- The theme for this week is God’s love seeks expression.
- The selected passages are Psalm 111:1-10 • Deuteronomy 18:15-20 • 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 • Mark 1:21-28.
- In our call to worship psalm, activities of God’s love are praised and recounted.
- The Old Testament text in Deuteronomy speaks of a prophet being raised from among the people which Christians later identify as Jesus.
- Paul writes to the Corinthian church to encourage a love that builds others up.
- The Gospel text in Mark highlights Jesus’ ministry of teaching and casting out demons.
The Love of Knowledge vs. the Knowledge of Love
1 Corinthians 8:1-13 ESV
Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
4 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.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords” — 6 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.
7 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. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 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? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
There’s a Catholic priest, a Baptist preacher, and a Jewish rabbi.
These three got together at the local café to talk shop. And as you might imagine, they all went about their jobs very differently. One of them began bragging about how good he was at preaching and bringing people to conversion. Well, the other two took issue with that as they felt their way of doing ministry was superior. So, they decided to have a little competition. They decided that they would each go into the woods, find a bear, and use their best methods to convert it.
So, they all went into the woods, found a bear, and did their thing. After they each got out of the hospital, they met back up at the café to debrief and see who had the best results.
The Catholic priest was pretty scratched up and was still wearing some bandages from his encounter with the bear. He told his story first.
He recounted, “I went out and I found a bear that was good and angry and in need of God’s peace. Things between the bear and me got a little rough so I quickly grabbed some holy water and sprinkled it on the bear while saying three hail Mary’s. And I kid you not, that bear became just as calm as a little lamb. In fact, he will be coming out next week for confirmation and to take his first communion.
Then the Southern Baptist stood up to tell his story. He was in even worse shape than the Priest. Not only did he have scratches and bandages, but he had a cast on one arm and a patch over his left eye.
The preacher began to speak: “Well sonny, we don’t sprinkle nothing. I went out, found the meanest bear in the woods I could find and gave him the best fire and brimstone sermon I ever delivered. That bear was so convicted in his soul he rose up and attacked me. So, I grabbed him and just threw him in the creek and baptized him right then and there. And I kid you not, that bear rose out of the water just as calm as a little lamb. In fact, he signed up for membership class and will be joining us for our Sunday potluck.
Finally, it was the Jewish rabbi’s turn to tell his story. Only he was in terrible shape. He was in a full body cast, had an IV drip, and had to be rolled in on a hospital bed. In agony and pain, he tried to tell his story.
He groaned, “You know, now that I think back on it. Circumcision probably wasn’t the best approach.”
That’s just a humorous way to make a simple point. We all have our ways of thinking and doing things that we think are best. And sometimes our way of thinking can get someone hurt.
Today we’re going to look at a section in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church where he is going to have to deal with some ingrained ways of thinking that could create some problems. Before we go into the text let’s get a little backstory of what is going on.
To begin with, 1 Corinthians is a letter written by Paul in response to oral reports and a letter written by the Corinthian church to Paul. In their letter to Paul, the Corinthian Church was challenging some of Paul’s prohibitions and teachings. They put together some logical arguments to justify their actions and Paul responds to each issue they are challenging. If you read through the entire letter of 1 Corinthians, you will notice Paul addressing each issue that the church put to him. He typically starts in on a new issue with saying “now concerning” such and such. Our text today begins with “Now concerning food offered to idols.” We do not have this particular issue today in our culture; however, the principal approach Paul takes on the issue does have application for us as well. We will get to that.
It may also be helpful to know that the city of Corinth was a thriving metropolis due to its strategic position for trade. Corinth grew quickly and attracted many people with different religious backgrounds. This gave rise to a city full of idol worship and rampant moral decay. Also, the Greeks prized their knowledge and debate skills. With this background, we can see the cultural influence on the church in Corinth as they were trying to use their knowledge to excuse their behavior. They were proud of their reasoning skills and were more concerned with their rights and freedoms than the consequences of their choices.
Does this sound familiar to our day and time? We shouldn’t be surprised here in the west as we inherited much of Greek thought that the Corinthians are reasoning from. But Paul is not going to challenge their knowledge or logic. He often will agree with it. But he will contrast their knowledge with God’s knowledge.
- He starts his address of this issue by exposing their faulty premise of knowledge and
- he then grounds the discussion on the premise of love.
We can see in this the need to ground all our thinking on the ground of who God is.
- God is love and any conclusions we reach that run contrary to this are faulty, no matter how logical or knowledgeable our position.
Let’s look at how Paul begins addressing the issue of eating meat offered to idols:
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. (1 Corinthians 8:1-3 ESV)
Paul begins by leveling the playing field by agreeing with their own statement of “all of us possess knowledge.” Then he provides a deeper foundation than knowledge that we should consider in making our decisions — love. Paul also points out how knowledge can become a point of pride. Our knowledge can get us into a lot of trouble. Paul challenges how much “knowledge” these Corinthians really have. As we may often say, “the more we know, the more we come to know how little we know.” Paul is pointing out that to think we have all the answers and know how everything should work, only shows how little we know. That’s where knowledge with humility serves us well. Is it not a temptation for us when we learn something new, to use that knowledge as a point of pride, with complete disregard to others? This is where Paul is going. And he wants to shift our focus with his unexpected comment, “But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” That’s an odd sentence structure is it not? In Greek the most important concept of a sentence is placed in the front. Here, Paul is focusing the attention first on the love they had toward God and then noting God’s action toward them.
