jesus told his disciples that the “gates” of hell would not prevail against us. Wait, gates are defensive structures – that means He intends us to be on the attack against those spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places. Not against our fellow human beings. And that’s where Paul is going with this…
7-13: Lovingly approach people with their needs not yours
Here is where the rubber is going to meet the road for us in this chapter. A very large practical application here is that we must put the needs of others before our own on occasion. And it is the weaker brother, the one who is more likely to be defiled in their emotions and in their walk, that is the one that will ultimately decide that for us. Now if you think about this, isn’t that the way Jesus came to redeem us? The worst of us as believers – the very worst of us – was redeemed by His sacrifice on the cross. And some of us were pretty bad dudes. Oh sure, we all fall under the same radical depth of depravity that taints every aspect of our being, but some of us, though still sinners before a holy God, still have honour. We still have good morals. We still have chivalrous behaviour and demeanor. We still needed Jesus to redeem us, because all of us were tainted by sin. He met US on the ground of our NEED. And that is how He expects those whom He has redeemed to behave toward others.
You see, your preferences don’t always matter. MY preferences don’t matter either, I’m not just trying to be mean. Sometimes, when people have a sensitivity to something, it is for a good reason, and we need to be okay with that sensitivity to the point where we will cease an activity just to help that other individual see spiritual realities. Paul is about to explain.
7: However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
- It would appear logically that not all men have the same knowledge that we do. Some think something else, and it defines their behaviour and responses to reality. And if you think this makes “us” better than “them,” you have another thing coming. Beloved, in our own sin, the only one that realized where we as a race was headed in reality was God. For the sake of His elect, He made some pretty extreme allowances in actually dying on a Roman cross for all those that would be saved. Now – He definitely had greater knowledge that we did or do, and he came for us not after we approached Him, but while we were still lost in our sin and depravity. Do you think we had defiled consciences? You better believe we did.
- And so must we be, if we are to truly be His adopted brothers and sisters. The fact is that these individuals do NOT (hopefully yet) know what we do, and we need to help them by being patient with them. Paul will continue this line of thought as we move forward through the next few verses, so be ready to maintain the theme of being like Christ for people that are not as strong in faith. And I have to tell you, this to me, just I have been studying this chapter is convicting in the extreme. I know I am not naturally this way. I have a word for people that don’t understand (and don’t seem to want to). I call them fools. Those of you that have known me over time know that I at least haven’t up until now, suffered fools gladly. And it turns out that I’ve had a really lousy attitude. See? Convicting…
8: But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat.
- This is where Paul is saying something like, “Look, you have to know the truth here, and you have to know your Scriptures. And you also have to understand that agape love of God that we’ve been talking about earlier and how and where to apply it.” He uses food sacrificed to idols as an example here. And he isn’t really saying anything we don’t already know, at least if you’ve been with us since at least Romans, or if you have read the Gospels or the book of Acts.
- What you should know from all of those books of the New Testament that I just mentioned is that food does absolutely nothing in terms of defiling (or purifying) action to a person. Jesus Himself sad this, and it is recorded in both Matthew 15:11, where it says “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man,” and in Mark 7:20 in reverse, “And He was saying, ‘That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man.'” There are other mentions like this where others say similar things to these texts and our chapter tonight, but these should suffice to make my point – food doesn’t do anything to you. What goes in just passes out through the human waste system as it were. It is what comes out of a man that really causes the issue.
- Paul here is making the exact same point. We aren’t worse if we don’t eat, and we aren’t better if we do. Why is that? Because we are in the realm of the physical, and every real Christian knows, or at least should know, that we are not a religion of liturgy and ceremony, or in fact of artifacts and what the Bible calls “stuff” in the King James (NASB says “baggage”). No beloved, ours is a faith of the heart and mind and motives. It seems that all that what we eat does is meet a physical need and maybe reveal the sin of gluttony. For our spiritual walk with God, it does nothing at all, says Paul. In this, that means that the Christian has a certain amount of freedom as to what he or she will eat – because the food of choice makes absolutely no difference to a person’s spiritual state whatsoever, we can pretty much eat anything we like. Case in point – I hate salmon. I can’t even take the smell anymore. You let me get a solid whiff of that odour and I am headed straight for the toilet. But my brother Dan (if I may, Dan) loves Salmon. When we go out for dinner as has happened in the past, I’ve been perfectly okay with him eating Salmon, even though the smell turns my stomach. I was still able to enjoy my meal, as I could not smell the salmon the whole time, and the site doesn’t “gross me out” or anything like that. It’s fish. I like fish. Just not that fish, apparently. He has his choice to eat it, and he enjoys it, and I choose to let him enjoy it. Pretty straightforward, right? Well, maybe not.
