Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 73: Keys to Unity – Love over Liberty
1 Cor. 8:1-13
April 29, 2012
* I hate it when my sermon forces me to change – wanting to post church’s website
Scripture reading: 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 (Erin)
Last week I talked about how God’s ideal would be for there to be no denominations and Christians to be undivided. But that is impossible due both to human limitations.
Because we don’t know everything, we disagree on some things, and I don’t think we should ignore or minimize the differences:
Jeff’s church thinks church should meet on Sabbath (Saturday), we think it doesn’t matter.
His Place works well as a big church, we work well as a small church.
Faith Community Church practices infant baptism, we only baptize at an age of accountability.
Communion Church is more Calvinist in doctrine, we are less.
These are all churches I have personal ties with and pastors I value as brothers in Christ, but we disagree on these issues.
* While we should not minimize these issues, neither should we maximize them; we are all united under one Lord and Savior.
We must not let opinions about things divide us unnecessarily:
NIV 1 Corinthians 8:2-3 Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.
* If you want to demonstrate spiritual maturity, don’t show us your doctrinal knowledge, demonstrate your love.
Last week we had our pastors’ luncheon where we discussed how we could work together, even with these doctrinal differences. We agreed that we needed to have a common base, such as the Apostles’ Creed, and from there work on thing we agree on.
Each those differences are “merely” doctrinal issues; they tend to divide church from church. But on top of that are disagreements about how Christians should act.
Different Christians believe different things are acceptable. As I go through this list, think how you feel about them AND how you feel about believer who disagree. Can a Christian:
1. Movies: “R” rated movies; R for violence, R for nudity?
2. Music: Only Christian? Alternative? Death metal? Country?
4. Wear a bikini in public?
5. Home school, private or public?
6. Which political party?
7. Go dancing, in a bar?
8. What swear words are allowed? Darn it? Shut up?
9. Play cards, go to a casino; work at a casino?
10. Work on Sunday?
11. Smoke a pipe, smoke cigars, or smoke cigarettes?
You might feel very strongly about some of these things and there will be other Christians who feel the exact opposite about them, again, quite strongly.
We call these things “disputable matters,” issues that Christians can legitimately have different opinions on.
Q How can we know which things are disputable? That is itself disputable.
Some Christians may not believe them to be disputable; others may say things are disputable that we think clearly wrong.
There is no, solid line in thick black ink, but some things are more clear than others. But that doesn’t mean there is no line: EG: A kids who won’t set the table because he can’t find a fork.
Basically, we need to look at Scripture:
Q What does the entire context of the Bible say, based on a “reasonable person” interpretation?
The more clear something is in the Bible, the more clearly it is “wrong” instead of “disputable.” For instance, “no sex outside of marriage” is pretty clear (though some dispute it). “No dancing” on the other hand isn’t in the Bible.
Divided by lesser things
Think back to how you felt as I read that list, and how you know others feel, and, you can see how these things can actually cause more divisions than more important issues.
* EG: Addressing Prohibitionist in my book.
“Disputable mattes” is one of the keys to unity Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians. Though the exact situation was unique to them, the application is quite applicable.
Q How can we prevent these differences from dividing us?
When I spoke of doctrinal difference, I said that we need to respond to doctrinal difference by neither minimizing them nor maximizing them, but focusing on Jesus.
* Similarly, we will see that Paul shows us not to ignore the difference by focus on love.
Great food, lousy atmosphere
A couple of weeks ago Marilyn and I had an unexpected evening free and we wanted to try a new place, so we asked on Facebook, and a lot of you recommended “The Train Wreck” in Burlington – good call, we loved it.
* I would highly recommend it, unless you are a recovering alcoholic, or if you struggle we overeating.
In Rome today, there is a restaurant is built in the ruins of an ancient temple; you can still see two of the ancient pillars and eat in the same spot where they used to worship Roman gods.
What is ironic is temples used to be the ancient equivalent of restaurants: Worshipers would bring an animal to be sacrificed to a god, then they’d have big dinner and enjoy the sacrifice.
* If you have ever purchased a half a cow, you know that is more than a family could eat, so other folks could come eat too.
Even that couldn’t use up all the meat, so the temple would then sell it in the market place and most of the meat available had been sacrificed to idols.
This creates a lot of ethical issues: Is okay to eat in the “restaurant”? Isn’t that meat defiled and unholy? How about buying the meat? Wouldn’t that be supporting the temple?
* Christians on either side of the issue disagreed strongly.
1 Corinthians 8:4-6 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 agrees theologically with those who say the meat is not big deal. When he addresses a similar issue in Romans, he basically says, “No food is unclean” (Romans 14:14).
* But this wasn’t just a theological discussion; it had profound, deeply impacting effects on some people.
1 Corinthians 8:7-8 But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, 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.
Some of the Corinthian Christians didn’t have any problems. I think these were probably the ones who weren’t particularly religious to begin with.
* But others had such deep emotional ties to the idolatry that they could not separate the food from idolatry.
The first group walked into the temple and saw prime rib. The second walked in and smelled the incense they used to offer, saw the temple prostitutes they used to sleep with, felt the draw to sleep with them again. They could almost hear the pagan gods calling them back in, not to mention social pressure.
Q Can you see how dangerous it would be for them to eat that meat, let alone walk into that temple?
