First Corinthians 8:1-13
Surrender To The Freedom That Comes By Love

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1.  When it comes to what is clearly sin, you may be able to avoid them.  But, there are situations that look gray, which are neither so called white nor black.  Also, there are things that seem black to some and white to others.  How should we decide concerning such matters?

Freedom Of Conscience

2.  It seems that the Corinthian church had a problem with this as well.  It was about whether or not one should eat "meat that was offered to idols."  Or, going a bit further, it seems there was a debate and some resistance to whether christians should eat that meat in the first place.  It sounds ridiculous from our view.  But, in the church back then, it was actually an issue that could have split the church especially since food is directly related to every day living.

3.  Regardless of where you might be in this world, religious rituals and social customs are closely connected.  The world of the Greco-Romans back then was no exception.  A specific example of a religious custom in society back then is found in "the meat offered to idols."

4.  In the town of Corinth there were temples to many gods.  The priests' portions were first divided up from the meat of the sacrificial animals that were offered in those temples.  The remaining part was sold off and went on sale at the market.  The majority of the meat that the people ate on their tables was supplied through this such a channel.  And that's not all.  They would even dine right in the temple itself.  Therefore, it became a serious problem as to what kind of an attitude a christian should take in regard to such a practice.  As you might expect, there were some who outright rejected this "meat offered to idols."

5.  A similar situation is taken up in Romans chapter fourteen.  When we read that passage, as I touched on before, it is not just the meat offered to idols, but it seems there were people asserting that one should not eat any of the meat at all.  For, in that situation, they couldn't tell at all through what channels the meat had gotten to the table.

6.  But then on the other hand, there were some who thought that there was nothing objectionable for a christian in eating meat offered to idols.  They claimed that "We all have knowledge," (verse one).  What was this knowledge they had?  It is described specifically in verse four.  "So then, when it comes to eating meat offered to idols, that there is no god for the idol in this world and that there is no god but the one and only God, this we know," (verse four).  Of course, this is knowledge is a recognition of the right faith to believe in, an acknowledgment of the correct faith.  Thus, even Paul himself is speaking as a person who shares in this knowledge.

7.  One of the biggest things we acknowledge, which the church inherited from Israel of the Old Testament period and their Bible is the decisive distinction between the creator and the creation.  Since God is the creator, outside of God is the creation which was made by God.  Whatever this may be, as a created thing it is distinct from its Maker.  Therefore, the creation cannot be God.  In no sense at all will it ever be divine.

8.  This knowledge was applied by those in Corinth "who have knowledge" in the pagan societies around them.  So many magnificent temples stood in society.  Many gods were worshipped.  The gods were in control of the social life of the Corinthians.   But then they were able to say that "There is no god but the one and only God."

9.  Of course, you could say that behind the idols there was a spiritual presence that actually attempted to control the people.  It is expressed like this, "Even if there are ones called gods in heaven and earth just as it is believed that there are many gods and many lords...," (verse five).  But, whether these spiritual beings are called "gods" or they are called "evil spirits" (10:20), they are no more than a part of creation.  They are not other gods that should be lined up with the one and only God the creator.

10. So then, what conclusion should be drawn from this?  Since the meat offered to idols was offered to that which does not have a real substance as God, eating the meat should be allowable.  It should be permitted because even though idolatry itself was a sin that went against the will of God, the meat involved in this was not the problem.  This meant there was no need to be afraid all for nothing when it came to eating the meat offered to idols.

11.  Thus, the claim of those who asserted that "We all have knowledge" was surely not wrong.  They probably were able to say that we obtained freedom through this knowledge.  It is often important that we obtain correct knowledge and insight into a situation.  Knowledge sets a person free from unnecessary fears.  It sets a person free from all kinds of bondage.  In order to live with sound judgment, it is very important to obtain this kind of freedom.

Consideration For Others Through Love

12.  However, freedom only according to knowledge is not enough.  Why is that?  Because a person's actions always have an effect on someone else.  And that other person just might not have the same knowledge as you.  Thus, Paul continues on by saying, "However, this knowledge is not with everyone," (verse seven).

