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Friday, May 13, 2016

1 Corinthians (Lesson 24)



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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)

Established November 2008                                                     Published weekly on Friday
                                                          
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1Timothy 2:3-4

1 Corinthians                                                                         (Lesson 24)

Introduction to Chapter 8

The Corinthian Believers were called out of idolatry and immorality (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 8:7; 12:2).  It’s highly likely many if not most of the Gentile converts participated in idolatrous pagan ceremonies before coming to faith. 

During these ceremonies, animals were sacrificed to pagan gods, afterwards a part of the animal was given to the priest that officiated, a part was consumed at the altar, and the principal part became the property of the person who offered it.  This unbelieving person took it home, as food which had been consecrated or blessed by the idol, or it was eaten at a feast in the idol’s honor, or it was released for sale in the common market by the principle owner.  Whether it would be right to eat this “tainted” meat, either when invited to a pagan friend’s home, or when they purchased it in the market, was a common problem for a Believer who was unsure how God viewed this activity.

This chapter runs parallel to Romans 14:1-15.  Both these sections of Scripture deal with the somewhat difficult subject of a how a Believer in Christ Jesus is to balance their liberty while exercising it along with their responsibility to cause no others harm. 

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Please open your Bible at 1 Corinthians chapter 8.

Take Care With Your Liberty

1 Corinthians 8

1: Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge.
Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.

Now concerning things (animals) sacrificed to idols – obviously, this is another one of the questions the Corinthian church asked Paul in that “lost letter.”  It’s interesting that we find Paul repeating a phrase that was used to prohibit eating meat offered to an idol
in the letter sent to Gentile churches from the Jerusalem Council:  …that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well.  Farewell.” (Acts 29: 28-29, 21:25) 

These four items were agreed upon by Paul and James at this historical meeting.  The purpose of this agreement was to greatly reduce the cultural tensions which existed between Jews and Gentiles.  The decision of the Jerusalem Council then was that the gospel, for Jew and Gentile, was salvation as a gift of God’s Grace, through faith alone, faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, as the Messiah who bore all mankind’s sins and judgment, so that they could be pronounced justified and righteous in God’s sight and have eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

we know that we all have knowledge – Paul, once again, uses sarcasm, although mildly, with this declaration.   If you’ll recall arrogance and boasting is the chief problem in this church.  It is the root cause of the divisive activity amongst these Believers, and Paul has spoken out against this sinful behavior several times since the opening of this letter (1:11).  But here’s the thing, the Corinthians loved knowledge – they couldn’t get enough of it, but they were slow in developing their Christ-like character – in this instance, love for their brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 13).

Knowledge has a tendency to puff a person up, and the Corinthian saints who satisfied their appetites for food (the eating of meat specifically) without regard for the spiritual welfare of others who were in attendance weren’t acting intelligently.  Paul is saying knowledge makes (one) arrogant but Christ-like “charity” or love builds a person up.  Love is always constructive whereas arrogance is always destructive. 

In verses 2-3, Paul continues to rebuke the conceited, opinionated, and self-confident Corinthian Believer who, puffed up by their knowledge, disregards the spiritual interests of others.  These folks may have knowledge but they have overlooked the essential element of true knowledge – true knowledge produces a humble spirit and makes a person humble before God and others. 

1 Corinthians 8

2: If anyone supposes that he (or she) knows anything, he (or she) has not yet known as he (or she) ought to know;

3: but if anyone loves God, he (or she) is known by Him.
In verse 2 Paul is saying the Corinthians had the head knowledge (Acts 18) but there is a lack of understanding in their hearts.  Permit me to explain:

The heart and mind do not act independently of one another.  A friend can tell you that honey is sweet, and you can fact-check that by reading up on the subject, storing that information away in your mind, but if you haven’t tasted honey for yourself, you only know this with your head and not with your heart.  Not until you taste the honey do you experience its sweetness and then know the truth fully in your heart completing the connection.

