1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Distinguished New Testament Professor Jack MacGorman, now retired, told of a missionary and his son walking down a jungle trail with a native pastor. They came on a pile of medicine sticks planted by a witch doctor in the trail. It was an attempt to transfer the illness of his patient to some unwitting passerby who steps over them. The missionary and his son made sport of jumping over the sticks, but the native pastor made a wide detour around them, saying, "My head knows there is nothing to that, but my feet don't know it!"
The key to Christian living in a pagan culture is love — not knowledge. Knowledge tends to puff us up; love builds up. It edifies the one loved and the one loving. It has often been said and rightly so, that the world does not care how much you know until they know how much you care. This text calls us to love for God and love for others — especially our weaker brothers.
Love for God is foundational in the Christian life (8:1-6).
Corinthian Christians wrote to Paul about several concerns including the issue of eating food devoted to idols. Some thought it scandalous; others thought it perfectly OK. Idols after all are not real gods. Paul found both positions a little off the mark. Knowledgeable Christians know that there is no God but one. An idol is nothing. And there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ. But as important as theology is (and it is very important!) love for God is greater. Knowledge tends to inflate the ego. The starting point in the Christian life is not knowledge but a relationship of love for the Lord.
Love for our brothers — especially our weaker brothers — is also crucial (8:9-13).
If love for God builds up the spiritual life of the lover, love for other believers builds them up. The Christian is obliged to look after the need of his or her weaker brother. Love demands it. Your Christian liberty may allow you to eat meat devoted to an idol, but if it offends your weaker brother, Christian love calls you to a different course.
It is an arrogant and unloving attitude that says "I have no rule-book religion. I can go to any movie, eat or drink anything I desire, smoke whatever I wish, read any book or magazine, watch any channel, visit any website. It is a matter of my Christian liberty."
Paul calls us in this passage to keep in mind that some believers will find such liberty strangely like licentiousness. And they may find it a stumbling-block in their own Christian pilgrimage. You may consider his conscience a weak and immature thing. No matter. Christian love compels you to live your life with due consideration for everyone for whom Christ died — especially those whose conscience may be more sensitive in these questionable matters. How can I claim the liberty to indulge in a personal pleasure that I know will hurt someone else? Christian love tempers Christian liberty.
Jesus taught this before Paul did. Once someone asked the Lord to name the most important commandment of the Law. He said "The most important one . . . is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength'." (Then the Lord immediately added:) "The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these" (Mk 12:29-31). Love God; love others.
Harry Ironside was an itinerant Bible teacher early in the last century. He was chatting with a former Muslim from India in the tea business. His name was Mohammed Ali. A young lady came around with a tray of sandwiches. Since the selection was two kinds of pork, Ali declined. The young lady serving said, "Why Mr. Ali, you surprise me. Are you so under law that you cannot eat pork? Don't you know that a Christian is at liberty to eat any kind of meat?"
"I am at liberty, my dear young lady, to eat it, but I am also at liberty to leave it alone. My old father, nearly eighty years old is still a Mohammedan. Every three years I go back to India to give an account of the business of which he is still the head. When he greets me at the door he will ask me, 'Mohammed, have those infidels taught you to eat the filthy hog meat yet?'"
"'No, Father,' I will say, 'pork has never passed my lips.' Then I will be welcome to go in and preach Christ to them." This too is Christian love in action.
Sermon brief provided by: Austin Tucker, a teacher and writer living in Shreveport, LA