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Christian Liberty And Brotherly Care
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
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 yours 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. (vv. 1-13)
In this chapter the Spirit of God deals in a very remarkable way with the great theme of Christian liberty and brotherly care. It is almost impossible for us, in a land like this, to visualize the exact circumstances in which the early Christians were found, but those who have labored for any length of time among a heathen people will understand exactly what the problem was with which the apostle deals in this particular chapter. It was the question of how far a Christian was at liberty to eat meats which at their killing had been dedicated to idols. This was the common practice. In fact, practically all the meats that were sold in the markets had been so dedicated. One can understand that many of the early Christians feared that if they fed upon meats of this character they should be bringing dishonor upon the name of the Lord and possibly appear to countenance idol worship. I have noticed the same thing among the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and Arizona, and also the Navajo and other Indians when they become Christians; they are concerned as to anything that looks like participation in or recognition of heathen ceremonies, because they want the people to understand that they have made a clean cut with the old life. In Corinth this was quite a problem, and it is evident that they had written to the apostle Paul for information concerning it.
“Concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me,” we read in the opening verses of the seventh chapter, and this expression introduces the rest of the epistle. From that point on the apostle is dealing with matters that had been submitted to him by letter, that he might give his inspired judgment for the guidance of the church. And so here he says, “As touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge.” “We all,” that is, we Christians, we know the one true and living God and we know the folly of idolatry. However, in these first three verses the apostle stresses the importance of humility, both as to our attainments in grace and our knowledge of the truth. We may know certain things that others do not, and may act upon our knowledge in such a way as to put a stumbling block in the path of someone else; so he exhorts us to hold that knowledge that God has given us in the spirit of humility. We quite understand that there are no such beings in the world as those represented by the idols, but that does not do away with the fact that behind the idolatry is satanic power. “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to [demons], and not to God” (1 Corinthians 10:20); therefore there must be no compromise whatever between Christianity and pagan religions. We know that those who are in the darkness of heathenism are in the bondage of Satan, and therefore our missionaries are not to take from their pagan religions all the good they can and then share what we have with them. Not at all. To a people whom we know to be lost in their sins, worshiping idols that represent nothing that is real, our missionaries go to turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God. This was what the apostles and their fellow workers went forth to do, and their methods should be our methods. We need nothing new. The gospel is still “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Romans 1:16), and where it is preached in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, miracles will be wrought in the hearts and lives of heathen men today just as truly as nineteen hundred years ago and down through the centuries.
“We know that an idol is nothing in the world,” but on the other hand everybody does not have this knowledge, and it may not be wise to say, “It does not make any difference to me whether these meats were offered to idols, and so I am at liberty to eat.” Yes, as far as my own conscience is concerned I am at liberty to eat of it, but let me stop to consider the effect of that upon others. “But,” you say, “I know.” Yes, but “knowledge [mere knowledge] puffeth up.” It is quite possible to be conceited and proud over the fact that I have a little knowledge that someone else has not. I may well ask, “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). There is a tendency to pride in our hearts even in the things of God. We get a smattering of His Word that some others do not have, and instantly we are lifted up in our own conceit. He says, “Knowledge [if it is only that] puffeth up.” Do you see the difference? Knowledge puffs up- love builds up. Some of us get to be like a great swollen frog on a log, just puffed out with wind. We imagine that we have advanced wonderfully over other folk. Throw a stone at the frog and he suddenly shrinks to about one-fifth of the size he seemed to be. Yes, knowledge puffs up but love builds up. It makes for real, solid growth.
We need to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and if we put knowledge before grace, it will work harm to ourselves as well as to others. “If any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.” Has God given me a little light on His Word? After all, I know very little compared with the many things of which as yet I have no knowledge, and so let me hold in all humility what He has imparted, thanking Him for it, but walking carefully before Him.
“If any man love God, the same is known of him.” We might have expected the apostle to say, “If a man love God, he knows God.” That is true, but the other side is the wonderful part of it. If any man love God, God knows him, and it is that in which we can rejoice. I like the way the apostle John speaks of himself so often, “The disciple whom Jesus loved.” If you or I had been writing that, we might have said, “The disciple who loved Jesus”; and I do not know whether we would have stopped there, we might have said, “That disciple who loved Jesus whose name is So and So.” That is the way most of us do. Naturally we all like to get our own names to the front. We need to be brought low to the feet of our blessed Savior. John gloried in the fact that he was that disciple whom Jesus loved, and it is for us to rejoice in the fact that we are known and loved of God.
