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Bible Commentaries

Smith's Writings

1 Corinthians 8

Verses 1-13

1 Corinthians 8 .

In chapters 8, 9 and 10 the apostle firmly maintains the liberty of the individual, while solemnly warning against its abuse. In 1 Cor. 8 we are warned against using liberty in a way that may stumble our brother; in 1 Cor. 9 the servant is warned that it is possible to use liberty to his own condemnation; in 1 Cor. 10 we are warned against using liberty in a way that may compromise our fellowship, and give offence to Jews or Gentiles or the assembly of God.

(Vv. 1-3). In chapter 1 Cor. 8 the apostle opens this important theme by bringing before us the danger of turning the liberty of the individual into licence to act in self-will without considering the effect of our acts upon others. It is thus possible for a Christian's liberty to become an occasion of stumbling his brother. The apostle presses home his warning by referring to the matter of eating meats offered to idols. Individual believers at Corinth, knowing that an idol was nothing, might personally feel quite free to go into the idol temple and eat meats offered to idols. But this raises the question, would it be right to do so if it were to stumble a brother? The apostle first shows that this is one of the important questions that cannot be answered by mere knowledge, but can very quickly be settled by love. This is of the first importance, for while the principle is here applied to the particular question of eating things sacrificed to idols, it has a wide application. In our day we should not in this country be faced with the question of eating meats offered to idols, yet many other questions may arise - for instance the question of a Christian smoking. Some would seek to settle such a question by knowledge that thinks only of the harmful effects it may have on the body, but the better way to settle such a question is by love, which asks, “What effect will it have upon my brother?” Knowledge occupies me with the thing in question - its merits or demerits - but love thinks of my brother.

This leads the apostle to make some important remarks on knowledge and love. First, he says, “We all have knowledge”, in measure at any rate. Knowledge, however, is not enough; we need love as well. There is in human nature a great thirst for knowledge, but if I pursue knowledge for the sake of acquiring knowledge, it will only puff me up, whereas love will build up my brother. Moreover, we only know in part; therefore to trust in our partial knowledge to settle questions will often lead us sadly astray.

Love to my brother, which thinks of his good, will be a surer and better way of settling questions which may otherwise only minister to self and self-importance.

But how is this love to my brother to be kept in activity? Only by love to God, as the apostle John tells us, “Every one that loveth Him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of Him”. So in this passage the apostle speaks of love to God, and reminds us that if a man loves God he realises, not simply that he knows God in some little measure, but that he is known of God. The consciousness that God knows me, and all that I have done, leaves no room for the pride which would be puffed up by mere knowledge.

(Vv. 4-6). Further, the question of eating meats offered to idols leads the apostle to draw a brief but important contrast between idols and the true God. First, he says that we Christians know that an idol is nothing, and that there is none other God but one. Fallen man imagines many gods and many lords in heaven and on earth; but to us Christians there is but “one God, the Father” and “one Lord, Jesus Christ”. Here it is no question of bringing before us the Deity of Christ, but of how God has been pleased to reveal Himself, and the place the divine Persons hold in the ways of grace toward men. The Father remains in Godhead, and God is the source of all, and all for Him. The Son, while never ceasing to be God, has become flesh, and, in Manhood, has taken the place of Lord. Thus the One we know as Jesus Christ is the one Lord to Whom we all owe allegiance and subjection. He is both Creator of all things and the One by Whom we have been redeemed.

(Vv. 7-13). Having spoken of the difference between love and knowledge, and having brought before us the true God, the apostle now shows that even among true Christians there were some who had not this full knowledge, and they were therefore not able with their partial knowledge to rise above the deeply rooted prejudices of their heathen training in regard to idols. They were apparently not altogether assured that idols were non-entities, and the meats offered to them no different from other meats. For such to eat of meats offered to idols would lead to a bad or defiled conscience. Moreover, if such an one saw a brother eating idol sacrifices, it might become a stumbling-block to him, and embolden him to do something which would give him a bad conscience, leading to his making shipwreck of the faith and the start on a path that ends in perishing. This does not raise the question of the possibility of a believer perishing, for the Lord Himself says, “They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand”. In one passage the believer is viewed from the Lord's side; in the other from man's. We may fail in our responsibility, and do that which, as far as we are concerned, would cause our brother to perish. In so acting, we not only wrong our brother for whom Christ died, but we wrong Christ. The apostle concludes, therefore, that love to my brother would lead me not to eat flesh, if, by so eating, my brother is stumbled.

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/1-corinthians-8.html. 1832.