If you were going to advise God way back when on how he should go about communicating with humans regarding what they should believe, love, and do…in order to know him and thrive in his truth…what would you tell him?
Some would recommend to God:
- An instruction manual, with specifications…details.
- Some would stay, no you need to write a story
- Others would say give clear principles…use examples, but give principles.
- No, make it into a song, or an album of songs.
- Write personal letters.
- No, you need rules, laws.
- You need history…annotate times and places of things you have done for humanity
How about, all the above
I am absolutely (but not easily or blindly) convinced that the Bible is the Word of God, truth without any mixture of error.
I believe this for many reasons.
But I begin like this because we are spending a lot of time in a series of letters written by a single individual in another country and culture a long time ago.
It could be easy to dismiss them as non-relevant but that would be to miss the amazing reality of God’s word and its vital importance for our lives.
He has directed and protected his word because he is a God who wants his people to thrive in his truth…it is a gift.
You can trust his word…even as you can trust him.
He is not asking you for a blind trust…but a confident trust…God is there, and God has spoken…because God is good.
Today we are in Chapter 8 of what is called Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, Greece.
It was penned while Paul was working with another church in Turkey.
The next five chapters(8-12) could appear on the surface to not have much application to 21st century Christians in Wichita.
The situations seem so fixed in a past cultural context that they appear to be little more than historical artifacts…but not truth to live by.
But that is far from the truth.
Especially when we look at the principles behind the patterns…and apply “Lens 13” to the chapters.
*Lens 13 described
1 Corinthians 13 stands at the end of the next five chapters as a perspective guarding sentinel.
“Halt, who goes there”
It stands guard over this and all of Paul’s letters calling “out of bounds” any perception that fails to see God’s intention for his people collected together as his church.
That intention is that we would live together in line with the Gospel…the good news of God’s love.
This fact will stand out clearly in this chapter (8) as we understand some Paul’s of conclusions for what was for them a hot topic.
These chapters deal with a strange (to us) controversy surrounding whether it was appropriate to eat meat offered to idols.
So, without any other background how would you answer this question?
“Should I eat meat that was used in the worship of idols?”
Some of you might say “No way…we can’t eat meat that was used in idol worship.”
Others would say, “Ah, it’s no big deal…it’s just meat and idols are nothing anyway…you make them and carry them around.”
So, Paul…what say ye…to eat or not to eat, that is the question.
Paul’s answer is:
-Eat the meat, it’s just meat…unless it violates love for others and (in your own hearts) love for Jesus.
-In which case…don’t eat the meat…it’s not worth it.
So, Paul’s answer is “It depends”.
It depends on what Paul?
“It depends on what love looks like in each particular situation”
Hard stop: This is NOT situational ethics…this IS situational awareness…or truth applied in love to specific situations…let’s call it Biblical ethics.
Joseph Fletcher, was a professor who taught “Christian Ethics” in the mid-20th century.
I would argue that his ethics were not fully Christian…he is the father of what is called “situational ethics.
What is “right to do” depends, he said on what is “loving”
The problem is that he didn’t start with the truth of Scripture to define love…he started with self.
So, for instance, according to him you could kill a baby with Downs syndrome because it is only a violation of love if it is against a person and that baby is not fully a person.
Such is the kind of twisted logic you come up with when you try to hang “love” or “ethics” in midair…no foundation of revealed truth.
Love is defined by God in Scripture…God is love.
Paul is no situational ethicist…his ethics, his theology, his view of love are all grounded on God’s revealed truth.
We have here in these chapters a sort of decision-making matrix for a wide variety of issues.
Love defined by truth…applied to relationships.
Let’s get some Background
Corinth was one of the most decadent cities in the Roman empire…and full of idol worship as well (those things tend to go together).
So, there were lots of temples to idols (that also served as community social hubs)…like a church building might today.
-Worship on Sunday
-Boy scouts, AA meetings, Bingo…whatever
In these temples people would host meals for friends or families…like renting a room for club meetings, wedding receptions, Roman VFW, whatever.
*Large dining rooms for such purposes have been discovered in the ruins at Corinth in the ancient temples.