9: But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
- And here is where the proverbial rubber meets the proverbial road. If I were a weak man, and for some reason had some spiritual reason that salmon would bring about the end of the world (or even just the perceived end of mine I suppose), it might be a different thing. Think about what was likely going on here.
- What makes up a proverbial weaker brother? Look at what was going on in Corinth. People were being saved out of service to the false gods of Apollo and Aphrodite. They had seen the ritual sacrifice of foodstuffs to their old religions. They probably even knew that the meat was sold off for a profit to the priests and priestesses of the temple after. Because that is what they came out of, they did not see the liberty in Christ that they had, and made up some religious rule about not eating meat sacrificed to false gods. And they went around telling others about it. They even told people that it was a means of support for the false religion, which was true. This is what Paul meant when he referred to these believers as weak. Not realizing the liberty, that is the power and moral authority to do things, from the Greek exousia, that they had, they made religious rules for themselves to follow to make themselves feel right about not partaking of certain things that God had created for them to enjoy. Yeah. Paul says that’s weak.
10: For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?
- Now you notice here that Paul DOES NOT call them out on this? Why is that/ Paul is one of the firebrands that calls out sin for what it is! He thunders about false teachers, he calls out heresy in the church, and he named names, beloved. And yet, for those who had weak faith, those that created religious rules to protect their own selves and their consciences in the faith, he has infinite patience. Why? Because they were fellow saints and beloved of God.
- Sometimes, all you can do to win the person is be understanding, beloved. They don’t know. Tell them if you think it fitting and important enough, but take great care not to disillusion the saint who is weak. After all, they were trying to set up those religious rules to protect their walks in the Spirit, and because of THAT, as weak as that may be, it’s better than being defiled in their conscience by the very thing that for them is sin. And beloved, we saw that in Romans – if you think something is sin, you better not be doing it, regardless of what anyone else thinks. If you do, you are actually sinning.
- And why would you EVER take your knowledge as a child of God, adopted, grafted into the family, and do this kind of spiritual violence to another human being, saint or sinner? That is not the Spirit of God in you, that’s your pride, and pride, saints, is the sin of the devil. How arrogant would that be? No, rather walk in humility – before God opposes your pride and you are humiliated as opposed to humbled – Humility is a choice for the believer. Humiliation is imposed upon someone. Learn to recognize that difference.
- I have a more personal example of what Paul means here. Those of you know that I have been a bit of a drunkard in my former life. (Okay, that is really understating something.) But you will NEVER make a case for total abstinence in the New Testament. Paul even tells Timothy it is okay to have a little wine for the sake of his stomach. You want to have a beer, that’s fine. I like beer. Don’t offer me one. I do know how to say no, so you’re safe there also, but if I do decide to take a drink, I won’t be easily able to stop at one. I have that particular allergy that makes me different than some of you, in that alcohol will make me a total nut. A fun nut by reports from those who were there the next day to report on it, but what kind of a testimony to Christ would I be in that state? So I choose not to drink, and I stay away from it. Because to ME, it IS sin to have a drink, knowing that I cannot stop at just one.
- Where this gets personal is a story that an old friend once shared. He’s not a tea-totaler either, and he and his wife were out for their anniversary, and decided to have a bit of wine with their meal. And another saint who shares my proclivity saw them. It didn’t go the worst way possible, the saint maintained his sobriety, but it made my friend think about how he and his wife nearly stumbled that brother by having wine with their meal. How is that situation different? Wine was some of the foodstuffs that used to be sacrificed to idols. Must have been difficult during communion. I mean these days, we use grape juice, which is basically non-alcoholic wine, and that’s fine for me. I’ve even been in services that used rabbinical wine, and I didn’t consider myself to have sinned for following a command of Jesus. I’m a lot less likely to stumble these days too, though I’m not so proud as to think I can never stumble again. But what of someone that is a weaker brother? Makes me think of all these guys in what they call the “reformed pub.” Dude, I don’t care if you want to have a beer, but don’t make my desire not to become a total loon an issue of fellowship by calling your meeting space a “pub.” I wasn’t always a Christian, I know what goes on in pubs. And how would you like to cause some poor brother like me to return to alcohol? I don’t care if you have 1689 tattooed on your knuckles, that’s not Christian at all. But I’ll move on.
11: For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died.
