Today we come to the installation of office bearers. These are men who are supposed to be soaked in scripture. Full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. Not just people that know a lot. Not just men that know about God, but Know God and are known by God. If that is not the case, they can easily destroy the wearkest among us. Which is something that we see in our passage today. The “strong” who “know” are by their way of life destroying the lives of those who are “weak.”
The questions is "what do we love more, “knowledge of God” or “God”. Are we more passionate about unity, and the gospel, or our rights, and freedom?
Knowledge on its own tends to puff up. That is why in general the experts have contempt for the simple minded. As Paul says, It “puffs” up. Sometimes you have this with smart people, they are smart, and they know it, and so does everyone else. You feel like a fool. There is a huge danger in knowledge when it is not placed in submission to the law of Christ which is love. This is something that elders and deacons especially must be aware of. the First question is not, “do you have all the answers.” But do you love your sheep with the love of Jesus. Much hurt has been caused even in the reformed tradition by belittling others. It can be easy to equate love with knowledge in the reformed tradition. Where one can automatically think that if I know all these things then I will be saved.
But knowledge is nothing without a deep and abiding love. That is the point that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 13 when he says that if I “can understand all mysteries and all knowledge… but have not love, I am nothing.” Even if you knew more then all greatest theologians throughout the ages it would mean nothing without love. And love for Christ shows itself in the way we treat the weakest among us. Love is shown not by how much you have but by how much you are willing to give up.
In the church of Corinth, they were quite proud of their spiritual knowledge. Knowledge that was good, and right. But they were not using in upbuilding ways. And they are not willing to set aside their rights for the sake of the brothers.
Use your knowledge of freedom in Christ in service of others.
Paul begins and says, “and now about food sacrificed to idols.” In other words, this is going to be another answer to the letter that the church wrote to Paul. They were wondering, “do we eat food sacrificed to idols and don’t we?”
Some were saying, “We all know an idol is nothing anyways, so of course we are allowed to eat food sacrificed to idols.” They been Christian their whole life long, and understood food is food, and an idol is nothing. So there in principle – or according to knowledge – is nothing wrong with eating food sacrificed to idols. Their conscience didn’t convict them.
But there were others in the church that just couldn’t make themselves do it, because of the connotations that it carried with their lives before they came to Christ. They had just come out of pagan idolatry. They had eaten food sacrificed to idols and saw eating this food as a way of honoring the false gods. Their conscience convicted them.
So, who is right? Well both are. There is nothing wrong in eating food sacrificed to idols. But he also says, ““Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Now what? Well, that is what this chapter is about?
Knowledge is dangerous
Paul says, “we know that we all have knowledge.” We all have a certain amount of knowledge in the gospel. If you are a Christian you have knowledge. But knowledge about God can be dangerous. Having a lot of biblical knowledge can create an arrogant person. People can read the Bible 1000 of times in their lives, but if the bible did not read them once then they stand condemns.
Paul explains here in verse 1, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who thinks that he knows something, does yet know as he ought to know?”
What does Paul mean here? Well, he says that we can easily make it all about knowledge, but not about the relationship. And in fact, here it is people with good theological knowleee who are actually destroying fellow believers who are less grounded. You see knowledge and love must go together. That is why Paul often puts love and knowledge together in prayer. Like for the Philippians, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,”
He is not minimizing knowledge; he is simply saying they do not yet know as they ought to know. They are not using knowledge for its intended purpose, and the knowledge then just become useless. Well then, the question is, how ought they to know?
Well, they have forgotten that relationship and truth together. They are bound together in the person of Christ. Its not about knowing something, but someone. When it is simply just about knowledge, it is dangerous, for no longer is truth for sake of sacrificial love, but truth is used so that we can do what we want, and to make us look good. You see this sometime in the church. One pastor characterized these people as follows,
There are some marks of someone who’s learned to master the Bible as a set of mere information, not extraordinary power. One mark is you become a spiritual crank. A spiritual crank is someone always complaining about relatively fine shades of doctrinal distinctions, always denouncing in arguments over Bible translations or denouncing people on the wrong side of the latest theological controversy. A spiritual crank treats the Word of God as something you use, not something that uses you. He’s puffed up on intellectual pride and his theological tribe.
[It is someone who] can study the Bible without being searched and examined and humbled, without being lifted up and made to praise God, or moved with sorrow over what God has endured in you, or amazed that the beauty and wisdom of what Christ has done for you.”
The truth of the gospel, is Christ and him crucified, right? If we use our knowledge to do what we want it simply becomes empty. A good illustration might be drinking. There is nothing wrong with a drink, but if it causes your brother to stumble who came from an alcoholic background it is better to put it totally away. When I was growing up, we rarely had any alcohol at a church gathering for the simple fact that there was an alcoholic that came to the church, who in a sense had made alcohol his god. Now for the sake of one everyone abstained. For the sake of one no one participated. That is how a body functions. If one member struggles and is hurting the other sacrifice for the sake of the health of the one.
There is an underlying theme here, about suffering for the sake of love. Love on this side of eternity requires us to give up something for the sake of love.
Paul continues, “But if anyone loves God he is known by God.” See I think Paul puts it like this on purpose. He does not say if “anyone knows God he is known by God.” He says, “if anyone loves God, he is known by God,” Dear church the question I have for you is not do you know God, but do you love God? do you love him? Above all? Does you heart pant for him? Does you life long for him. Is there a deep longing in your heart to see the beloved? Then you are known by God. It is not do you know God that is most important. A lot of people think they know God and will Go to heaven saying Lord Lord! But the important thing is does God know you. And when your knowledge is undergirded and contained by love then and only then do you know as you ought.
Knowledge is good.
