WHEN ITíS WRONG TO DO RIGHT
1 CORINTHIANS 8:1-13
The church at Corinth was a house divided. A number of schisms had split the church into shattered factions that were now at virtual war with one another. Instead of a spirit of love and unity, there was now jealousy and strife. One of the issues that brought about this division was the problem of eating meat that had been offered to idols.
The city of Corinth was a Greek city. The Greeks did not worship one God. They worshiped many gods. They had gods and goddesses for war, for love, for wisdom, for the sun and moon and stars, for storms, for the land and for the sea. They had a god or goddess for nearly everything.
Not only were the Greeks polytheistic in that they worshiped many gods, they were also polydemonistic, believing that evil spirits were all wound them as a regular threat. Perhaps in this one aspect they were not too far from the truth.
Many of the Greeks believed that one way in which a person could become demon possessed was through the food that he ate. According to this theory, a demon could latch onto the food and be ingested into the person resulting in a case of spiritual heartburn that was untouched by Alka-Seltzer. They thought that the only way the spirits could be removed from the food was for it to be sacrificed to a god. Therefore these sacrifices served two purposes:
There still stands today the ruins of a temple to Apollo adjoining to the agora, the central marketplace in the ruins of Corinth. The offerings that were brought to this temple were divided into two parts.
The first part was burned on the altar as a sacrifice to Apollo. The rest of the meat was given to the priests of Apollo to eat. The priests could only eat a very small part of the great quantities of meat that were brought to the temple. So they made a practice of taking the surplus across the street to the marketplace and selling it there.
In addition to this, the temple had set up a rather high-class restaurant. The temple restaurant served this meat as a part of its regular menu. Because the meat had been provided for free, it could be sold at a low price. This meat was highly valued because it had been given the blessing of Apollo and was therefore guaranteed to be free of evil spirits.
This situation gave rise to several questions.
These were not new issues. The church at Jerusalem had already dealt with some of these situations and had written a letter to the Gentile churches in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia in which they asked them to abstain from things sacrificed to idols.
For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials:
Just as the people of Israel had been instructed to come out and to be separate from the heathen nations of the earth, so also these Gentiles who had become Christians were also to come out from the world system in which they had lived and to be separate from the heathen religious practices.
As Christianity had come to Corinth, the believers in Corinth came to know and believe certain key principles:
Having come to understand these basic truths, some of the Corinthians decided that it was no longer necessary to continue abstaining from the eating of meats that had been offered to idols.
This decision caused a real storm within the church. Suddenly the Jewish element was parting company with the Gentile element so that you had the Kosher meeting of the church in one house and the carnivorous crowd gathering to worship in another place.
Certain concerned Corinthians had written a letter to Paul asking several questions that were at issue within the church (7:1). This question of meats being offered to idols seems to have been one of those issues.
WE KNOW THAT WE ALL HAVE KNOWLEDGE
Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.2 If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; 3 but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him. (1 Corinthians 8:1-3).
Paul begins his treatment of this issue, not with whether we should eat or not eat certain foods, but with our own attitudes concerning the knowledge that we have.
There were certain among the Corinthian church who prized knowledge and academics above all else. They could cross their Tís and dot their Iís precisely when it came to matters of doctrine. Yet they had a serious problem. It was one of attitude. It was reflected in what they did with that knowledge.
These knowledgeable Corinthian believers had become puffed up and arrogant in their knowledge. They were mature in their knowledge, but they were not mature in their love.
Knowledgeè Makes Arrogant
Knowledge by itself is not enough. Even knowledge of the facts of Godís word is not enough. There must also be love. If love is not present, then something else will grow in its place -- arrogance.
This is the principle. There is something that is more important than knowledge. It is love. Loving is superior to knowing. Of course, real love cannot exist without a certain level of knowing. But knowing is tested by loving.
Here is the test of true knowledge. It is tested by our love for God. If we really know God and are known by God, then we will love Him. And if we truly love God, then we will also love those whom God loves.
WE KNOW THAT THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN IDOL
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.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 are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. (1 Corinthians 8:4-6).
Paul turns to the problem of eating of foods. He states his position on the subject. It is that idols are of no account. There is no such thing as an idol. This does not deny that there did exist graven images. Neither does it deny that they might be very real demonic forces at work in the world or even that they might not be impersonating the false gods of the Greeks. However, these are not really gods. There is only one God.
