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It was the opinion of the Gnostics and Nicolaitans, those early erroneous persons in the apostle's days, that from the knowledge they had of their Christian liberty, they might either be present in the idol temples, or eat of the idol sacrifices, as they pleased.
The apostle here tells them, that he knew many of them had a good degree of knowledge, but desires that they might not be puffed up with it, but that their knowledge may be accompanied with charity, which respects the edification of others; and puts men upon considering not only what is lawful to be done in itself, and with respect to ourselves, but what is expedient or inexpedient in relation unto others.
True love, or Christian charity, will put us upon consulting the good of our neighbor's souls, as well as our own; and will not suffer us to do that thing which may offend our weak brother, that is, lay a stumbling-block before him, to tempt him into sin.
Knowledge puffeth up: this is to be understood of a notional, literal, and speculative knowledge only; not of a spiritual, practical, and experimental knowledge.
The more a gracious man knows, the more humble he is, because his knowledge shows him his own vileness and emptiness: but the more a carnal man knows, the more proud he is, because he knoweth not himself: his knowledge is not only a temptation to pride, but the very matter of his pride.
Such knowledge doth not build up, but puff up: whereas charity edifieth; that is, applies itself to the instruction of others, and accommodates itself to the edification of others; and considers not only what may lawfully be done, but what is fit and expedient to be done; as in the case here before us, eating things offered to idols.
That is, "if a man have ever so much knowledge, yet if it be not accompanied with charity and humility, if he improve not his knowledge to the glory of God, and the good of others, he knows nothing to any saving purpose, as he ought to know."
Learn, That Christians should by no means content themselves with an empty speculative knowledge, but labour to know as they ought to know.
Observe farther, The apostle says, He that thinketh that he knoweth any thing, that is, he that is conceited of his own knowledge, that thinks of it with insolency and pride, and speaks of it with affectation and vain-glory; he who is thus conceited of his own knowledge, knows not himself, yea, he knows nothing as he ought to know.
Learn hence, That it becomes us to have very humble thoughts of ourselves, and of our own knowledge, how much soever we really know: that man's wisdom is but conceit, who is only wise in his own conceit.
Observe, The apostle doth not say, if any man know God; but, if any man love God, the same is known; that is, allowed, accepted, and approved of him. A man may know much of God in this world, and yet God may be ashamed to know him in another world; but the soul that sincerely loves God, is certainly beloved of him, and shall be owned and acknowledged by him.
Now, true love to our neighbour is a good evidence of our sincere love to God; and if we love our neighbour truly, we dare not scandalize our neighbour sinfully, nor offend our Christian brethren. Only here we must take notice, that by offending the weak, is not meant displeasing them; but by offending them, is meant laying a stumbling-block before them, which may occasion their falling into sin.
One argument which the Gnostics used to prove the lawfulness of eating things offered unto idols was this, That an idol was nothing in the world.
But how nothing? It was not materially nothing, for it was wood or stone: but formally it was nothing, it was nothing of God's creation, nothing that the idolater took it to be, there was nothing of a deity in it, and nothing of a deity could be represented by it: an idol is the vainest thing in the world, it is a mere vanity, a perfect nothing, (called therefore the vanities of the Gentiles,) it is of no worth or value, it has no power or virtue.
Some observe, That the same Hebrew word signifies both an idol, and sorrow,and labour; partly because idols are made and formed with much labour and great exactness; the wood or stone, figuratively speaking, is put to pain; you must cut it and carve it to make an idol or statute of it; partly because idols are served and worshipped with much pain and labour.
False worship is more painful than true: the service of the true God is an holy and honourable service, and noble and ingenuous service, an easy and delightful service; but the service of idols is slavish, a toil rather than worship.
Idols are troublesome both in making and worshipping, and after all the bustle made about them, an idol is nothing in the world, because there is no God but one.
Here the apostle tells them, that although the heathen idolaters acknowledged a plurality of gods, some in heaven, as the sun, moon, and stars; some on earth, as men and beasts, they having their celestial and terrestrial gods and lords; but these were only called gods, that is, gods in name, not in nature, not in reality.
Yet, says he, we Christians do own and acknowledge but one living and true God, one in nature, not one in person, to whom all our prayers must be directed; and one Mediator, by whom all our prayers are to be offered: To us there is but one God, the Father.
This text the Arians, Socinians, and Unitarians, exceedingly boast of, as if it expressly confined the Deity to the Father, as distinct from Christ and the Holy Ghost.
Thus they argue:--"He who says there is one emperor, to wit, Cesar, says in effect there is no other emperor but Cesar: so when St. Paul saith, there is one God the Father, he doth (say they) in effect declare that there is no other God besides the Father."
To this the orthodox answer, 1. "That God the Father is often put in scripture for the whole deity, comprehending the three persons; he being Fons Deitatis, and Fundamentum Trinitatis, as the schoolmen speak. So that the application of the word God here unto the Father, doth not exclude the Son from being God, but only from being the Fountain of the Deity, as the Father is.
Christ says, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. Revelation 1:17
Will any conclude thence, that God the Father is not Alpha and Omega? Is not he the first and the last, as well as Christ?
