Summary: How free should you be as a Christian - especially when dealing with younger, less mature believers. Paul addresses a difficult subject as freedom and legalism are compared. The answers may surprise you.
I love steak. I really do. Whenever we go out it’s what I feel like most of the time. For a time I became a little reluctant to eat my favorite meat after doing a series of stories as a reporter on ecoli. You remember that, don’t you? The little bacteria killed several people in Oregon and Washington. Actually it was ecoli 0157:H7. After reporting on the deaths, the fear, the anguish from victim’s families – and then seeing the process of beef production – I just lost my appetite.
Eventually I went back to eating steak – medium, please – but our section of 1st Corinthians reminds me of ecoli. For some folks in Corinth, eating a steak was like purposefully putting ecoli into their stomachs. For others, they simply didn’t care – about the meat, or what eating it did to others who were afraid.
The battle wasn’t over bacterial infection, but over spiritual infection. You see – the Greeks sacrificed animals to their many gods, or idols. The meat was served at large cafeterias near the temple – and much of it made its way to the meat market. So when you went down to Safeway to pick up a T-bone, chances are that meat had been offered to an idol.
There were two groups in the Corinthian church – one group, called them the Libertists (a made up word) claimed that their freedom in Christ nullified any concern over whether meat had been sacrificed to an idol. The other group – call them the legalists – were very concerned, and felt that eating meat given to an idol was taking part in idolatry.
So they ask Paul – what about this? He answers in a very unusual way – and we’ll get to that – but it also has application to us today. Not that our meat is sacrificed to idols – but there are other things that we do or don’t do as Christians that can offend or stumble others. In fact, Paul will say, we can actually sin by taking our freedom in Christ too far.
1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But the man who loves God is known by God.
The libertists argued that their superior knowledge about spiritual things exempted them from concern in this area. Paul says: the more you know, the more you know how less you really know.
It’s true – I heard recently that the more expert a musician is, the less confident they are because they realize just how amazing it is that they can do what they do – and they see how profound music really is.
Knowledge, Paul says, puffs up – makes you feel pretty special, makes you feel maybe better than somebody else. Albert Einstein said: “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” Just because you know something, doesn’t mean you really understand it.
Proverbs 9:10 "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Just because we can do something, doesn’t make it okay to do it. All our actions should be colored by our fear of the LORD – of knowing Him – and being known by Him. It’s not just a bunch of does and don’ts – but belonging to God means becoming like Him in character.
And what is His character? 1 John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
And what does that character of love do? John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
The essence of knowledge is knowing God – His self sacrificing love – and then practicing that on the world around you.
So with that in mind, Paul makes his argument:
4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
One note here – notice that Paul says that “all things came” from the Father and the Son. This is another good proof text for the fact that Jesus is God, and for the existence of the trinity.
In verses 4-6 Paul looks like he is supporting group 1, which said: idols are nothing – and they are - nothing.