“Love Builds Up”
Prepared by Carl Schaefer
Based upon I Corinthians 8: 1-13
Sunday, January 17, 2010
I knew of the Placebo effect, but I had never heard of the research that had been done on the Nocebo effect.
(Slide # 2) The nocebo effect is the concept that if you think you are sick, you will likely be sick; sort of the same thing on an individual basis we call hypochondria. In effect, you take a group of people, all having the same characteristics – age, sex, physical condition, etc, as best you can you try and control all the variables, and those that think they will get sick are more likely to get sick.
The placebo effect is where you take a group of people, again controlling as many of the variables as you can, and one group you give actual medicine but to the other a placebo, or “sugar pill.” The group that gets the placebo will experience an improvement in health just because they think they were given medicine. In other words, if you think you are well, you will be well.
What does this all have to do with today’s text about Paul’s message to the community of Corinth or better yet how it is related to the season of Epiphany? Well, give me a moment and I will unpack the meaning and relationship.
(Slide #3) First of all, in the 1st century City of Corinth, there were many people offering animal sacrifices to Greek gods. It was also a common practice to take the leftover meat from these sacrifices and sell the meat in the open market. You could call it be the equivalent of going to McDonalds and ordering a McCorinth Burger containing this left over meat.
Christians in Corinth thought this was a terrible problem and in trying to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ were concerned that eating such meat would be offensive to God.
Paul tries to step in and through his letter “disarm” their concerns by saying in effect that since idol gods don’t really exist in the first place, for there is really only one God - the Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, logically therefore there is nothing to worry about regarding the eating of such meat. In other words, a barbecue at a “sinner’s” house could still be a good meal.
(Slide #4) While Paul didn’t know of the nocebo effect, he did understand that it was hard to change people’s minds about the effect of “idol meet.” Paul says in effect, let’s not let knowledge decrease us, good or bad, let’s place more emphasis on love. In other words, “knowledge puffs up” while “love builds-up.” So let us make decisions based upon love first – not necessarily consistent with knowledge. God’s wisdom is perfect, but man’s is flawed. So let us not confuse knowledge with wisdom.
Paul is saying that knowledge alone can decrease us -- “I know I’m sick even though you technically are not, but thinking it may make you sick.” - what I think is not always good. “I know the meat is “tainted” so if I eat it will be bad.”
Paul, and he encourages the same for us, says that love is the key. Regardless of what you think you know about meat – or anything else – think through the lense of love instead. This also relates to the Epiphany message of God – you may see just a baby, but He is the Son of God.
Let’s go deeper.
All I see is a baby, so God must be helpless. By knowledge, it would see more logical that if God really wanted to change the world, he would have sent done it by power and might. But a baby? OK We have the advantage as time has passed to see that the baby grew up and became a man who taught and performed miracles, then he “died” to save the world? Even Judas was convinced that Jesus had it all wrong. Why would death bring freedom? Even the wise and highly trained priests of the Temple couldn’t figure that one out.
Paul says, be careful about what you think you know; he says that love is the key. Regardless of what you think you know about meat – or babies – or a man on a cross – or anything else that you are convinced you know to be true – Paul says think through God’s eyes of love. See past the baby into God’s plan of love and how he wanted each of us to feel welcome to come into his presence, absent fear, and make a decision not out of power and might but of grace. And how can you know grace? How can you understand grace? Answer: only through the eyes of love. For didn’t we just talk last Sunday about how God loved us so in I John 3: 16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
(Slide #6) Today we. the church, are really no different than that of Paul’s day. We are convinced that our knowledge is perfect and draw conclusions based upon that standard. Some examples:
>We think that God is only willing to hear one kind of music in praise of his holy name-
>We tell our children that Christian pop music is trash – “idol meat.”
>We know that worship should only last one hour as if God is only willing to listen for an hour.
>We know that kids should not be allowed to wear jeans to church.
And it extends into our lives outside of the Church:
>We know that prayer should not be allowed in schools.
>We know that the Ten Commandments should not be displayed in public buildings.
>We know that the right to life or the right of choice is the only way.
>We know --- ya da ya da and therefore it is only way.
Sometimes we phrase it as the only way or that such in such is the wrong way, or even use a phrase of passive resistance by saying “We have never done it that way here!”
But Paul is stepping in to say that love, rather than knowledge, should be the standard for our behavior. We should let love be our operative standard.
Paul is suggesting that Christians do not all share the same knowledge. And, we are all vulnerable to the same pitfall whether we are young or old; black or white; or city or
Paul is not done with the lesson -
In the same way, Paul is recognizing that there are times when we should realize that our knowledge might be a stumbling block to others. If eating meat sacrificed to idols is a stumbling block to others, that don’t eat the meat even though there is nothing wrong with it.
The additional lesson here is that rather than putting our needs ahead of the interest of others – rather than assuming that we know what is best for others, we should put the interest of others ahead of ours and look at what they do in love, not in judgement. Instead of knocking down the view of others, let love accommodate – let love build up.
We can be so consumed in the Church and in our personal lives about being right; we have forgotten that the greater good is to love one another as Christians.
So the lesson he wants us to learn about idol meat is that the operative standard of Christian behavior is love – 1 Corinthians 13, and that our primary Christian responsibility is not about being right, but also being compassionate, about wisdom, not knowledge. Our job is to care for, nurture, and build one another up in love. The puffing-up due to knowledge is like the problem with pride, it is a stumbling block for all us, vs. the opportunity we have to love another in a way that builds-up the collective Body of Christ.
(Scripture: Ephesians 4: 2-3) “Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
(Slide #8) I close with two examples of Peter, and bear with me as I hope these make the connection with Epiphany, the perfect revelation of God’s love based upon God’s wisdom and not ours.
In the first instance (John 13), Peter was convinced that Jesus should not wash his feet for Jesus was not the servant, instead He is the Lord. However, Peter’s knowledge presented a stumbling block to understand that Jesus love was to be the standard of hospitality (and of his birth, life and death), that He came to serve and not to be served. He told his disciples once they understood what He came to do, they would do likewise – you aught to wash one another’s feet – to love one another – to love your neighbor.
In another setting, Peter was convinced that God’s saving grace through baptism was reserved for the Jews. That was the case until the vision Peter had in Acts 10 when He was asked to go to the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, and baptize a Gentile. It was the Epiphany for Peter, trained in the way of Jewish law, to set aside what he assumed to be true about God’s grace, and bring Gentiles into the Kingdom.
(Slide #9)The understanding of that kind of love would truly be an epiphany for any of us, and would be the truth of love that builds up – builds up a world that God loved enough to save by sending a baby that everyone has the potential to love. Just think – if you can let go of your knowledge that a baby is mostly helpless and see if you don’t understand the power of God love. Love may look helpless or inadequate for the task, but make no mistake love through the Holy Spirit is still the most powerful force there is.
Let us close with this additional Scripture lesson from Ephesians 4: 14-16 “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and the cunning and craftiness (worldly knowledge) of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth of love, we will in all things grow up in Him who is the Head, that is Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.