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1 Corinthians 10:23-30; Let No One Seek His Own

06/15 1 Corinthians 10:23-30 Let No One Seek His Own GoodAudio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20140615_1cor10_23-30.mp3

 

1 Corinthians 10 [SBLGNT]

23 Πάντα ἔξεστιν· ἀλλ’ οὐ πάντα συμφέρει. πάντα ἔξεστιν· ἀλλ’ οὐ πάντα οἰκοδομεῖ. 24 μηδεὶς τὸ ἑαυτοῦ ζητείτω ἀλλὰ τὸ τοῦ ἑτέρου. 25 πᾶν τὸ ἐν μακέλλῳ πωλούμενον ἐσθίετε μηδὲν ἀνακρίνοντες διὰ τὴν συνείδησιν, 26 τοῦ κυρίου γὰρ ἡ γῆ καὶ τὸ πλήρωμα αὐτῆς. 27 εἴ τις καλεῖ ὑμᾶς τῶν ἀπίστων καὶ θέλετε πορεύεσθαι, πᾶν τὸ παρατιθέμενον ὑμῖν ἐσθίετε μηδὲν ἀνακρίνοντες διὰ τὴν συνείδησιν· 28 ἐὰν δέ τις ὑμῖν εἴπῃ· Τοῦτο ἱερόθυτόν ἐστιν, μὴ ἐσθίετε δι’ ἐκεῖνον τὸν μηνύσαντα καὶ τὴν συνείδησιν· 29 συνείδησιν δὲ λέγω οὐχὶ τὴν ἑαυτοῦ ἀλλὰ τὴν τοῦ ἑτέρου· ἱνατί γὰρ ἡ ἐλευθερία μου κρίνεται ὑπὸ ἄλλης συνειδήσεως; 30 εἰ ἐγὼ χάριτι μετέχω, τί βλασφημοῦμαι ὑπὲρ οὗ ἐγὼ εὐχαριστῶ; 31 Εἴτε οὖν ἐσθίετε εἴτε πίνετε εἴτε τι ποιεῖτε, πάντα εἰς δόξαν θεοῦ ποιεῖτε. 32 ἀπρόσκοποι καὶ Ἰουδαίοις γίνεσθε καὶ Ἕλλησιν καὶ τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ, 33 καθὼς κἀγὼ πάντα πᾶσιν ἀρέσκω, μὴ ζητῶν τὸ ἐμαυτοῦ σύμφορον ἀλλὰ τὸ τῶν πολλῶν, ἵνα σωθῶσιν.

11:1 μιμηταί μου γίνεσθε, καθὼς κἀγὼ Χριστοῦ.

1 Corinthians 10 [ESV2011]

14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 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. 21 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. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? 31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

11:1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

 

Paul is addressing some serious sin issues in the church in Corinth. They had picked up the slogan ‘all things are lawful’ and used it to justify all manner of abominable practices. Paul gently but firmly leads them on a journey to train them how to think. He could have easily come down hard on them with his authority as apostle. Instead, he reasons with them and teaches them how to think through the issues biblically. Back in 6:12, he quotes their slogan ‘all things are lawful for me’ which they used to justify sexual immorality, and responds “but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything.” In 6:18 he commands them ‘flee from sexual immorality’ and he concludes “you are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

In chapters 8-10 he has taken up their propensity to indulge in banquets hosted at pagan temples. The knowledge of the Corinthians that ‘an idol has no real existence’ leads them to the freedom to indulge in idolatrous festivities. Paul points out that this so-called knowledge is more akin to the pride of the devil than the God of love. We are called to live in love, and love builds others up. The arrogant and self-centered knowledge of the Corinthians may prove to destroy a brother for whom Christ died, and so sin against Christ. He affirms the fact that they do indeed have rights and freedoms in Christ. But he holds himself up as an example of how a follower of Jesus can forgo legitimate God given rights for the sake of the gospel. He warns that insisting on my liberties may not only endanger a weaker brother or sister in Christ, it may also have a lethal effect on my own relationship with God. He holds himself up as an example of the danger of disqualification, or the danger of being demonstrated phony or false even after fruitful ministry. In chapter 10 he points to the example of Israel in the wilderness, most of whom played too close to the edge in seeking to gratify their desires, and a whole generation was destroyed in the wilderness. He warns them of the grave danger of self-confidence, he reminds them that we all will face temptation, and he encourages them with the absolute faithfulness of God. Then in 10:14 he gives his clear command on the issue of idolatry: ‘Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.’ He warns that participation in communion, which is participation in the body and blood of the Lord Jesus, is mutually exclusive with eating at the table of demons, who in reality are the ones being worshiped at idolatrous pagan celebrations.