Like the one there that was dedicated to…(a sleep e us)
-Asclepius(Son of Apollos, God of medicine)…you might recognize his rod, its used as a symbol of medicine to this day.
Now there were two different events at the temple:
-One straight up worship of the god or idol
-The other a social event in the idol temple
Paul will tell them in Chapter 10…don’t participate in the straight up worship…here he is addressing the social events.
So, maybe the local Medical and Dental association of Corinth…holding their annual meeting at the Temple of Asclepius… Would Raise their glasses to the god of medicine.
In addition, there was meat that was offered to idols in worship or at one of these events that was not consumed as a part of the worship or event…it was sold in the meat market at a discount.
It was, cheap meat.
So, there are several separate questions that are relevant to their setting
- Can I take part in an idol feast that is actually worship?…no
- Can I take part in a civic event in an idol temple?…depends
- Can I eat the meat bought in the market that was used as a part of idol sacrifice?…also depends
So, you are a 1 Century Christian in Corinth.
You are not well off(can’t afford Kosher meat) and the only meat you ever had growing up was at a dinner party at the neighborhood Idol temple.
Or the discount meat from an event there.
What are you to do now that you are believer?
What is the right thing?
Do you cut yourself off from the social setting that you were a part of?
Do you not eat the meat from the market…even though…it’s really cheap?
In your church…people are divided…some say eat, some say no way…confusing for you.
How do you go about making these kinds of decisions?
And for us, how do the principles in this situation travel all the way to 21st century Wichita.
Idolatry saturated their culture…it was intertwined in everything.
I would agree that idolatry saturates our culture as well…non-believers as well as those who profess Christian faith all struggle with the idolatry of prestige, bodily pleasure, possessions, power…etc.
Attempts to make life about ourselves and control outcomes in our favor.
The idol worship in Corinth was also an attempt to control outcomes…so they sacrificed to Aslepius…not because they loved him but because they wanted physical health.
The same with the gods of weather and sex and so on.
So we have many kinds of similar dilemmas today that they had…it’s not as different we might think at first glance.
Okay…let’s read it:
Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God. So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”
8:1 “Now about food sacrificed to idols”
This indicates that Paul was answering a specific question they had asked.
This topic was causing some degree of controversy and discord in the church.
He begins by, in concise form, applying the “Lens 13” to the question.
Knowledge is important…but by itself, divorced from love…it just puffs you up.
That is, makes you proud.
The Corinthians prided themselves on their knowledge…but Paul says,
“Yeah, we all have knowledge(no big deal)…but do you have love?”
Knowledge was a big deal to them…Paul says “ah, that part is easy”
But, love…that’s the hard part and the important part… “do you have that?”
Because the one who loves God is known by God.
The most important thing is not that we know God…but that he knows us.
What Paul has done is to begin with a gentle rebuke.
His rebuke is a show of love…they need to have their thinking corrected.
“You guys are looking for knowledge regarding this divisive question(or probably just want me to take your side)…but the guiding reality ought to be love how you live with each other.”
Don’t miss his point…he is not “anti-knowledge”.
This teaching about love being primary over knowledge is Paul giving them knowledge…correcting their thinking.
So he is not saying “Love feelings” are better than “knowledge facts.”
He is saying that the fact is…love demonstrated is much more important that fighting over who is right about a particular topic.
Especially if the topic is ultimately meaningless…like as whether to eat meat or not.
It’s likely the factions were trying to get Paul to weigh in and agree with them
Maybe their questions went like this:
“Paul, don’t you think it is wrong to eat this meat?”
“I’m going to the Corinth Chamber of Commerce Lunch at Asclepius Temple…since there is no real Asclepius there’s no problem, right?
Paul response is basically…you guys all need to get a clue and start learning how to love one another.
You keep asking the wrong question.
Then, verse 4…after setting them straight…he gets to the actual question…now about idols and meat offered to them:
- An idol is nothing.
-This is not all he that thinks about it, in Chapter 10 he says that what is sacrificed to idols is actually sacrificed to demons.
There are spiritual beings behind the idol worship…just not what the worshippers think they are.
But that’s not his point here…he simply says “It’s true, these false gods are not real gods.”
In the actual universe that God has made…there is no Apollos and no sons of Apollos.
