Reading of 1 Corinthians 8. “This is the Word of the Lord.” “Thanks be to God.”
Should I do this particular thing, YES or NO?
Sometimes it’s easy to tell what the right thing is: Steal the Tesla or not? NO.
Should I go to church regularly? That’s a YES.
But sometimes it’s harder:
Usually with questions like this we think of it as a desert-island question: If I were alone on a desert island would it be okay for me to__________? Okay for me to get drunk? NO. Ok for me to take God’s name in vain? NO.
In our look at 1 Corinthians we’re now at chapter 8. Series is “BEING GOD’S PEOPLE.” This morning we learn that “being God’s people” means thinking wisely about lifestyle choices.
1 Corinthians 8:1–11:1 is an extended section. Seems the question to Paul in a letter from the Corinthians was, “It is okay to eat food sacrificed to idols, YES or NO?” Paul’s answer: “Well...it depends.”
Sermon: The text asks three questions for our “YES or NO?” dilemma: (1) Is it an expression of love? (1 Cor 8:1–3); (2) Is it consistent with our view of God? (1 Cor 8:4–6); (3) Is it damaging to other Christians? (1 Cor 8:7–13)
“Now concerning food offered to idols...” New discussion. The reason it’s a big deal in Corinth is “food offered to idols” a large part of life. When?
Regular part of life in Corinth. Christians dealth with this a lot.
“All of us possess knowledge” – there was a “knowing” group. Seems they grasped reality of God as the one true God. If he’s the one true God then idols are really nothing. And so food sacrificed to idols is just...food. So, eat up! And they likely wanted Paul to speak to the “non-knowing” group who felt like idols were still a big deal and said not to eat.
But Paul pushes back on this “knowing.” He says their knowledge “puffs up” (1 Cor 8:1). Their knowledge is proud—“imagines that he knows something” but “does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Cor 8:2).
Their knowledge is like a bag of chips. You buy a bag of chips and think you’re getting a huge serving. But you open the bag and realize it’s just a lot of air. The bag is only ¼-full of chips.
The contrast is with love. Their knowledge is puffed air. But love actually “builds up.” “Builds up” is a powerful verb—you can imagine brick and mortar, a sturdy foundation, ability to withstand wind and rain.
Love is a picture of strength, their knowledge a picture of weakness.
Paul’s not setting up a choice between love and knowledge. That’s a false choice. The choice is between knowledge WITHOUT LOVE and knowledge WITH LOVE.
Knowledge without love accomplishes nothing. Knowledge with love is a force for real and lasting change.
He ends this paragraph with a twist—1 Corinthians 8:3. We expect him to say that “if anyone loves God, he knows God.” But he says something very different.
He finishes by telling us what is the most important knowledge of all. It’s not what WE KNOW. It’s the fact GOD KNOWS US!
APPLICATION: When we choose an action, is it an expression of true Christian love? Is it consistent with the fact we love God—and he knows us?
With “the eating of food offered to idols,” a critical piece to understand is what an “idol” is. Remember, an idol is a statue that represents a god. And for worshippers, in some ways it is that god.
But the “knowing” group in Corinth knows some things. They know “an idol has no real existence” and “there is no God but one” (1 Cor 8:4). Both are true.
When you consider who God is and what he is, “there is no God but one.” He has no rivals. No other being can claim to be what he is.
And so, NO. “There is no God but one”!
Paul goes on to say many things are labelled “gods” and “lords” (1 Cor 8:5). Walking around Corinth in Paul’s day, Paul would have seen evidence all around him of Corinthians worshiping Aphrodite, Athena, Apollo, Demeter and Kore, Hera, Poseidon, Asklepios (the god of medicine).
So yes, “so-called gods in heaven or on earth,” there are many! But our God is unlike any of these. To declare what is true of him Paul borrows language from Israel’s Shema, a prayer Jews would repeat daily. It comes from Deuteronomy 6:4:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deut 6:4)
Paul in 1 Cor 8:6 repurposes the Shema to declare who God the Father is and who the Lord Jesus Christ is.
Paul in this early Christian document, one of the earliest, is saying that the “one” God of Deut 6:4 is Father and Son. It is fully consistent with the later definitions of the Trinity as “one God in three persons.”