Freedom From Self-Seeking

In 10:23-11:1, he concludes this 3 chapter discussion of idolatry with some clear practical advice on how to apply biblical truth in some real life situations. He returns to their slogan ‘all things are lawful,’ and he qualifies ‘but not all things are helpful.’ Not all things are advantageous. Not all things will contribute to your own personal well-being. Some things will not benefit me. Participation in some things will destroy me. Eating at the table of demons, inciting the wrath of almighty God against me will not contribute to my personal happiness or my eternal good.

‘All things are lawful’ but not all things build up. Not all things edify. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Jesus has set us free, free from the slavery of self-seeking, free to seek the good of others. Paul says:

24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

This is a foundational principle for Christian living. Literally, it says ‘let no one seek his own, but that of the other.’ ‘Good’ ‘benefit’ ‘interest’ ‘well-being’ or ‘advantage’ are implied by the context. Seek that which helps, that which builds up, that which benefits the other. Do not seek your own.

This is a command, and, like all God’s commands, it is for our good. If only we can grasp this, this will be so freeing! Do not seek your own. Don’t go after your own advantage. Stop concerning yourself with your own rights. Stop seeking your own. But if I don’t defend my own rights, who will? If I don’t stand up for myself, who will? If I don’t seek my own advantage, who will? God! God will.

Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Seek first the kingdom of God. Let no one seek his own, but that of the other. Jesus links this freedom from seeking our own with the danger of idolatry.

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Do not be anxious about your life, about your body, about your own. If you do, it will become your master, and you cannot serve two masters. Seeking your own is idolatry. Do not seek your own, but that of the other. ‘Your heavenly Father feeds’ (6:26); ‘God so clothes’ (6:30); ‘your heavenly Father knows that you need them all’ (6:32); ‘all these things will be added to you’ (6:33). Allow God to liberate you from the bondage of self-seeking. Go after the needs of others with reckless abandon!

Eat Everything in the Market!

Paul demonstrates how God graciously provides with two practical examples from everyday life. Paul has already forbidden any eating in a pagan temple, but now he addresses two other common occurrences that would face a believer in Corinth, and gives some surprisingly liberating counsel on what to do in these situations. Corinth was full of pagan temples, and it would be difficult, if not impossible to find a butcher shop that was not connected in some way with those temples. The word order of the original builds the suspense more than most of our English translations. Everything which is in the butcher shop for sale, devour it, investigating nothing on account of conscience. This is a radical command coming from the lips of a former Pharisee. Pharisaic Judaism required scrupulous investigation into the background of any food, and if there was any question as to the origin of the meat, the rule was ‘when in doubt, don’t!’ Paul here invites the believer to walk into a butcher shop, carts heaping with fish, various cuts of meat on display, whole skinned animals hanging from hooks, maybe cow, lamb, goat, pig, camel, chicken, and he says ‘eat it all!’ Don’t ask any questions. You are free to eat whatever you want.

Everything Belongs to God

And he gives the reason in verse 26.

26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.”

This is a quote from Psalm 24:1. In the beginning God created …everything! And God said ‘be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’ and God saw that it was good. God created everything, and everything belongs to God. Deuteronomy 10:14 says:

Deuteronomy 10:14 Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.

God says to Job:

Job 41:11 Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.

God tells his people:

Psalms 50:9 I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. 10 For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. 11 I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. 12 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.

God created everything, so everything belongs to God. God gave animals to man for food, so whatever you find in the butcher shop you can buy and eat. But Paul, what if that meat had been sacrificed to a demon before it showed up in the butcher shop? You said just a few versed back that we are to have no fellowship with demons. Paul says ‘The earth and everything in it belongs to the Lord.’ By participating in a demonic feast at a pagan temple, you are involving yourself in worship of that false god. But once the meat has left the demon’s turf, it is just meat, nothing more. It is God’s meat that God created, and God gave it to provide for his people. Regardless of what pagans have done with it to defile it, God is God, and it still belongs to God. So eat up! Ask no questions because of conscience. Don’t fear that a demon might sneak in to possess your body because someone said a voodoo hex over your quarter pounder before they brought it to your table. God is sovereign over the whole earth.

