Chapter 8

 

The Abuse of Christian Liberty.

 

a) Do Not be Puffed up with Knowledge.

 

1. With regard to food sacrificed to idols, we know that "we all have knowledge." Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

 

Some Corinthian Christians were asserting their Christian liberty by eating meat which had been sacrificed to idols. They argued, quite correctly, that an idol was only a piece of wood or stone, and that they were thankful to the true God for the food. This knowledge was quite correct. Believers have received a knowledge of these spiritual matters by virtue of their relationship with the Son of God. Unfortunately, the Corinthians were proud of their knowledge, and Paul warns them against such pride, which is entirely contrary to the Christian spirit - a character dominated by love. Phillips says, "while knowledge may make a man look big, it is only love that can make him grow to his full stature"; that is, his full spiritual potential. So rather than boast of their knowledge, Paul urges the believers to concentrate on building their characters and those of other Christians, through the perfecting ministry of Christian love.

 

2. If someone thinks he knows something, he does not yet know to the degree that he needs to know.

 

Even the knowledge we have received from Christ is incomplete (1 Cor. 13:9-12). Christians are not superhuman and are not able to understand every mystery of the universe. If we know more than others, it is only because God has revealed the truth to us through Jesus Christ (Matt. 11:27) and this revelation is given by God in His grace, not because we merit it. So what right do we have to boast in our knowledge? The perfect tense used for the word "knowledge" in this verse implies full and complete knowledge; this knowledge is not ours yet, but shall be when we see Christ face to face (1 John 3:2; 1 Cor. 13:12). When we think of all that will be revealed to us in the ages to come, we will begin to realize that at present we know very little.

 

3.  But if someone loves God, he is known by God.

 

Believers have the assurance that whilst we do not know everything about God, God knows us perfectly and intimately. We are His people, redeemed by the blood of His Son Jesus Christ, and have the certain hope of one day enjoying all the eternal blessings which Christ has obtained on our behalf.

 

4. With regard then to eating food sacrificed to idols, we know that "an idol in this world is nothing," and that "there is no God but one."

 

Paul applies his lesson about knowledge to the matter of eating food sacrificed to idols. He leaves them in no doubt that the agrees with the theologically correct Corinthians - idols truly are only statues of wood and have no significance for the believer, for there is only one true and living God.

 

5. If after all there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords).

 

Whilst there are many religions, with worship offered to many so called gods, the Christian is in possession of the truth that our God is the only God and there is no other besides Him.

 

6. Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we live, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we live.

 

The Christian faith is a monotheistic faith, for we believe in one God who created all things; and who gave His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to be our Saviour. What a joy and privilege to belong to Him, by whom we exist and who created us for Himself! You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created" (Rev. 4:11 NKJVTM). The Son of as God is eternal and equal with God the Father and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19 ; John 1:1). We acknowledge Him as Lord in accordance with the will of God our Father (Acts 2:36 ; Philip. 2:9-11). As elsewhere in the New Testament, He is here credited with creating and sustaining of all life in the universe (Col. 1:16 ; Heb. 1:3).

 

7. But this knowledge is not shared by all. And some, by being accustomed to idols in former times, eat this food as an idol sacrifice, and their conscience, because it is weak, is defiled.

 

Paul's verdict on the issue of eating food sacrificed to idols does not depend on knowledge so much as on love. Many people remain ignorant of the true and living God whom we serve. Even some believers, who were previously ensnared by idolatry, are so familiar with the system that they find it hard to separate the eating of food offered to idols from the actual worship of idols. Paul describes these believers as having "weak consciences" in as much as they cannot see the act of eating as indifferent. To them it would be an act of worship to the idol, making them unfaithful to the Lord Jesus and so guilty of sin in their own conscience.

 

8. Now food will not bring us close to God. We are no worse if we do not eat and no better if we do.

 

While Paul admits that eating or refraining from different foods is an indifferent matter, this is not all that he has to say on the subject of eating food sacrificed to idols (see 1 Cor. 10). Yet we are not brought nearer to God by eating, nor are we advantaged in any way spiritually by abstaining, for eating itself is not a spiritual matter. Jesus taught that food enters the belly and that the waste is cast into the draught, having no effect on a man's spiritual life at all (Mark 7:18-19). Jesus declared all foods clean, and so in that sense Paul allows that even food offered to idols may be considered "clean" by believers. But whilst the food may be clean, the practise of idolatry is not; a subject to which Paul returns in chapter 10.

 

b) Consider the Weak.

 

9. But be careful that this liberty of yours does not become a hindrance to the weak.

 

Paul has been leading up to this point. Whilst he has accepted that the knowledge the Corinthians had was valid, he cautions them not to be guided by this alone; for in doing so they might cause weaker Christians to fall from their relationship with Christ.

 

10. For if someone weak sees you who possess knowledge dining in an idol's temple, will not his conscience be "strengthened" to eat food offered to idols?

 

Although a Christian brother, for perfectly valid reasons, may feel free to eat food offered to idols in an idol's temple (because he realizes that the idol is not a god and that food does not belong to a bit of wood), this may not be the case for another Christian. That Christian, who was formerly ensnared by idolatry, may (if he were to follow such an example) once again become ensnared by idolatry and led away from Christ. One brother is strong and thinks that what is doing will cause no harm, but the weaker brother may be drawn back into the ways of sin by following his example. Clearly, the actions of a stronger brother in such circumstance would result in untold harm. The principle is a broad one, and does not only apply to food eaten in idol's temples. For example, some men think it is fine for Christians to have the occasional alcoholic drink, for the drink does not get hold of them - they take one drink and then stop. But another believer, following their example, may by the power of his craving, be led away from Christ and return to the life of sin from which Christ had previously freed him.

 

11. So by your knowledge the weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed.

 

If a weaker brother falls away from Christ because of your actions, then you are guilty of bringing spiritual disaster and inflicting ruinous damage to him. You could destroy your brother's relationship with Christ and cause him to go back into the world, where he will ultimately perish. Our weaker brothers and sisters are not without importance. "It was for his sake as much as for yours, to save him from destruction, that Christ - no less a person, died - no less than that" (Robertson and Plummer).

 

12. If you sin against your brothers or sisters in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.

 

To sin against the Church of Christ in this way is to sin against Christ, for Christ is so indivisible from His people that anything done to the least of them is done to Him (Matt. 25:40-45). Paul learned this on the Damascus road (Acts 9:4). It is easy to think of certain Christians as being unimportant, but the truth is they are not; they are Christ's people. He gave His life for them, and this seals their dignity forever. When a stronger brother overlooks the needs of the weak he "does violence" to them, for the words "wound their weak conscience" imply the striking of vigorous blows, or a beating.

 

13. For this reason, if food causes my brother or sister to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I may not cause one of them to sin.

 

Paul will do everything in his power to care for his weaker brother or sister. If he has to, in order not to cause them to go back from the Lord, he will never eat meat again, and he will keep up such self discipline throughout his life. It is more important to build up the Church of Christ than to assert one's so called rights at another's expense. Morris says, "While it would not be true to say that the robust Christianity of the New Testament envisages the strong as permanently shackled by the weak, yet the strong should always act towards the weak with consideration and love.

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