Life is filled with questions. Each and every day people all over the world are confronted with questions about life and the decisions that need to be made. What complicates our decision making process is that there are just so many options from which we can choose. Where will I choose to live? What job or profession would I like to pursue? Who would I like to marry? How many kids would I like to have one day? What school do I want my kids to attend? The list is endless isn’t it?
If we choose to become a follower of Jesus the list of questions only grows. Because of our relationship with Jesus we are confronted with the question of, “What is God’s will for my life? Now that I am a follower of Jesus how does the Lord desire for me to live? What should I do? What should I refrain from doing?” These questions are the same questions that followers of Jesus have been asking for two thousand years now. Let’s turn to our Scripture this morning, found in 1 Corinthians 8:1-6, and take a look at one of the questions the followers of Jesus in Corinth were asking the Apostle Paul.
1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God. 4 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.” 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 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. (1 Corinthians 8:1-6 NIV)
I know that I have mentioned this, probably more than once while we’ve been studying 1 Corinthians, but I don’t want any of us to forget that in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth he is answering questions they were posing to him. 1 Corinthians is a response to a letter they had sent to him. We saw the first question in the last chapter we studied, 1 Corinthians 7. Take a look at verse 1 with me.
1 Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” (1 Corinthians 7:1 NIV)
At the beginning of the sentence we read, “Now for…” In your translation it might read, “Now concerning” or “Now regarding,” in Greek it is the phrase “peri de.” That Greek phrase is found six times in 1 Corinthians 7:1 through 16:12 and it lets us know that these are questions coming from the brothers and sisters in Corinth. Let me show you one more example before we get to the question in 1 Corinthians 8:1. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 16:1 and let’s read together.
1 Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. (1 Corinthians 16:1 NIV)
The folks in Corinth had a question about the offering to be collected from God’s people. We will get to that question one day, but the issue that Paul is being asked to address at the beginning of chapter 8 is a totally different topic: “Can we eat food sacrificed to idols?” I know some of you are thinking, “What does that have to do with us today? I’m not aware of any restaurant that serves food that has been sacrificed to Aphrodite or Zeus or Poseidon.” And I would agree with you. The important thing for us to learn this morning is the principle Paul lays out in this particular situation so that we can apply that same principle with the questions we have about our modern-day society.
Followers of Jesus today, just like in Paul’s day, had their ideas of what activities were acceptable and which were unacceptable for the followers of Jesus. And there is just as much disagreement today as there was in Paul’s day as well. My friend, Dr. Darnell, told me that the church his family attended when he was a kid frowned upon playing card games and dancing. They had sayings to remind their members that no follower of Jesus should ever be involved in such unChristlike activities. They would say, “I’ve never seen a praying knee and dancing foot on the same leg” or “I’ve never seen a praying knee under a card table.” My sister’s husband grew up in a church that stressed that no follower of Jesus should ever go to a “movie house.” There are Christians today who believe that no follower of Jesus should ever allow their kids to go Trick or Treating or hunt Easter eggs. Other followers of Jesus believe Christians should never go into debt, should never get a tattoo, should never use birth control, should never drink alcohol… and the list goes on and on.
Maybe you are here this morning and you believe that as a follower of Jesus you shouldn’t do some of the things I’ve just mentioned. Or maybe you are a follower of Jesus and you don’t see anything wrong with any of the things I’ve just mentioned. How do we, as followers of Jesus, make these important decisions and how do we interact with other followers of Jesus who hold different beliefs about these choices we are all confronted with in our walk with the Lord? Those are great questions and they were questions the people in Corinth were having to address as well.
Let me set the context of our Scripture for us this morning. Corinth was a largely Gentile city and in Corinth you could find the gods of Egypt, Rome, and Greece. The temple of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and pleasure rose high above the city on the Acrocorinth. The temple of Poseidon, the ruler of the sea, was equally popular in Corinth. In addition to these two, the people of Corinth could visit the temples of Apollo, Hermes, Asklepios, the god of healing, the Egyptian goddess Isis, Fortuna, the goddess of luck as well as many other temples of pagan gods and goddesses.
The Greeks and Romans were very religious. They had a multitude of gods, a god for every circumstance of life. They also believed in a multitude of evil spirits, they believed the air was filled with all kinds of evil spirits. Food offerings to the gods were part of every temple in Corinth. John MacArthur writes,
Giving food sacrifices, which were usually meat, was of great importance… It was believed that evil spirits were constantly trying to invade human beings and that the easiest way to do that was to attach themselves to food before it was eaten. The only way the spirits could be removed from food was through its being sacrificed to a god. The sacrifice therefore served two purposes; it gained the favor of the god and cleansed the meat from demonic contamination (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. pg. 190).