Eat Everything at an Unbeliever’s House!

Paul mentions another scenario as likely for the Corinthians as it is for us today.

27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.

Recognize how radical this instruction is coming from the pen of a former Pharisee! The list of dietary regulations and sanitary procedures went on and on and on. In Jerusalem, it’s hard to find a cheeseburger or a pizza with cheese and meat on it because in Deuteronomy 14:21 it say not to boil a young goat in its mother’s milk. To be kosher you have to keep separate sinks, counters, ovens, dishes, utensils and dishwashers for milk products and meat products. Hand washing has to be done in a very specific way. And the rules go on and on and on.

When God called Peter to visit Cornelius’ house, Peter said:

Acts 10:28 …“You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.

This was a big deal in Antioch. Paul tells us in Galatians 2 that Peter was eating with the Gentiles, but then caved to Jewish pressure and withdrew from them. Paul confronts him publicly, because ‘their conduct was not in step with the gospel’ (Gal.2:14). Jesus transformed everything! Jesus ate with unwashed hands. Jesus ate with prostitutes and tax collectors and sinners. Because Jesus has come, if an unbeliever invites you to dinner and you choose to go, devour everything that is put in front of you without investigating anything because of conscience. The second half of this sentence is exactly parallel to verse 25 dealing with the meat market. You don’t need to go check their kitchen. You don’t need to ask where the food came from. You don’t need to ask what it is. It doesn’t matter where it came from. Just eat up! Enjoy, because the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.

Exception

Verse 28 introduces an exception to this principle.

28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his.

There is a lot of discussion over who the someone is that says ‘this has been offered in sacrifice’. It could be a fellow believer also invited to the unbeliever’s home for dinner. More likely it may be another unbelieving guest, or possibly even the host. This verse uses a softer word ‘temple sacrifice’ rather than ‘idol sacrifice’ that Paul has used up to this point in the discussion. This would be the word that a pagan would use to refer to their sacrifice, and it would be a less offensive way for a fellow believer to identify the origin of the meat in the presence of unbelievers. It doesn’t really matter who said it, the text says ‘someone’. For the sake of that person, believer or unbeliever, do not eat.

If it was a fellow believer, they have violated what Paul just said ‘eat everything set before you without investigating’. They have been nosing around the kitchen. They are one of those who Paul mentioned in chapter 8, ‘not all possess this knowledge, those whose conscience, being weak, is defiled’. Do not destroy the brother for whom Christ died simply because you desire to indulge.

If it was another guest or even the host, knowing your exclusive devotion to Christ, they may be offering a friendly warning, or even a test to see what is really most important to you. The question has changed the nature of the meal. The one who mentioned it believes (rightly) that followers of Jesus don’t participate in idolatry. To eat now would be to acknowledge the idol to whom the food was sacrificed. For the sake of the gospel, the unbeliever needs to understand that we do not add Jesus to what we already have. ‘We have Apollo and Aphrodite and Zeus, and you say Jesus is a god? Oh, we can honor him too. No, Jesus is exclusive. Turning to Jesus means turning away from everything else you were trusting in. That is what it means to repent. This dinner invitation is an opportunity for the gospel. The steak looks really good. Seek not your own but that of the other. For the sake of the one who informed you, for his conscience sake, do not eat.

Liberty and Conscience

Paul has instructed us to eat everything sold in the market without investigating because everything ultimately belongs to God and he has told us to eat everything served to you by an unbelieving friend without investigating for the sake of conscience. He now returns to further explain this liberty.

29 …For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?

I am bound to follow the guidance of my own conscience. I am not bound to follow yours. My liberty is not judged by your conscience. I am free to partake with thankfulness. 1 Timothy addresses false teachers who:

1 Timothy 4:3 … and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

Everything created by God is good, created to be received with thanksgiving. It is holy or set apart by the word of God and by prayer. I am free, free to eat everything. But to be free to eat does not mean I am bound to eat, for that would not be freedom. I am free to do what I want to do, whether to eat or not eat. What I most want to do no longer has to do with eating or drinking. What I most want to do is advance the gospel. So whether I eat or not depends on what will serve to advance the gospel in the given situation. If for the sake of the gospel it would be advantageous to eat, then I will indulge. If it would benefit others and advance the gospel to decline, then I will not eat. I am not mastered by my appetite. I have been given the freedom to not seek my own, but that of the other.