So, it’s possible to have head knowledge without having the heart knowledge to go along with it.  But, it’s impossible to know things in our hearts, without the head knowledge. 

Paul speaks more about this in verse 3:

…but if anyone loves God, he (or she) is known by Him - First things first; note Paul’s emphasis is on love and not spiritual knowledge.  God didn’t send His one and only Son to die on the cross so that we would just have knowledge.  Jesus Christ’s final words from that cross, “It is finished,” (Tetelestai) means His work was “completed.”  One of these works was satisfying God’s sin debt, so in that sense He could have also said, “Paid in full.”  Those who believe the gospel will be known by Him (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

There’s a difference between knowing God and “being known by Him” wouldn’t you say, having His special interest and attention, for we are His adopted children by way of Faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:16-16; Galatians 4:9).  Knowledge about God is no substitute for a personal relationship with God through His Son (for even the demons believe that God exist – James 2:19), but if the relationship is true the Believer will be prompted by the Spirit of God to love others, especially those who are in Christ Jesus, seeking their “highest good” (Galatians 4:6; 2 Timothy 2:19; 1 John 4:19). 

Let’s move on to verses 4-6.

1 Corinthians 8

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.

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.

Breaking away from his discussion on the superiority of love over knowledge, Paul argues against idols and states a profound truth concerning God (v6).  Without the “lost letter” it’s hard to say for certain but it’s likely the phrases “there is no such thing as an idol” and “there is no God but one” (v4) are excuses the Corinthians offered to justify their behavior of eating meat that had been sacrificed to an idol.  Paul agrees with what they’re saying, in part, but corrects them to show them how they have distorted these ideas. 

In verse 5 he explains that even though these are so-called gods, existing only in the minds of people, they still worship them.  Paul then goes on to say there is only one God worthy of our worship and that would be God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who died for all, and the way he does this clearly indicates the deity of Jesus Christ and oneness with the Father (Philippians 2:11). 

In doing this Paul is saying in the same way that the Godhead is one, we Believers should seek to be one, for we are all members of the Body of Christ.  This requires spiritual knowledge, of course, but more importantly this requires understanding that love is more important than liberty because we are our brother’s keeper (Genesis 4:1-9). 

Genesis 4:1-9 teaches us that while no one is the absolute “keeper” of others in that we are responsible for every single person’s safety or welfare when we are absent, every individual is his or her brother’s keeper in the respect that we are not to commit violent acts against them or allow others to do so if we are in a position to prevent it.  This sort of “keeping” is something God rightfully demands of everyone on the grounds of love and justice.

Believers are not to commit acts of violence against one another.  This includes inflicting damage by using the tongue in the form of gossip, quarreling, and slander, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, arrogance, and general disorder.  Instead, we are to exhibit love toward our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus with a tender heart and a humble mind (1 Peter 3:8; James 3:1-12). 

But, as our Apostle Paul points out in the verses 8-13, not everyone’s knowledge is as it should be…

1 Corinthians 8

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.

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.

9: But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

As I understand the proceedings at the altar of false worship, after the pagan priest received his share of the animal being offered to the idol, the rest of the carcass was divided up.  Some of this meat was sold to the meat shops (1 Corinthians 10:25), or served at a dining area at the temple itself (8:10).  In both of these cases, the profits went to the temple.  Usually, the healthiest beasts were reserved for the idol sacrifices, which meant when this meat found its way to the common market it was the best that could be purchased.  Today it would be identified as “USDA Prime.”  Thus, many Believers, knowing that “an idol is nothing,” purchased this meat for their own consumption.

But, as verse 7 indicates, not every Believer had a clear understanding of the things Paul has been discussing so far.  To these folks eating this meat was an insult to the one true living God, i.e. a sin.  To the others, instead of strengthening and supporting their weaker brother and sister, helping them by building them up in the Word, they weakened them even further by dining with them, causing them to participate in an act they believed to be wrong, defiling them and ruining their walk with the Lord. 

