Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (January 28, 2018)
- First reading
- Second reading
1 Corinthians 8 | New Living Translation (NLT)
Now regarding your question about food that has been offered to idols. Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes.
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.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.
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. 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.
In our readings during the season that follows Epiphany, we are working through Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. We come to a section of the letter that has caused various controversies. In this section of the letter, we hear the concept of causing a weaker brother or sister in Christ to stumble. I know that I could make enemies on both sides of this issue.
Perhaps the greater issue is dealt with early on in this passage. Paul writes “we all have knowledge” about this issue. I think he was saying that we all have opinions about this issue. There are times in the church that we present opinions as facts. This happens on both sides of the issues. We even come up with our favorite scriptures to support our opinions.
This happened back in the mid-1800’s over the issue of slavery. Those who were in favor of slavery presented their opinion as fact and even scriptural. The ones who took a stand against slavery gave some great arguments against slavery. One of the reasons our denomination got started was because we were against slavery. We believed that was the biblical stand to take.
Perhaps this idea of eating meat sacrificed to idols was similar. I think Paul is foreshadowing in this letter…remember this is the same letter that has the “love chapter.” Paul makes mention already that love strengthens the church. I love the fact that he goes on to say that those who think they know the answers, don’t really know very much. There are two points in this. Paul says it elsewhere that we should think of ourselves more highly than we ought. That we should have an attitude of humility. Everything that we do, we should do out of an attitude of love – a love for God and a love for our fellow brothers and sisters. Paul makes this point: Don’t use your freedom in Christ to cause others to stumble.
There are three important things at work – at least in this passage as to whether something is permissible or not.
- Are we loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and do we love our brothers and sisters in Christ with the love of God?
- Are we humble in our approach? Are we exhibiting the attitude of Christ?
- Are we using our freedom in Christ to cause others to stumble?
Don’t think just because you have “superior knowledge” that something is permissible. I’ve often heard that argument. In all things, we should be humble. I heard a phrase this week at our pastor and spouses retreat. Mark Gorveatte talked about MVS. It is a phrase coined at 12stone Church – a Wesleyan Church in Georgia (and one of our largest.) MVS is Mutual Voluntary Submission. Believers should be in mutual submission to each other. It is the way of Christ. Don’t hold your knowledge over other’s heads.
As I close, I encourage you to read through the passage again. Paul offers some great thoughts on deferring to one another.