We have been given amazing freedom in Christ. We are free from Pharisaic regulations and dietary laws. We are free to not worry about where our food came from because “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” We are free to sit down with an unbeliever at a meal and enjoy friendship. And we should. We should seize every opportunity to proclaim the good news that Jesus died for sinners to set them free. Free from sin, free from self seeking, free to recklessly pursue the good of others.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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June 15, 2014 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Corinthians 8:7-13; Obligation to Love

03/02 1 Corinthians 8:7-13 – Obligation to Love; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20140302_1cor8_7-13.mp3

1 Corinthians 8 [SBLGNT]

7 Ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐν πᾶσιν ἡ γνῶσις· τινὲς δὲ τῇ συνηθείᾳ ἕως ἄρτι τοῦ εἰδώλου ὡς εἰδωλόθυτον ἐσθίουσιν, καὶ ἡ συνείδησις αὐτῶν ἀσθενὴς οὖσα μολύνεται. 8 βρῶμα δὲ ἡμᾶς οὐ παραστήσει τῷ θεῷ· οὔτε γὰρ ἐὰν φάγωμεν, περισσεύομεν, οὔτε ἐὰν μὴ φάγωμεν, ὑστερούμεθα. 9 βλέπετε δὲ μή πως ἡ ἐξουσία ὑμῶν αὕτη πρόσκομμα γένηται τοῖς ἀσθενέσιν. 10 ἐὰν γάρ τις ἴδῃ σὲ τὸν ἔχοντα γνῶσιν ἐν εἰδωλείῳ κατακείμενον, οὐχὶ ἡ συνείδησις αὐτοῦ ἀσθενοῦς ὄντος οἰκοδομηθήσεται εἰς τὸ τὰ εἰδωλόθυτα ἐσθίειν; 11 ἀπόλλυται γὰρ ὁ ἀσθενῶν ἐν τῇ σῇ γνώσει, ὁ ἀδελφὸς δι’ ὃν Χριστὸς ἀπέθανεν. 12 οὕτως δὲ ἁμαρτάνοντες εἰς τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς καὶ τύπτοντες αὐτῶν τὴν συνείδησιν ἀσθενοῦσαν εἰς Χριστὸν ἁμαρτάνετε. 13 διόπερ εἰ βρῶμα σκανδαλίζει τὸν ἀδελφόν μου, οὐ μὴ φάγω κρέα εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, ἵνα μὴ τὸν ἀδελφόν μου σκανδαλίσω.

1 Corinthians 8 [ESV2011]

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. 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 weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have 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.

In chapters 8-11, Paul is addressing the issue of a Christian’s interaction with pagan society. In the pagan culture of Corinth, idolatry permeated every area of life; politics, sports, employment, family, even eating. Almost all meat would have some connection with pagan idolatry. Meat at a friend’s house may be the leftovers from a pagan sacrifice. Meat sold in the market often came from the priest’s portion of the pagan sacrifice. Pagan temples had dining rooms that were rented to celebrate special occasions. Some of the believers in Corinth were claiming the right to eat food that came from the temple, even the right to attend banquets held at the temple, arguing that because there is only one true God, and since food cannot earn for us favor with God, then we have freedom to eat whatever we want wherever we want.

We may think we can safely tune out this whole section as irrelevant because I can’t remember the last time I was invited to a temple for a banquet, or when my neighbor invited me to a barbeque that was dedicated to Asclepius or Aphrodite or Zeus. But if you find yourself in another country or another culture, you may quickly realize how important it is to think carefully through these issues. And when we put these instructions in the context of the broader issues of idolatry as being anything we love or honor or elevate alongside the one true God, then this becomes massively relevant and intensely practical.

The Principles behind the Decree

And we are greatly helped by the way the apostle deals with this issue. This was a settled issue. Paul could have simply laid down the law, cited the Jerusalem decree, and moved on. And that may be what he had done in earlier correspondence or in person with this church. Paul was there at the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15. Paul was one of those entrusted with the responsibility to deliver the decision to the Gentile churches. For a non-Jew to become a follower of Jesus, they did not have to become Jewish or come under the burden of Jewish law. But they must turn away from their false gods to the one true God. They cannot add Jesus to the list of gods they worship and serve. In turning to Jesus they must turn away from the worship of false gods, from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, from sexual immorality. Paul could have laid down the law. But instead he lays out the reasons behind the decision to help them (and us) to think more carefully through the issue and lead them to the proper conclusion.

