During the past two weeks, as I’ve been studying 1 Corinthians 8, I’ve been thinking about the debate going on in the church at Corinth. The question revolved around the issue of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. There were those in Corinth who believed they could eat anything they wanted. There was another group that insisted the meat sacrificed to idols should never be eaten by any follower of Jesus…ever.
We studied the first four verses last week and I pointed out that instead of just giving a straight answer to the two different parties, Paul first addressed a more important issue: “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” Today, I would like for us to take a look at the rest of 1 Corinthians 8 and examine what was going on from another angle. Let’s read our Scripture for this morning beginning in verse 4.
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. 7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. 9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (1 Corinthians 8:4-13 NIV)
One issue, but two different opinions, and strong opinions at that. Sound familiar? Throughout history people have been prone to follow the way of legalism or license instead of following Jesus. This isn’t a modern-day phenomenon because we see it in the pages of God’s Word over and over again. The Pharisees were Jesus’ main nemesis. The Pharisees were the textbook definition of legalism. They believed themselves to be following the letter of the law, they dotted every “i”, crossed every “t”, and expected everyone else to do the same. They saw Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, healing people on the Sabbath, and not following God the way they believed He should follow God and it infuriated them. Jesus saw the Pharisees as legalists who didn’t practice what they preached. In Matthew 23:1-3, Jesus told the crowd,
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. 3 So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. (Matthew 23:1-3 NLT)
So the Pharisees were legalists. Their descendants are still with us today. I’ve heard many stories about people who grew up in legalistic religious homes who, once they became adults, decided to deconstruct their legalistic faith. Just last week I read the announcement from Kevin Max, one of the former members of the popular Christian rap group DC Talk, that he had been deconstructing his faith for decades. He posted on Twitter, “Hello, I’m Kevin Max, and I’m an #exvangelical.”
I get it. I know we in the Body of Christ have our problems. Many of us struggle with legalism because it is so much easier to come up with a list of “dos and don’ts” instead of following Jesus. I also recognize that legalism just naturally lends itself to being hyper critical of others when they don’t follow the set of rules the legalists come up with for themselves. But don’t kid yourself, this is not just a problem for the followers of Jesus, the number of secular legalists are legion. As a matter of fact, there is probably no greater illustration of legalists in our day than “cancel culture.” The cancel culture congregations all across our nation have strong opinions of what you and I can do, can’t do, and must do. They have their worldview just like we, the followers of Jesus have our worldview, and it covers every arena of life. If you step out of line they will come after you with a vengeance. These folks make the Pharisees look like Mother Theresa.
The other error that people fall into is license, using their freedom in Christ to do whatever they desire. John MacArthur writes,
Rather than submit to an endless list of rigid rules, many in the church today have gone the other direction, determined to explore and experience the fullness of their liberty. They use their freedom in Christ as license for all sorts of behaviors, activities, and pursuits. Unrestrained, they push every boundary and embrace and enjoy as much of the world as possible. (John MacArthur. Legalists and Libertines.)
Just as there were legalists in biblical times, so were there also those who used their freedom in Christ to do whatever they pleased because, afterall, God will forgive us…right? Paul wrote to the people in the churches of Galatia,
13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. (Galatians 5:13 NLT)
We are free, but we are not free to live however we want, to indulge our sinful desires, and then think that God will just wink at our sin and dismiss our self-indulgence. The bad news is that both legalists and those who use their freedom in Christ to live however they want will never know what it is like to know the fullness of a relationship with Jesus. There is another way. Let me explain.
Every summer Connie and I go to Colorado and we go hiking every day. We have seen some of the most amazing sights through the years. I was thinking about a hike we took last summer that is an example of “another way” that I mentioned. Our friend Bob Edwards, my sherpa, told me about a hike to Scarp Ridge. Once you get higher up you find yourself on a ridge with deep valleys on either side. Let me show you a picture. As you look at the picture I want you to think about legalism and license, the two valleys down below. If you get off the path you will find yourself in one of the two valleys and you will miss out on the incredible view, breathtaking views, that are awaiting you…if you only stay on the path. How do we stay on the path? The answer is found in our Scripture for this morning. Take a look at verses 5-6.