In the church at Corinth were those who had come out of a pagan background, they couldn’t even imagine the thought of eating food that had been sacrificed to a pagan god. They didn’t want anything to do with their former life and they couldn’t believe that some of their brothers and sisters in Christ would even think of eating meat sacrificed to idols. There were others who knew that idols and so-called gods are nothing, there is only one God, and food is just food. These people believed you could eat anything you want. What did Paul have to say about it? In verses 1-3, Paul writes,
1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. (1 Corinthians 8:1-3 NIV)
The first thing we need to realize is that the question of eating food sacrificed to idols was not a new question for the followers of Jesus. The same question was raised not too long after Gentiles began becoming followers of Jesus. In Acts 15, while Paul and Barnabas were sharing the Gospel in Antioch some men came from Judea and told them that unless the Gentile converts were circumcised, according to the law of Moses, they could not be saved. That led to what was called the Jerusalem Council. Paul, Barnabas, and some other leaders went to Jerusalem to meet with Peter and James, the leaders of the church in Jerusalem. The question was, “Do Gentile converts have to keep the law?” There was a huge debate, but when the debate was over, James, the brother of Jesus and the real leader of the church in Jerusalem, said,
19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. (Acts 15:19-20 NIV)
Did you notice? They were to “abstain from food polluted by idols…” The Jerusalem Council took place in 48 A.D., about 5-6 years before Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth. The matter had been settled, but instead of Paul quoting what James and Peter had decided, Paul took a different approach. There was a bigger issue that needed to be addressed.
There is little doubt that those who knew that the gods of the Greeks and Romans were nothing and that food is simply food initiated the discussion with Paul. Afterall, Paul was trained in Judaism. He knew there is only one God. Evidently they had written to Paul and shared their erudite understanding of doctrine, theology, and spiritual maturity because when Paul wrote them back he quoted a phrase they used when he wrote, “We know that ‘we all possess knowledge.’” They did possess knowledge, but knowledge isn’t enough. Paul wrote, “But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” What they knew was correct, but the way they were using their knowledge was totally wrong. There was an air of superiority about them. They were looking down their noses at those who refused to eat food sacrificed to idols. Can you possess knowledge, be right about what it is that you are talking about, and be absolutely wrong at the same time? You better believe you can.
“Knowledge” is a keyword in 1 Corinthians 8. Out of the ten times the Greek word “gnosis” appears in 1 Corinthians, five of the occurrences are here, in 1 Corinthians 8. Paul was a huge proponent of knowledge and he wanted God’s people to pursue knowledge, first and foremost the knowledge of God. He wrote to the people of Colossae,
2 My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:2-3 NIV)
At the same time, Paul knew that knowledge by itself can be so destructive. Paul knew that knowledge needed to be coupled with love and that is why he wrote, “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up.”
There is so much knowledge out there for us to learn. You can go to Google or Youtube and search for any subject under the sun and learn. You can get an incredible education about any subject you want to learn about today. At the same time, I’m sure you know people who know a lot about something, doesn’t matter what it is, they have acquired a lot of knowledge about a given subject or field of study and they are so arrogant. Their knowledge makes them feel superior to others. Their knowledge gives them perceived power. Knowledge puffs up. We see it all the time.
Paul told the people of Corinth, in verse 2, “Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.” What a brilliant statement. Those who “think” they know don’t yet know as they should. It is those who are so certain of what they know who are truly most ignorant. Those who have true knowledge are focused on the fact that there is so much that they do not know and they are willing to learn. As brilliant as Paul was he knew that there was something that far surpassed knowledge and that is love. Knowledge puffs us while love builds up. In 1 Corinthians 13:2, Paul wrote,
2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2 NIV)
Paul was not an enemy of knowledge, but he was an enemy of knowledge that is not directed by love. David Garland writes,
The only knowledge that counts with Paul is that which is Christ-centered and results in other-centered loving behavior. Love, informed and shaped by the pattern and example of Christ, should be the norm regulating their actions (Garland, David. 1 Corinthians. pg. 369).
“Love builds up.” Knowledge, absolute certainty, has destroyed so many churches in our city through the years. Factions have surfaced in churches over issues and topics that some in the church knew they were right and others were wrong. Churches have split over disagreements that were not essential to the unity of the Body of Christ at all. This past year has been brutal when it comes to church splits. Sophie Lee has written an article titled, 2020’s Church Divide. In her article she writes,
Year 2020 has been a brutal, perfect storm of a pandemic, a contentious election, racial unrest, financial troubles, and rampant conspiracy theories. It’s been a particularly treacherous time for church leaders to navigate when members split over issues like face masks. But it’s not just about masks. Political and ideological tensions within churches aren’t anything new, but pastors say this year each conflict—whether it’s over mask mandates, Black Lives Matter, or presidential politics—overlaps with the others in a confounding Venn diagram. (Sophie Lee, World Magazine. December 10, 2020.)
