Summary: Drawing enduring principles from an ancient debate.
A RIGHT USE OF FREEDOM
Faced with a difference of opinion concerning food which may (or may not) have been offered to idols, the Apostle Paul appears here to be addressing some of the slogans being used in the theological and ethical debate in Corinth.
The first slogan is, “We all have knowledge” (1 Corinthians 8:1). However, says the Apostle, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” In other words, a person who has ‘knowledge’ without LOVE is full of hot air!
The word for ‘knowledge’ is mentioned six times in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3, but it is LOVE that is the primary thing. True, ‘agape’ love does not get puffed up (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4). Whereas ‘love never fails’; all our so-called ‘knowledge’, by contrast, ‘will be ended’ (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:8).
Love is the foundation of the Christian faith. It is contained in the Jewish Shema: ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength (might)’ (Deuteronomy 6:5). Jesus reads ‘mind’ for ‘might’, and couples this commandment to love God with the command to ‘love your neighbour’ (Matthew 22:37-40).
Which all brings us back to the brother who might have concerns about food that may (or may not) have been sacrificed to idols. Whatever my position may be on a sensitive issue like this, it is not my place to dictate to the consciences of others: but rather to be considerate of the brother of the other opinion.
The Apostle John picks up the mantle, associating the true knowledge of God with love (cf. 1 John 4:7-8).
The second and third slogans are, “An idol has no real existence” and “there is no God but One” (1 Corinthians 8:4).
The LORD says, ‘No other god before Me’ (Exodus 20:3); followed by ‘No idols!’ (Exodus 20:4-6). Our knowledge of God is based in who He is: the one and only true and living God (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4). ‘For all the gods are idols dumb, which blinded nations fear’ (Psalm 96:5).
The Apostle Paul unfolds his argument by referring to the ‘so-called’ gods and lords in contrast to the One true God (1 Corinthians 8:5-6). The Apostle emphasises the Fatherhood of God “FROM whom are all things,” who is the goal and purpose of our existence. Paul also places “the one Lord Jesus Christ, THROUGH whom” we all have our existence, on a par with God the Father.
The Apostle John was still saying, ‘Little children, keep yourselves from idols’ (1 John 5:21) towards the end of his life.
The fourth slogan is, “Food does not bring us near to God” (1 Corinthians 8:8).
Yet it is not enough to have right theology if we are the cause of our brother’s stumbling. Not everybody understands our knowledge, and some new Christians in Corinth had a problem disassociating themselves from the customs of their old life. For some, old associations of ideas, from that old life, were hard to shake off (1 Corinthians 8:7).
Paul is clear. Whether we eat or not may be a matter of some indifference - to us - but what about the other brother? (1 Corinthians 8:8-10). In practise, is what we are doing (quite legitimately, we may argue) hurting someone else? Is our use of our legitimate liberty leading somebody else into sinning against their own conscience?
Paul says elsewhere, ‘It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby your brother stumbles, or is offended, or is made weak’ (Romans 14:21).
This is not just about meat or drink - or other such scruples, religious or otherwise - but about “the brother for whom Christ died” (1 Corinthians 8:11). It is so easy to make everything about US: OUR opinions, OUR freedom, etc.; without taking account of the havoc we are wreaking in the other’s life and walk.
We have our own slogans, carted out every so often to justify ourselves in doing as we please: ‘We are not under the law’; ‘It is covered by the blood’; etc.
However, there is a more mature liberty which we might engage: the freedom NOT to do just as I please! If there is anything I do, however legitimate it may otherwise be, which causes my brother to offend: then says Paul, I won’t do it (1 Corinthians 8:13)!