Then in verses 4-6 we have the hollowness and the emptiness of all idolatrous systems. There is a science, a very recent one, known as the “Science of Comparative Religions.” I think it had its origin largely in the World’s Fair held in Chicago in 1893, when there was a great Congress of Religion and teachers came from all parts of the world to exchange thoughts on religious concepts. From that time on men began comparing one religion with another. There is a “Science of Comparative Religions,” but Christianity is not one of them. Christianity is not a religion, it is a revelation. It is not something that men have thought out; it is not a system of philosophy, or ethics; it is something revealed from heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit. Idolatrous systems are the works of men energized by the enemy.
“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.” That God is the God who has been revealed as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. “For though [in the world around and in the pagan nations] there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth (as there be gods many, and lords many), but to us [to those of us who have accepted the revelation that has been given in this holy Word] 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.” Observe, Paul is not speaking here of the doctrine of the Trinity, neither is he intimating that it might be a mistake to put our Lord Jesus Christ as the divine eternal Son on the same level with the Father and the Holy Spirit. To us there is one God, and that God is the One who has revealed Himself in the Word as our Father, as the Creator of all men; He is the Father of all that believe. He is the Father of the universe because that through Him it came into existence; it came out of Him, and therefore there is a sense in which it is perfectly right to speak of the universal Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. He is the God of the spirits of all flesh; all men came into existence through Him. But man is a fallen creature, he has turned away from God; he is dead spiritually, and therefore needs to be quickened into newness of life; and it is only when regenerated, when born again, that he comes into the family of God through redemption. Now he can look up into the face of God and say, “Our Father,” something that he could not do in his unconverted state.
The apostle says, “There is but one God,” and this is perfectly true. Elsewhere in Scripture we find that He subsists in three persons: the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That comes out very clearly in the baptismal formula. “Go ye therefore, and disciple all nations, baptizing them unto the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19). How incongruous it would be to put the name of a mere creature in there! Suppose, for instance, much as we revere the one who was blessed and favored above all women because chosen to be the mother of the Son of God, that we should say, “Unto the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the blessed Virgin Mary.” How instinctively every Christian heart would shrink from that. We must not put a creature into the place of Deity, but we can say, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” for the Father with the Son and the Holy Spirit is God; the Father without the Son and the Holy Spirit would not be God. The Son with the Father and the Holy Spirit is God: the Son without the Father and Holy Spirit would not be God. The Spirit with the Father and the Son is God; but the Spirit without the Father and the Son would not be God. That is a definition that was coined some years ago by the venerable Dr. Joseph Cook of England, and it sets forth the truth as it is in Scripture.
When we are speaking of Christ in His mediatorial position, we bring Him down to the place He took in grace as a Man without denying His Deity. Someone asked me this question: “Is there any sense in which God the Father is greater than Jesus Christ?” When we think of the Lord Jesus as the Eternal Only-begotten Son, He is coequal with the Father; and when He speaks of Himself as the Son, He says, “That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father” (John 5:23). If any man does not honor the Son, he dishonors the Father. “I and my Father are one.” But having stooped in grace to become Man, the Man Christ Jesus voluntarily takes a place of subjection to the Father, and therefore, as the Son born on earth of a virgin mother, He is the same Person, but the same Person in different circumstances; He voluntarily assumes humiliation and says, “My Father is greater than I.” There is no difficulty about this if we remember that He is Son of God in two senses: God the Son from eternity, and the Son of God born of a virgin mother here on earth, with no human father.
