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Lowell Brueckner

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1 Corinthians 8


Chapter 8

Are you motivated by knowledge or by love?

1.     Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.
2.     If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.
3.     But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

Paul seems to be making use of Corinthian terms to assist him, as he teaches. Already in chapter 6, there were two… verse 12 and 13: “All things are lawful for me” and “food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.” Perhaps they were included in their questions, directed to the apostle. The next question concerned food offered to idols.

Paul probably quotes their words: “All of us possess knowledge.” It meant that they, as Christians, were informed concerning the nothingness of idols and that idol worship was absolute vanity. If that is so, what harm is there in eating food offered to idols. However, Christians often oversimplify, tending to emphasize one particular Scripture, ignoring others, and arrive at conclusions that are far from an accurate representation of principles taught throughout the Bible. The apostle has at least two facts to add to the knowledge that idols are nothing more than pieces of wood or metal, therefore an idolater is simply involved in powerless vanity.

In chapter 10, verses 18-21, he gives the Corinthians and us something more to consider. He says, “Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?” Their sacrifices made them participants in the worship of God; however, this also meant that when they ate the pagan sacrifices, they were participants with the pagan gods. “What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?” This is as far as the mentality of Corinthian Christians led them and Paul is not going to contradict their knowledge. It is true that the idol is nothing: It does not speak, hear, walk, or breathe. That does not settle the issue! “No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.” There is an evil, spiritual power behind the idol and that brings the participant, who eats from their sacrifices, into contact with the kingdom of darkness. “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” So here we have an obvious fact, beyond the simple eating of pagan, sacrificial foods, that gives us a clear reason to avoid compromise in this area.

Back to 8:1, Paul’s second addition to the basic knowledge of the Corinthians involves love, the great motivating force, behind all that is Christian. “All right, then,” Paul implies, “There is only one God and an idol is an inanimate object. You know that, but here is a more important question… Are you acting in love?” This knowledge acts as leaven and puffs up, beyond the spiritual substance of your lives. It leads to an inflated impression of self-image, which is evidence of the presence of pride. Love, on the other hand, leads to true edification of character. His point in verse 2 is proven by what we have already considered. They have not taken every fact into account. Warren Wiersbe comments: “A know-it-all attitude is only an evidence of ignorance. The person who really knows truth is only too conscious of how much he does not know.”

We need to give special attention to verse 3, which teaches a vital truth: The presence of godly love in someone’s life, is proof of the foreknowledge of God concerning him. Paul teaches the same in Galatians 4:9: “Now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God…” Jesus' statement in His prayer to the Father, “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent,”  would seem to indicate that it is of utmost important for a person to know God, but the word rather, in the Galatian text, leads us to something still more important. We have come to know God, because He first knew us. Now we see that we love God, because He first knew us, or as John states, “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn.4:19). Let’s carefully consider an earlier verse, verse 10, in the same chapter: “In this is (true, godly) love, not that we have loved God (which would point to our human, imperfect love) but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  

Would you please notice that Jesus taught that it was not a lack of a knowledge of God, which will condemn the sinner, but the fact that He does not know him?: “Then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Mt.7:23). Or Matthew 25:12: “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” Or Luke 13:25 and 27: “Then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’” On the other hand, here are the Lord’s words of true salvation: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (Jn.10:27, 28).

Practicing the law of love

4.     Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.”
5.     For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth – as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords” –
6.     Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
7.     However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being week, is defiled.
8.     Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better of if we do.
9.     But take care that his right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
10.  For it anyone sees you who haver knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?
11.  And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died.
12.  Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
13.  Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

Paul continues to stress his point concerning edification through love, agreeing that the idol itself is nothing and the worshipper, deceived and influenced by demons, is not getting what he imagines he will receive from the idol (4-6). There are countless so-called gods and lords, but there is one true and living God, who is uniquely to be the sole object of human worship. Carved images and any likeness (Ex.20:4)… that would include drawings or paintings… are strictly forbidden. It seems obvious to me that no human being should ever attempt to portray or represent divinity in any form. I believe this to include the popular practice of mere human beings taking the role of the person of the God/Man in dramas or films. To do so is blasphemy and shows a lack of a fear of God!  God reveals Himself to the spirit of man, beyond means that are visual or imaginary.

