I hope that your summer has been going well for you and your families. I know that I’ve been enjoying the longer day and the cool nights, and I know my pregnant wife has really really been enjoying the super hot and sunny days.
Last week we talked about everyone’s favorite church topic, sex, and it went so well, this week I thought I’d give my somewhat newly married perspective on it!
No, we are actually going to continue through this letter written to the Corinthians, which puts us in chapter 8 this week. Hopefully you’ve taken some time read through these chapters as we go through them. Why would you do that? The same reason you would read a book before a test or before a book club meeting: To know what we’re talking about. What’s cool about these kind of sermon series where we are basically going through a book of the Bible is that you can read what we’re going to be talking about, and you can already develop your own understanding of the verses and passages. Then hopefully, as we talk about them here, you can compare your thoughts to ours, and your understanding of these subjects will become greater!
I remember in school, when talking about a chapter of a book we were reading, or especially when reading poems, I’d often find myself thinking, wow, I never thought of it like that before. There were even some times when I would read something for school and was completely off with my understanding of it! That can happen to me still as I read over passages of the Bible that I’ve read before. But you’ll never be able to wrestle with your own thoughts if you haven’t read it first yourself. So I really encourage you to be reading through this wonderful letter to the Corinthians throughout your week.
If you haven’t noticed through this letter, and actually, through all of the letters of the New Testament, the writer, in this case Paul, is not just writing random thoughts that come to his mind, and he’s not just simply writing out theology or doctrine. He’s writing to address real situations that these people were dealing with. And this Corinthian church has been arguing and splitting up for so many different reasons. Each chapter has basically been yet another thing they were arguing over, and both sides thought they were correct. So next, Paul is going to again confront a disagreement they were having.
What were they fighting about? Meat. (Bet you didn’t see that one coming.) Specifically, meat sacrificed to idols. Now, don’t lose interest quite yet, because even though we might not be sacrificing our meat, this passage is incredibly practical.
Something we all know, yet we can all easily forget, is that we each have our own unique story of our lives. That was our last sermon series, remember? We all know that we come from different backgrounds, different families, different past events, and so on. These have made us who we are today. Everybody has been shaped differently and by different things. Unfortunately, we can easily forget that everyone is different. We can judge and secretly expect people to have the same understanding as us.
As Christ followers, there’s a lot of black and white, clear as day commands for us. There are things that Jesus came and taught that are just irrefutable. So as Christ followers, we should certainly be working to follow these to the best of our human ability. That’s what Christ’s love in our life does to us. That’s what understanding the magnitude of the cross does to us. It’s not difficult, it’s not burdensome.
When Christ came, died, and rose again, that brought a big change. All of the rules of the Old Testament got simplified by Jesus into love God and love others. The sacrifices and rituals that the Jews used to have to do no longer mean anything. Christ came and put an end to that way of doing things, and brought us freedom in Himself. He continually taught us that in Him there was freedom. In John 14 Jesus says that He is the truth, and earlier in His ministry, in John 8, He says that the truth will set you.. what? FREE. We have freedom in Christ. We can know that to be sure. We have God’s Word to confirm it.
Having said that, there are several topics that the Bible doesn’t fully address. There is no black and white, clear cut answer to them. These are what we call grey areas. They aren’t talked about in God’s Word as sinful. These are things like dating or kissing before marriage, cursing, gambling, smoking, music, what we watch for entertainment, birth control, dancing, what we spend money on, and of course, alcohol. Or if you lived back in Paul’s time, it was things like meat sacrificed to idols.
These grey areas can become problematic between believers because there is no clear answer, and because of our pasts. They can rip a community apart. Let me ask you this. In the matter of these grey area topics, how do you feel when someone tells you that you can’t, or shouldn’t, do something you know you can do? How do you feel when people condemn you for watching a certain movie, smoking, or how you use your money? Does it make you angry?
Or we can ask the same kind of question in reverse. How does it make you feel when people tell you they gamble, use birth control, or drink alcohol? Does it upset you? Does it make you question your own beliefs? Does it change your honest opinion about them? Maybe you even question if they’re really a Christian or not?
This is what Paul is about to address in 1 Corinthians 8:
“Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” 1 Cor. 8:1 NIV
Paul starts this chapter off with his main point, and remember it, because it’s what he closes with as well. How great is that line? Knowledge puffs up while love builds up. The New King James Version says that knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. Let’s take a minute to look at these Greek words real quick, because with our freedom in Christ we will do one or the other. We will puff up or build up.
