1 Corinthians 8: 1-13, Concerning Food Sacrificed to Idols
8 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.3 But whoever loves God is known by God.[a]
4 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.
7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, 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.
9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.
I think I’m going to start my sermon this week the exact same way that I started it last week…
Welp, good morning everybody… Our Scripture reading this week seems to have been dropped out of the middle of nowhere.
In our passage from 1 Corinthians today we find Paul addressing a deeply divisive issue in the church.
Praise music vs. traditional hymns?
The Pro-life or Pro-choice?
Should we move the flag that’s in the sanctuary?
Should queer individuals have a role in church leadership?
Screen or no screens?
…Nope, none of those debates. The hot topic issue of the hour: eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. You heard me right, eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols at the various temples around town.
While this hardly seems like an earthshaking issue in our twenty-first century church… It was rather jarring for the ancient church- because this whole meat eating situation poked at issues far deeper and far more enduring than just carnivores consumption…
So, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the Corinthians for a moment.
An unmistakeable divide was making itself know in the church. A rather cavernous faction was forming.
On the one side: There were the well-educated, well-to-do, relatively sophisticated, well off members of the church who believed that Christians should be free to eat meat offered to idols. They believed this for a very simple reason: idols do not exist. Idols have no power. There is only one God, and it’s not the god (little “g” god) that folks are sacrificing animals to in the temple down the street.
For these reasonable, rational people… this was a non issue. They were free from the “Law” that the Jews upheld and they saw no worth in the religious ceremonies of the greeks. So… sure. What’s the issue? Eat up!
The lives of the ancient upper class revolved around feasts and banquets, celebrations that were meat heavy. And the folks that “had”, well they regularly shopped in the market places that were connected to the good temples in town because that’s were you got the good meat to bring home to your own households.
They had a kind of confidence in their freedom that they described as “knowledge.” They were in the know. Paul says that they are “puffed up”/inflated… which I think could only be translated as a kind of arrogant ignorance.
Now, on the other side: A second class of people in the Corinthian church. These folks were more ordinary, work-a-day folks. These people had a household budget and were used to having to priorities and sacrifice… the last place you will find them shopping would be the temple markets/ stocking up on meat. The only folks eating meat on a regular basis in the ancient world were those who could pay for it.
Bruce Rigdon, in his commentary this week, he wrote: “for these people, “who didn’t know any better,” eating meat offered to idols threaten faith by drawing them back to the idolatrous cultures from which they had only recently converted to the Christian faith.”
Perhaps their was this understanding that- yeah, idols aren’t real, they have no power.. but that doesn’t mean the idols/the gods have no influence. Maybe it was superstition, maybe it was a temptation to honor the gods of their forefathers, maybe it was just not wanting to get involved with the whole idol-worshipping cultural scene.
Whatever it was… their was a need to not eat temple sacrificed meat.
So, that was the two camps in the church.
And one might say “fine, eat what you want! We can respect each other choices. Maybe we could enact some house rules around pot-luck time.”
But… really if one (or a group) had scruples against eating meat offered to idols at the temples… it would have made it really hard to participate in the social scene of the days. It was a statement that affected them all.
Well Paul writes to the church with some wisdom. He refers to these two camps of people as those with strong and weak consciences. And while he agrees with those in the “strong conscious camp”/ the arrogant ones with “knowledge.” He also says, in verse 9: “Be careful, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”
Paul teaches us that Christian freedom is not the right to choose to do as one wishes. It is not simply a lack of restrictions or a negation of the Law or other requirement. No, Christian freedom is grounded in love, God’s love for us in Jesus.
As Martin Luther once wrote, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”
It seems that, in any conflict, relationships are as important an element in decision making and behavior as are the facts of the case.
Paul emphasizes this lesson by saying, if you all are going to fight about this… then I’m going to become a vegetarian. Because the meat doesn’t matter… being right isn’t the only thing that matters… What matters most is our relationships?
When I was in college I got my eyebrow pierced. It was a bonding experience with a friend! I loved my eyebrow ring! I wore it through college and through graduate school. I never wanted to take it out, it was part of my look. But once I graduated seminary and I had my first interview with a church to be their pastor… all they did was stare at the gold ring above my eye. They hardly paid a note of attention to anything I said… they just stared at it.
The ring didn’t matter. It was just a piece of jewelry.
But it got in the way of developing/having a relationship.
And that was WAY more important than “my look.”
So I took it out. It was a barrier for some… so, of course, I took it out.
I often wonder if I would have gotten away with my pierced brow if I had worn it to my interview with First Congregational Church of Saugatuck.
At the end of the day… knowledge/being in the right/ getting in the last word… these things may “puff” us up … but it’s love that builds us up as a community. It’s sometimes sacrificial love that builds us up as a community.
Paul’s whole letter to the church in Corinth is an attempt to keep a splintering community together.
To encourage them in their choices – that they might honor the collective. Paul wanted to reorient them towards each other.
I’ve found myself wondering this week, what Paul would write to us. While meat on the potluck table isn’t our issue. I’m fairly certain he would look at our church/and at the Church (big “c” church) and have a few things to say about how we are in relationship during this pandemic.
There is a lot of anxiety out there about what the church (all church) will look like when we re-emerge. We are scattered, we are splintered… how will we bind and heal.
Now that people have discovered Sunday mornings, laying around in their robes, slowly greeting the day with no rush to get out the door for worship… will they come back?
Now that people have been pushed to find new ways to feed their soul while in all this solitary-ness… will they come back?
Now that people have trimmed their community down to the bar bones… will we be the same? Hugging at the door? Eager to pour a cup of coffee? Ready to sign up and be a part?
Now that I’ve gotten a taste for two day weekends, will I still show up early on Sunday morning to plug in the coffee maker and unlock the doors and fold the bulletins and turn on a mic-pack again?… (yeah, of course I will)
There is a lot of questions out there about the role of houses of worship.
Questions. Opportunities. Shifts. Changes. Dreams and hopes.
Paul might not have a specific plan for us to follow… he would tell us that “love builds up.”
Sacrificial love. Love that is a choice. Love that is intentional. Love builds up.
Choosing to attend worship from your office at lunchtime… or to listen while you flip pancakes… Choosing to zoom into a meeting… choosing to pick up the phone and call a friend or to take out your stationary to write a note… Choosing to drop of blankets to the church for Fellinlove Farm or keeping up tithes… finding creative ways to be the hands and feet of Christ in your home in your communities… THESE things build! They are a balm to the splintered, faction-ed, scattered body of Christ. These things are light and Spirit breathed into our spaces and place.
They aren’t perfect, but they build.
Keep doing what you are doing!
Keep doing what you are doing.
It builds up. And it models for others.
Lean in. Plug in. Engage. Not just for yourself, but for the whole.
We are all going to have days where we are beyond frustrated with this pandemic or with the state of the world/ of our life… and we will break and crack… but when we are weak – the love of others will hold us and build us back up.
So, if today is a good day/ a blessed day/ a day where you see God at work in the world and you have such a hope for the future… spread it/share it/ let it build the community.