Although you might see a statue of Apollo and go into the temple of Apollo in Corinth, there is no such thing as Apollo. Though you might visit the temple of Aphrodite and see the priestess offer up a sacrifice to Aphrodite, there is no such person as Aphrodite.
There is but one God. He is identified in this verse. He is called "the Father." This designation was foreign to the Greek mind. They believed in many gods. They never imagined that they could have this kind of relationship with God. They never thought of God as their father. Their gods were to be feared because they acted in a very non-fatherly way.
This was also foreign to Greek thought. The Greeks had a god for the sea and a god for the sky and a god for the sun and a god for the moon. They had never imagined a single God who created all things. Until they heard Paulís preaching of the gospel, He remained to them "the Unknown God."
This would have caught the eye of the Greeks. To the Greek mind, the title of "Lord" was one of deity. It refers to God. There is one Lord -- Jesus Christ.
Notice that what Paul has done is to agree with those who stated that there is nothing specifically wrong with eating meat that has been offered to idols. There is no truth to the teaching that the idol has any spiritual or physical effect upon the meat. Therefore such meat can be eaten without harm.
This brings us to a real problem. Paul is directly contradicting the ordinance that had been set up by the Jerusalem church in Acts 15. On what basis can he do this?
I would like to suggest that the ordinance delivered in the Jerusalem letter reflected a temporary injunction during that transitional period when Gentiles were first being brought into what had previously been an exclusively Jewish church. There was no permanent moral foundation to the injunction not to eat meat offered to idols. It was given, not on the basis of a moral absolute, but on the basis of CONSCIENCE.
The Gentile converts were to see in an outward form that they were making a complete break from their former manner of life.
Perhaps I can illustrate this from an incident in my own life. When I first committed my life to Christ, one of the things that marked that commitment was a decision to change the type and style of music with which I was involved. It happened to be rock music. That is not to say that rock music is inherently evil. A C-note in rock music is the same as a C-note in classical music or in the most heavenly hymn. I gave up rock music at that time, not because there is necessarily wrong with one style of music over another, but because of the associations that it had in my former manner of life.
By the same token, the eating of meat that has been through a pagan ritual is not in itself wrong because the ritual has no bearing on reality. Meat is still meat and its chemical makeup has not changed to turn it into something that is inherently sinful. But there is still a problem. The problem is that not all men have this knowledge.
NOT ALL MEN HAVE THIS KNOWLEDGE
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.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. (1 Corinthians 8:7-8).
There were both those among the Jews as well as those among the Greek Christians who had trouble divorcing the idol worship in the heathen temple from the sirloin steak that sat on the table before them. For those people to go and eat meat while thinking that it was wrong would be for them to commit sin.
There is a lesson here. Anytime you do something that you feel you should not be doing, you are in sin. You are saying in effect, "I think this is sinful and contrary to what God desires, but I am going to do it anyway." In such a case, you are acting in open rebellion against God.
There is a case in which it would be wrong for a believer to eat meat offered to idols. It is in the case in which that believer thinks it is sinful.
There is also a second situation in which it would be wrong to eat meat offered to idols. This is the case in which it becomes a stumbling block to others.
LIBERTY - A STUMBLING BLOCK TO THE WEAK
But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
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?11 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12 And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:9-13).
Now we come to the question at hand. How can my eating meat in the temple cause my Christian brother to sin? How can my actions be a stumbling block to another? The answer is given in verses 10-12.
Here is the case of Mort the meat-eater going into the Apollo temple restaurant and ordering roast prime rib. He is doing it with a clear conscience because he knows that idols are nothing and meat is merely meat. But as he is partaking of his meal, who should pass by but Willie Weaker Brother. Willie is also a Christian, but he still has some major problems about the spiritual qualities of the temple meat and so he has determined to become a vegetarian.
Willie looks in and sees Mort getting started on the main course and says to himself, "I think that it is still morally wrong, but if Mort is going to eat that meat, then I will do it, too." He goes in and he uses the actions of Mort to sway his own actions, still believing them to be sinful. What he has done is to involve himself in that which he considers to be sinful. The result is that his Christian life is left a shambles.