The word puffs up in the Greek means arrogant and proud. The Greek for edifies literally means to build up, like a building. Used in this way, it can mean to promote growth in Christian wisdom, affection, grace, virtue, holiness, and blessedness. So Paul is saying that knowledge makes us arrogant, but love grows others closer to Christ. So the question I want us to consider today is this:
In regard to our freedom in Christ, are you puffed up or building up?
Continuing on at verse 4:
So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God. (Paul is saying this is knowledge among us believers. There’s not really a question.) There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many lords. But for us,
There is one God, the Father,
by whom all things were created,
and for whom we live.
And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ,
through whom all things were created,
and through whom we live.
However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated. It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do.”
1 Cor. 8:4-8 NLT
Now, you’ve got to remember these Corinthians are spiritual babies. Paul is writing only a few years after going to Corinth himself to tell these people about Jesus. Many of these people are new believers, though there were probably a few Jews in the mix. So they’re trying to learn what it means to be a Christian, but unlike us, they didn’t have Jesus’ life written out yet, or all of Paul’s letters in one spot. They had Paul’s teachings to remember and the letters he wrote them. And let’s also remember who these people were. Remember Ken’s first talk about 1 Corinthians? These people were so bad, they made a verb out of them.
What I’m saying is, this newly founded Corinthian church has a past. So when it came to trying to understand these grey areas, they weren’t totally sure what to believe. Paul is saying that yes, we are free in Christ to eat meat, even if it’s sacrificed to idols. The Message version actually paraphrases it a lot like that. It says, “In strict logic, then, nothing happened to the meat when it was offered up to an idol. It’s just like any other meat. I know that, and you know that.”
But some people in that church didn’t think that was the case. Perhaps they were a Jews who wouldn’t eat meat without knowing where it came from first. Or more likely in context, there were probably many new Christians who had just come from a religion full of idol worship. The city was full of idol worship from Greek and Roman religions, as well as many other pagan gods and goddesses. These new Christians used to do these very same animal sacrifices before Paul came and told them about Jesus.
So now, as ex-idol worshipper Pagan Paige and new Christian friend Gentile John are walking through the market, and they are looking to buy some meat for dinner, they’re fighting with each other over if it’s ok to eat meat that was sacrificed to an idol or not.
Gentile John says, ‘Look at that deal on that big juicy steak. Let’s get that one!’
Pagan Paige says, ‘I can’t believe you would think of eating that! I sacrificed my animals to idols just a few years ago. You don’t want to mess with that, man. It’s the real deal. If you eat it, you might get a demon inside of you or something!’
Gentile John comes back with, ‘What are you talking about Paige? It’s just meat! Remember, Paul said that we are free in Christ. He didn’t say anything about this except that God created it all, so it must be good then!’
Pagan Paige says, ‘Well it’s too bad Paul isn’t here to tell us then, isn’t it? I’m telling you, if you eat that, it’s sinful. I just know that path that it leads to all too well.’
Have you ever had a similar conversation with someone about another grey area? There are two different sides, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear answer? It’s going to be pretty difficult to find one, because both sides are right. The problem is, if we don’t put love before knowledge like Paul told us to do at the beginning of the chapter, the result is either going to be arguing and disunity among God’s church, or someone is going to go against their conscience, and sin.
“But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ.” 1 Cor. 8:9-12 NLT
Paul says, ‘Yes, you’re right, you can eat the meat. It’s just meat. But because you care more about the fact that you are right, that it IS your right, your freedom, in this grey area, harm is being done.’
When it comes to these grey areas, there is still Scripture on how to handle them. Paul and James both help us to understand this:
“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
James the brother of Jesus writes:
“If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” James 4:17 NIV
Basically, when it comes to the areas in life that the Bible doesn’t specifically address, the rule of thumb is this: If you feel bad doing it, if you think it’s wrong, if you aren’t sure about it, it’s sinful for you to do. Why? Because it violates your own conscience. So what’s sinful for one person isn’t for another.
Now, I can hear your thoughts, you’re thinking, that’s not fair! First of all, why do you get to decide fair. (Sorry, that was a little blunt.) But, specifically to this area, the reason it’s harmful for some and not others is almost always tied to their past, and over time, we can heal from that.
Let me give you an example, one we all can probably connect with. Drinking alcohol, of age of course, is a grey area. For someone who has never struggled with that kind of addiction, drinks it for the pleasure of a good taste, and doesn’t feel wrong about it, it isn’t wrong to have a drink.
But, for a person who has come from a family of alcohol abuse, or who used to be an alcoholic, a drink is going to violate their conscience. It’s going to be sinful for them, because they know they shouldn’t go down that path again.
