Saturday, 16 August 2014
Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. 1 Corinthians 8:1
Paul now begins a new line of question answering, specifically that of “things offered to idols.” The Corinthians had written him about various subjects and Paul is addressing them based on his comment of verse 7:1 which said, “Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me…” With the items of chapter 7 complete, chapter 8 takes on this subject and it will consume the entire chapter which consists of just 13 verses.
The reason for their question and Paul’s response should be obvious. Under the Mosaic Law, there were special dietary restrictions which applied to the faithful. They were extremely strict and they formed an important distinction between being a Jew and being a Gentile. The issue is addressed in the book of Acts, in Galatians, and elsewhere as well. In those accounts, what is relayed shows the immense importance of the matter for those in the new faith found in Christianity.
Unfortunately, as clearly as the issue of “foods” is explained in the New Testament, many have failed to heed the words and have fallen back on the Old Testament law in varying measure instead of relying on the grace of Christ. They again impose burdens which were set aside in the work of the Lord and place themselves under unnecessary bondage. Even Peter was found to fail in this regard and Paul had to correct him on the truth of the gospel.
If certain dietary restrictions were to arise within Christianity, we would find ourselves bound under a legalistic situation similar to the Levitical laws and thus we would be found attempting to obtain God’s favor through works once again. The strong view concerning foods then is that all foods are acceptable and that any process of obtaining and eating those foods is unimportant.
However, there is more to the issue than merely denying “works” in order to be justified. There is the issue of conscience and knowledge which Paul will address in a wise and clearly-stated manner. As the Pulpit Commentary notes about this verse –
“His liberality of thought shows itself in this – that he sides with those who took the strong, the broad, the common sense view, that sin is not a mechanical matter, and that sin is not committed where no sin is intended. He neither adopts the ascetic view nor does he taunt the inquirers with the fact that the whole weight of their personal desires and interests would lead them to decide the question in their own favour. On the other hand, he has too deep a sympathy with the weak to permit their scruples to be overruled with a violence which would wound their consciences. While he accepts the right principle of Christian freedom, he carefully guards against its abuse.”
And so in order to show that there is, in fact, a contrast between conscience and knowledge and that both need to be harmoniously considered, he immediately introduces a parenthetical comment which begins with, “We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.” Just because someone may have knowledge doesn’t mean that their actions are appropriate. In essence, “Yes, I have knowledge that I can eat all foods, but how does that knowledge affect those around me? If it affects them in a negative manner by harming their conscience, then am I acting in love towards them?”
Additionally, Paul notes that “knowledge puffs up.” In other words, having knowledge can lead me to being prideful in my knowledge which will inevitably lead to sin. He is returning to the metaphor he used in chapter 5 where “leaven” or “yeast” is used to make bread rise. The leaven is a picture of sin infecting our lives. As we sin, we become puffed up in our actions. Just because we have knowledge of a particular subject, it doesn’t mean that it is right to use that knowledge if it will harm others. Instead, he states the contrasting truth that “love edifies.”
He will continue his parenthetical thought in the next two verses before returning to the main line of reasoning. In this then, he is demonstrating wisdom in how he approaches this subject. He will hold the line on the truth that we are free in Christ from all such restrictions that they have asked about, but we are not free to exercise that freedom while allowing others to be harmed in the process. Where there is doubt or misunderstanding, there needs to be instruction in the word of God. Once this is accomplished, then we can exercise our freedoms with a clear conscience.
Life application: It is not true that we have to avoid anything that others find offensive. In such a case, Christians wouldn’t be Christians at all because the message of the cross is an offense; the truth that hell is real is an offense; and the truth that the only way to avoid hell is to be saved through the cross of Christ is certainly offensive. However, instruction on these (and all other points of doctrine) need to be explained. It would make no sense to say “You are going to hell” to a pagan without explaining why. Likewise, it is right to explain our freedoms in Christ to weaker Christians by opening the word and providing right instruction. After that, if they remain offended by what we eat or where we eat, it would be unreasonable to not go eat. Their offense has been explained in love and therefore there is no longer an obligation to refrain from acting in accord with the freedoms we are granted.
Heavenly Father, I want to thank You for the freedoms which are found in Christ. I know that the foods I eat cannot affect my walk with You. But I also know that they may affect a weaker brother who lacks proper knowledge in our freedoms. And so Lord, give me the wisdom to lead him to the truth of Your word in love. Help me to be responsible in my actions so that You will be glorified and my brother will be edified. Amen.