A couple of Fridays ago I was playing cricket with the Pathfinders (11-14 year olds). Unlikely as it sounds now it had been raining so we were in the back hall rapidly agreeing on the rules on indoor cricket which are of course: If it bounces and hits the back wall it's a four, no bounce and it's a six. You can be caught after one bounce but only if you catch one-handed etc. After a few vicious deliveries we added another rule - you couldn't be out on your first ball, except for the leaders.
Why did we do this? Why did we choose to give up our right to a free first ball? Well because in theory being twice their age we shouldn't have needed an extra chance and because we hoped they would enjoy the game more if they had another chance.
There's a similar principle at work here in 1 Corinthians 8 where Paul ask the Corinthians to willingly give up their freedoms for the sake of others. So our big idea this morning is simply this:
Big Idea: Love for others comes before our own freedom
Christians are free to do all kinds of things but we should do only things which will build up not tear down other believers. If you're not already there please turn up p808, 1 Corinthians 8. I've just got two points this morning, which are these:
1. Christ has won freedom for us, v 1-8
2. Exercise your freedom in love, v 9-13
1. Christ has won freedom for us, v1-8
Christians have freedom because they are not united to God by rituals or law-keeping but by what Christ has already done.
In chapter 8 Paul continues to address the matters which the Corinthians had written to him about (ref 7.1). In chapter 8 the issue is; 'Should Christians eat food which may have been previously sacrificed to idols'. As Paul writes to address the issue and right away introduces this principle of love for others coming before our own freedom. Look at v1-3:
Now about food sacrificed to idols: we know that 'We all possess knowledge.' But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.[a]
Paul knows the Corinthians. He knows that they value learning and education, that they admire those who speak eloquently and learnedly. The first four chapters of 1 Corinthians saw Paul trying to mend the divisions caused by the Corinthians quarrelling over which teacher they follow.
So before addressing directly the issue of whether Christians could eat this food which may have been previously sacrificed to idols Paul warns them: 'Knowledge puffs up while love builds up' in other words the true test of Christian maturity is not merely knowledge, it's not simply knowing the right answer, which builds ourselves up and tends toward pride, but love which builds others up.
Now before we write the Corinthians off as snobbish intellectuals let me ask you what's the first thing you look at when someone invites you round to their house? If you're anything like me you'll cast your eyes to their bookshelf and quietly strike off read that, that's a good one, I've heard of that guy - might be a bit dodgy though, didn't think they'd have a copy of that - bit concerned now.
We value knowledge here, we value doctrine - truths about God and praise God for that knowledge is important! But only, Paul says, when it is accompanied by love. There's a particular danger for those of us who love to understand that we love to understand but don't love others. Young men I address you directly but not exclusively.
Now let's see how this principle of loving others coming before our own freedom works out as Paul moves in v4 to address the issue of Christians eating meat which might have been previously offered to idols.
The likely scenario is that Christians are being invited to celebrate with friends or family and that a popular place to do so would have been the pagan temple where meat was served which may have been previously ritually cleansed in a sacrifice to idols. What should a Christian do in this situation?
There are two competing responses:
Libertarian - Idols are not real. Therefore Christians shouldn't worry about where any meat served to them has come from and can enjoy all food with a clear conscience.
Legalistic - This meat may have been used in a pagan, religious ritual in a temple where we know all kinds of immorality occurs. Christians should not eat any meat lest they accidentally eat meat that has been sacrificed to another God and so somehow endorse these practices.
Who's right? Paul makes his judgement in v4-6, read with me from v4:
4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: we know that 'An idol is nothing at all in the world' and that 'There is no God but one.' 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many 'gods' and many 'lords'), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
Paul sides with the libertarians. Christians are free to enjoy all food with a clear conscience. But let's take a closer look at Paul's reasoning:
First, Idols themselves are a nonsense Paul says, they are just bits of carved wood and metal made by men. They are not real gods in that sense. To a Christian who is trusting in the true and living God a piece of meat that has previously been used in a pagan sacrifice is no different from a piece that hasn't.
Second, Paul goes further in v5 and 6 saying that even if food were being sacrificed to a real 'god' or 'lord' say a king on earth it still wouldn't matter because there is only one God 'from whom all things came' who created everything, to whom everything including all food belongs. In reality all food is God's, no idol can lay claim to it because God made it, it is rightfully his and no ritual sacrifice to an idol or claim by a king can ever change that reality.
Third, Paul says that Christians are united to this God in a very special way through Jesus. Look at v6:
6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
Paul uses very particular language linking Jesus to God he says 'there is but one God' and 'there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ'. Paul deliberately applies the same title used in the Old Testament for YAHWEH to Jesus. Jesus is God he is co-creator and it is through him that we live.
A Christian's relationship to God is not a matter of food; saving faith in Jesus is not compromised by eating meat which may or may not have been sacrificed to a non-existent idol Paul says. Christians are not saved through rules or human regulations they are set free from these things by Christ's death on the cross. Because of it we are bound and united to Christ.
What's important isn't the meat we eat but who we are uniting ourselves to. Later in chapter 10 Paul will warn the Corinthians not to participate in pagan sacrifices which are offered to demons. There is a spiritual reality behind pagan practices which is dangerous, we are in no way to unite ourselves to them. However unknowingly eating meat that may possibly have been used in pagan sacrifices is a different matter, there's nothing magical about the meat that can somehow link us to what it had previously been used for..