Again, We call our Lord Jesus the only Saviour: do we therefore exclude God the Father from being a Saviour: Is he not styled the Saviour of all men? 1 Timothy 4:10
Again, God the Father is called the Creator of all things: yet it is asserted that all things were created by Christ, the Word, John 1:2.
In short, we assert as well as they, the unity of the Godhead, and that Christ is not another God, but only another person from the Father.
We answer, 2. Their own argument may be thus retorted upon themselves: As the apostle says here, there is but one God the Father, so he adds in the next words, there is but one Lord Jesus Christ.
Now if the saying that there is but one God, doth exclude Christ from being God, , then the saying that there is but one Lord, doth exclude God the Father from being Lord; and if it be blasphemy to exclude God the Father from being Lord; it is no less to exclude Christ the Son from being God."
Know then, that as Christians have in all ages of the church acknowledged one God only, even God the Father, so have they also owned that Jesus Christ was truly God, of the substance of the Father, God of God, very God of very God. The Lord keep us stedfast in this faith! seeing he that honoureth the Son honoureth the Father that hath sent him; but he that denieth the Son denieth the Father also.
These words are brought in as a reason by the apostle why strong Christians should not eat meat offered unto idols, with respect to those that are weak; as if he had said, "Though many of you know that an idol is nothing, and that meat is neither sanctified nor polluted which is set before it, and therefore you can eat or not eat without any scruple as to yourselves, yet you should consider what is safest to be done with respect to others; for every man has not this knowledge that an idol is nothing, but some persons having a conceit of the idol's being something, eat what is offered to it as a thing offered to an idol; that is, not as common meat, but as a sacred banquet in honour of the idol; and so his conscience, being weak, that is, erroneous, is defiled."
Learn hence, That an action which is lawful in respect of ourselves, may yet be a sin if done by us with respect to others; another, encouraged by our example, may do the same act, but not do it with the same intent, as in the case before us. The sight of one Christian's eating things offered unto idols, who knows that an idol is nothing in the world, may harden, embolden, and encourage others to do the same, who really intend some honour by it to the idol: the outward action is the same, but the opinion and intention widely different.
As if the apostle had said, "It is not the eating or not eating, barely considered, that makes a man either better or worse, more or less acceptable in the sight of God, but we must take great heed lest by our example others take occasion to worship the idol; you therefore ought not so to eat as to give occasion to the fall of your weak brother."
Still the apostle holds forth this truth unto us, That such a man certainly sins, who uses his liberty so that it becomes a snare and a stumbling-block to his weak brother, by emboldening and encouraging him unto sin.
The meaning of the apostle seems to be this: If any man with an erroneous conscience goes to these feasts, and there sees thee, (who he thinks has more knowledge than himself,) sit at meat in the idol's temple, will not his conscience be the more emboldened by thy example to eat things offered to idols in the honour of the idol, or, as thinking it no hurt, to worship the idol?
And thus by occasion of thy knowledge, a weak brother is in danger of perishing, for whom Christ died. An indiscreet use of that liberty which our supposed knowledge teaches us to make use of, doth that, if we be not careful, which may be accounted a destroying of our weak brother, by causing him to fall into sin. By all which the apostle lets us know the obligation which lies upon every good Christian not to use his liberty to the prejudice of others' souls, by doing any action which may be let alone, but if done, may really become a snare to others.
The apostle goes on to show, that such an use of our Christian liberty as doth embolden and encourage others to do that which is evil, is both an act of uncharitableness towards our brother, and also an act of sin against our Lord Jesus Christ, in betraying a soul to ruin as much as in us lieth, and hindering his salvation, for the saving of whom Christ died; wounding the members of his body, defeating the great end of his death, and destroying them whom he designed to save.
Learn, 1. That Christ, in dying for the weakest believers, hath shown the highest degree of love imaginable unto them.
Learn, 2. That such as will not abate or abridge themselves of their Christian liberty, when the use of it may probably be an occasion of sin, and the ruin of their brethren's souls, do at once wound their weak brethren, and sin against Christ.
A twofold sense and interpretation is given of these words. Some understand the apostle speaking thus: "If my eating meat offered to idols be a stumbling-block to any persons, and confirm them in their sinful practice, or be an occasion of sin unto them, I will certainly deny myself the use of that liberty which may prove of such dangerous consequence to my fellow-Christians."
Others carry the thing higher, and understand it of all flesh in general, that rather than the apostle would offend his weak brother, he would not eat any flesh to his dying day; an hyperbolical expression, by which the apostle declares how far one Christian should condescend to another, to prevent each other's sinning against God. As if the apostle had said, "Verily I do not make so light of another's sin, nor set so light by the soul of my weak brother, nor by the blood of my blessed Saviour, as for flesh, that is, for an unnecessary thing, to make use of my liberty, when it may prove a temptation unto sin."
From the whole of the apostle's discourse in this chapter, we learn, That it is the duty of Christians, in matters wherein they are at liberty by the law of God, to do a thing, or not to do it, to take that part which they see will give least occasion of sin unto their brethren, and to avoid that part which, if taken, will certainly give occasion unto others to sin.
Although we be ourselves never so well satisfied as to the lawfulness of the action, yet we ought to deny ourselves in some things, rather than be an occasion unto others to fall into sin: he forfeits the name of a Christian, who will not abridge himself of his Christian liberty to preserve his brother from sin and temptation.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30