Whether we are talking about the issue of food sacrificed to idols, to wear a mask or not to wear a mask, to get the shot or not to get the shot, the sources and solution to racial unrest, which political party’s agenda is best for America moving forward–we all have opinions about these subjects and some of us are convinced we are right. And if you ask us about what we think we will tell you that we know what we believe is right. We’ve researched it, studied it, thoroughly examined it and only then have arrived at our conclusions. I know, nobody has to tell me, this is how the world operates, but it’s not how the Body of Christ functions. Winning is not our ambition. Proving ourselves to be right is not our goal. Loving others as Jesus has loved us–that should be our target, our heart’s desire.
In Colossians 3, Paul tells the brothers and sisters in the church to clothe themselves, wrap themselves, in kindness, compassion, humility, gentleness, and patience. Then he does something remarkable. He writes,
14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:14 NIV)
Put on love? Why? Let’s not forget what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” With so many hot topics to discuss and debate, how can we relate to one another, and others who think differently than us, in love, while there is so much animosity and angst all around us? Oh, I’m so glad you asked!
Paul will eventually get around to answering the question posed by the warring factions in Corinth, but he first set a precedent, he laid out a greater priority for the people to fix their minds on. Paul wrote, in verse 3,
3 But whoever loves God is known by God. (1 Corinthians 8:3 NIV)
Paul has been so focused on knowledge; what the two factions of the church in Corinthians “knows” and what knowledge apart from love can do, so we would expect him to write, “But whoever knows God…” Instead, Paul appeals to love, to the relationship of the people in the church with God. Also, Paul doesn’t say, “But whoever loves God will obey God,” although that statement is true, but he writes, “But whoever loves God is known by God.” Before we get out of here it is so important for us to consider what happens to a person or to a group of people when they realize, when they truly know that they are known by God. J.I. Packer, in his wonderful book, Knowing God, has written,
There is unspeakable comfort—the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates—in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me. There is, certainly, great cause for humility in the thought that he sees all the twisted things about me that my fellow humans do not see (and am I glad!), and that he sees more corruption in me than that which I see in myself (which, in all conscience, is enough). There is, however, equally great incentive to worship and love God in the thought that, for some unfathomable reason, he wants me as his friend, and desires to be my friend, and has given his Son to die for me in order to realize this purpose. (J. I. Packer, Knowing God, pp. 41-42)
J.I. Packer is so right…When I come to know and understand that God knows me through and through, all of the twisted things about me, all of the failures, the darkness and hardness of my heart…and yet He desires me and has given His Son to die for me–that is great cause for humility.
I would urge you to spend lots of time contemplating the truth that God knows you. I’m not talking about “knowing” like you or I know LeBron James or Tom Brady or Serena Williams. We can quote facts about those folks, we know about them, but we don’t know them. God knows you. He knows everything about you, the things that no one else knows about you, He knows. David wrote,
1 LORD, You have searched me and known me. 2 You know when I sit down and when I stand up; You understand my thoughts from far away. 3 You observe my travels and my rest; You are aware of all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue, You know all about it, LORD. 5 You have encircled me; You have placed Your hand on me. 6 This extraordinary knowledge is beyond me. It is lofty; I am unable to reach it. (Psalm 139:1-6 CSB)
The more we live in the awareness of the complete understanding God has for us and the unimaginable love He has for us, the more loving, forgiving, compassionate, understanding, and kind we will be towards those around us. It is hard, no it is impossible to hate someone, to make someone your enemy, when you are aware of how fully you are known by God.
Before you arrived here today did you already know how fully you are known by God? Did you know, were you aware, that He knows your deepest, darkest, most dreadful secrets that you hope and pray nobody ever finds out about you? Did you know? And coupled with that knowledge, are you aware that though He possesses the most intimate knowledge of you, who you really are, He has chosen you, set His love upon you, loved you with an everlasting love, and said He will never fail you nor forsake you? No wonder Paul wrote to the people in Rome and said, “It’s your kindness that leads us to repentance O God” (Romans 2:4). I hope this morning you’ve come to understand His great love for you and how He desires for you to show that love to others. If you have never received Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life won’t you do that now.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
May 23, 2020
1 Corinthians 8:1-6