Now put those two people together. Why would you take an ex-alcoholic to a bar to drink? Why would you convince them it’s ok? It’s either going to cause an argument, or that will cause them to sin against others and against Christ. It’s not that responsible drinking is wrong in and of it itself, but it can cause that believer to stumble, to get back into a bad habit, and to go back to a time in their life that they were trying to heal.
Let’s do another example. Let’s think about a person who doesn’t want to kiss until they are married. In our culture today, that’s out of the ordinary. But is it wrong? Absolutely not. However, if that person is continually pressured by their Christian friends and family to kiss, and they do, it can be a sin for them. It’s not that kissing is sinful, it’s the principle that they are violating their conscience, going against what they think is right.
Now again, Paul is talking about the areas in our life that Jesus didn’t really cover. He is NOT talking about the clear commands that Jesus gave to us as His followers. We can not pick and choose which of Jesus’ teachings to listen to, we should be faithfully trying to obey them all. Please don’t get them confused.
So to finish this section of his letter, Paul comes back to his main point that he addressed on the front end: We’ve got to act in love.
“So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.” 1 Cor. 8:13 NLT
Can you hear the love Paul has for others in this sentence? He’s willing to give up meat altogether if it keeps believers from going against their conscience. He’d gladly put aside his freedom in Christ, so that other people wouldn’t stumble.
What does that mean for us? If we truly love Christ, we’ve got to put love before knowledge. Even if we know we can do something, if it’s going to cause another follower to stumble, we have to show them love by not doing it.
In reference to our last 2 examples. Perhaps you don’t know the person you brought to a bar was an ex-alcoholic. Acting in knowledge would be drinking anyway, and encouraging them to drink because they are ‘free’ to. But acting in love would be getting a soda instead, or leaving altogether.
To the person who doesn’t want to kiss until marriage: acting in knowledge would be to push them to kiss, to continually ask and pressure them to do it. Acting in love would be to support them, and even to avoid kissing your boyfriend or girlfriend around them.
Do you see what Paul is saying here? It’s not worth it, it’s never worth it, to use our freedom and push a brother or sister in Christ back into what they’ve come from. Because while there may not be any command for these certain free grey areas, we do have what Jesus said to be the Greatest Commandment.
Love God, and Love Others.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 NIV
If we are using this greatest commandment to determine our actions, love should always be first. The act of love is doing something out of choice. We show our brothers and sisters love when we CHOOSE to not do something around them, by restraining ourselves for their sake, knowing that they find those freedoms to be sinful.
Those puffed up Corinthians who were arguing that they could eat meat were acting arrogantly, and with pride. Their knowledge of freedom was more important to them. But looking at what Jesus said to be the Greatest Commandment, the entire aim of Christianity is not our freedom, it’s love!
The other week at Sōzō, we were walking into the sanctuary after our games to get ready for the lesson, and one of my students looked at me and said ‘You can’t wear a hat in the sanctuary! I said, sure you can, I do all the time! He argued, no you can’t! You can’t do that. I had a decision to make here. I know that wearing a hat doesn’t affect my relationship with God. I could have just kept wearing it. But I chose to take it off, and speak the entire lesson with really bad hat hair instead. I even instinctively picked it up, and put it on, only to quickly remember and take it back off. Now that seems like a simple example, but I wasn’t going to let a silly thing like my hat upset a student who’s growing closer to Christ. It’s not worth it! I don’t want anything I do to be a stumbling block for him or anyone else. If he was so convicted that he asked me to never wear it to church again, I’d do it.
Now don’t get me wrong, it sucks sometimes (am I allowed to use the word sucks?). I’m not going to lie to you and say, all you have to do is change your mindset and it’s easy. No, there are times when giving up your freedom to do things stinks. But it’s never worth causing other’s to stumble in their faith.
We’ve got to keep in our mind that everyone is coming from a different past. Even though we all have the same freedom in Christ, not everyone will see them in the same way because of that. And there are several of these topics! If you’re a person who is arguing that a grey area is sinful, understand that it’s because of your past and upbringing that you think that, and we have freedom in Christ to decide. A mature Christian is one who, although they consider certain grey area topics sinful for themselves, understands that others have the freedom to decide for themselves. And if you’re a person who finds great freedom in an area, don’t let your freedom get in the way of showing love to those who don’t think the same way. Listen to Jesus’ command to love God and love others. This literally goes for everything. If you follow the great commandment to love God and love others, everything else will always happen, including putting love before freedom.
In regards to our freedom in Christ, are you puffed up or building up?