Paul is making a shift of what knowledge is really important. It’s not our knowledge that really counts, but God’s knowledge of us. He knows us best and therefore he should get the final word in all our choices. We have some pretty damaging choices made in the name of knowledge and freedom that do not take into account our triune God of love who knows us best. It’s a trust issue at its root. The Corinthians, and us, need to be reminded that God’s word to us is not to rob us of our freedom or our choices. He does not dehumanize us. On the contrary, he aims to make us into the humans he created us to be. He wants to truly set us free to live in the freedom of making the right choices that align to the reality of his love and good purposes for us. And we can trust he knows what he is talking about since he created us.
Paul has essentially grounded the argument on a whole new premise. He wants to reframe how they are thinking about the issue before addressing it. He is basically saying, “we are going to look at this from a different point of view. God’s point of view.” Now that he has established that premise he returns to the issue:
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. (1 Corinthians 8:4-6)
Paul is now going forward with their argument by repeating what they said and even agreeing with it. Paul has no problem agreeing with the statement that there is only one God and therefore idols are empty of any real existence. Paul gives them a hearty “Amen!” But he goes further. He then speaks of this “one God” as a Father to whom all things, including ourselves, belong. He also adds that this “one God” includes Jesus Christ, who is Lord. Paul is bringing home a very important distinction about this “one God” that the Corinthians are using to justify their decisions. This God is a God who has revealed himself to us as a Father, and as a Father who has a Son who is Lord over all that exists. We are not in a position to exalt our knowledge or our freedom over the Creator God who is Lord over all. This God is a triune God of love and to run counter to this is to undo ourselves.
Now that Paul has established who God is, he will bring home the point that has been missing from the Corinthians “knowledge.” They have not been taking into account how their decisions will affect their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul begins by indicating something is missing with the transitional word, “However”:
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. (1 Corinthians 8:7-13 ESV)
Paul brings the discussion to include others. Here he is making his overall point that he made back in chapter 6.
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV)
Just because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should. There were other believers in the Corinthian church who did not possess the same “knowledge” as some had.
- The Corinthian church also included Jews along with Gentiles so some of these Jewish brothers and sisters may have considered eating meat sacrificed to idols as an idolatrous activity, not to mention unkosher.
- The Gentile believers on the other hand had the problem of associating with their friends and neighbors, where avoiding eating this meat would have been difficult.
So, there is much more to consider on the issue than just the knowledge of facts. There’s more going on than meets the eye, as it is so often with many of the issues we face today. Things are not always so black and white. It takes discernment, and that discernment must be sought from the triune God of love.
Paul’s argument here brings up what “freedom” really means when grounded in the truth of this God, revealed as the loving relationship of Father, Son, Spirit. Their relationship has been coined as perichoresis, which points to the mutual indwelling of Father, Son, Spirit. The word comes from the Greek peri, meaning “around,” and chorein, meaning “to give way” or “to make room.” Perichoresis could be understood as “rotation” or “going around.” We see in this perichoretic relationship that Father, Son, Spirit live equally and in a unified relationship. Their focus is never selfish or territorial. They fully make room in all that they do. God is truly free to be in loving relationship as Father, Son and Spirit.
Like the Corinthian church our mindset also can be influenced by the culture around us. Here in the West, we tend to think contrary to this life of perichoretic relationship. We are tempted to think in terms of individualism and rights. We run the risk of losing freedom by defining it on the premise of individual rights. True freedom is being able to lay down your rights in loving response to relationship. Freedom truly finds its wings on the premise of the love that God in his infinite wisdom is sharing with us in his Son and through the Spirit.
Paul also makes a logical argument of his own. He points out to the Corinthians that if eating meat offered to idols is no big deal, then why make a fuss over it when it creates trouble for your brother? If it really is a small thing, then why not go without to embrace the big thing of loving your brother? And that is how Paul concludes. He states for himself that he would rather never eat meat if it is going to create harm for another. That is a choice that is truly set free by love.
True freedom is not expressed by being able to do whatever we want; true freedom is being able to go without what we want for the sake of another. This is the freedom we see in our Lord Jesus Christ who went to the cross for our sakes. If we call him Lord and want to enter into his freedom, we will want to think twice about our freedom on certain issues to discern how it may affect others. This doesn’t mean we should walk on eggshells to avoid any risk of offending everyone’s self-proclaimed sensibilities. That’s impossible and not at all what Paul is saying in this passage. Our decisions need to be based on the love we see in Jesus Christ and that is proclaimed in his word to us.
How free are you? How easy is it for you to forego some right or freedom for the sake of another? Jesus holds out to us his freedom and his love. And the Father’s ear is always turned to hear our prayers for wisdom in discerning what is best in any given situation. Considering Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians, today would be a good day to revisit any choices you are making in the name of “knowledge” or “freedom” that may be a hindrance to another. What might it look like to reframe the issue on the basis of God’s love to us as revealed in Jesus Christ?
Small Group Discussion Questions
- The sermon spoke of how the Corinthian church was being influenced by the culture in which it lived. How do you see the church today being influenced by the culture that surrounds it? .
- What are some common negative influences? .
- Can you think of examples of where “knowledge” was used in a way that was hurtful to others? .
- Discuss what it means to be free. How does Jesus’ life give us a picture of what true freedom looks like? .
- How does this freedom differ from how freedom is often portrayed? .
- Can you think of some examples where laying down your “rights” was the right thing to do? .
- Can you think of some actions you have taken or seen others take that were not morally wrong but still became a hindrance to others? .