This sermon is number 20 in a series of 46
1 Corinthians - Part 20
"Light, Liberty & Love"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2003 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I Corinthians 8
First Corinthians chapter 8, and it would be great if you could get some of these tape recordings and spread them about, because I really feel that the truths in the first epistle to the Corinthians are so relevant -not only to the world in which we are living in, and we saw that in recent weeks as we looked at the subject of marriage and all the related subjects that surround marriage. We're going to see tonight that this is particularly relevant to many questions that are being asked within the church of Jesus Christ, as to is it right to do this, or wrong to do that, and with regards to the classifications of sins. We find today in the church of Jesus Christ that there are many things being done by Christians that, perhaps 10, 20, 30 years ago would not have even been considered - things that would have been considered sins, which are not considered sins any longer. There are certain things within the word of God that we are told not to do and we're told to do, but there are certain things that, if you like, are grey areas. We want to look at this subject tonight under the title 'Light, Liberty and Love'.
"Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of him. As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of your's become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend".
Now the specific problem that we're looking at this evening of whether or not to eat meat that is offered as a sacrifice to idols is specifically relevant to many believers across the world today, particularly when they have been converted out of paganism in heathen lands. This is a real contemporary issue for them: ought we to eat meat that has been offered to idols? Of course, in our Western, modern, affluent world this isn't really an issue specifically, but we will see tonight that the issue does exist in a general sense in the question, if you like: how far does our Christian liberty go? How far does our freedom in Christ go, specifically into the areas that the Bible says nothing about? There are certain areas in modern life that the Bible doesn't have specific commands concerning. Now I'm sure, if you're a parent here this evening, you will have to admit, and maybe even as a leader in the church or even personally in your own everyday experience, there have been certain issues, certain questions, certain grey areas in your life where you've sat with your head in your hands, and thought: 'What do I do here? What's the right thing to do as a Christian? What's the wrong thing to do? Is there a right thing? Is there a wrong thing? Is there a command here, or is there a principle that I ought to follow as a believer?'.
Now I would say that today in Christendom some of the most heated debates centre around these questionable issues. Some feel that certain things are wrong for a Christian to do, yet those things that they feel are wrong are not specifically forbidden through any verse or any command in the word of God. Let me give you a few examples, and I don't have time to enter into the specifics of them tonight, and maybe I will do, and I certainly have done in the past - but we want to look at the principles this evening. You've heard believers in this day and age say: 'Well, it's alright to drink a glass of table wine. I mean, there's no commands within the word of God that says you can't drink wine, in fact wine is right throughout the whole of the Bible as being drunk - even by our Lord Jesus Christ'. Now, as I've said, we're not entering into whether the wine that the Lord drank is the same as the wine today, I happen to believe that wine today could be categorised under 'strong drink' that you find forbidden within the Scriptures - but that's another subject entirely. Certainly we could never say that the Bible has a command that says you ought not to drink wine. What about smoking? Well, there's no commands in the Bible that says you ought not to smoke, or play cards, that you ought not to put makeup on your face or go to a dance. Sunday activities, like shops that are open, apart from the Old Testament prohibition on the Sabbath day - of course, the Lord's day isn't the Sabbath day, so that doesn't count right away - there's nothing said about this. In fact, the likelihood is that the first Christians, perhaps, had to go to their work on the Lord's day - and I'm not encouraging that.
What about television? Some Christians say that you shouldn't have a television, other Christians say: 'Well, you should have a television, but you should regulate your watching of the television'. Others say: 'Well, it's alright to watch television, and it's alright to watch anything on television as long as it doesn't affect you'. Some believers say: 'Well, I don't think you should go into politics as a believer'; yet other believers go to the other extreme and say: 'Well, it's your duty to be in politics as a believer, to try and change and affect things in the government and in society for good'. Some believers say: 'Well, you can like classical music, but you're not allowed to like popular music - one is right, and one is wrong'. Some say: 'Well, I don't think you should go to the theatre', and others say: 'Well, I don't believe you should go to the cinema'.