13.  What might happen if a person who didn't have the knowledge that was referred to before had been motivated by the words of the free men and had eaten the meat offered to idols just the same?  He was captive to a custom that he had been accustomed to till that very day.  In his mind, [it was true that] the gods of the idols still had substance and [there were] other gods that extended their controlling power over [the world].  Meat was offered to those gods.  The meat became something that belonged to the gods.  It showed up for sale at the market place.  He looked at this meat as belonging to the gods.  He felt that eating it was to be unfaithful to God the father of Jesus Christ whom he was now serving.  His conscience hurt.  With a hurting conscience, he put the meat in his mouth.

14.  Well, up to this point the problem is not the meat itself.  The problem is not whether eating meat is actually rebellion against God.  Paul himself said, "What leads us to God is not food.  If we don't eat, we don't lose anything and if we have eaten we don't gain anything," (verse eight).  So, what's the problem?  It's when that person "does what he thinks is unrighteous before God and dares to go against God."  "Since his conscience is weak, he is defiled," (verse seven), this is what Paul is saying.  Thus, the motive of a free and strong person will pull the heart of a weak person away from God.

15.  Because of this, Paul urged the following to the free persons.  "Watch out with this free attitude of yours as it will lead the weak to temptation to sin," (verse nine).

16.  We should not use our hearts only in seeing whether our actions are sinful for us or not; for, if we think according to our own knowledge, even though we may have not sinned, it may be the source of enticement into sin for someone else.  It is the source of pulling a person besides yourself away from God.  Correct knowledge is important.  Even the freedom based on it is important.  However, it is possible that this freedom can lead others to sin and lead them into destruction.  "This matter is the problem of a person who is weak and is lead by a mistaken notion.  It is not a problem that I am responsible for.  I have always conducted myself according to my own freedom to do so!"  Should we go around talking like that?  No, we shouldn't.  Paul says, "Christ also died for your brother," (verse eleven).

17.  Therefore, in regard to the eating of meat he goes on to state the following resolve, "Because of this then, if matters pertaining to food cause my brother to stumble, in order not to cause my brother to stumble, I will not put meat in my mouth ever again," (verse thirteen).  Paul himself had knowledge.  He was free.  But, he surrendered his freedom.  In order not to cause his brother to stumble, based on a consideration for others that comes from his love for them, he renounces his own freedom.  Like him then, as we respond to the need for our own freedom, isn't the freedom that one can renounce a true freedom that we ought to have?  To those who claim to be free, Paul asks from them that they be free in a real sense.

18.  As we think about this, the meaning of the words in verse one make more sense.  When he said at the beginning, "It is sure that 'We all have knowledge,'" he gave recognition to their knowledge.  But, then he continued to say this, "But, knowledge puffs up a person to pride, yet love builds one up."

19.  As we've already seen, he never let their be a confrontation between knowledge and love.  Being freed from bondage and obtaining freedom through a correct knowledge of faith was considered very important even with Paul.  But, when this knowledge and freedom show up in pride it starts to work as a destructive power on the community and fellowship.  If we end up saying, "Anyone without knowledge is weak.  Anyone made captive by trivialities is wrong, anyone not free is bad," aren't we no longer able to live with one another?

20.  So, I might add, the phrase "Love builds one up" has great significance.  There is also the translation that says, "Love raises a person's virtues," but when Paul uses this phrase what he is thinking of is not individuals but the church.  In order for the church to be built, we not only need the freedom that comes from knowledge, but we need ever so much the consideration for others that comes by love.

21.  As I mentioned at the beginning, there are many things around us that hard to decide whether it is right or wrong.  At those times, while we consider "whether or not our actions are appropriate," we should also consider whether "our actions are moving in the direction of building up or in tearing down."  And in order to not cause our brothers to stumble or to destroy the fellowship, some times we need to give up our own freedom.

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