To this Paul says:

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.

Paul is addressing the Believer who is exercising their liberty to eat saying, and I’m paraphrasing, “While there is no reason for you not to exercise your liberty in eating or not to eat meat sacrificed to idols, by the same token, there was no compelling reason for you to eat it.” 

Eating or not eating food has zero spiritual significance in itself.  Neither act will commend us to God (bring us nearer) or make us approved by Him.  Paul’s point is that doing things “not forbidden” by God has no significance in our relationship to God.  They are what you might say, spiritually neutral. 

Gluttony is harmful and eating foods you know you’re allergic to will cause a great deal of harm.  No sensible, mature person does these things.  But God has shown us in His Word that eating or not eating certain foods has absolutely no spiritual significance. 

Jesus Christ said:  “There is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man” (Mark 7:15).  Later, the Lord’s command to Peter to “kill and eat” was both figurative, referring to accepting Gentiles as brothers and sisters in Christ, and literal, referring to eating food previously considered ceremonially unclean (Acts 10).  Then later our Apostle Paul instructed Timothy to receive all food with thankfulness (1Timothy 4:4). 

With this in mind we go to verses 10-12.

10: For if someone (who’s weak in spiritual knowledge) sees you, who have (spiritual) 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 (or she) who is weak is ruined, the brother (or sister) for whose sake Christ died.

12: And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

Obviously, although some Corinthian Believer’s possessed the same liberty as these others who were eating “freely,” they lacked understanding about their freedom (v10).
However, if a weak Believer sees a mature Believer eating in the temple, the weak Believer is probably going to be tempted to go against his own conscience and eat in the temple as well.  This could be detrimental, said Paul.  For through your knowledge he (or she) who is weak is ruined for whose sake Christ died.  The word ruined conveys the idea of “to come to sin.”  The mature Believer has caused the weak Believer to sin by leading them into a situation they cannot handle. 

Therefore it is never right to influence another Believer to violate their conscience.  To do so runs the risk of ruining a Believer for whose sake Christ died (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 1:18-19).  The voice of a Believer’s conscience is the Holy Spirit.  Their conscience can be compared to a “door-keeper” permitting them access to certain places but barring entry to others where they may be harmed or ruined.  As they mature, their conscience allows them access to more places and to more activities because they have gained more spiritual knowledge and are able to make wise choices. 

A small child is not allowed near a hot stove or to play with sharp instruments.  You do not permit them to run into the street or to play with electrical appliances for good reason.  These restrictions are gradually lessened or removed as they mature and learn what is dangerous and what is not.  In like fashion, God confines His children by their conscience.  As they grow in knowledge and maturity the limits of their conscience are expanded.  Other Believers should never encourage, either directly or indirectly, anyone to move beyond the limits of their conscience.  Concerning this Paul said:  by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.  Causing another Believer to stumble is more than a wrongful action against them; it is an offense against our Lord. 

13: Therefore, if food causes my brother (or sister) to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother (or sister) to stumble.

Food is just that, food, and a mature Believer knows there is no harm in eating it in an idol’s temple, at a community event, or at some pagan’s home.  He or she does not accept the pagan beliefs or participate in their pagan practices.  This individual can associate with pagan people because they possess spiritual knowledge which makes them spiritually strong, at least in one respect.   But it’s also true that we should be eager to limit our liberty at any time and to any degree in order to help a fellow Believer who is not as mature as we are in the faith; a person whom we are to love and a precious soul for whom Jesus Christ died.

I haven’t encountered any “meat” sacrificed to Idols lately in my coming and going’s, but we Believer’s are not to be arrogant and inconsiderate toward many Believers in the body who are struggling daily with their personal addictions to alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, the internet, shopping, video games, etc.  These are stumbling blocks to those who have prayerfully given them to God to manage for an addiction never truly goes away, hence the word “addiction.” 

 (To be continued)

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