Now, as I said, we're not entering into these individual things, specifically for one reason: because the Bible has nothing to say specifically about those things, because some of those things weren't even invented in Bible days. I think that's why much time is spent arguing about these subjects, because the Bible doesn't specifically forbid them or commend them. We as Christians, as we read and study the Bible, can't speak authoritatively on them, or at least as authoritatively as we can about certain commandments - like we know that the Bible says: 'Thou shalt not kill'; 'Thou shalt not steal'; 'Thou shalt not commit adultery', and all the commandments that we know are in the Decalogue, the law of God. We know also that the Old Testament has many other commandments that are reciprocated in the New Testament, and we know that there are commands - and we mentioned them tonight in the announcements - to be baptised, to remember the Lord around the Table: those are commands that we're absolutely certain about, things that we should do, and there are other commands of things that we ought not to do. There are black and white, right and wrong subjects. But the dilemma that we're coming to this evening in 1 Corinthians 8 is: what do we do about things that the Bible doesn't speak about? Things that the Bible is silent on...
Now to a large extent the two reactions that are normally had by people when faced with things that the Bible doesn't speak about are found in Corinth and they're found in the church today. The first is the reaction of legalism, and legalism is simply this opinion: that all is black or white, everything is either right or wrong. People who live by the philosophy of legalism live as Christians by a list of rules, things that they can do and things that they can't do. Everything is either good or bad, whether the Bible mentions it or not you can put it into some kind of category today. So, what happens is they develop a list of other rules that are extra-biblical, added to the Bible, that you'll not find within the word of God - a bit like what the Pharisees did when they had their 600+ rules added to the law of Moses. They believe that if you keep all the 'do's' of those rules, and don't commit any of the 'don'ts' of those rules, well, that is true spirituality - almost to the extent that it doesn't matter what the inner man is like, as long as you keep all of this rule of do's and don'ts.
They are law-controlled Christians, and the word of God would testify that the letter killeth. They are Christians who will suffocate themselves by trying to keep man-made rules, they will not grow, the word of God will become irrelevant, and their rules will become more important - and they will never mature as believers. But that is a very common reaction to those grey areas that aren't mentioned within the word of God, and that we have with us in today's society. The other extreme is that which Paul, I think, is talking about here, which is licence. Believe it or not, licence is like legalism in the sense that it knows no grey areas. But it knows no grey areas because there's not much black at all, in fact everything is white almost! Everything is acceptable if it's not strictly forbidden from the Bible, specifically the New Testament. These people who adhere to license believe that they have a right to be free as a Christian, and that freedom is virtually absolute and unqualified - as long as their conscience is free, as long as they are comfortable and feel comfortable doing something, well it's alright.
The Corinthians, I believe, fell into that category. They reasoned that in three ways, that they could do what they liked, three ways we find in this passage. The first is this: 'We know that we all have knowledge', we know that we all have knowledge - you see that in verse 1. "Now as touching things offered unto idols", Paul says, "we know that we all have knowledge". Now he was talking about the 'we', that group of believers in Corinth who had a great deal of knowledge about this specific issue. 'We know that we all have knowledge', what is the knowledge about? The second reasoning for their licence was called 'Well, we know that an idol is nothing', that's the knowledge that they had - and they were right, and Paul agreed with them, that there is no significance in an idol, because an idol represents a god who doesn't exist, and if he doesn't exist why should we be afraid of eating meat that is sacrificed to an idol? They had that knowledge. The third reasoning is: 'We know that food is not an issue with God'. So you see this: they have this knowledge that an idol means nothing, therefore the food that is sacrificed to an idol must mean nothing to God as well, and therefore the whole issue generally of what you should eat and what you should drink doesn't matter to God. It doesn't commend you to God, it doesn't make you more spiritual or less spiritual - a bit like what we thought about in previous weeks, when we talked about whether it's more spiritual to be married than to stay single. What was Paul's conclusion? None of them are more spiritual, one is not more spiritual than the other, but there may be certain circumstances - in his context, the present distress - that it was advisable to stay single, but one was not more moral than the other!
Well, the Corinthians may not have had that knowledge when Paul was speaking to them concerning marriage, but they had it concerning these sacrifices. They knew that there's no such a thing as a false god, it is just that, it's false, it doesn't exist! Therefore the meat that's offered to it, it won't contaminate you, and food is not an issue with God. So they said: 'What the problem, Paul? Why can't we eat this meat that is offered to the idols?'. Here we go, because in recent weeks we found that Paul found himself in a fix, didn't he? He was between two, and we've marvelled at his wisdom and godly insight when he's been able to come down the middle with the biblical inspired balanced interpretation and instruction to these people. We could say tonight: 'How's he going to get out of this one?'. Well Paul, in a marvellous way, of course by the inspiration of God's Spirit, gives a general, a universal principle that can be applied not only to this context, but to all doubtful behaviour right throughout the whole of the New Testament period and the age of grace that we are living in tonight.