The tragedy of allowing our actions to wreck havoc and ruin in the life of a weaker believer is made all the worse because this is one for whom Christ died.
There is a principle here. It is that there is no such thing as an insignificant believer. There are no unimportant people in Godís family. If you are His, then you have great worth. You are highly valued. You were bought at the greatest possible expense. Your price tag was the life of the Son of God.
And yet, how often do we consider the less attractive believer with something less than honor, if not with downright scorn? There is a warning here. You are treading on Godís most valued possessions. You are to handle other believers with the greatest of care.
Jesus was so concerned about this problem of causing other believers to stumble that He gave the very strongest of warnings:
And whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea. (Mark 9:42).
To cause a baby believer to stumble and fall is serious business. It is not merely a sin against another believer. It is a sin against Christ Himself.
If you are guilty of not showing due concern over the spiritual life of another believer, then you are sinning against Christ since you are regarding the death of Christ on his behalf as being of no consequence. If the death of Christ was significant, then those who were purchased by that sacrificial death are also significant.
Here is the conclusion of the matter. Paul does not tell them to eat or not to eat; at least not yet. This will change when he comes to chapter 10. In fact, Paul does not now address the Corinthians directly or give any command to them. Instead he gives them a principle. He states this principle in the first person, describing how he will react in this situation.
The principle is that I should limit my liberty so that it does not create a stumbling block for weaker Christians.
This brings us to a very practical question. How does this principle apply to the situations in which I find myself today? After all, no one in my culture has a problem with meats that have been offered to idols. Are there other problem areas to which this principle might be applied? I believe that there are.
Is it okay to play a game of poker? How about going into a pool hall to play a game of pool? Is it wrong to go into a bar and to order a beer? How should you dress when you go into church? Is it wrong to listen to certain types of music or to watch certain movies? Is it okay to go dancing at the local club?
I believe that each of these can be classified as "grey areas," that is, they are not necessarily wrong in themselves but I might consider avoiding them under certain circumstances because of a weaker brother.
Letís suppose that Paula and I decide to go dancing at a local club. We have been married for over 30 years and there is nothing at all wrong with us dancing together. We are legal. Meanwhile another Christian happens to see us there and his first reaction is to laugh because we are not particularly good at dancing. But then he thinks to himself, "I donít really think that it is okay for me to go to clubs and to be around that sort of element, but because John and Paula are here, Iím going to do it, too." This Christian enters into something that he considers to be sinful and thus rebels in his heart against the Lord.
There is a two-edged warning here. On the one hand, I should take care against causing that weaker brother to stumble. But in my zeal to aid that weaker brother, I should also be careful not to destroy the liberty that we have in Christ Jesus. It is one thing to restrain myself from eating meats that have been offered to idols; it is quite another thing to demand that everyone in the church also restrain themselves in the same manner. The first is a matter of exercising my love for another Christian. The second is putting Christians under bondage.
The church finds itself between to tensions. On the one hand of limiting individual liberties because of love and concern for the weaker brother; on the other hand being tempted to set as standards those things that should, at the most, be matters of conscience.
Limiting My Liberty
Enjoying Freedom within the Church
All too often, the church has gone to one extreme or the other, either allowing wrong actions in the name of liberty or else moving in the direction of legalism in the name of protecting the weaker brother.
For example, I know of a church that required all of its members to sign a covenant that stated that they would not go to movies. You could not be a member of that church and walk into a movie theater. Iím not advocating movie theaters. I know Christians who have made the decision not to go to movies and I respect that decision. But it is one thing to make that decision for yourself and even for your family, and it is another thing to demand that all Christians live by that personal standard.
When God has a moral standard, then I ought to hold up that moral standard for all to follow. But where an issue is a matter of liberty, then I need to walk very softly.
In summary, we need to point out that we donít become more spiritual merely by abstaining from certain things. There are a group of people in my town who donít smoke, donít drink, donít dance and who donít go to movies. In fact, they donít do much of anything. They are the residents of the local cemetery.
The absence of activity does not equal spirituality. To be spiritual is to be in the midst of a vital and living relationship with the Holy Spirit. As we have already seen in this epistle, there are times when we ARE called to come out and be separate from certain things. But we should also take care not to make this a means of legalism.
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