1 Corinthians 8:1-3 ~ 20140216 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
02/16 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 Love and Knowledge; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20140216_1cor8_1-3.mp3
1 Περὶ δὲ τῶν εἰδωλοθύτων, οἴδαμεν ὅτι πάντες γνῶσιν ἔχομεν. ἡ γνῶσις φυσιοῖ, ἡ δὲ ἀγάπη οἰκοδομεῖ. 2 εἴ τις δοκεῖ ἐγνωκέναι τι, οὔπω ἔγνω καθὼς δεῖ γνῶναι· 3 εἰ δέ τις ἀγαπᾷ τὸν θεόν, οὗτος ἔγνωσται ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ.
1 Corinthians 8 [ESV2011]
1 Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. 4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
In chapters 8-10, Paul tackles another issue brought to him by the church in Corinth. In chapter 7, he says 'now concerning the matters about which you wrote', and he addresses issues of relationships, marriage, celibacy, the divorced and widowed, remarriage and betrothal. Here in chapter 8, he begins 'now concerning food offered to idols', and he engages this topic at length through the next three chapters. In our effort to understand the details of the passage before us, it will be helpful to look at the background of this issue culturally, theologically, and historically, and to look at some of the conclusions Paul draws in chapter 10, so we can understand where he is going with his logic.
First of all, the cultural background. Corinth, like much of the Graeco-Roman world, was a culture immersed in idolatry. Some of the deities that were revered in Corinth would include Chronos, Poseidon, the Sun, the Calm, the Sea, Aphrodite, Artemis, Isis, Dionysus, a tree, Fortune, Apollo, Hermes, Zeus, Asclepius, Bunaea, and others (R.Collins, 1999: 314, cited in BECNT, p.373).
Three distinct issues would face a resident in Corinth, and Paul addresses each of these: eating in the temple of an idol (8:7-13; 10:1-22); eating food bought in the market (10:23-27); and eating food in private homes of unbelievers (10:28-31).
The problem of idolatry was pervasive, because pagan religion was inextricably linked to every area of life. Civic and political life included emperor worship and idolatry. Each trade guild would typically be associated with a pagan deity, company parties would be held in the idol's temple, and everyone employed in this trade would be expected to participate. Excavations at the Asclepion revealed multiple dining rooms and a large courtyard that could be used to host large banquets. Temple dining rooms could be rented out to commemorate weddings, birthdays, the birth of a child, coming of age parties, election victories, funerals, and the like (Kim, 1975, cited in BECNT p.348). Idolatry was even linked to sports; the Isthmian games hosted by Corinth included pagan sacrifices. If you went to the market to buy meat, it was likely to have been sacrificed to or dedicated to some pagan god. There was a fear that bad spirits would enter the body through food, so food was dedicated to a deity in hopes that that deity would protect the consumer from harmful spirits. Animals that were offered in these temples would end up in three places. Some of the meat was burned to the god. Some was given to the priests as their portion. If they had more than they could consume, they would sell it in the market. A portion was given to the person who offered the sacrifice, either to be eaten in one of the temple dining rooms for a celebration, or to be taken home and consumed with family and friends. This was a major issue for someone who believed in Christ, because a refusal to participate in a work party could cost you your job. A refusal to eat food served at an unbelieving friend's home could end the relationship. A refusal to attend family celebrations would alienate you from your unbelieving family. This is the kind of dilemma facing the church in Corinth.
Now let's look at the theological and historical background of this issue. The whole bible is clear that there is only one true God. The bible opens with the declaration that in the beginning God created all that exists.
When God gave his commandments to his people he said:
Throughout the history of Israel, idolatry was a problem. We might not realize how relevant this issue is to us today. I would guess that not many of us have an image that we worship or a temple that we visit. But idolatry extends beyond images to anything that takes priority over God's absolute right to first place, whether family or pleasure or work or power or pride. God described his people as “They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways” (Heb.3:10).
