The main theme of I Corinthians is that Christians are engaged in a struggle between spiritual and material influences. These influences come to the organized church on one hand as the world allures the members with material attractions and on the other hand as God's Word brings the spiritual Gospel. These influences are upon the individual Christian as his physical appetites pull him one way and his spiritual attention pulls him another way.
We can tell whether we have a spiritual or material focus by:
1. how we act when we have a conflict of interest or are in competition with someone else (Ch. 6).
2. how content we are with God's plan for our life, no matter what God's plan is for others (Ch. 7).
3. how we react to others who hinder us from attaining our own desires (Ch. 8).
This chapter makes another application of the main theme. As Chapter 7 explains how to live with those of the opposite sex, Chapter 8 explains how to live with weaker brothers. We can look at Chapter 8 in several ways. One way is to consider it as a chapter on spiritual sensitivity, especially concerning the needs of others who are weak. We can also look at Chapter 8 as an answer to the question of what our rights are. The answer is we have a right to care for our weaker brother. Additionally, we can look at Chapter 8 as the answer to the question of Genesis 4:9.
Verse 1, "Now as touching things offered to idols"
The issue here is that worldly Corinth was the city from which many church members came and where they still lived. Some church members had a strong worldly background and were still struggling to remove the influence of their past, which to some extent they had brought into the church with them. This problem was especially keen if they had a religious or ritualistic background and were sensitive to certain man made rules. One particular problem is what to do about food that had been part of the religious ceremonies of pagan temples in the city and was then sold in the marketplace? Because they were offered to idols, the best foods were selected for these offerings. When the ceremony was over, they were sold at the marketplace. In all likelihood, the best food at a church member's meal had come from the temple ceremony. If some weak members realized that, what should the stronger members do?
"we know that we all have knowledge"
The idea of this phrase is, "All of us who are mature possess knowledge of God's Word."
"Knowledge puffeth up"
Knowledge by itself without any spiritual guidance is a cause of pride. The knowledge spoken of here is the true and accurate understanding of the Word of God. It is the knowledge found in the Word of God, the Bible. The knowledge that man invents and accumulates is jealousy guarded and source of his glory, but that is not the knowledge in view here. All knowledge, even true knowledge, if not accompanied by spiritual guidance, can lead to pride.
Salvation is not a result of careful attention to doctrinal accuracy or academic, theological achievement. Salvation is a work of God, which is evidenced by a humble trust and obedience to Him and an evangelistic love for others. Doctrinal accuracy is important, but it is the result of, not the cause of, God's gracious love to man.
"but charity edifieth"
The contrast is between knowledge and charity or love (agape). These two things can be in opposition. Our knowledge can be correct and still we can be on our way to hell. That kind of knowledge means to know certain facts and concepts. It is knowledge that is not accompanied by a heart that humbly and lovingly seeks to do God's will. The warning is that we must careful not to desire correct doctrine and at the same time living a self interested life. We must not live zealous of a certain point of doctrine and be interested only in our group of friends or our own needs, ignoring the weaknesses and needs of others. It is terrible to study a point in the Bible correctly and still think of or live only for ourselves.
To really know means to obey God's Word (Job 28:28; Micah 6:8). To look at it in reverse, disobedience soon leads to a distortion of God's Word and a lack of understanding of even the facts of the Bible. In other words, it is not even possible to keep a good grasp of the facts, it is not even possible to maintain an accurate head knowledge without charity.
Knowledge itself is not to blame for puffing up a person. Rather, it is the person's misuse of it that fills him with pride. In fact, because pride distorts a person's perspective of God, self, and others, a person's view of the Bible's contents will also be distorted in all those points needed to maintain his pride.
The word "edifieth" is a combination of okio (house) and domei (gift). True love shares gifts with the household of God. The gifts of wisdom or anything else are given to believers to be a benefit for the whole church.
Verse 2, "And if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as..."
If we emphasize the word "as" in this verse, we get the following meaning. If a man thinks he knows, that is, if he is conscious and proud of his knowledge, then he does not know as (in the way) he ought to. He is not knowing with humility. He is demonstrating an example of the sin mentioned in verse one. In other words, the idea of the verse is, "do not keep thinking how smart you are. Do not be impressed by your own knowledge."
If we emphasize the word "yet" in this verse, we get the following meaning. If a man thinks he knows, he should realize that he does not yet know as he ought. There is always more to know, and he does not have all knowledge. Therefore, he should be humble (cf. 13:12).