Above all its multi-purposes, the Bible is a revelation of God and no revelation could be clearer than the one found in verse 6. Sometimes we gain a concept of God by seeing His attributes and personality, as He works to carry out His purposes in events in the Old Testament or we see His reaction to faith or sin in biblical history. Paul often gives us clear doctrinal statements, which put divine nature into words. A book of theology could easily be written from his statement in this verse, where he states that God is 1) the Father. 2) He is the fountain of all that exists, 3) and the purpose of man is to perform His will. Then, he declares the lordship of Jesus Christ, uniquely, as the only rightful lord. In Philippians 2:11, he predicts a universal confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. He is not a lord, or the greatest of lords, but He alone is Lord. By His agency, God has brought everything into existence, including the human race, but in forming the church, He has done His most excellent creative work on earth.

Paul contradicts the Corinthian assumption that “all have knowledge”. Some do not (7), he argues. Perhaps they are new believers and certainly, whether new or old, they are weak in faith and in knowledge. Superstition still clings to their soul and for them, to eat food sacrificed to an idol, will wound their conscience. If we are speaking to people, who have been involved in witchcraft or influenced by medicine men, this teaching continues to have literal significance. However, in these days, we can also broaden it to include many practices, which believers may have entertained as pagans. They are part of their former world and, as Christians, they need to avoid them.

Paul is building on Christ’s teaching concerning foods (8). In Mark 7:18-19, he declared, “‘Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.)” Eating or not eating certain foods will not improve our condition before God. There is no teaching in the New Testament that recommends vegetarianism or prohibits certain meats. Cultists, who like to call themselves Christians, are often involved with many dietary rules. Avoid them!

In the case of foods offered to idols, however, we need to be cautious of setting a bad example, regardless of the liberty we may claim (9). Here is an example: A weak believer, coming from the kingdom of idolatry, sees a mature believer eating meat in an idolatrous temple, and takes this liberty upon himself. He follows the example of the older Christian and his conscience is smitten (10). It may be the first step in leading him back into the throes of idolatry (11). The liberty of the one “with knowledge”, is motivated by his knowledge and is acting outside of the love of God. That is sin, not only against the weaker brother, but against Christ (12). Whatever the practice may be, if it serves as a bad example to anyone, not only a weak Christian, but an unbeliever, Paul will not indulge himself. His decision is to be followed by all Christians, then and now (13). For this very reason, I know of churches that will not use wine, but grape juice, at the Lord’s table, for the sake of the recovering alcoholic.

The testimony of a kind brother, whom I knew in my childhood, a Mr. Averbeck, remains fixed in my mind. I have often referred to it. Mr. Averbeck was painting his house with a hired acquaintance for a number of days. The hired helper was addicted to tobacco, but as many, he wanted to justify his habit. One day he said, “Averbeck, I smoke, but I see you drink coffee. What’s worse, nicotine or caffeine?” Mr. Averbeck’s face turned sober and he humbly replied, “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize, I offended you by drinking coffee. I will not do it again.” And he meant it! However, the smoker released him from his vow, by replying, “No, Averbeck, I’m just trying to give you a hard time. You weren’t offending me.” Mr. Averbeck was practicing the law of love, which far outweighed his liberty to drink coffee.

It would be a great improvement, in the church, if the members would practice, above all, the law of love. However I think, although Paul is basically showing the need to avoid causing others to stumble, it would seem, by other statements as well, that he is discouraging, in general, the practice of eating foods offered to idols. In particular, the practice of going into pagan temples to eat their devoted foods, was an unwise, if not dangerous, move.


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