When we come to the historical background of this issue in the church in Corinth, we find that it had already been settled. When the good news of Jesus was believed by non-Jewish people, the question arose as to what parts of the Jewish law must be followed for a Gentile to become a genuine follower of Jesus, particularly, must they be circumcised. The early church discussed this issue and affirmed that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. They wrote a letter to the Gentile churches stating:
This decision was delivered to the churches in Gentile regions by Paul and Barnabas. That was Acts 15. In Acts 18, Paul arrives in Corinth and spends a year and a half preaching the gospel and establishing the church there. Certainly the issue of idolatry would have come up in a city like Corinth, and the Apostle certainly would not have withheld this decision from the Jerusalem church about this important issue. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians while he was in Corinth, and he wrote this:
Corinth is in the region of Achaia. Paul, writing from Corinth, commends the believers in Thessalonica that they turned to God from idols. There is no such thing as turning to the one living and true God and continuing to worship idols. This is not a gray area, this is black and white. They had the decision of the Jerusalem church on it. It appears that the believers in Corinth were feeling the pressure of their culture and questioning this decision. They wrote to Paul giving their reasons why they felt that they could as Christians partake of food sacrificed to idols and attend social functions in the pagan temples. Paul could have simply hammered them with the Jerusalem edict and demanded that they comply. Instead he lays out careful reasoning to to lead them to the proper conclusion. We can see some of his conclusions if we jump ahead to chapter 10. He says in 10:7 “Do not be idolaters as some of them were...” and in verse 14 “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” He equates idolatry with making sacrifices to demons and says in verse 20 “..I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” Addressing the question of meat of unknown origin, he says in verse 28 “But if someone says to you, 'This has been offered in sacrifice,' then do not eat it...”
Flow of Argument
Seeing the conclusions Paul draws, let's back up and follow his argumentation through these chapters. Apparently the Corinthian logic ran something like this: “all of us possess knowledge” (v.1) that “an idol has no real existence” because “there is no God but one” (v.4), and we know that “food will not commend us to God” (v.8), therefore “all things are lawful” (10:23) so we have the right to eat whatever we want wherever we want. Paul starts by pointing out the inadequacy of knowledge without love (8:1-3). He reminds them that because there is truly only one God, we exist for him and must obey him (8:4-6). He warns that their behavior may destroy a brother for whom Christ died (8:7-13). In chapter 9, he uses himself as an example of what it looks like to lay down your own rights for the sake of the gospel and the good of others. In chapter 10, he illustrates the danger of idolatry from the Old Testament example of Israel in the wilderness (10:1-13). He shows the incompatibility of idolatry and the Lord's supper (10:14-22), and he concludes with some practical instructions on how to handle different situations in pagan society (10:23-11:1).
Now that we seeing where he is going with his flow of thought, let's back up and examine his first point about knowledge and love. He introduces the topic 'now concerning food offered to idols' and then he quotes the Corinthians, possibly a line from their letter: 'we know that all of us possess knowledge', and then he begins to interact with their assertion. The kind of 'knowledge' they claim to have may cause more harm than good. He says 'this knowledge puffs up'. He has talked quite a bit about knowledge already in this letter. At the opening of the letter, he:
He reminds them that any knowledge they do have is an undeserved gift from God. In chapters 1-3 he contrasts the foolish wisdom of this world with the powerful foolishness of the message of the cross. He points out that this is supernatural wisdom, revealed by God to the foolish, weak, low, despised nothings. God's true wisdom is meant to humble us, not to puff us up. This word 'puffed up' is found in the New Testament 7 times, 6 of them in this letter (4:6, 18, 19; 5:2; 8:1; 13:4). The Corinthians had a problem with pride. Their egos were over-inflated.