In this chapter, chapter 8, Paul states the principle. We'll see next week in chapter 9 through to chapter 10, Paul illustrates the principle. He illustrates it by saying: 'I came to you as an apostle, and I had a right when I was living with you to eat in your houses, at your tables, for the labourer is worthy of his hire - muzzle not the ox, the law says, therefore I had a right to be paid and to be looked after, but I didn't take my right! It was my right, but I didn't take it'. He illustrates it personally, and then we'll see later on in chapter 10 right through to the beginning of verse 1 of chapter 11, he applies it to this specific issue of eating meat, and there he says you ought not really to eat it - not because it's moral or immoral to do it, but because of the ramifications of doing it, and we'll see this this evening.
But let's look tonight at the principle which is found particularly in verse 9: "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of your's become a stumblingblock to them that are weak". 'You're right, Corinthians, yes, you have knowledge! Maybe there are weaker believers in the church that don't realise that these idols mean nothing, and think that what you eat and drink commend you to God - but you've got that knowledge, and it's wonderful, and you're right, idols mean nothing and meat doesn't mean anything with God. But you have to exercise that Christian liberty in the given area that is not forbidden in scripture by considering the effect that you have you have on other people, especially your brethren in Christ'. There is the principle: yes, you're right, you're allowed to eat this meat, there's no significance in it to God or to men - but you have another consideration as a believer, and that is the effect it will have on your brethren and on the church and on the witness of it.
Now let's look at their specific cultural problem so that we can draw this principle out and apply it to our problems today. The hot issue in Corinth was eating this meat sacrificed to idols. If you remember in our first week, Corinth was a centre of idol worship, and there was this Acrocorinth - this temple on the Mount of Corinth - and they worshipped pagan gods there. People, ordinary people, would have brought their animal before a priest to be sacrificed. Now there were only parts of the animal that were burned and sacrificed and ascended to the false god, the leftovers of the animal were divided among the priests and the city officials, or else sold in the public markets. Obviously there were so many sacrifices being made that the priests couldn't eat it all nor the city officials, so a lot of it went down to the marketplace. Now the problem for the Christian, the dilemma was that when they went to the market there wasn't a little sticker that this was meat sacrificed to an idol, and this meat that wasn't sacrificed to an idol. So the likelihood is when they were going down for minute steak or whatever it is, they could be buying meat that was sacrificed to an idol - so they didn't know what to do.
Another problem was that to a large extent when you were invited to public banquets, they used meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Even if it was a private dinner party, or even a marriage ceremony, the likelihood is that the meat that was being ate was sacrificed to an idol, because they believed that if it was sacrificed to an idol there would be no demons attached to the meat. In other words, if you could get your hands on this meat, this was the best meat that you could eat. So you could see the sticky situation that these believers were in: on the one hand they couldn't absolutely give up their family and their friends for the interests of the gospel, they were trying to be in the world and win those out of the world, but on the other side of the coin these relationships where this meat was being eaten were full of temptations and meant that it might be easy for them to be drawn away back into their old pagan lifestyle that they had been previously delivered from in Christ.
Some argued: 'Well, it's not wrong. The answer is: just forget about it and go and eat the meat, and do what you like, you're free in Christ' - and in a sense, they were right, because there was no significance in the idols and meat doesn't matter at all to God. Then some on the other hand said: 'Well, we don't think that's right, because in our past we worshipped these idols, we know it's bad to worship idols, and we don't want people in the world thinking that we're still in the midst of practising this paganism!'. So, undecided and arguing amongst themselves, they brought to Paul this issue - and he needed all the practical wisdom to unite them, rather than to divide them - and we know how divided they were in Corinth, don't we?
Now here are the principles, let's take time in teasing these out, and let's apply them to our own situations today. The first is this, Paul is asking 'Does your knowledge blow up or build up?'. Does that knowledge you have blow up or build up, verses 1 to 3? Some were not bothered, Paul says: 'We know that these', including himself, 'have knowledge. We know that it's not a sin to do this particular thing', but he warns them, 'Knowledge puffeth up'. We saw, and you can turn to it in chapter 1 verse 5, Paul commended them at the very beginning: 'That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge'. These were clever people, but the problem was that there was this feeling of being egotistical, they had a superiority complex in the knowledge that they had. Paul was warning them: 'Your knowledge is in danger of puffing up, making you arrogant' - why? Because these Corinthians were mature in knowledge, but not mature in love.