However some do not understand this they still think that eating certain foods affects their relationship with God. Look at v7:
7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
I once read a story about a struggling zoo inGaza,Israel. During the fighting their group of zebras died of starvation. Unable to replace them they painted stripes on donkeys so that they looked like zebras. It actually fooled people for a while. In the end though just having the right coloured stripes doesn't make you a zebra.
Christians are Christians because they have been united to Jesus through his death and resurrection. They are not Christians because they eat certain foods or dress a particular way. Something far more fundamental has happened and so issues like the food we eat are matters of conscience and wisdom not of salvation. We have freedom in such areas.
Now let's be clear we are not free to murder, or to commit adultery or lie or steal - these things are clearly taught against across Scripture but there are many areas in which we as Christians have freedom.
For example; we're no longer bound by the food laws found in the Old Testament. Christians are not to get drunk but they are not prohibited from drinking alcohol. We don't need to dress in a particular way, we can own property, we can home-school or not home-school, we can work a regular job, enjoy sport, breastfeed or not breastfeed, watch films and appreciate art.
We free in these areas and will apply wisdom and biblical principles to them as we decide what is best. We are free because God has created all things and your relationship to him is not dependent upon the origin of the food you eat. Christians are free, however Paul also argues that Christians should exercise their freedoms carefully out of love for others.
2. Exercise your freedoms in love, v9-13
Christians who know that their freedom has been bought by Christ can eat all foods with a clear conscience or they can enjoy a secular film and even thank God for it. However Paul says that there are some circumstances in which we will willingly choose not to exercise our freedoms for the sake of others. Notice what Paul said in v7:
Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.
In other words Paul says that food effectively becomes defiled if a person eats it whilst thinking of it as having been sacrificed to an idol. So Paul argues that we should constrain our freedoms so as to avoid causing others to act against their conscience. Idols may not be real but the effects of acting against our consciences are. Look at v9:
9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling-block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol's temple, won't that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols?
Paul imagines someone seeing a 'mature' Christian sitting in the temple happily eating going away thinking that eating things sacrificed to idols is fine. This is potentially very serious Paul warns in v11:
11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
The knowledge of a 'mature' Christian, the exercise of their freedom may damage a weaker brother or sister. Paul reminds the Corinthians that Jesus died on the cross for this weaker brother and sister. God loves them and does not think less of them for acting according to their conscience. Therefore if a 'mature' Christian by claiming their freedoms causes a weaker person to fall they sin both against their brother or sister and Paul says at the end of v11 they sin against Christ himself.
Therefore Paul says in verse 13; 'if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.'
Paul offers to constrain his freedom, radically in order to serve his brother or sister. Paul says he would rather never eat any meat again than lead another, for whom Christ died, in to sin. Paul places love for others before his own personal freedom.
During my gap year I helped lead the youth group I was part of as a teenager, some of us who were at helped lead the group decided that we wouldn't be seen in a pub even if we just there for a meal or to watch the football. There was nothing wrong with going to the pub in and of itself but for the teenagers in the group getting drunk with school friends was a major temptation. We didn't want them to look through the window, see us and possibly think that getting drunk was ok.
It was frustrating at points; I had to say no to innocently watching the football a few times, I missed some evenings with friends and work colleagues. Sometimes I avoided saying why I couldn't come thinking it sounded ridiculous but I'm thankful to those who helped me think about how the use of my freedoms affected others.
That's just one example of this principle at work. The real question though is; are we willing to give up our freedom for the sake of others? Can we sacrifice what is rightfully ours so that others will be built up?
That is what Jesus did for us. He forsook the glory, the honour that was rightfully his to be rejected on earth. Christ gave up the splendour of heaven and perfect intimacy with the father to be born on earth and on the cross separated from God. He is our example, we read earlier from John 13 as Jesus washed the disciples' feet:
13 'You call me "Teacher" and "Lord", and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
Real maturity, real Christ likeness is not just knowing your rights, its willingly laying down those rights, those freedoms for the sake of others. So can I urge you not to become grudgingly strict with yourself but to gladly choose to put your love for others before your own freedom.
Perhaps you need to think about the films you watch or the books you read are they helpful not just for you but for those around you? Are you handling your money in a way that shows others where your real treasure is? What about the place you go do they compromise others?
Where do you need to take action and are you prepared to? Perhaps you need to stop drinking for the sake of a friend who struggles with alcohol? Do you choose clothes based on self-expression and what shows your figure off best or on what is less likely to be a stumbling block for others. Maybe watching or reading about the lifestyles of the rich and the famous isn't helping your spouse treasure Christ above all else.
Do some non-self examination choose to put the needs, the struggles the weakness of others before your own freedom and nuanced understanding. Copy Jesus. Christians are free in Christ to enjoy with thankful hearts all that God has created for our enjoyment but we are also free to give up those very same things in love for sake of our brother and sisters for whom Christ also died.
Let's pray… Father we want to be like our master; Jesus. We want not just to have understanding and knowledge but love as well. Lord we're often selfish so we ask that you would change us. Help us first to see the needs of others and then to love one another by gladly choosing to restrict our freedom for the good of our brothers and sisters who Christ died for and in whose name we ask. Amen.