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"The Obligation of Love"
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Wednesday AM Bible Study
August 29, 2007
Theme: Paul teaches the Corinthians that the obligation of love toward a weaker brother takes precedence over the liberties of the mature believer.
Today, we begin a new section of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians—one that starts in chapter 8 and continues all the way to the first verse of chapter 11. The circumstantial concern of this section was the question of meat that had been offered to idols in a pagan temple. But as so often is the case, it involved a broad principle that reaches beyond the immediate issue and touches on many areas of Christian life.
There were many pagan temples in the Corinthian culture. The temple was a common social meeting place; and people often partook of the food that was made available from the temples. Meat that had been offered in sacrifice was first given to the priests; but what was left over was often sold within the temple or the local meat markets to the general public. Before coming to Christ, the Corinthians would have thought nothing of enjoying this offered meat. But now, in Christ, the use of it had become a matter of division in the church. In this first chapter, Paul sets down the broad principle that he expands on and applies in the next few chapters.
I. THE BROAD PRINCIPLE (vv. 1-3).
A. The opening words of this chapter suggest that it involved another question about which the Corinthian believers had written to Paul (see 7:1, 25). It concerned "things offered to idols" (v. 1)—specifically, meat that had been used in ritual sacrifice in a pagan temple.
B. Paul may be using the words that were put to him by the Corinthians in their letter. It may be that the Corinthians had written, saying, "What do we do with those immature Christians who make a big fuss about eating meat that had been offered to idols. We all know that there's nothing to an idol anyway. Why can't they just get over it?" Paul acknowledges that all had "knowledge"—and that knowledge was probably correct. But he points out that "knowledge" in and of itself has the potential of "puffing-up" (that is, making someone proud); while "love edifies" (or, builds up) another. "Knowledge" alone can be dangerous to unity (James 3:13-18). Paul is here introducing the broad principle that true knowledge must be tempered with sincere love.
C. Paul affirms that if anyone thinks (or supposes) that he "knows" anything (with the implication of that knowledge being the sort that "puffs up"), then he in fact doesn't yet "know" as he ought to know (v. 3). There are four stages of true learning: (1) you don't know that you don't "know"; (2) you know that you don't "know", (3) you don't know that you "know", and (4) you know that you "know". Clearly, the Corinthians who wrote to Paul were of the first category.
D. We must beware of thinking that we truly "know" just because we think we have things down theologically. Intellectual content is not all that there is to the Christian faith. Someone doesn't begin to truly "know" until they truly love God and are known of Him. Then, when they learn the truth that God is love, they will show it by the fact that they also love others as He loves them (1 John 4:7-11; 4:20-5:3).
II. THE SPECIFIC APPLICATION (vv. 4-12).
A. In the case that was set before Paul, he affirms what the Corinthians said; that we "know" that there are no other gods (vv. 4-6). As all Jewish people were taught from Deuteronomy 6:4, there is but one God. There may be other "gods" in the sense that there are human rulers (cf. John 10:31-38), or even that those things that the pagans worship are to be recognized as truly believed in by them. Paul's words may even refer to the demonic forces that stand behind idols (10:20). But in any case, for the believer, there is only one God—the Father; and there is only one Lord—Jesus Christ.
B. This is a settled conviction that comes as a result of spiritual maturity. But many new believers in the Corinthian culture had not arrived to this level of maturity with full assurance (v. 7). Some new believers, whose custom it had always been to worship the idol in the eating of the meat, still struggled with the sense that they were doing something wrong in eating the meat—even though the meat had truly been offered to nothing. For such a believer with a weak conscience, to eat would be to defile (literally, soil) that conscience before God (see Romans 14:23).
C. Thus, there is the danger of a "knowing" believer's "liberty" (literally "power") to eat becoming a cause for the weaker believer to stumble in sin. As believers,, we are not benefited one way or the other before God whether we eat or not (v. 8). But we must beware; lest our liberty become a "stumbling block" to our brother (v. 9). If he sees a "knowing" believer eating in the temple; he may be tempted to do that which is contrary to his conscience at that point in his maturity (v. 10). and thus, the "knowing" believer will have harmed his weaker brother in Christ (v.11). Even worse, he will have sinned against the Lord (v. 12; see also Matthew 18:6-9).
III. THE PRACTICAL CONCLUSION (v. 13).
A. Paul concludes, then, that rather than make his brother stumble, he would avoid meat— even, literally, unto eternity; "lest I make my brother stumble. Thus Paul shows us that the obligation of love takes precedence over the knowledge of our liberties.
B. This is to be the standard principle of guidance for the believer in the use of questionable things: How can I best show love toward my brother, and best work to keep peace between us? As Paul writes in a similar passage, in Romans 14:14-21;
I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak (Romans 14:14-21).
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