Someone has rightly said: 'Some Christians grow, but other Christians swell'. These Christians were swelling - the knowledge was correct, it was theologically accurate, all their i's were dotted and their t's were crossed, but Paul is trying to make them see the distinction: knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifeth. 'You're right! But you can be right, Corinthians, in a wrong way!'. Love edifeth, or buildeth up, is the sense - so these believers were solid in doctrine, but they were weak in love. They were strong in self-love, but weak in brotherly love. Now you couldn't say that Paul was decrying doctrine, because Paul's the greatest doctrinal teacher in the whole of the New Testament. He's not minimising doctrine, but he's warning us: doctrine is not enough! Oh that we could hear that tonight: it is essential, but although it is essential is not sufficient, and in and of itself - without love - it makes arrogant, Paul says.
It is wrong to be all love, as so many are today, with no doctrine - but Paul is saying here that it is equally wrong to be all doctrine and no love. Arrogance, as we've seen as we've gone through this epistle, this statement 'puffed up' comes over and over again - it was perhaps their biggest problem, the underlying problem of all their sins. The word is used six times 'arrogant' of them, they were proud and self-satisfied - but Paul is saying: 'Look, you've got all the knowledge', and here's the amazing thing: he's agreeing with them! 'Your knowledge is right, but you're wrong!'. Sure, we in Ulster couldn't hold those two things together, sure we couldn't? But Paul did: you can be right and wrong at the same time, because of the way that you're right - without love.
We're not going to steal our thunder for future weeks, but turn just for a moment to chapter 13 - I trust you'll give me time tonight to deal with all this...that's another way of saying 'You're going to be late'! Verse 1: 'Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and', watch this, 'understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up'! They had right knowledge, but they never once thought of how their right knowledge was affecting other believers in the actions that they were executing.
Let me just give a warning here tonight, because this has come very forcibly to my heart today: do you remember in Matthew chapter 18 what the Lord Jesus Christ said? He said it would be better that a millstone were put around your neck, and that you were drowned in the depths of the ocean, than that you offend one of these little ones of mine. And I know He may have had children around Him, but I know what He was talking about, for Paul talks in this passage about those for whom Christ has died - not offending them. The mature Christian, what Paul is really saying is he has a double barrel in his gun: he's a man that thinks right, but he also acts right; he's a conceptual Christian, he's got it all upstairs, but he doesn't leave it there - he's a relational Christian. In other words, he knows how to relate the truth of God that's in his head to himself, to other people around him.
That's a different thing, isn't it? I would vouch to say to you tonight that most of the divisions that take place in our land, in the churches, are not doctrinal, they're not conceptual, but they're relational. They're not fighting over doctrine - they may appear to be, but what's at the bottom of that is they can't hold their doctrine in grace! They can't agree to differ in grace. Paul is just saying to us that knowledge, we may think: 'Get all the knowledge you can', and do get all the knowledge you can - but know this: knowledge doesn't solve all the problems that there are. Go upstairs and the child won't go to sleep because it's afraid of the dark, what do you do? Do you go in, open the door, and say: 'Now son, you're going to have to get over this here, because this is just ridiculous! Do you think there's something frightening in the dark? Do you think the bogeyman is going to jump out of the cupboard and eat you all up?'. You don't do that! Why? Because a child in that situation doesn't need logic, it needs understanding. You know you're right, but does he know you're right? Does he understand why you're right?
This is exactly what Paul is saying: these babes in Christ, and these Corinthian believers - and I happen to think that they may have been Jews - they were flaunting their freedom to the expense of those who were only converted. As someone said: 'Love without truth is hypocrisy, but truth without love is brutality'. I hope, dear believers, that we never ever become the right orthodox people who can hurt everybody and anybody, or feelingless fundamentalists who are arrogant but cannot edify others. Paul gives a warning to us this evening if we're about to fall into that sin, verse 2: 'If any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know' - God help you if you think you know it all, because Paul says you know nothing - nothing! Someone has defined knowledge as the process of passing from the unconscious state of ignorance to the conscious state of ignorance, to moving from thinking you know everything to knowing that you know nothing!