The basic truth is that it is not just important what a person knows. It is also important what he does with what he knows. It may be that a man is very smart. However, if he is spiritual, he does not focus upon the fact that he knows a lot. He focuses upon how he can glorify his Lord and edify others. He needs to be faithful. He needs to pray for God's help to use His knowledge for the spiritual blessing of others and the glory of His name.
Verse 3, "But if any man love God"
This is a statement that introduces a contrast. Is love put in opposition to thought and knowledge? No. Love is put against "thinking that he knoweth." That kind of thinking is not really knowing truth, but an illusion in a person's mind, an illusion which spawns pride.
"the same is known of him"
The words "the same" refer to the man who loves God. The word "him" refers to God. This phrase describes a person who is saved (Matt. 7:23; I Cor. 13:12; II Tim. 2:19). "The same" man who loves God is known by God.
Verses 2 and 3 together teach that pride of knowledge is the opposite of loving God and being saved (James 4:6).
Verse 4, "As concerning...sacrificed unto idols"
Now, what is God's will concerning things that have previously been associated with idol worship? The starting point is to recognize two facts:
1. "We know...in the world" We know that idols are really nothing. In Greek the point is even clearer and stronger. The idea of the phrase is, "there are no idols in the world." Men may fabricate something physical or invent some philosophy and worship it, but that god really exists only in their imagination and is not part of the real world. There is no power or wisdom in an idol because it is not real. The wood may be real, the philosophy may be written in some book. However, the god that it represents is not real (Isa. 41:24-29; 44:9-20; Jer. 10:1-5; 6-14).
2. "And there is...but one" The fact is clear. There is one God alone, and He is almighty, all wise, all righteous, and eternal (Isa. 42:8; 48:11,12).
These facts lead to the conclusion that we can have a "take it or leave it" attitude toward things sacrificed to idols. If some people are struggling with thoughts and objects left over from the time they used to think idols were meaningful, then we can leave those things alone, especially if our association with those things troubles these weaker brothers.
Verses 5, 6
These two verses explain and repeat points in the previous verse.
The thought of verse 5 can be expressed as, "Even though some people in the world call some things idols, and there are many such gods in the world...."
Paul is simply stating the situation that exists in the world. Men's idols and philosophies are a dream world, in which men are self deluded by their illusions. Nevertheless, that is how things are. It might not be right, but there are things in this world that are called gods.
"But to us..."
The word "us" refers to believers, people with spiritual understanding. This verse states what is true, but it is knowledge which can only be known by people who have been given the grace to understand.
The point of the last three verses is that it is silly to have earthly aspirations. It is such a waste to live for honor and worship, the things of the world. Those things have no value or reality. They are not real in the sense that they have no spiritual power nor will they continue, whereas God and His kingdom are eternal. Therefore it is terrible to set people aside in our efforts to do as we please with the things of this world, confident that our perspective and behavior conform to God's laws. We who know better should not be self righteous in our knowledge and live as if we do not care about those who have scruples, even if those scruples are based on ignorance of God's law.
Verse 7, "Howbeit there is not in every man this knowledge"
Why not? Why doesn't every man in the church (for that is who is in view) have the knowledge explained in verses 4-6? First of all, knowledge is a gift of God. God takes time to bring people along in their levels of understanding and maturity. Secondly, people might know idols are nothing and God is everything, but because of some personal sin problem, they struggle with living faithfully to that new knowledge.
"for some with conscience...unto an idol"
Our conscience is a knowledge from the inside, a knowledge which passes judgment on what we think and do (Rom. 2:15). The phrase is clarified by rendering this verse closer to the way it is in Greek. "Through the habit until now of the idol as an idolatrous sacrifice eat." The idea here is that people had a prior habit of eating certain things as if they were sacrificed to an idol, that is, for religious purposes. They still, out of habit, consider such things to have a religious significance.
Our conscience makes decisions based upon an inventory of principles and laws that tell us what is right or wrong. Part of the inventory is implanted in us by God. Unfortunately, part of that inventory also contains habits that come from our experiences. We have our own set of taboos that are a result of our past. This is the reason that they were some in the Corinthian church that were uneasy about things that reminded them of their idolatrous past.
