READ | SERMON NOTES
Summary l In 1 Cor 8, Paul addressed the issue of whether meat that has been offered to idols can be eaten in temples, at home or at social events. Was it even permissible for Christians to purchase them even though it would be difficult to identify the source of meat that had been sacrificed to idols? Would rituals taint food? What about more overtly religious rites in temples? Ch 8-10 introduced the concept of laying down our rights for the sake of love and unity. Our culture today is similar to that in the Corinthian church where emphasis is on human rights, personal autonomy and pursuit of personal gains. Paul called the church to a higher standard of living rooted in selfless love.
Paul offered a two-pronged solution:
1) Freedom to eat (when there is no inherently anti-Christian implication involved)
2) Voluntary abstention (when other Christians might be damaged by one’s freedom).
Paul taught that freedom in Christ is based on knowledge (V4-6) while voluntary restraint is based on Christian love (V7-13). Christian love or agape love is about giving, loving, helping and building up others.
A. Priority of Love over Pursuit of Knowledge
a)1 Cor 8 V1-3
There are 2 groups in Corinth: 1) Legalists who say “do what God says”, 2) Libertines who say “be free”. Paul does not condemn knowledge but exhorts agape love which should control and characterise knowledge.
b) Overruling principle is love which builds up.
c) True knowledge is not pride in what we know but humility in what we do not know. Knowledge devoid of love and power to edify is not true knowledge (Godet). For the church to be strong and firm, we need true Christ-like love that is not puffed up. Christian character is controlled by love, growing in true knowledge, more concerned about being known by God rather than knowing God.
d) Food offered to Idols
Specialist knowledge about rituals and meat achieve nothing to build up.
e) Discipleship lesson: Love must be the foundation of Christian behaviour. Are we constructive, are people drawn closer to God, strengthened in faith, glad to have met us by our behaviour?
B. Perspective of God and idols
a) 1 Cor 8:4-6
Provide basis for Christian freedom to eat sacrificial food. Idols to which meat is dedicated have no real existence.
b) Fundamental Truth: There is only One True God
c) Fundamental Truth: Jesus is the Bridge to God.
Stronger Christians agree with these truths and use them to support freedom to eat sacrificial meat.
d) Discipleship lesson: What is safe for one Christian may not be safe for another. Knowledge alone cannot justify eating, love must limit freedom.
C. Potential to Destroy (8:7-13)
a) Three reasons for voluntary abstention:
1) Not to stumble others (V7-10)
-our eating may remind the weaker Christian of past religious associations and provoke feelings of guilt and defilement.
As eating or not eating does not bring one closer to God, it is a neutral issue, so concern for others takes precedence. Our freedom in Christ must be used with discretion and care for the sake of the vulnerable, or put aside when faith crisis of another is at stake. A stronger Christian can draw appropriate boundaries but the weaker one cannot and may be led to sin.
Balance between permissiveness and prohibition requires much thought and care. The principle of moderation does not apply to sins that the Bible makes clear are always wrong, e.g. murder, theft, extra-marital sins or use of drugs that are addictive and destructive. Even when freedom leaves the door open to certain practices and no one is hurt, the Christian does not get involved unless it glorifies God.
2) Not to destroy the one for whom Christ died (V11)
3) Not to sin against Christ (V12)
Treatment of fellow Christians equals treatment of God (Mt 25:40).
b) Conditional Absolute
If food is the cause of falling, never eat as it may cause one of them to fall, i.e. lay down our rights for the sake of others.
c) Two dangers:
1. separatism (prevent Christians from being salt and light)
2. syncretism (mixture of religion that adopts pagan practices with damaging consequences
d) Discipleship lesson: Christians have no right to demand certain freedom if they prove detrimental to others.
Ch 8 sets up the principle that it is more important to exercise love than to exercise our freedom in Christ. Paul models this principle in Ch 9 by forgoing his right to marry and receiving financial support for his ministry. The principle of freedom tempered by love in morally neutral areas is the general principle for all behaviour in grey areas. Ch 10 V23-24 restate the principle of love – everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial or constructive. Nobody should seek his own good but the good of others.
What is God saying to you today about your freedom?
(Sermon notes by Woo Choi Yin)
PONDER | REFLECTION QUESTIONS
A. Priority Of Love Over Pursuit Of Knowledge (v1-3)
- Why is it so important that knowledge should be controlled by love?
- In what situations could a focus on knowledge, facts or rights squeeze out love?
- How does the principle of love apply to the particular question of food offered to idols?
B. Perspective Of God And Idols (v4-6)
- How would you answer someone who said that it doesn’t matter what or whom we worship because we are worshipping the same one God, but by different names and in different ways?
- Is it enough simply to say that idols have no reality and leave it at that? What lies behind idol worship? Why is this so important for us today?
- Pause to reflect on verse 6. What will you do or say in response to this statement?
C. Potential To Destroy (v7-13)
- What arguments does Paul use to persuade the ‘strong’ man to restrict his freedom voluntarily?
- What does it take to be a ‘strong’ person? How strong are you?
- Share your journey of laying down your rights. Are there any “rights” you are holding on to which could upset the faith of others by tempting them to violate their consciences? What needs to change?
- Pray for one another.