Bricks and Balloons
Title: Bricks and balloons
Text: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Date: January 29, 2006 at LMC
Purpose: to ask ourselves, “How are we using our knowledge to build one another up?”
These two guys, George and Harry, set out in a hot air balloon to cross the Atlantic Ocean. After thirty-seven hours in the air, George says, “Harry, we better lose some altitude so we can see where we are.” Harry lets out some of the hot air in the balloon, and the balloon descends to below the cloud cover. George says, “I still can't tell where we are. Let’s ask that guy on the ground.” So, Harry yells down to the man, “Hey, could you tell us where we are?” The man on the ground yells back “You're in a balloon, a hundred feet up in the air.” George turns to Harry and says, “That guy must be a lawyer.” Harry says, “How can you tell?” George says, “Because the advice he gave us is one hundred percent accurate and totally useless.”
Yesterday was the birth anniversary of physicist, explorer, and inventor Auguste Piccard, who was born in 1884. Auguste is credited with being the first person to explore the stratosphere in a balloon. The large balloon supported a spherical, pressurized gondola. Auguste lifted off from Augusburg, Germany on May 27, 1931 and reached an unprecedented altitude of 51,775 feet. To put it in perspective, modern jet airliners fly at an altitude of 32,000 to 49,000. And yet in 1931, only 28 years after the first flight by the Wright brothers at Kittyhawk, Piccard had soared to over 51,000 feet. Not to be outdone by his twin brother, Jean-Felix Piccard three years later took his balloon, piloted by his wife Jeanette, to an astonishing altitude of 57,579 feet. Apparently, sibling rivalry has not altitude limits.
Lift is the word to describe the upward force that keeps objects in the air. Helium has lift because it is lighter than the air round it. So, when we fill a balloon with helium, it naturally rises. But as any child who has ever been given a helium balloon knows, the helium doesn’t stay in the balloon forever. As we often say, what goes up must eventually come down, be they balloons, aircraft, satellites, or space stations. This insight becomes instructive when we read our text for today in 1 Corinthians 8. As a whole, the book of 1 Corinthians is a letter that Paul wrote in response to questions and concerns that the church in Corinth had over a number of issues. In chapter 8, Paul deals with the issue of eating food sacrificed to idols.
- Background behind 1 Cor. 8
- Food sacrificed to idols, especially meat
- Greek culture held knowledge in high esteem
- The Corinthian believers knew idols were nothing and had no qualms of conscience about eating any food.
- They believed that what they knew gave them license act in the way they wished. Freedom from restraints = license to do whatever
- Paul’s correction
- We can’t simply do whatever we want, even if our freedom in Christ permits it
- Even if our theology is “correct,” there is always the community of faith to consider
Look at verse 4: “There is no God but one” reminds us of the Hebrew sh’ma. The sh’ma was a declaration of faith that was extremely important to Jewish identity and was recited at all religious gatherings and festivals. Even Jesus recites it as an answer to the question, “Which is the greatest commandment?” In Mark 12:29 Jesus replies, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’” The problem is that the correct knowledge that the believers in Corinth had wasn’t being used to strengthen their fellow believers. They were forgetting the other commandment that goes along with the greatest, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
- Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The Greek word for build literally means “build a house”.
- My experience with Ray Epp my first year of seminary
- Our knowledge may puff us up to the point where we’re soaring above the clouds, but it can be lonely up there. And you eventually have to come down.
- Paul challenges us to use our knowledge of God to love and serve others. Paul is consistent is his admonition to always consider the building up of the church first before our individual considerations. This holds true of the gifts of the Spirit as well as our knowledge of God.
- Real world: What makes you feel important? What gives you a sense of pride? What puffs you up? Is it your education? What you know about God or the Bible? Is it your standing in your workplace or in certain circles you like to be in? A talent, gift, or ability you have? Paul is urging us to take a hard look at what puffs us up with pride and grasp the realization that God is asking us to be willing to surrender those things for the sake of building a good house for our brothers and sisters.
- 1 Thess. 5:11: “Therefore encourage one another and build up each other as indeed you are doing.”
We have vast stores of knowledge, the likes have never been seen before on earth. One person has put human knowledge on a peculiar scale:
If you could represent the entire sum of human knowledge from the beginning of time to 1845 equal to 1 inch then…
The sum… 1845 to 1945 = 3 inches
The sum… 1945 to present = higher than the Washington Monument
And yet, with all of that knowledge that sends us soaring to the clouds, are we as human beings able to love any more? What would a scale of human love over the ages look like?
- We hear the Word of God telling us, “Don’t settle for a lonely ride to the clouds. Instead, do the hard work of creating a building with bricks and mortar. It’s more difficult work. The bricks are heavy and the mortar is messy. Sometimes your fingers might even get pinched. But in the end, a house is built that brings shelter for many.”