In verse 3 he says: 'But if any man love God, the same is known of him' - this is the fundamental truth that you need to get to grips with, what is it? It's that you don't learn truth primarily from going to Bible College, or from getting books off your shelves, or even from coming along and listening to a preacher or a teacher, but true knowledge is relational as well as conceptual - not only in the way that we relate to other people, but primarily only one way can we get true knowledge, and that is from God! 'But if any man love God, the same is known of him', communion with God, loving God and being loved by God, and the implication is that when we're in that relationship of fellowship that we will begin to learn how to love others as God loves them.
Oh this is getting near the bone, isn't it? A good test as to how watertight your knowledge is, man or woman, is: did you get that knowledge on your knees, or did you get it on your high horse? Does it make you love others, or does it make you despise others that don't have the great enlightenment that you have? Do you know what Paul says? Verse 3: it's one thing to know doctrine, but it's another thing to know God. Knowledge on its own puffeth up, but if you know God you'll love others - and what he's driving at is that love will set the limits on your Christian liberty. As we've been looking on these Sunday mornings in Philippians chapter 2 verse 4, you will think about the things of others and not about the things of yourself. You'll not be thinking about what your right is, or your freedom is, but you'll be looking after other believers - and your love will set limits on your liberty. Lord Bacon put it well when he said: 'Desire of power in excess caused the angels to fall, the desire of knowledge in excess caused man to fall, but in love there is no excess - neither can man nor angels come into danger by it' - you can't love too much.
There's the first principle, does your knowledge blow up or build up? Does it destroy or does it edify? Secondly: is your liberty a hazard or a help? Verses 4 to 7 - now note this, Paul is saying: 'Look, you have the right knowledge, the idol means nothing, some of them are fakes, some of them', as he says in chapter 10 verse 20, 'are manifestations of demons, but they're not true gods'. He quotes the Psalmist in verse 5: 'There be many gods, and lords many' - that doesn't mean they actually exist, it means in the minds of men across the world, the heathens, there are all these gods. But he says that there is only one true God, they're only called gods they're not real. Corinthians, you're right, in verse 6 he nails it down: 'But to us there is but one God', and he gives the God in the triune form, you mark it, 'one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord', given to God alone that title, 'Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him'. Oh these Corinthians were right on, they were Trinitarian in their doctrine, they knew there was only one true God, and He has come in the person of Jesus Christ to us, His Son. But Paul says in verse 7: 'Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge - you've got that knowledge, but not everybody has it, not every new believer in Corinth is thinking in those right ways now!'. You see some of them were thinking that that idol was a real god, they knew that they had the right God, the true God, but they thought that this idol was an evil god and he still existed, and if a piece of meat was sacrificed to him then there would be some kind of a curse on that piece of meat and, if they ate it, they would imbibe in some way that curse.
What Paul is saying to the stronger brethren is: 'If they see you sitting down in the temple eating that meat, or if they see you buying it in the market, and they think 'Well, if he does it, it must be OK', and they go against their conscience not to do it - their conscience, being weakened, is defiled'. I hope you see this all coming together: even though the act in and of itself is not categorised as a sin in scripture, and it is not a sin, it is not morally or spiritually wrong, it becomes wrong when it's committed against the conscience of the one who does it. Do you see it? These Corinthians were strong, they had a clear conscience about it some of them, they could go and eat that piece of meat and think nothing about it because they knew the idol didn't mean anything and meat doesn't mean anything to God, but what about the wee fellow that's just saved? He sees it, and he's lived a life of total pagan worship, and he thinks: 'That can't be right! But if he has done it, then it must be right!', and so he goes and does it - but he can't do it with a clear conscience, in fact he transgresses his conscience, and the Bible says that then it becomes a sin for him.
Now maybe we're hearing things here tonight that we've never known before, or we've never heard. This is what the New Testament teaches, that a thing can be a sin for one man and not for another. It can be regulated by the conscience of the one who commits it, and to violate your own conscience is to do something you feel is wrong. We're not talking here about things that are commanded and prohibited in the Scriptures, that are clear black and white sins - that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about things that the Bible doesn't speak on, and if you feel that a thing is wrong and you go and do it, you violate your conscience, it causes confusion in your heart, even resentment and perhaps feelings of guilt - because in your own mind you have committed a sin! Even if that thing, in the eyes of God, is not a sin, in your mind it's a sin, and it robs your peace and your joy.
