1 Corinthians 8: 1-13 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.
Knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. So knowledge isn’t everything. Understanding of the world and how it works valuable, but it is not everything, the only thing. In fact it cannot get us to where we long to be as community. There is another thing that does that.
Knowledge puffs up while love builds up. This is a direct challenge to a culture that seems to have replaced faith with reason believing that “education is the key”, “knowledge is power”, and as a result, loading school staff up with the unreasonable burden of fixing our community’s brokenness, fixing my child in every way and creating a better society – all through better education.
Paul says that an over-reliance on human, or even spiritual knowledge has the likely outcome of a self-centred pride and arrogance (puffed up) but self-sacrificing, divine love builds individuals and communities up in that self-giving, self-sacrificing character.
So in the pursuit of freedom, Paul is saying that there is a greater thing, a more complete thing, a greater force that transforms us and our many issues, a perfect thing, a beautiful thing – a thing to pin our hopes on and live in with complete confidence, freedom and joy, a thing in which we learn by Word and action, a thing by which we are shaped and shape others – a thing that makes reason and knowledge also beautiful because they are in the right place, the right order, the best ground to grow.
This thing is love – not romantic or even emotionally founded feeling – but action, doing, compassion, kindness – agape love – self-giving, self-emptying, prodigious, gracious, un-called for, over the top, fathomless, unreasonable love.
We call it Grace – undeserved love – and we have heard it is a person not a thing. God is love. God; Father, Son and Spirit – here and now, and God is calling us to pursue it.
Paul speaks to a local community in a large and very pagan city, who have had their hearts and minds transformed by the gracious presence of the Crucified Man of love, risen and present in their community by his holy Word. They have heard him. They are known by him. They have been loved and they are now trying to live in that love.
With their flawed human heart, they have fallen into their fair share of inflated egos, bragging about not only their great knowledge of the world and its reason, but of the spiritual things of the Spirit of God. Paul carefully reminds people that if you have to choose between being loving and being right, be loving.
Now there is a thing to ponder for our relationships.
“If you have to choose between being loving and being right, be loving”.
We all want to be right and we all have our vision of what is right and these can differ from the person next to us! Some people think we are too focused on ourselves and are not open enough to people outside the church. Others think we are giving too much of ourselves away in the attempt to reach out to others. We are all on a journey with our own experience, learning and story and we are all different. How do we live authentically and in the freedom of forgiveness we have received from Jesus? As an example of Christian freedom to love Paul raises an everyday issue these followers of Jesus had to deal with. The problem of eating food (meat) already sacrifices to idols in home and temple pagan worship. Suppose that there is a pot-luck tea on at St Petri. Someone brings a platter of food saying, “The local Satan-worshippers had a table set up at the mall today, giving away this food. It’s delicious!” Would you eat it in front of everyone at the pot luck meal? What would it teach others if you did? “Everything matters because everything teaches”, don’t forget.
For Paul, a piece of meat is a piece of meat. It does not matter if that meat was offered as a sacrifice to a false god in a pagan temple. Eating it will not hurt you. There’s no actual power in it to do damage to you or to your faithfulness to God. Gods (little ‘g’) are not God. They are just speechless, action-less, lifeless “things of stone and wood” that we, with our internal idol making and chasing heart turn into something more.
But what impact might eating the stuff have on a young Confirmation kid just beginning to hear about the love of God in Jesus? What would it mean to a person new to the gospel or a sceptical person waiting to find a hole in our integrity to affirm their doubt in the reality of Jesus’ revolutionary love? In a context where no one would have a problem with it, it would be fine: maybe your own family or among old friends of faith. In a context where someone might be led to take offense or be depleted in their trust in Jesus, (“fall”) because of it, it would be wrong.
Can you see that this Word about freedom and its use challenges everyone, both irreligious people who say, “I can do what I want”, and the irreligious who say “you can’t do anything right”. We all have our place and story and yet in the household of faith, we only owe each other one thing – love. Without self-giving love, there cannot be community.
The question Paul calls us to respond to together is this: How do we live in the freedom we have in the gracious love of God in a way that is faithful to that love together? Here’s the question for us: How might we gauge the impact of our actions on the lives of others and how we might use that impact as a reason to restrict our own behaviour.
Friends, in church, school and community we cannot live any way we want if we want to be authentic in God’s gracious love for us. We are free and yet we are bound together.
Here’s how Luther put the situation for us free people in Jesus 1. Christians have complete freedom and power over everything, and are under no obligation to anyone 2. Christians are servants of all, and are under complete obligation to everyone. Martin Luther: Freedom of the Christian Let’s make it more us. (Let’s speak it together..) 1. I have complete freedom and power over everything, and am under no obligation to you. 2. I am a servant of you, and am under complete obligation to you.
1. St Petri has complete freedom and power over everything, and is under no obligation to this community. 2. St Petri is a servant of this community, and is under complete obligation to this community.
Friends, as individuals living in Jesus’ great freedom project, we as individuals in relationships and as communities need to tape this up on our mirror so that every time we see ourselves we also see these words:
‘Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by God.'”
People, if we have to choose between being loving and being right, be loving. This is our freedom: this is our calling in community.
And why go for this greater thing – this crazy little thing called love? Why pursue faith more than reason, love more than knowledge of things? Because “whoever loves God is known by God”.
God knows love. God is love and in him there is no darkness or conceit. God knows the lover and loves the lover. Jesus Christ loves the world, with all its reason, and yet calls a church and a school to experience, pursue and live out this higher thing: self-sacrificing, serving, giving, gracious love of the holy community – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
To live in that love is to use our freedom in him to love.