- See? That’s where Paul was going too. YOU may know and feel freedom to eat that meat, or drink that wine – but not all brothers and sisters feel that same level of liberty and freedom to walk like that. I’ve got another personal example. Many of you know I like a certain card game named “Magic: The Gathering.” I have a brother in Christ that has some theological issues, but he’s still a brother in Christ. He has flat out told me I am going to hell for playing that game, because it involves spells and witchcraft. (Like I said, he has some theological issues.) I’ve said this before, and I say it with kindness with my brother squarely in mind – it is just a card game. There are no actual spells involved. Is it a fantasy? Yes, it is. You have to understand, to me it is like a complex version of the simple game of chess, where not all the variables can be seen, which makes it more challenging, and thus more enjoyable. Without getting into the mechanics of my highly specialized deck, I can tell you that it is casual-competitive, and I’m not the only person that thinks that. I built it myself over about a year and a half, not making a secret of it.
- Enter my friend. All of a sudden one day, he became very offended that I played this game. He left me an email message that told me that the game was in fact Satanic because I had to cast spells to play it. Actually, all I was doing was playing cards in an enjoyable game. I tried to get back to him about it, and I told him that I respectfully did not agree. He told me I was going to burn in hell for playing it and broke off contact for a number of years. He did contact me when a case of COVID-19 was recorded at the pharmacy where I shop near my house, because I think he was worried, and I was grateful for his concern.
- You must understand, I care for this guy. I am sorry he feels the way he does about this card game. This is my brother in Christ – the one for whom Christ died. Why would I want to “ruin” him as Paul puts it?
12: And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
- See what I mean? I know brothers that have had struggles with alcohol or drugs. I would never want to drink in front of them (especially when I’m as bad or worse), and I would never want to do drugs of any kind in front of them. For my anti-Magic brother, I would never want to let him hear I had been playing that card game. You see, Paul is telling me here that if I did those things, I would be sinning against Christ, not to mention my brothers, and that is FAR worse.
- As Paul once cried (Romans 7:24), O wretched mand that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death? As it turns out, Paul has a prescription for this kind of illness and death.
13: Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.
- If your behaviour in the flesh is making you sick, Christian, you are able to stop doing it. If you really are His child, you are now able to respond in a way that is pleasing to God according to that “heart of flesh” that He wrote His law upon when he regenerated you and gave you that new heart. And Paul here is giving you a new program to play instead of the old programming.
- See here what it is. If food causes my brother to stumble, if meat sacrificed to idols will cause my brother to be weaker or be defiled in his conscience, then – now pay attention here, this is the key – I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble. Do you see the radical lengths to which Paul was willing to go to not stumble his brothers? If the meat he ate would cause you problems, he was ready and willing to become a vegetarian!
- If the card game I enjoy and am decently proficient at offends my brother in Christ, I will not ever play that game again, so that my brother is not stumbled. Notice Paul did NOT say, “Well, I just won’t eat it in front of him, or anyone who would pass word back to him.” He was prepared to give up meat! Well, then! I guess I can give up that card game. To be fair, as a diabetic, I’m not sure there is a lot of food I could actually give up that I haven’t already! But not my point.
- If the brew that I consume in the “reformed pub” offends my formerly alcoholic brother, I am prepared to never partake of alcoholic beverages again, so that my brother in Christ is not stumbled! I wonder how that would go over in certain Facebook groups? Bet it wouldn’t. They just want to take pictures of their meals and compare tattoos apparently. “Yeah, I’m a reformed Baptist – if you want proof, I tattooed 1689 on my knuckles.” All said while he puffed on a Cuban cigar.
You see, this bring me to the main point of this passage – those who would be the servants of God must serve the world, especially their Christian brothers as Jesus did – by dying to themselves and living to God. It isn’t so much about having to give things up to please people as it is an opportunity to live – and die – like Jesus did for us. You know a brother that has a problem with alcohol? Well, don’t drink. Not just in front of him, at all. Be an example for that brother to emulate. Let the brother learn and grow by your sacrifice, just like Jesus did for us. Let it be like the song: “Not to us, O Lord, Not to us – but to Thy name give glory, to Thy name give praise. As children of the Mighty King, we make our lives an offering.”
Or did you think that Jesus’ only sacrifice was when He died on the cross for us? No, brethren! He lived a perfect sacrificial life to God under His law! He loved us enough to do that for us. Can we find it in our hearts to do this for our brothers and sisters for whom Christ died? O, let it be so. Jesus met us on the ground of our need, and He wants us to be like Him. Let us see the need of our brothers, beloved, and let US meet them upon the ground of THEIR need and be like the Saviour!
What we see in this chapter is a short and powerful treatise on how we should love the brethren. If you know your brother has issues, pay attention to be an example to Him. Yes, it will irritate and frustrate them sometimes. It wouldn’t be the first time I encountered a brother looking for an excuse to let his fleshly temper out to play for a while. But in the end, if he really is your brother, he will be thankful to God that you did that for him, because of your love for Christ and for him. Given what Jesus did for us, how can we not? Really, and we’ve said this several weeks in a row now, How dare we not?
And that’s what the 13 verses of chapter 8 said to me.