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 8:5-6 NIV)
Paul acknowledges that there are many “so-called” gods that people serve. This isn’t new information for you and me because we are now well familiar with the city of Corinth. There were temples to so-called gods everywhere. Today, if you ask people if they have any idols, most would say “absolutely not.” Yet, it is important for you and me to recognize that idolatry is as prevalent in our day as it was in Paul’s day in Corinth. I love Tim Keller’s definition of “idols” in his book, Counterfeit God’s.” He writes,
What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give… An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship. (Keller, Tim. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters.)
The congregations of the gods of money, sex, and power are packed, and not just on Sunday. The pull of money, sex, and power is irrestible. The thoughts that run through our heads about what life would be like “if only…” draw us deeper and deeper into their death grip. The promises of fulfillment, ecstasy, joy, and the elusive happiness that everyone craves are so attractive, so powerful, that many become fixated and obsessed. We hear story after story of the victims of these so-called gods and yet we are so obsessed, so devoted to our idols, that we continue on until we are either destroyed by that which we have chosen to worship or are spared by having our eyes opened to the insanity of believing the empty promises of that which cannot deliver. Are the gods of money, sex, and power real “gods?” Of course not, and yet each of these common pursuits possess real power over the lives of those who pursue them, or as Tim Keller would say, worship them. This is reality, but for us, for those who are followers of Jesus, Paul writes, in verse 6,
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 8:6 NIV)
At the end of verse 4, Paul wrote, “There is no God but one.” We have to remember, Paul was Jewish. In Philippians 3, Paul mentions that he was the consummate Jew. He was circumcised on the eighth day, from the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee, and in regards to keeping the law–he was faultless! One of the first things Paul would have been taught as a Jewish boy was the Shema, it is taken from Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Faithful Jews to this day are commanded to cite the Shema each morning and each evening.
How do we avoid the valleys of legalism and license? By learning what is taught to us in verse 6 concerning our belief in one God. Paul tells us that from this one God “all things came” and He is the one “for whom we live;” The first thing we learn about the one God is that He made everything. The very first verse of the Bible could not be more clear:
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1 NIV)
God created the heavens and the earth…and everything in them I might add. Paul, in Romans 1, writes that through what God has made, He has put on full display His “eternal power and divine nature.” Read verse 20 with me.
20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities– his eternal power and divine nature– have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20 NIV)
There is a second thing that Paul tells the people in Corinth about this one God: First, everything was made by Him. Second, we live for Him. Our lives find their fullest expression, their greatest meaning, when we are living for Him. St. Augustine lived for years pursuing the gods of sex, money, and power and ended up desperate and full of despair. In his despair, he turned to Jesus and his life began to be transformed. Years later Augustine would write, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” It’s not just true of Augustine–it’s true for you and me as well. We were made to be in relationship, to live for God.
Let’s move on to the second part of Paul’s statement, it is also found in verse 6 where Paul writes, “And there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” So, we learn two things about Jesus in this statement, just like we learned two things about God the Father. First of all, Paul tells us that God brought about all things through Jesus. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he expressed the same truth. Look at Colossians 1:15-17 with me.
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17 NIV)
Jesus is not only God’s agent of creation, but He is also the One through whom we live. The One through whom we live? What does this mean? Roy Ciampi and Brian Rosner write,
Paul is probably highlighting Christ’s role in both creation and our participation in new creation (i.e., “all creation has come into being through him and our experience of new creation was through him as well”). (Ciampi and Rosner. The First Letter to the Corinthians. pg. 384).
I love this explanation because it points out that new life is found in Him alone. Think about this with me for just a moment. The Bible teaches that we are born spiritually dead in our sins, alienated from God. There is no greater statement of this truth than what Paul wrote to the people of Ephesus, in Ephesians 2:1-5. Read it with me.