You see that's what Paul said in a parallel passage in Romans 14, we're not turning to it, we don't have time, but he said this: 'He that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin'. Do you see this distinction? The thing in and of itself, a piece of meat can't be sinful or not sinful, it's a piece of meat. But if a person comes and feels that he shouldn't eat it, the Bible says because he has transgressed his conscience he has sinned, and it's robbed him of his joy and his peace, and it may even lead him into temptation - as he is meant to pray for not to happen in the Lord's prayer, it might lead him into the associations of his former way of life.
Now here's the point that Paul is driving at: anyone who causes such a weaker brother to defile his conscience helps that brother into sin - do you see it? That wee grey area might be alright for you, you might see that you have every right in your freedom and liberality in Christ to do as you please - but Paul says that it's not just you you've to consider in this equation, but it's your brother in Christ and whether he can handle it if he saw you doing it. Do you see this? He's not coming in here like some of us would do, and say: 'Look, it's right', or, 'It's wrong, it's as simple as that' - but he does the same job, doesn't he? Without inventing sins he's able to show us what is the conduct of a Christian. We need to ask ourselves tonight and apply it to our own lives: is our liberality as a Christian a hazard to a weaker believer, or is it a help to them to build them up and edify them?
Here's the third principle bore out: does your clear conscience have catastrophic consequences? Verses 8 to 12 - oh, don't you make this mistake believer, especially those younger among us: don't think that because you're free in Christ that anything goes. What Paul is now saying is: freedom is inseparably tied to responsibility. We know that food isn't an issue with God, it's not an issue! The Lord Himself said that: 'There is nothing from without a man that, entering into him, can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are that which defile him'. Remember Peter having the vision in the book of Acts, the Lord dropped a sheet down from heaven with all the unclean animals on it and he told him: 'Kill and eat'. Now I know He was talking to him about going and preaching to the Gentile nations, but do you not think there's a literal interpretation of that as well? He said: 'Don't call what God has said is clean, don't call it common! Kill and eat!'. He went to the Gentiles and he preached the Gospel to them, for as one man has said: 'It makes no different for food's sake, ceremonies sake, or God's sake' - it doesn't make any difference, these things that the Bible doesn't speak about, but what Paul is coming to is this: it makes the difference for conscience sake.
Think of this scenario for a moment: there's a mature believer, and they go up to the Acrocorinth, and they sit down and they dine at a table with all these pagans. They're eating a big steak that has been given as an offering to one of these idols. There is a weak believer sees him going up the hill, and that was the old way that he used to go. He's reminded of it, and he decides: 'Well if he's going up, I'll go up and see what he's doing', and he goes up and he sees him sitting down with all these ungodly men and eating this meat. Consequently, do you know what happens? Verse 11, through that mature believer's knowledge the weak brother perishes for whom Christ died. That word 'perish' could be translated 'ruin', and it has the sense 'to come to sin', to come to sin.
My friend, this is tremendously contemporary and applicable and relevant to us tonight: you can cause a person to sin by leading them into a situation that they cannot handle. You may be able to handle it, and bully for you - but it's not just you you're to think about! Paul is saying it's never right, not only to violate your own conscience, but to cause or encourage another believer to violate their conscience - because you run the risk of causing them to ruin, to sin, to perish, and they're a brother for whom Christ has died! What does that mean? It means that our Christian liberty must never be used at the expense of a Christian brother or sister who has been redeemed at such a price! Their price is the blood of Christ, and we shouldn't cause them to sin at the expense of our arrogance! The voice of the Christian's conscience is the instrument of the Spirit of God, and it's like a doorkeeper standing at those dangerous places He doesn't want us to go into because He knows we'll perish in them. You wouldn't dream of giving a baby a razor blade to play with, setting it down in the middle of a busy road to play with its toys, or giving it a box of matches to play with the fire - but we all know that when that baby gets a little bit older those restrictions will be moved, and they'll be free to do as they like. But Paul is saying: 'Although they're free to do what they like, they can influence the babes in Christ'. We should never expand our actions and our habits: one, before our own conscience permits it, we should never do a thing that we feel is wrong, because then it's sin it's not of faith - but neither should we ever be in the position of encouraging another believer to defile their conscience. Causing a brother to fall is not just a sin against him, but do you know what Paul is saying here, and this frightens me: it's a sin against the Lord!