The people who lived in the city of Corinth had a habit of sacrificing meats to idols and then eating those sacrifices. The excess was sold in the marketplace to make money for the temple. Someone may have been able to get some of that sacrificial offering, say as good quality meat, for his own meal. He should not expect those Corinthians who may have had a previous habit of idol sacrifice to now go ahead or join him as if the idol and the meat sacrificed to it were nothing. The person with an idolatrous background may have a conscience that is infected by some human taboos. These taboos may not be right. Nevertheless, he needs time to work it out. A spiritually sensitive person should take steps to remove such difficulties and uncomfortable situations from the meal because his weaker brother has a sensitive conscience.
We cannot say, "I know the truth, I'm in control," and then do what we please. We must think about the other person. We must be helpers, part of the solution and not part of the problem. A conscience which is weak can be strengthened by good habits over time by steadily and gently giving the weaker brother the truths in the Bible.
"and their conscience being weak is defiled"
The word "defiled," moluno, is used only three times, twice to denote sin (Rev. 3:4; 14:4). Another derivative of the word is used once to mean sin also (II Cor. 7:1, "filthiness"). The fact is a person may have certain taboos which do not accord with the Word of God. To them the taboo is real, and to violate those man made prohibitions means to rebel against their conscience. Their motivation is wrong. They have actually sinned in their heart, even though the taboo is not against God's word.
An excellent expansion of this discussion is found in Romans 14.
Verse 8, "But meat commendeth us not to God"
There is no spiritual value in meat. There is nothing in meat, or actually in any physical thing, that in itself affects the spiritual relationship between us and God. We could easily abstain from any meat for the benefit of others, and it would not matter spiritually (Matt. 15:17-19; Mark 7:20; Acts 10:11-16; Rom. 14:17; I Cor. 10:27; I Tim. 4:3-5).
"for neither...the worse"
Our relationship with God is not better or worse because of what we eat. Since our salvation is not strengthened or weakened by what we eat, we should not insist upon our liberty to eat things. If we insist upon certain rights, we have become a slave to them. We must never worry how the things that we eat affect us spiritually. What we eat must be determined by other considerations such as diet, health, or the conscience of our weaker brother.
Verse 9, "But take heed...liberty of yours"
The liberty referred to is the fact that God's Word does not explicitly forbid us from eating anything. Technically, a person could walk according to the explicit Word of God, but without concern for a weaker brother. Yet, such a person is walking in grave danger. The warning is not only that a weaker brother will have a problem because of our action ("become a stumbling block to them that are weak"), but also that we are not walking as a saved person would walk (verse 12).
Verse 10, "For if any man see thee which hast knowledge..."
The next two verses explain the seriousness of the warning in verse 9. The idea of the opening phrase is this: "If a man who is weak, who has some personal habits that affect his conscience, sees you who know the truth of the Word, and that weaker brother looks up to you as a more mature Christian..."
"... sit at meat in the idol's temple" The idea continues in this way: "If the weaker brother sees you do something which seems to be very wrong according to his conscience..."
"shall not...to idols"
The verse concludes with the thought, "... won't the weaker brother be encouraged to violate his conscience and eat meat which he still feels is wrong for a Christian to do?"
To make sure we really understand the logic of this chapter, we should ask the question, "Why is the weak man emboldened to eat if his conscience says no?" Or in terms of verse 7, we could ask, "Why does the man whose conscience tells him that idols are something, even though they are not anything, go ahead and eat, thereby defiling his conscience?" We can answer those questions two ways. One way is to think that the man who is weak is an unbeliever. He may be part of the organized church, but he still has a heart that is full of desire for this world. Because he is unsaved and really wants to fulfill his own will, he looks at the behavior of others, hoping for an excuse to do what he wants to do. Normally his weak conscience keeps him from doing it. In this way these verses are an example of a rebellion that is a reflection of the man's heart. Even though eating something offered to an idol is not a sin since idols are nothing, anyone who goes against his conscience presumptuously is committing a sin. The message to the strong brother is to not give that man an alibi to sin, or not to assist him in his rebellion.
Another way to answer the questions is to think that the man who is weak is a believer. Weaker brothers are easily influenced by those who appear to be stronger. The weaker brother could see a certain behavior of another church member. Then he might try to imitate that behavior, which before the law of God is not sinful, but in his case is rebellion against his conscience. The message to the strong brother in that case is not to cause trouble for someone who wants to live a faithful Christian life but is struggling with a problem from his past.
Verse 11, "And through thy knowledge...perish"
The word "perish" is apoluo, which means "a break away" or "complete separation from." It is used, for example, in John 3:16 to refer to perishing under the wrath of God, far removed from His love.