With this in mind Paul now goes into the specific questions that they had. That is why the word therefore is there. He builds on what he says in verse. 1-3, in verse 4 he says, “Therefore, concerning food sacrificed to idols, we know that an “idol is nothing (literally nothing in the world),” and that there is “no God, but one.” Paul is probably quoting the members who are puffed up with knowledge, and says, you are 100% right with what you are saying, “an idol is nothing, and there is no God but one.” He goes on, “For indeed there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, just as there are many gods and many lords.” In other words, there is a lot of different things that people worship in heaven and on earth, that they treat as lord. But they are “so-called” gods. On earth it is things like money, success, fame, in heaven people may worship angels, or ancestor worship. But in the end they are not really Gods. Living. Personal. Transcendant. Able to save. Only God is that. This is why Paul has the adversative, But!
“But for us,” says Paul, “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.” Here, although it is not the point of the text, Paul gives us insight into the doctrine of Trinity. From the Father though the son are all things. There is nothing that is that is not made, and sustained, by God. This knowledge is important. Nothing in creation is inherently bad because God made it. Creation is not sinful. Nothing in creation is. All things mean all things here. Knowing this gives freedom. Being convicted of this is good and right. In other words, he is saying food sacrificed to idols is not wrong to eat if you happen to buy it at the market or simply eating at someone’s home. You are not participating in the worship of the idol, or idol feast. Also notice the ‘we”. We exist not to pleasr ourselves, but for the Father, living “through the Son.
“But” be continues, Again, a “but”. You see Paul’s pastoral sensitive heart coming through here as he looks at both sides and says, you both have something to learn. “not all have this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.” You see there were some in the church that had grown up worshiping idols. And eating the meat sacrificed to them, as part of the worship experience. Now they had met the living Christ, and he had turned their live upside down, or rather right side up. But what happens when someone comes out of terrible circumstances, they tend to want nothing at all to do with their previous lives. And that includes avoiding all food sacrificed to idols. When they eat the food they may feel like they are denying their own faith, and in this way their conscience is defiled.
Paul continues, “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no between off if we do.” God is not going to be pleased more with us one way or the other. The word commend here speaks about bringing us closer. Food does not bring us closer to God. If we act from knowledge and eat the food, it is not better than if we do not eat the food because of conscience. Those that are weak and those that are strong. Just because you are strong does not mean you are nearer to God. What we do need to watch out is that our eating or our other habits do not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. In other words, what happens if this weak brother, sees you eating it, and thinks, well if he can do it, I can do it. But for him because of his background he is in fact going against his conscience and so defiles himself. And he sins. And this is what Paul says.
For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? If anyone sees you who have knowledge. This is especially spoken to those who have more knowledge. The leaders in the faith. Those that have grown up knowing the Bible. Those who might be elders or deacons, those who might be lifetime Christians. We take the freedom for granted, and just live the Christian life without any regards for others, especially the weak. If this is the case, then it is not the Christian life anymore. Christ gave up all rights to serve the weakest. If we do not do that with our lives we are not disciples of Christ.
11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. What does it mean “destroyed.” It means that this brother can easily revert back to his former way of life. All the progress that he has made in his Christian life is destroyed by you. All because you kept doing your own thing. Even though there was nothing wrong with it in and of itself, yet it was so wrong! Why? because knowledge that is not driven by love ends in self-righteousness. And using knowledge so that you can do what you want is destructive to all around you. Dear church truth is relational. Righteousness is relational at its very heart, because Christ is the truth.
12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. This is a powerful statement that drives his point home and again we see the unity of the church and union with Christ that comes through so powerfully in this letter. This is about our unity in Christ. Hurting a brother is hurting Christ. He says in this way you not only sin against your brother, but you sin against Christ, to whom this person belongs.
Dear church, we are called to serve one another, and when you use your knowledge to do something that might be good and right, and yet it causes your brother or sister to sin – you sin! You sin against them. And you do not just sin against them, you sin against Christ. You see sin is not about right and wrong so much as it is not loving God and neighbor. At the heart of sin, is a rejection of God and other – and living for oneself.
13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. Wow! This is a amazing statement! “If something like food, or drink, or something external makes my brother stumble I will never do it again.” How many would never eat meat for the sake of Christ? I hope you are all raising your hands in your mind. You see whatever we cannot give up for the sake of the love of God and neighbor, is an idol, even if there is nothing wrong with it in and of itself. It becomes an idol when you put that thing and love that thing, above your brother, and so above Christ. We must be willing to give up all for the sake of Christ. This is where the church really teaches to lay down our own culture, in service to the kingdom. This is why God places us in community, so that we can practice sacrificial love.
Who is Jesus for you?Is a question connected very closely who is your brother and sister for you. Because how you treat you brother and sister in church is very much an indication of how you treat the Lord.
The question today is not do what do you know? But what do you love more then all! Jesus and his bride? We use our knowledge in service to that which we love most. If we love ourselves, we will use our knowledge to find a way to get what we want, or make ourselves look good, or put down others. If we love God, we will use our knowledge to serve the other, consider them better then ourselves, and exalt them.
“I will never eat meat.” Could you say that about drinking, or about social media, or about video games, or about smoking, or about whatever it is that might be causing you brother or sister to be tied down in his walk with God. If you hold onto something at the expense of your neighbor you are no longer loving your neighbor, and love is the fulfillment of the law.
Dear Church Christ gave up heavens glory and his rightful place at the Fathers right hand. He had every right to it. But holding onto that right would mean your destruction. He gave it all up. All of it. For our sake. So that he might serve us, love us. And in doing so set us free from our own selfish desires. From claiming our rights. Let us follow him.