Reading Time: 6 Minutes
When the church assembled to hear Paul’s letter read, they listened to the entire letter in a single meeting of the church.
The people who heard the letter didn’t need the kind of background information that I have provided for modern readers. They lived and breathed the culture of Corinth every day.
The Corinthian church was diverse. It was certain to have many poor members, but sprinkled among the congregation were apparently fairly wealthy persons too.
One of the issues of the church centered around whether it was acceptable to eat food in pagan temples or food purchased in the meat market that had been part of temple sacrifices.
Paul devoted chapter 8-10 to the issue. To maintain continuity we will consider these issues before returning to a study of the Old Testament prophets.
Puffed Up – Built Up
A verse-by-verse examination will help us better understand Paul’s instruction and apply it to our lives.
— 1 Cor. 8.1 – Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
Some in Corinth claimed to “possess knowledge” that allowed them to participate in meals at pagan temples.
The daily diet for most people in Corinth was porridge, bread, olives and watered down wine. Meat was rare and was only available to the poor when rich patrons of the temples provided it for the masses.
An excellent excuse to feel free to eat meat, while sitting side-by-side with worshipers of idols was the claim to “possess the knowledge” that Christians were free from harm in such an environment.
The problem with the Corinthian church was a tendency to be “puffed up” with pride. This know-it-all pride was the opposite of living to “build up” other people.
— 1 Cor. 8.2-3 – Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.
Before Paul met Jesus, he had a head full of knowledge and a heart full of hate. Jesus transformed Paul and filled him with a loving heart.
Paul applied his experience with Jesus to the Corinthian church. He wanted them to value loving God and others more than their prideful reliance on knowledge.
— Application: Let’s evaluate our relationship with God. Do we use rationalizations or intellectual arguments to escape obedience?
Are we living in a love-relationship with God?
A “Yes-But” Argument
Paul acknowledged the validity of a portion of the argument he received from church leaders. He did so only to correct it.
— 1 Cor. 8.4 – Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.”
The “knowledge” of the some in the Corinthian church was that there is no such thing as an idol. They reasoned that since there are no idols, then Christians are perfectly free to enjoy festivals at a pagan temples.
— 1 Cor. 8.5-6 – Indeed, even though there may be so – called gods in heaven or on earth — as in fact there are many gods and many lords — 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.
As Paul adopted a “yes-but” argument, he delivered a powerful statement about the Father and the Son. Note Paul’s grammar. All existence is FROM the Father and THROUGH the Son.
The word, “Trinity,” is not found in Bible. However, references that link Father, Son and Holy Spirit together are throughout the New Testament. In this instance the Father and the Son are connected.
— Application: As we evaluate our relationship with God, let’s ask ourselves what is the central focus of our existence.
All existence originates with God and becomes effective through the agency of Jesus Christ. Do we focus our existence on a friendship relationship with Jesus Christ?
God’s Wisdom Toward Food
Food may be neutral, but the way our actions influence other people are not. Paul wrote to bring this truth into focus.
— 1 Cor.8.8 – “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.
Those with “knowledge” in Corinth asserted that food was neutral, even if it were eaten in a pagan temple. They reasoned that it did not hurt Christians who ate the food at temple festivals.
— 1 Cor. 8.9-11 – But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
10 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols?
11 So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed.
Those with “knowledge” felt free to eat at pagan temple festivals. They were not considerate of how their actions may affect the faith of more vulnerable members.
People in Corinth didn’t just go to the pagan temples for a good meal. After eating at the temple the men would return to someone’s home to drink and talk.
The men’s only event was often accompanied by female dancers and prostitutes. No wonder Paul didn’t want the “puffed up” with pride church members to influence the weaker members to participate.
— 1 Cor. 8.12 – But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
The wisdom of the cross is a great contrast to the prideful “knowledge” of some in the church. Self-giving love, which is at the heart of the wisdom of the cross, is devoted to Jesus and the care of the family of God.
Paul wrote this letter to call the church back to self-giving love.
— 1 Cor. 8.13 – Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
Paul encouraged the church to imitate his behavior. Love, not prideful knowledge, should rule the church in both attitudes and actions.
— Application – As we translate Paul’s ancient message into today’s situations, let’s ask ourselves if self-giving love motivates our behavior.
Let’s evaluate any questionable activities in our lives by the wisdom of the cross, self-giving love.
About This Blog
I want to retain continuity with Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians, so the next blog articles will stay in this letter for a few days before returning to the Old Testament prophets.
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