"for whom Christ died?"
This refers to the fact that Christ's death is the foundation for the outward organization called the church. Those who are part of the organization called the church are spoken of as those for whom Christ died, even though they may not be saved. A similar idea is found in II Peter 2:1. There the idea is that there are people in the church who are not saved, but still the phrase "the Lord who brought them" is applied to them. This also recalls the words in Deuteronomy 32:5,6 which teach the same thing about the Israelites who were confident that they were saved but were only part of the corporate nation. We will encounter a similar teaching in Chapter 10.
Therefore, this verse certainly does not teach that a person goes to hell based upon how another person treats him. A person goes to hell because he is condemned for his sins. Nor does this verse teach that once a person is saved, he can lose his salvation based upon how another person treats him. A person who is saved can never lose his salvation.
We can understand how this verse fits into the logic of the chapter and answer the question it asks in two possible ways. As in verse 10, what we think of this verse depends on whether we think that the words "weak brother" mean a believer or an unbeliever.
If the weak brother is a believer, then this is a rhetorical question. The answer to the question is "No." A believer can never perish (John 10:27-29). In that light, we can understand this verse to teach that although we cannot cause our weak brother to perish, we must not act selfishly and say by our behavior, "I do not care if you were to perish."
If the weak brother is an unbeliever, then the question is a reflection of reality. Some people called brothers, who are part of the corporate church, are actually unsaved and will perish. In this light the verse teaches that although some will perish, we must not be the one who will be instrumental in or contribute to their rebellion and give them an excuse to go their sinful way.
The point of the verse is that we are our brother's keeper. If we say by our actions that we do not care about our brother, if we do what we want no matter what, we are in effect saying to him, "Go to hell." Whether he is saved or not, we must never act as if we have no spiritual concern for our brother. We must never forget the law of love (verse one), which in its highest form is to desire another's salvation. That love must be displayed in our lives as we bring him and build him up in the Gospel.
So often church members do not want to be bothered by someone who has problems or troubles. People do not want to be denied their personal pursuits, time, or privacy. People do not want to adjust or accommodate their lives because their own plans are too important to them. People do not want to lose out, miss something, or accomplish less with their lives in order to give themselves to someone who has needs. Add to this the fact that weak believers are often an embarrassment and a frustration to more mature believers, we see that only a truly spiritual person can live with a weaker brother as God wants him to.
Jesus Christ is the perfect illustration of this verse:
1. Jesus accommodates himself to the weakness of his brothers, people in the church. He does not immediately lower the boom and bring judgment the instant they sin, nor does he abandon his people in disgust for their foolishness. He patiently corrects them day after day for all the years of their lives. Even after repeated failures, God's people can count on His help. The Lord Jesus does not grow tired and go on to better things. It is His will to be bothered (Ps. 103:13-17).
2. Jesus cared for His weaker brothers, sinful, unsaved men. Jesus owns creation. He could have done what he wanted with sinful men. He had the right and the liberty to cast men aside. Instead, He gave up all that He had for his people (John 15:13; Phil. 2:6-8; Heb. 2:16-18).
Verse 12, "But when ye sin so against the brethren"
Once again the sin is acting proudly because of one's knowledge of the Scripture without regard for another's weakness. Incidentally, the offense can be broadened to mean that not only is the weaker brother hurt, but all the brothers in the congregation suffer.
"and wound their weak conscience"
The verb "wound" really means "to strike" (Acts 18:17; 21:32, "beat"). It describes the action of an uncaring person, rather than the effect of that action upon a weak person. So in this verse, the focus is upon the sin of an unloving, worldly person.
"ye sin against Christ"
The idea is similar to I Corinthians 3:17. The sin is against the body of Christ, which is the church. This supports the observation we made concerning the opening phrase of this verse.
We can also keep in mind that when we sin against a weaker brother, Christ takes it personally. In this view, the idea is similar to Psalm 51:14.
Verse 13, "Wherefore...offend"
This is not a matter of hurting someone's feelings. This is a deadly, serious matter as we see how the word "offend" is used in Matthew 18:6. Not caring, not being our brother's keeper, means our focus is material and not spiritual. We are walking in the steps of Cain!
This is Paul's personal decision, but it is also the will of God. He is willing to deny himself certain physical blessings during his whole life based on the spiritual concern he has for his weaker brothers. This phrase is a fitting transition into Chapter 9, in which we will see examples of spiritual ministers.
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