Love for others will make you limit your liberty - here's the final point and principle that bears out to us today: does love regulate your living? Verse 13: 'Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend'. He restates the principle: life is controlled by conscience - conscience can be wrong now - but conscience is to be strengthened by knowledge, your conscience is to be regulated by the word of God; but knowledge, the knowledge that you have, must be tempered by love! Your conscience might say it's alright - maybe you don't have the knowledge, maybe you're the weaker brother! But even when you get the knowledge and your conscience is redirected, like the compass to the magnetic field of the earth, you're still to have your knowledge tempered by love.
I'm sure that all of us have fallen down with that on one occasion: is our conduct, even when we know we're right, always regulated by love? Imagine what would happen this evening if we all went away from this meeting deciding that from this time on we would live by love. Could you calculate the effect, the impact that would have on your family, on your neighbourhood, at your workplace, even in this church! Imagine it! One of the most penetrating statements of the Lord Jesus is found in John 13, listen to this: 'A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another'. Now I don't know what version you have, but I notice that mine doesn't say: 'They will know that you're my disciples if you become serious students of the word of God' - is that what it says? 'They will know that you're my disciples if you pray all the time'? 'If you attend all the meetings in your church, or even in the town'? 'Or if you give all your time, all your talent and all your money to God's work'? All these things are valuable and desirable, but not one of them, Jesus said, this is the point Paul's driving home: not one of them will be the magnet that will draw people to the knowledge of God! Not one!
John, in his first epistle, said: 'This is how men will see God, who no man has ever seen right throughout time nor will ever see, when you as the church of Jesus Christ love one another, and when people in the world see the love of the family they will be drawn into the open arms of the Father'. True love, agape love, the love of God was sorely lacking in Corinth. What about here? Come on now, is this church, is this pulpit just a knowledge factory, cranking out facts and figures, and facts and more facts that are rarely ever impacting our lives or being practised? Is your knowledge, theologian, tempered by love? All you have to do to modernise this passage is to remove the word 'meat', and read in its place one of these other things that constitutes a problem for modern day Christian living, and you find this: Paul says 'Whatever it is, if that thing makes my brother to be offended, I will never do it again as the word stands lest I make my brother to offend'. Yet all we hear today is: 'Rights! Rights! Rights!'. Listen to what one author says: 'Paul is willing that his brother suffer instead of his brother's soul. He is willing to enjoy fewer temporal things, that his brother may have greater eternal things. He is willing to limit his strength in order to aid his brother's weakness. He is happy to suspend his knowledge in order to aid his brother's ignorance - thus he comes to a conclusive decision: in all questions of conduct he is willing to regulate his liberty by love'.
You know, I think we get ourselves into the muddles we do because we ask all the wrong questions. Is the question: 'Is this a sin?' - that thing you're thinking about, is it a sin? Is that what the question is, is it a sin? That wasn't the question that Paul answered, he didn't say: 'Well, that's a sin, and that's not a sin'. Do you know what the question is? 'Is this the conduct of a Christian?' Are those the same questions? I don't think so. 'Is this a sin?', and 'Is this the conduct of a Christian?' - surely Christians have a higher existence and life than just abstaining from things that are wrong! God help you if that's all that you live for! It's higher than that, it's what Paul says in chapter 10: 'Whether I eat, or whether I drink, or whatsoever thing I do' - oh, here's the test of your grey area and your doubtful experience - 'I do to the glory of God'. I trust that you apply these principles to your problems, and I believe God will bless you for it.
Our Father, we thank Thee for the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that has made us free. We pray that we will never become entangled again in a yoke of bondage. Deliver us from legalism that operates on a list of do's and don'ts, thinking that that is spirituality. Lord, we do know that he that loves the Saviour will keep His commandments, and we pray that we will keep the commandments that He has given us; but Lord we pray that they will not add to them. Lord, lest we think that this is a licence to sin, surely we realise tonight from the mirror of Thy word that if we know the love of God in us; if we are keeping ourselves in the love of God every day; if we love the Lord our God with all our soul, with all our heart, with all our might and with all our strength, and love our neighbour as our self, we will never do anything or be found anywhere that cannot glorify the God of all heaven. Lord, we thank Thee that our faith is not about laws, but it's all about love. Lord, it is our chief complaint that our love is weak and faint. Lord, we would pray that we would learn to love Thee more, and learn to love the brethren, for Christ's sake, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the twentieth tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "Light, Liberty & Love" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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