Paul says here that 'knowledge puffs up, but love builds up'. Is Paul pitting love against knowledge? Is he promoting anti-intellectual ignorance? Love without knowledge? Heavens NO! You have to pay attention and think clearly and carefully to follow Paul's logic in these chapters. In writing this letter he assumes that they will have to use knowledge. When Paul thanked God for their being enriched in knowledge, he was not joking. Knowledge is a gift from God. In verse 2, he says:
There is a way that we ought to know. He does not say 'you should just turn off your brains and start loving people.' No, the Corinthians ought to know, but in a different way than they did. Ten times in this letter, Paul asks the question 'do you not know?' and each time he is rebuking them for their ignorance of a basic truth of Christianity that they ought to know. In Ephesians 1:8, Paul says that God lavishes the riches of his grace on us 'in all wisdom and insight'. When Paul prays for the Colossians, he says:
Fruitfulness comes in connection with an increase in the knowledge of God, not a decrease in knowledge. Paul's concern for his unbelieving Jewish brothers is that:
Their danger was that they had a passionate love for God, but it was not according to knowledge. They were ignorant of the righteousness of God that comes through faith in Christ. Love without knowledge does not save. Paul tells Timothy that God
Coming to the knowledge of the truth is equated with being saved. In Romans 1, the wrath of God comes on those who 'exchange the truth about God for a lie' (1:25). In the Old Testament, God says 'My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge' (Hosea 4:6; Is.5:13) and they have 'rejected knowledge'.
Jesus was clear on this. He said:
In knowing the truth, there is freedom. Knowing the truth comes from abiding in the word of Jesus.
Inflating Self or Building Others
Paul is not arguing for less knowledge and more love. It is not that they know too much, but they don't know in the right way. Paul rebukes this knowledge that is characterized by pride. This kind of knowledge shows itself by an inflated ego, by a feeling of superiority, looking down on others. The goal of true knowledge is not inflating self but building others up. Paul will have more to say in chapters 12 and 14 about using our gifts, even gifts like knowledge, to build up others, to build up the body of Christ. He will have more to say about the essential nature of love, real selfless love that the Corinthians lacked, in chapter 13. In the issue of idolatry, Paul is bringing the Corinthian church back to first principles. The first and greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is to love God and love neighbor. Any participation in idolatry is a blatant failure to love God above all else, and as he will show in the rest of this chapter, participation in idolatry is a failure to love our neighbor for whom Christ died.
Know that You Don't Know
The Corinthians asserted 'all of us possess knowledge'; Paul warns
The one who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. There is a self-confident knowing that Paul says is not yet knowing, and there is the way we ought to know, which is characterized by a humble awareness of our own weakness and limitations. Socrates said “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Paul warned in chapter 3:
In Romans 11, he pushes us beyond the human limits of knowledge:
True knowledge is beginning to comprehend that God is incomprehensible, unsearchable, inscrutable. God is infinitely beyond what a finite human being could ever know.
When we begin to know that the love of Christ goes beyond measurable dimensions, goes far beyond our knowledge, we begin to know as we ought to know.
Here again we see true knowledge defined by love. Loving God is set in contrast to thinking you know something. Paul is bringing them back to first principles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with heart and soul and mind and strength. Wisdom would be to start with the greatest command, the command to love God. To love God is to put him first in everything. So if the 'knowledge' of the Corinthians is allowing them to participate in idolatry, then that knowledge is really foolishness.
Known By God
The one who thinks he knows is contrasted with the one who loves God. This one is said, not to know God, but to be known by God. Why does he turn this around? Paul could have said 'the one who loves God is the one who truly knows him'; but instead he says 'the one who loves God is the one who is known by him.' To be known by God is to belong to God, to experience his unmerited grace, to be chosen by him. In Amos 3, God says of Israel “You only have I known of all the families of the earth”.
All the people in a kingdom know their king. Some may love him and some may hate him, but they all know him. But to say that the king knows me is to say much more. In most kingdoms, very few could claim that they are known by the king.
The greatest thing is not that we know God. The greatest think is that he knows us.
For God to know us is sheer undeserved mercy.
God loves us not because of, but in spite of what we are. It is undeserved favor. If anyone loves God, it is because he is first known and loved by God.
This is a powerful antidote for idolatry. To know that the incomprehensible love of Christ has been lavished on me, to know that Christ loved me and gave himself for me, to know that I am known, intimately known and loved by the King of kings, stirs in my heart an affection for God, a deep love for God, a desire to put him first over everything else. This is not 'I am under the authority of the Jerusalem decree, I am prohibited from eating food sacrificed to idols'; this is 'I am known by God, loved by God! Wonder of wonders! How could I possibly give any hint that my allegiance or my affections are toward anything else besides God? Come what may, I will worship the Lord my God and him only will I serve.