“There is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him.” And then, there is “one Lord Jesus Christ,” one to whom we yield the allegiance of our hearts and recognize that He is our Savior, “By whom are all things, and we by him.” That is, our blessed Lord is the originator of both creations-”By whom are all things.” “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). This entire creation came into existence through the word of His power. “He spake, and it was done; he commanded and it stood fast.” He who is God is the Son from all eternity. But this creation fell and a mediator was needed, and so He came into the world in lowly grace; He assumed a servant’s form and became Man without ceasing for one moment to be God. As Man He went to Calvary’s cross to settle the sin question. He was buried, but He rose again in triumph, and as the risen One He is Head of the new creation. “By him are all things”-that is the old creation. “And we by him”-that is the new creation. God has “raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). For we who were dead in sins have been quickened together with Him, and it is because we know this, because we know that God has thus revealed Himself, that we are through forever with idols. Sometimes when we talk of missions, there are those who speak slightingly of this work, speak of it as though it pays very poor returns. We ourselves have only to go back a few centuries to find that our ancestors were idolaters, but the gospel came to them with the knowledge of God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ delivered them from their idolatry and thus we are what we are today. Shall we think for one moment of refusing to give the gospel to those still sitting in the darkness in which our forefathers once sat?
From verse 7 to the end of the chapter the apostle dwells especially on the importance of concern for the consciences of others. We may not face exactly the same problems that these Corinthians did, but we need to have the same care for the consciences of other people. A Christian may say, “I am quite sure that this thing is right; I have perfect liberty, and I am not going to let somebody else dictate to me what I should do.” But stop a moment; suppose that someone else who does not have light on this thing is quite convinced that you are deliberately and willfully disobeying the Word of God. If by-and-by that person should come to the conclusion that since you, a stronger Christian, feel free to do that, he is free to do it too, what then? Do you not see that his conscience will be defiled and his testimony eventually be ruined. So the apostle says, “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,” that is, believing that an idol is a reality, and believing that they are committing an idolatrous act. “And their conscience being weak is defiled.” Under those circumstances we can deny ourselves of that which might injure and hurt them if they persist in it.
“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.” Why do we need to be concerned about nonessentials like these? If this matter will trouble someone else, I will put it out of my life. I will not use my liberty if it causes another to stumble. I will not use my liberty to gratify my own desires. “Take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours 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?” Perhaps he is just a young convert, or simply an inquirer, maybe one not at all established, perhaps not yet truly regenerated, and if he sees you do something that hurts his conscience and he does the same thing, he denies his conscience, and it may lead to the shipwreck of his faith. Because you insist upon your liberty, shall that weak brother perish? He is not affirming that any true child of God will ever be lost, but he puts it in the form of a question. Would you be willing so to behave that it would cause another’s shipwreck? “Through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?”
Some years ago I was preaching in a gospel hall in Detroit. A former Muslim from India was there who was at the head of a tea business, and he had been brought to know the Lord Jesus Christ. On one occasion when holding a meeting there, the Sunday school had its annual outing and we all went over to a beautiful spot, and spent the day together. I was chatting with this brother, Mr. Mohammed Ali by name, when a young girl came by passing out sandwiches. She said, “Won’t you have a sandwich?”
“Thank you,” I said, “what kind have you?”
“I have several different kinds.”
“I will help myself to several of them.”
And then she turned to Mr. Ali and said, “Will you have one?”
“What kind are they?” he asked.
“There is fresh pork and there is ham.”
“Have you any beef?”
“No, I do not.”
“Have you any lamb?”
“Thank you, my dear young lady, but I won’t take any.”
Laughingly she said, “Why, Mr. Ali, you surprise me. Are you so under law that you cannot eat pork? Don’t you know that a Christian is at liberty to eat any kind of meat?”
“I am at liberty, my dear young lady, to eat it,” he said, “but I am also at liberty to let it alone. You know I was brought up a strict Muslim. My old father, nearly eighty years of age now, is still a Muslim. Every three years I go back to India to render an account of the business of which my father is really the head, and to have a visit with the folks at home. Always when I get home I know how I will be greeted. The friends will be sitting inside, my father will come to the door when the servant announces that I am there, and he will say, ‘Mohammed, have those infidels taught you to eat the filthy hog meat yet?’ ‘No, Father,’ I will say; ‘pork has never passed my lips.’ Then I can go in and have the opportunity to preach Christ to them. If I took one of your sandwiches, I could not preach Christ to my father the next time I go home.”
Of course the young lady understood. He was acting exactly as the apostle is suggesting here. We have liberty to refrain from doing these things if they will trouble other people. Love is to be the dominating motive. “When ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.”
And so the chapter comes to this striking conclusion, “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” This is true Christian liberty coupled with brotherly care.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12