There is one God from who all things came to be and one Lord Jesus through whom we live.
Now, there are a lot of “wanna be gods” he writes…but they are not real gods they are made up by people.
In Acts 17, Paul was in Athens just before he went to Corinth…he was surrounded by so many idols that they had even erected one to the “unknown god” just in case they missed one.
He knows these are not what the worshippers thought they were there is no god behind them.
Even though the worship of an idol is very dangerous and destructive for the human heart and soul.
So, Paul answers those who asked him
“You agree that these idols are nothing, right?”
He says “Yep, I agree…BUT!”
Verse 7. “Not everyone knows this.”
This knowledge is available to all…but not all have it yet…some are young in their faith.
These who are young in their faith…would violate their own conscience if they eat the meat…even though the idols are nothing.
Maybe some had a long and terrible history with idolatry before they came to Christ…lots of triggers in those Temples…it would probably never be good for them to enter an idol temple again.
For others…it wasn’t a problem.
Paul elaborates on all this even more in Romans 14.
There he says “If you think it is sin and go ahead and do it anyway…it is sin for you…don’t violate your own conscience just because others are doing it.”
And, Paul reemphasizes…this eating doesn’t matter.
You are no worse if you don’t eat and no better if you do.
In other words…he’s speaking to both factions.
“We are spiritual…we don’t eat that idol-tainted meat.”
“Actually, we are the spiritual ones…we have knowledge…we ain’t scared of no idols…we eat the meat.”
Paul says “Stop it…food doesn’t bring us near to God”
“Love”…love means we are known by God.
So then in verse 9-13 he applies love to their decision as to whether to eat the meat
- Don’t use your freedom in a way that becomes a stumbling block to the weak.
-A word that means a stone in the path that others trip on.
Don’t make your life choices something for others to trip over.
- He gives an example of how this might play out…I’ll paraphrase.
Let’s say you get invited to a HS reunion at the Idol Temple for the Class of 50 AD.
The Corinth High Fighting Sun Gods…”go Sun gods”
You plan to go but what if someone with a weaker faith, an old classmate, sees you and says “Hey, he’s a spiritual leader and he is going…I thought idol worship was wrong but I guess it’s not so I’ll go to.”
Do see the difference?…it’s one BBQ…but two very different internal perspectives on what’s happening.
You know it’s just meat, that idols are nothing…and you have no intention of worshipping (and falling prey to the demons hiding behind the idol worship)
You’re going to a BBQ
But your former classmate, he thinks its worship, and that the idols are real.
He doesn’t understand what you do…and so he is in danger of blending his new Christian faith with his old lifestyle of worshipping idols.
What happens to this young believer who goes to the BBQ and offers his heart in worship to this idol?
It’s not good…he will be messed up.
Paul says, if need be…I’ll become a vegetarian if that is what love for others requires of me.
- This doesn’t mean I must let what others think hold me hostage.
It’s often the older believer(who ought to be mature) not the younger believer who is offended by what other believers choose to do.
This is not about living to the lowest common conviction denominator.
“Anyone have a problem with this?”
“Oh, you do…I guess it’s not loving to do it then.”
This is about living a life where love is the common denominator in decisions.
I don’t have to defer to every opinionated believer…we don’t have to agree on everything.
You don’t have to care if every Christian (on social media) agrees with you…in fact good luck trying to care…you will be forever chasing your own tail.
Gal 1:10 would apply here…don’t try to please people, please Christ alone.
- This doesn’t mean you should not teach others about what freedom in Christ looks like.
Paul is doing that here.
But he is not encouraging folks to defile their own conscience
But even the younger believers, the weaker brothers were hearing this letter being read…they had to be thinking “Wait a minute, maybe these idols are nothing…I need to learn more.”
Even while the stronger Christians were thinking “Wait a minute, maybe I need to show love and limit my freedoms”
Teaching, is different than just saying “Ah, they need to grow up, they are not my problem…I’m right you’re wrong.”
- We are all prone to believe we are the stronger not the weaker brother or sister
“I have more rules than you, therefore I am more spiritual than you.”
Or “I have more freedom than you, therefore I am the more spiritual one”
I may have convictions that God has lead me to…and if so I should abide them…they are for my good.