A church of liberty
Let’s bring this back to today: One of the things I love about this church is that we have a lot more freedom on these disputable matters than many churches.
This isn’t because we are trying to get as close to the line as possible, but because we do a much better job at focusing on internal heart issues rather than external “no-no’s.”
One on hand these issues are secondary; they should not be as big of a deal as clear sins like envy, greed, pride and the like, but they garner a lot more attention.
* In most churches, a pastor can be an egomaniac, but if he smoked in front of the church, he’d be out.
In this way, I think we are stronger than some Christians, but at the same time, that means that we are at risk of hurting the brothers and sisters whose “conscience is weak.”
* This passage is written to us: We need to learn to be more sensitive to weaker Christians.
Walking in their shoes
Q What do you feel when you walk into a pub?
I see the table where I have had many deep and impacting conversations. I can almost hear all of the laughter of friend enjoying each other’s company. I see the beer list and think of all the marvelous things that we can do with God’s creation.
But others see the woman provocatively dressed, remember when they used to look for one night stands, and would get drunk to avoid their problem.
* What to me is a place of joy and holiness is a place of misery and sin.
Q What do you feel when you walk into a casino?
I see bright lines and hypnotic tones that drive me insane, but beyond that one of the better buffets in town. I see all the cheesy slot machines where I will spend $10 for cheap entertainment and then call it good.
Other people see the bright lights and are drawn like a moth to light, they are captivated, unable to control themselves until they have spent more than they can afford.
Q What do you feel when you walk into a theater?
I see overpriced and over greased popcorn; maybe you remember all the movies you have seen with friends. Others may remember all the movies that fueled their ungodly fantasies.
Q What do you feel when you go to Bible study?
Maybe you feel excitement at what you will learn and remember the ways you have experienced God.
I feel the temptation to be puffed up with pride, to show all that I know about hermeneutics and Greek. I walk into the door praying, “Jesus, please help me not be a jackass.”
The point of all that is this: You don’t know another person’s struggles. They are not yours to know.
We all have areas where we are weak and cannot handle temptation, and to others looking at us and our scruples, we appear legalistic, but we are just trying to survive.
Q How do we want to be treated?
With love, compassion, understanding, and without judgment for our weaknesses.
Beyond “Rights” to “Love”
Moving forward, let’s see what Paul says to the stronger Christians:
1 Corinthians 8:9-12 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
Paul’s big point is that love is more important that liberty. He doesn’t actually use the word love here, though he will spend a whole chapter on it shortly, but it is the obvious point.
The question Paul wants us to focus on is not, “Do I have a right to do such and such? Does the Bible permit it?” But “Is it the loving thing to do?”
Keep it Hidden?
Going back to the converted pagan, by watching the stronger Christians brazenly walking into the temple to eat, they may think “I should be able to do that,” so they walk in and are pulled astray.
Q Does this mean that you have to hide your “disputable behavior”?
Q If I am going to buy beer, do I have to go to a store outside of a 50 mile radius?
I don’t think so. Paul’s concern is not with the weaker Christian theoretically knowing that some Christians where fine eating meat sacrificed to idols, otherwise he violated that principle at the beginning of the chapter.
Paul is concerned with weaker being “emboldened” to do what would be harmful to them. The word is actually “strengthened,” Paul is being sarcastic: You are trying to strengthen them, but are actually destroying them.
* Paul is addressing callousness here; not caring how your actions affect the other, because you are “right.”
Paul is not violating his own principle here because he is honest (“there really is nothing wrong with the meat”) while still being sensitive to the weak (“for you it is wrong, so don’t eat”).
We need to have the same approach as a church and individuals – being sensitive towards their weaknesses, not mocking or callous.
* Going to Porterhouse, then finding out someone didn’t drink.
The temptation to “help”
Another problem is when we try to “help” people with a weakness. Part of that is because we do want to help them. Part of it is that their scruples can be a drag to us.
* Analogy of peanut allergies...
The high water mark
It is this last verse that kept haunting me:
1 Corinthians 8:13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.
Never eat meat again!?! And if this applies to other disputable matters, does that mean never drink again, play cards, go to movies? Kind of.
Paul is stating this in the absolutely most extreme way he can:
IF what I eat cause my brother (or sister) to fall away from Christ, then I will absolutely not (strongest prohibition in Greek) eat any meat (not just meat sacrificed to idols) ever again (“to eternity”).
This verse echoes (intentionally, I think) something Jesus said:
NIV Matthew 5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin [same Greek word], gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
These are both hyperbole. Hyperbole doesn’t mean “we can safely ignore this,” but “here’s the extreme, so let’s look at the everyday.”
In other words, Jesus means that if plucking out your eye was all that was standing between you and Heaven, it would be a no-brainer – pass the spoon.
* That being the case, how much more should we eliminate simpler things in our life that could take us to Hell.
* E.g. internet for a person who can’t stop looking at porn.
Likewise, if pork chops actually resulted in a brother leaving Christ, it should be a no-brainer – pass the soy wieners.
That being the case, how much more so should be willing to make easier changes.
* EG: Jay not drinking alcohol in Mexico.
* Please text “Sunday School Teacher” ; service is almost over
Putting it together
Think back through that list:
4. Which political party?
Q Which one of these could do harm to a believer you know and damage their frail conscience?
Q Have you been callous in how you have indulged in liberties?
Q What sacrifices do you need to make with your freedoms?
Q & A