Big Idea: Love may require you to limit your freedom.
1 Corinthians 8:1-2
Are we allowed to eat meat sacrificed to idols? That’s the question and Paul begins his answer by addressing the attitude problem that seems to infect everything in the Corinthian church. It seems that there were some in the congregation who were very knowledgeable regarding Paul’s teaching and the Old Testament scriptures. Their knowledge had turned to pride, and they saw their intellectual achievement as something that put them in a higher position than others.
Many years ago, I took some classes in Biblical Greek. My naïve objective in learning Greek was to be able to resolve some thorny doctrinal issues based on the original language of the New Testament. I was guilty of exactly what Paul is talking about. I was seeking for a way to prove I was right. By the end of the class I knew that becoming expert in Greek would not resolve the doctrinal issues dividing the Christian world. I discovered that those who were far more expert than I would ever be were divided because of their different understandings of how to interpret the Greek.
Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. — Theodore Roosevelt
Knowledge is not the measure of Christian maturity. Christlikeness expressed in love for God and others is. More study was not going to solve the issues in the Corinthian church. What they needed was more love.
What are some questions that have divided the church over the centuries?
Why haven’t attempts at resolving these differences been successful?
How would Paul address the divisive issues facing the church today?
1 Corinthians 8:4-6
Paul begins by confirming that there is only one God. People will invent other gods and choose to serve other lords, but these are all equally insignificant. The only power that an idol has is the power that the worshiper gives to it. The best definition of an idol I have ever heard goes roughly like this: an idol is anything that encourages you to do what you wanted to do anyway. When we create a god in our own image, an idol, we are deciding to worship self.
When we choose to worship God and accept Jesus as our Lord we have chosen to worship and serve something beyond ourselves. This decision will impact all our choices and result in our growing to become like the one we worship.
There is no physical or spiritual difference between a piece of meat butchered by a butcher or one butchered by the priest of an idol. It is just meat.
Who or what are the idols in your life?
Why is it easier to worship an idol instead of worshiping God?
1 Corinthians 8:7-13
At a very practical level this is one of the most difficult concepts that Paul teaches. He says that our public behavior as followers of Jesus must be governed by the spiritual needs of others. Paul explores this same principle in Romans 14 and 15. The following verse sums up the principle that motivates this teaching:
But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23 NIV)
Paul is not saying that I should allow my behavior to be driven by what pleases other people. People pleasing is the opposite of what Paul is teaching here. People pleasing is focused on reassuring self and making myself comfortable. The struggle which I understand all too well, is that if I’m attempting to please more than one person, I will fail with one or both. My life will be constantly confused. I will also be avoiding accepting the limitations that might result in growth if my motive for making the choice honored God.
What Paul is challenging us to do is love. Other focused love is focused on improving another – enduring pain or loss if it might result in the growth of the other. It’s not strange that this also results in the growth of self. It is difficult to think of a modern parallel since it is rare that anyone would attach spiritual significance to any food. One example I can think of would be inviting a new convert from Orthodox Judaism to Christianity to a dinner party and serving ham as the main course. For someone who has been dedicated to honoring God by eating kosher this would be asking them to dishonor God. That would not be an expression of love. Another example would be serving alcoholic beverages at a gathering that included recovering alcoholics. Consuming alcohol is not a sin. Tempting a recovering alcoholic to take a drink and risk losing his sobriety would be unloving and sin.
How would you describe the difference between people pleasing and love?
What would you find it difficult to give up even if it was damaging the growth of a new believer?