Paul brings them back to first principles. There is only one God, and that one God requires that we love him with all heart and soul and mind and strength, and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. Love seeks the genuine good of the other, even if it is costly to us. The Corinthians boasted in a kind of knowledge that set them apart from everyone else; Paul points out that this knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

He points them back to first principles of monotheism; there is no God but one. By saying there is one Lord and God we confess that we owe our undivided allegiance and obedience to this one God. God reveals himself as a jealous God, and demands that we have no other gods besides him. Paul clarifies that this one God is God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, distinct persons with different roles, but God, one eternal being.

The double command of love must govern all of life. Love for God must come first. And this humbles us, because we only love because he first loved us. In verses 7-13, he spells out what love for our brother should look like. Paul does not confront their idolatrous behavior head on, but rather seeks to persuade them. In chapter 10, he will lay out clear conclusions, like 10:14 “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” and that eating idol food is eating at the table of demons (10:16-22). In this chapter Paul assumes for the sake of argument that what they are saying is true, and that their knowledge is accurate. Even if it were true that Christians have legitimate liberty to join in pagan feasts, love would require a different path.

This Knowledge is Not In All

The Corinthians were claiming to have knowledge. They said ‘we know that all of us possess knowledge’. Paul here clarifies ‘but not all possess this knowledge’. This ‘knowledge’ that it is acceptable to participate in pagan feasts because the gods honored are false empty nothings, this is not in everyone.

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 weak, is defiled.

Before they heard the gospel and believed in Jesus as God, many Corinthians would have regularly participated in these celebrations in honor of the various gods, and upon entering their former place of worship would feel soiled, dirty, defiled. Their conscience is weak, not because they are too easily offended and over-sensitive, but because they cave to the example of those who claim to be wise and eat, even though they don’t themselves have this so-called wisdom that would free them to participate. The weak conscience is a conscience that isn’t sure of itself, that doesn’t have the strength to stand on its own two feet, the moral consciousness that questions if it is permissible but does it anyway. This is a moral consciousness that is swayed by the opinion and example of others. Notice that Paul doesn’t say that they merely feel defiled. He says that their conscience, their moral consciousness is defiled. He says in Romans 14:23

Romans 14:23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Subjective Sin

These verses tell us that there is a subjective reality to sin. Something may not be forbidden by God, let’s stay (to be culturally relevant) drinking a particular beverage. If you have been raised to believe that it is sin to partake, even though you can’t produce the verse that says it is wrong, you are convinced that it is a sin against God. Objectively it is not wrong. No specific command, no general principle in the bible says it is wrong. Your conscience has been misinformed. But if you fill up your cup and drink, believing it is wrong, you are saying in your heart ‘I believe this to be a sin against God, but I am going to do it anyway’. God looks on the heart, and in your heart you have sinned against God. The act is not objectively sinful. It is not sinful in and of itself. But it becomes sin for you when, thinking it is sin, you do it anyway.

There is also an objective reality to sin. If you were not raised to believe that any sexual intimacy outside of a marriage relationship is sin, you may feel no guilt in fornicating with your girlfriend. It may feel so right. But it is still really, objectively, according to God’s absolute standard, wrong. Idolatry is on that list, putting any thing, any tradition, any relationship equal in importance with God is sin, whether it feels sinful or not. Much that we don’t feel guilty about is objectively sin against God. One reason the Holy Spirit is given to believers is to convict us of sin that we are not aware is sin.

Food Does Not Bring Us Before God

The Corinthians argument is that ‘Food does not bring us near to God’. We are presented blameless before God through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross. Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law. In a vision God offered to Peter all kinds of ceremonially unclean things to eat, and God said ‘what God has made clean, do not call common’ (Acts10:15). Jesus declared all foods clean (Mk.7:19). He said that it is not the stuff that goes in, but what comes out that defiles a person. Stuff like evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness that come out of a person’s heart. That is what defiles, not food. Food does not bring us near to God. Keeping various rules like:

Colossians 2:21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 ( referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Food does not bring us near to God. No list of do’s and dont’s will earn favor with God. Only Jesus can bring us near to the all-holy God. Food has no importance. Notice how Paul frames this: ‘We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do’. I find it interesting that he doesn’t say the opposite. He could have said ‘We are no better off if we do not eat, and no worse off if we do’, but he didn’t because that may not be true. Based on his conclusions in chapter 10, we may be better off not to eat food sacrificed to idols, and we may be worse of if we do. He says forfeiting your liberty to eat the steak does not separate you from God, neither does eating the steak bring you closer to God. Since food does not bring us nearer to God by eating or alienate us by not eating, we can safely forgo our right to eat for the sake of a brother.