But unless clearly given in Scripture…they are not automatically for everyone.
Obey what God gives you to obey…and stand down from trying to compel others to share your own personal convictions.
I have spent over 30 years encouraging people in our church to pursue the passions and convictions that God has given them…
While helping them see that we are all not going to join them in everything.
This has confused some, made some mad…but overall…people eventually get it.
God has universal truth for all of us…and specific calling for each of us.
If I am passionate about orphans, or missions, or fatherless, or church planting, or an outreach program to a specific demographic, certain financial programs…or any number of good things.
Or If I am, because of my own past and wiring and calling…against certain things that are not clearly, biblically wrong.
It is extremely difficult to not feel like others must join me or they are less mature (or if we are insecure…maybe I am wrong)
What’s wrong with them…or what’s wrong with me?
We are to embrace what God has clearly called us all to.
To be faithful with what God has called me specifically to.
To let others answer to God for their own specific calling in life.
You are neither better or worse than others for doing and being what God has called you to…you are simple being faithful.
- There are going to be, in the church, some “chronic weaker brothers and sisters”
They ought to be more mature by now…that is what Paul told the church at Corinth.
But they are perpetually offended.
It seems their toes are so big you cannot walk in the same room without stepping on them.
You must decide what love looks like in relationship to them.
It may be deferring to them at times, it may be a rebuke at other times.
They may be acting childishly…but they must not be treated as children…that not good for anyone.
“I know you are offended but this is not about me it is about your own heart.”
If you are a person who seems to feel and be perpetually offended then your heart is in grave danger…it’s not good for you to be easily offended.
Christ went to the cross and carried our offenses against God to his death…is what you are agitated about/offended…really that big?
You may think that no one else has as many causes for offense as you do…that you are unique in the number of offenses that come your way.
I assure you, you are not.
Everyone, or virtually everyone has a near unlimited supply of potential things to be offended about.
But not everyone chooses to go there or to live there…you don’t have to either.
You and everyone around you would be much happier if you would let Jesus shrink your toes and grow your heart.
We will get to other applications about this general principle as we move forward in the next few chapters.
I can’t help but ask the question as to whether this applies in principle to the current division in church culture in America.
A division based on different views of how to respond to public health, politics, and social/racial questions.
I don’t want to stretch Scripture to make try it fit our current setting.
We have already seen this was, in Corinth, a case of Christians with a mature knowledge of God…being told to be careful to not cause less mature Christians to stumble in their faith.
But here’s one principled application to our current cultural setting:
Most everyone believes that their own view of Covid & Culture makes them more mature in their knowledge than those who disagree with them…and that what they have is real “knowledge”
Otherwise…they would change their minds and believe something else.
You aren’t going to intentionally believe what you truly think is wrong. (even if what you believe is factually wrong)
So we all believe that we “possess knowledge” as Paul wrote.
So, we should all take heed of Paul’s warning… “knowledge puffs up, love builds up.”
He didn’t say “false knowledge puffs up”….you may very well be right about what you think…you may have the correct information.
But to be right and to be arrogant is to be wrong.
Correct information, knowledge…can be elusive…but it is the easy part of the equation.
Love…actually putting the interests of others ahead of my own…now that is the hard part.
And that’s the best part.
I’LL END WITH A STORY THAT SUMS THIS CHAPTER UP
Not long ago I was about to jump over some running water in my backyard (it was quicker than going around).
-I noticed my Grandson was following close behind me…he would have done exactly what I did.
But no way would he have cleared the muddy water.
Now there is a time to play in muddy water (and we have do some of that)…but it was cold it and wasn’t good for him to try to jump what he could not clear on that day.
So I walked around, crossed the bridge…it so he would walk around it too…I limited my own freedom for his good.
No big deal…but yet it is a big deal.
This is about spiritual leadership…setting the example in what matters most.
Love as defined by truth matters the most.
We will continue this conversation in the weeks to come.
BAPTISM: SECOND SERVICE: TRACE COME UP
New Members in 1st service:
New Members in 2nd service:
Jeff and Robin Sites
Morgan Regier (Ruh-gear)
-Prayer for Lisa Nettleton