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions– it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:1-5 NIV)
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…” This is not my opinion, it is stated plainly in God’s Word. We may be born physically alive, but we are born spiritually dead. I don’t know how much you know about the capabilities of those who have died. Maybe you’ve never been around a person who has died. I’ve been around many and I can say with absolute confidence that dead people have no capabilities whatsoever. There is no life in those who have died. There is no potential in those who have died. There are no expectations for those who have died. And this is why Paul says,
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions– it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5 NIV)
God made us alive with Christ. What wonderful news! We are given life through Jesus. When someone receives Jesus as Lord and Savior of their life He breathes new life into them and they come alive spiritually. This is news to the legalists–we don’t receive new life because we’ve been good, but because He is so good! Here’s some more news for the legalists–God won’t love us more if we have a good day and follow every rule in the book. He loves us with an everlasting love!
These truths that we learn about God the Father and Jesus can help us to stay on the path and not fall into either legalism or license. If we will stay on the path and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus then we will constantly be reminded that legalism and license suck the life out of their followers while Jesus alone gives us life, even life abundant! It is tempting when we see the masses clamoring after the idols of this world, when we have the legalists breathing down our necks telling us to do “this” and stop doing “that,” but by staying on the path we can avoid both temptations.
Back in 1 Corinthians 8, after Paul shares the truth about “so-called” gods and the one true God, he writes, “But not everyone possesses this knowledge.” Just like those in the church in Corinth there are all kinds of believers in the church today. Some have been walking with the Lord for a long time and have grown tremendously in their walk with the Lord. There are others who are brand new followers of Jesus and just now learning what it means to walk with the Lord. And then there are lots of folks who would fit somewhere between these two examples. Paul calls on the mature believers in Corinth to look out for those who couldn’t bring themselves to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols.
It is interesting that Paul doesn’t tell those with a “weak conscience,” those who can’t bring themselves to eat the food that had been sacrificed, that they need to grow up, get with the program, or get rid of their silly peculiarities. Paul tells those who are more mature in the faith, those who know that there is no God but one, not to become a stumbling block to the weak. Look at 1 Corinthians 8:9 with me. Paul writes,
9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. (1 Corinthians 8:9 NIV)
Be careful! Don’t be a stumbling block to your brother or sister in Christ. That’s a good word for us today my friends. In verse 10, Paul creates a scenario in which the person who has no problem eating food sacrificed to idols is in fact at the idol’s temple eating. Paul says what if the brother with the weaker conscience sees you eating and is “emboldened,” it’s the same Greek word for “build up” that we read about last week, the person is emboldened to eat the food because of seeing other believers eat, only later to be destroyed because of what they have done. Oh, how many times have I sat with people who have gone through this very experience?! Their conscience told them “No,” but others were doing it, whatever “it” was at the time, and so they indulged only to be eaten up with shame and guilt later on. Oh, my brothers and sisters, we do not want to be a stumbling block to others. We do not want our actions to be the cause of guilt and shame for someone who struggles in ways we do not struggle. In verses 11-12, Paul writes,
11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. (1 Corinthians 8:11-12 NIV)
Did you notice how Paul describes the brother or sister with the weaker conscience? They are our brother, our sister, they are ones for whom Christ died, and if we cause them to stumble we are sinning not against them, but against Jesus Himself. Do you see why it is so important for us to stay on the path, to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, and to walk in His steps? One last thing before we go. Take a look at verse 13 with me.
3 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (1 Corinthians 8:13 NIV)
Paul has such a deep, deep sense of responsibility to his brothers and sisters in Christ doesn’t he? He so loves the other members of the Body of Christ, he feels such responsibility for them, that he is willing to give up anything that might cause one of them to stumble and fall.
This is a totally new concept for many of us this morning isn’t it? We have a tendency to be so focused on our own relationship with Jesus that we don’t even think about how our words and actions might be affecting other followers of Jesus. I pray the Lord will use this study to help us begin to think about how our lives are either an encouragement or a stumbling block to others. Let’s leave here today and look for opportunities to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
May 30, 2021
1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. (Romans 15:1-2 NIV)
1 Corinthians 8:4-13