It is monotheism but it is “Christological monotheism.”
Paul here does not give us a full-blown doctrine of the Trinity but he lays the groundwork for it. He distinguishes God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
God the Father is the SOURCE and GOAL of all things: “from whom are all things and for whom we exist.”
God the Son is the one THROUGH HIM all things happen: “through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1–3)
There is in the Divine Being but one indivisible essence.... In this one Divine Being there are three Persons or individual subsistences, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.... The whole undivided essence of God belongs equally to each of the three persons....Though they are all works of the three persons jointly, creation is ascribed primarily to the Father, redemption to the Son, and sanctiﬁcation to the Holy Spirit....The second and third persons are not dependent powers or mere intermediaries, but independent authors together with the Father. The work [of creation] was not divided among the three persons, but the whole work, though from different aspects, is ascribed to each one of the persons. All things are at once out of the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.
Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology
God is beyond our ability to describe him. He has revealed so much about who he is and what he is. But what he reveals only takes us so far. We quickly realize he is infinitely beyond us.
There is no God like our God. There is no God like our God!
He is not one in a pantheon of gods. Those gods are no more real than the gods in superhero movies. In fact, the gods of superhero movies are a pretty good representation of the gods and goddesses throughout history.
Even when you step into a monotheistic tradition like Islam or a tradition like Mormonism that borrows so much from Christian truth.
With superhero movies they’re tapping into the God-reflex we all have, the instinct to revere a superior and even supreme being. The longing to be a part of something more than merely human.
As Paul said, “there are many [so-called] ‘gods’ and many [so-called] ‘lords.’” But there is only one true God. Only one true Lord.
APPLICATION: When we consider a specific action, is it consistent with a biblical view of God? Does it accurately portray the God who is, the God from whom and through whom and to whom all things exist?
Read 1 Cor 8:7–13.
Now Paul adds another layer to how we decide what is the right thing for me to do.
The key person I need to remember when I’m deciding whether to eat meat is the person who doesn’t have my freedom. He’s not at the same place. To him, eating meat is about eating meat that’s been sacrificed to an idol. He can’t separate the two.
His lack of freedom changes how I exercise my freedom.
Paul agrees that eating or not eating has no religious significance in itself—1 Cor 8:8. But “the weak” don’t see it that way.
Paul imagines a scenario where someone who is “weak” watches you eat the food sacrificed to an idol and think it’s ok. So, he does the same. He accepts the invitation to eat at the temple with his work cohort. But for this “weak” Christian, this was a religious act. He really is eating meat that was given in sacrifice to a false god.
For this Christian, such an act is “a stumbling block” (1 Cor 8:9). His conscience is “wounded” (1 Cor 8:12). Paul even says “this weak person is destroyed” (1 Cor 8:11).
Paul has strong words for someone who would contribute to such a thing.
In 1 Corinthians 8:11 he rebukes them because in their proud, callous display of personal freedom, “the weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died.”
This act is not just hurting the brother. But in 1 Corinthians 8:12 it’s sinning against your brothers and a to sin against Christ.
Paul then points to his own conviction about his personal freedom and says eating meat is a freedom he’ll lay down forever if it makes my brother stumble.
A desert island scenario: Paul might say, If I’m alone on a desert island, it’s perfectly fine to eat meat—even meat that’s been sacrificed to idols. Idols have no real existence, after all. But I’m not alone on a desert island. I’m very connected to a community of people, to God’s people. And if I know that eating meat will cause a fellow Christian to stumble then I’ll never, ever, ever eat meat again.
APPLICATION: Is this action damaging to other Christians? What affect will it have on others?
Questions to consider for a given action or lifestyle choice:
Is it an expression of true Christian love? Is it consistent with the fact we love God—and he knows us?
Is it consistent with a biblical view of God? Does it accurately portray the God who is, the God from whom and through whom and to whom all things exist?
Is this action damaging to other Christians? What affect will it have on others?
A passage like this is challenging to our American individualism.
Whole section building to 10:31:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor 10:31)
Prayer and closing song
 See https://www.corinth-museum.gr/en/museum/glancing-in-the-city-state-of-corinth/venerating-gods-and-heroes/.
 Ciampa/Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, PNTC.
Here are some other recent messages.
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