Stumbling Block

This is what he says in verse 9

9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

Paul’s language borders on condescending. Paul distances himself from ‘this right of yours’. They are demanding their rights. They have this knowledge. Paul says ‘look out!’ When you start demanding and defending your own rights, you are already on dangerous territory. The problem when I begin to demand my rights, I often end up trampling on the rights of others. Paul alerts them to the existence of others for whom they must be concerned. Watch out that this right you claim does not become a stumbling block to the weak. You who claim to have ‘wisdom’ have an obligation to the weak.

This word ‘stumbling block’ has a clear Old Testament connection to idolatry. God warned in Exodus 34:

Exodus 34:12 Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. 13 You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim 14 (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), 15 lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, 16 and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods. 17 “You shall not make for yourself any gods of cast metal.

This is exactly what happened to Israel in the wilderness.

Numbers 25:1 While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.

Jesus references this when he rebukes the New Testament church in Pergamum and calls them to repentance:

Revelation 2:14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.

To draw someone into worship of anything besides the one true God is a stumbling block.

Build Up to Destruction

To put a stumbling block before the weak is a serious issue.

10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?

Paul is somewhat sarcastic here. The word translated ‘encouraged’ is the word usually translated ‘edified’ or ‘built up’. To ‘build up’ a weaker brother so that he participates in idolatry – some kind of building up that is! The conscience is a valuable tool. It is not infallible. The conscience is a delicate instrument, like a compass. Compasses sometimes need to be calibrated. But you do not calibrate the compass of conscience with the sledgehammer of my knowledge and rights, sending it spinning in every direction and rendering it useless to guide. You calibrate the compass of conscience with the precision screwdriver of love.

Listen to how Paul confronts the puffed-up Corinthians.

11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died.

Destroyed. Perished. Lost. Who would want that on their hands? Not anyone, but a weak person. You would trip up and destroy someone who can’t even stand on their own? A brother! Not an enemy, not an outsider, a brother, a sibling, part of the family! There ought to be some tender affection in you toward your own brother. And if not for my brother, then surely for Christ. This one who through my supposed knowledge I am leading back into bondage to sin, and into destruction, is one for whom Christ died. To think that I would attempt to nullify the effect of the cross of Jesus! I am a sinner saved only by God’s undeserved grace through the cross. To lead another for whom Christ died back into the sin out of which he was snatched and from which he is set free is unthinkable. Jesus loved that person and gave himself up for them. He made the ultimate sacrifice out of love. But I am so puffed up in my knowledge and concerned about my rights that I cannot sacrifice something so insignificant to love them.

12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

Paul applies this principle of love to his readers. To wound a weak conscience, to lead a weak brother into sin, is to sin against them, and to sin against someone for whom Christ died is to sin against Christ Jesus himself. This lesson would be vivid for Paul, formerly Saul, persecutor of the church. When Jesus confronted him on the road, he asked “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts9:4). To persecute the church is to persecute Jesus. Jesus said ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’ (Mt.25:40). Jesus taught

Matthew 18:6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Jesus takes great offense if we do not love those whom he so loved that he gave up his own life as a substitute for.

Paul concludes with his own personal application.

13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

Food, something so insignificant in the context of the substitutionary death of Christ for sinners; my right becomes so trivial in light of Christ Jesus, being in the form of God, who made himself nothing, and died on a cross for sinners like me (Phil.2:5-8). Paul says if food leads a brother for whom Christ died back into idolatry and away from Jesus, I will give up my right to eat meat altogether. I have no right to be rescued from my own sin. That is pure undeserved grace. It is a gift, not a right. I surely have no right to interfere or tamper with the undeserved grace God chooses to extend to another sinner. Rather, I have an obligation to love those whom Christ loved.

March 2, 2014 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment