You just don’t let anyone in your fridge. Why is that? It could be that there is a mess in there or something you wouldn’t want just anybody to see. That might embarrass some. Yet for those privileged few you give permission to find something to drink or eat from your fridge you have reached a certain level of comfort. Even though there might be a mess, you are comfortable showing your mess because you have nothing to hide.
I’ve been walking through 1 Corinthians, a letter written to a messy church (and what church isn’t?). Looking at the church in Corinth is like looking into a messy fridge. It’s a little embarrassing. We see all the faults and fears. Yet it is somewhat comforting looking at Corinth because it’s somewhat normal church.
The question I’ve been asking while reading 1 Corinthians is: How can I make much of Christ in a messy church in a messy world? There is no mistake that Paul brings every question and every concern of the church back to Christ (so important!). For Christ is the solution and the center of the church, and if not, the center becomes the mess not the Messiah. Christ has come to be the Messiah of the mess we have made.
As I enter 1 Corinthians 8, the question becomes specific: How do I follow Christ (or exercise my rights and freedoms in Christ) while living in a messy world without bringing more messes into the church? To this the Bible gives a mosaic of wisdom that when pieced together helps me to see how I am to live in a messy world.
First, seek His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:31-33). Jesus wants me to think of God’s kingdom and righteousness as two lanes of a oneway street. To seek God’s kingdom is to honor His authority, not usurp it. To usurp God is to veer off the left shoulder of the road. To seek God’s righteousness is to honor His standards, not disobey them. To disobey God is to veer off the right shoulder of the road. Together seeking both God’s kingdom and righteousness help me to walk the road of freedom in Christ when everyone else around me is abusing that freedom.
Second, be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). Jesus says I live in this world by default. I cannot escape it. Therefore since the world is my temporary home, I must choose to live purely (salt) and shine brightly (light). In the process, by God’s grace, I display the gospel of Christ to a messy and darkened world.
Now it is possible to seek God’s kingdom, to seek His righteousness, and to be salt and light, but there is still a missing piece of the mosaic, which is thirdly, love God and your [brother] as yourself (Luke 10:27). This piece is seen in 1 Corinthians 8, which in reality, is that Great Commandment made practical. Loving your brother or considering others in your community of Christ, makes much of Christ. Our text today gives three truths towards loving your brother while living in a messy world.
1) Love your brother, love not what you know (vs.1-3).
Paul introduces the issue, “Now concerning food offered to idols” (v.1a) but before dealing with the question of food sacrificed to idols, He comments on related matters: 1) the danger of knowledge about such things and 2) the primacy of love over knowledge as the guiding principle for Christ-like behavior.
Knowledge is good, but dangerous. Paul begins by quoting certain Corinthians who thought they were ‘in-the-know’ who said, “all of us possess knowledge” (v.1b) The ‘knowledge’ quoted here is a specific kind of knowledge related to the idols who they knew were nothing compared to the One True God (see: v.4). Their knowledge was theologically spot on. Paul had no disagreement, but what he did disagree with their application of that knowledge to those not in-the-know. Paul saw their knowledge or know-it-all-ness as a danger sign.
It is said, “knowledge is power.” Have you ever known someone who was really knowledgeable, knew it and flaunted it? Have you ever possessed a little bit of knowledge and felt it’s dangerous affect? Sometimes the most dangerous Christians are those who gain a little bit of knowledge and wield it with reckless tactlessness like a kid with an broadsword who’s just watch Braveheart. The Corinthians knew a few things about Christian theology, but they became so full of pride and they lost sight of more important teachings, such as loving and edifying others.
Love over knowledge is our guiding principle. Paul warns those in-the-know that “knowledge puffs up” (inflates), “but love builds up” (deflates). Knowledge makes us feel important, but it is love that strengthens the church. There is absolutely no room for arrogance in the Christian community. Paul will not put up with it. Not because he is anti-knowledge, but because he is anti-knowledge that is anti-loving. For a swollen head does not equal a swollen heart.
Recently, I met a grand marabou at a friends house. Once that he found out I was a Christian he railroaded our conversation by waxing eloquent his view of Islam and the Quran. He might have some good things to say, but it had no effect on me. For anytime I tried to ask a question he refused to answer and anytime I tried to insert a comment he interrupted. After 30 minutes of talking and chanting he finally asked my opinion. I said, “You love hearing yourself talk more than you love me or your God.” I told him I’d like to talk more later, but that I’d come to be with my friend.
True knowledge humbles those in-the-know because they realize how little they know. “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (v.2). Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.
After seminary, I was a know-it-all. I graduated from Bible College with a small piece of paper and a big fat head. Then I began to pastor and went to seminary. It was then that realized I really didn’t know as much as I thought I knew. When I compared my faint and fragment knowledge with the infinite knowledge of God, there was a humbling that went on within me that was good. I never really know enough until I recognize that God alone knows it all.
This text hits me hard because I love what people think of me more than I’d like to think that I love them. That is so anti Christ and it’s an extremely dangerous attitude in the community of Christ. Maybe, you, like me, need to take a moment to reflect upon the infinite knowledge of God and the incomprehensible love of Christ.
Love is redeeming. Paul illustrates this by saying, “If anyone loves God, he is known by God” (v.3). The expression “known by God” appears elsewhere in Paul’s writings (cf. Galatians 4:9) as a description of redemption. Paul meant that, unlike the prideful people who center their religious lives around knowledge, those who focus on love demonstrate that they have been redeemed. Christian love is always constructive. It builds up. It encourages. It shows people a picture of Christ who Himself possessed all knowledge yet loved his brothers to the death. He knew-it-all, yet He was the most humble man. // Love your brother, love not what you know.
2) Unite around what you know about God (vs.4-6).
Since Paul has laid a foundation for love over knowledge, he now returns to the main topic of concern: “eating food offered to idols” (v.4). He affirms to theological truths those in-the-know knew, first, “an idol has no real existence” (cf. Isaiah 40, Psalm 115) and second “that there is no God but one.” With these statements he resolves the issue that there was no problem with eating idol meat since it had been offered to something that did not really exist.
Now Paul is not minimizing idols, rather he is magnifying the God of Israel. The One True God compared to every other god is a non-comparison (vs.5-6a). Moreover, there is but “one Lord, Jesus Christ through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (v.6b). These verses take the form of an early catechism or hymn of praise to God the Father and God the Son that all Christians could unite around.
How should theology unite us rather than divide us? For example, as we see how the Father and Son relate to one another, we also see how we in the church must relate to one another. That’s practical and applicable theology! It will get even more so next.
3) Be willing to sacrifice your rights for your brother (vs.7-13)
Next, Paul shares a case study (vs.7-13). He introduces us to someone “not” in-the-know (revealing a wrong assessment of the church; v.1). Likely a young Christian recently saved out of a life connected to the pagan temple. To this new Christian, eating idol meat poses a serious concern, if not sin. For him, every shopping trip to the market, every town festival, every dinner party or BBQ with the locals presented a quandary. And one day, he sees a strong and respected Christian at a local restaurant likely affixed to a pagan temple and he has a bigger quandary, “If it’s okay for him to eat idol meat, then it must be okay for me to sin too.” He then syncretizes his new found faith in Christ with his former lifestyle in idolatry.
In case you did not know, there are varying opinions and consciences within the Body of Christ. That’s okay. The church will always be filled with new, old, mature, immature, strong or weak believers. Even though we have great freedom in the gospel and our freedom grows as our understanding grows, we must be willing to sacrifice freedoms for the sake of one another. It is no trivial thing, for when we cause other brothers to sin, we ultimately sin against Christ.
Remember when God asked Cain where his brother Abel was and he responded, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Essentially, that is the type of attitude Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 8-10. Paul responds to the Cain’s who bring their offerings and worship to church, but do not love their fellow brothers rather they lead their brothers to destruction.
Notice the emphasis in this text isn’t on with the weaker brother who needs to know more about his unfound freedom. The emphasis is on the stronger brother who is thoughtless towards the weaker Christian (cf. Romans 14). By insisting their rights, even Christian rights, it is a sign that something else other than the One True God is being worshiped. The problem for the stronger brother is that his right to use freedom is more important than relinquishing it for his brother. He is not willing to sacrifice his rights for his brother. (How is this text applicable for us in Chad?)
Paul is willing to become a vegetarian to protect his brothers growth in Christ. He expresses in words how love trumps knowledge. Wouldn’t you be willing to give up going to dinner for your brother? Would you be willing to sacrifice your opinion of the style of worship service or social rights for your brother? Are you willing to follow the example of Christ who Himself gave up everything? Remember, it always comes back to making much of Christ.
Can you think of a church member or brother or sister in Christ you have a hard time loving? What about them is hard to love? How could you love them better? Would you take a moment to pray for them and a God-given love towards them?
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:1-11)
Lord Jesus, we are delighted that you were so principled that you cared about the lost, the weak, and the worldly. We are so grateful for your tender mercy and unconditional love. Now, O Lord, give us the same love for others, that we may honor both you and them. In Jesus name, Amen.