July 14, 2013
Pastor Sean McCartin
A Glorious Mess
Are you smarter than a Corinthian?
1 Corinthians 8

Glorious Mess

Welcome Life Center to our present series in 1 Corinthians. We have titled it a “Glorious Mess”. The church in Corinth was a mess, but we see through the teaching of Paul God has a glorious strategy to pull them out and through their mess, their issues, their drama. God has inspiration for their issues. It is inspiration that continues to inspire us.

We are in chapter 8 this morning. We will be discussing an issue related to food sacrificed to idols. More specifically the eating of meat that caused some members of the Corinthian church to stumble. Yes we are in the meat of the word today!

Pastor Joe recently has led us through some Corinthian messes in the previous chapters. In this series Joe has been talking about immorality and sex, prostitution, lawsuits, and marriage and divorce.  Today I don’t have to talk about that stuff, instead he gave me the meat chapter. Thanks Joe, I am a vegetarian J.

Our big idea today is this: Spiritual knowledge alone does not advance the Kingdom. Building up others in love advances the Kingdom.

God is not looking for experts as much as he is looking for edifiers. Advancing in our faith in Christ is connected to the degree in which we assist others advancing in their faith and that happens through love. Spiritual maturity is not just running our own race, but helping other people run their race too.

We will learn that each one of us has a great capacity to help or hinder others. Specifically Paul outlines how our spiritual maturity, or lack thereof, is revealed by our impact towards vulnerable or weaker brother or sisters.

This chapter begins by Paul saying, “now about the matters of food sacrificed to idols”. They had written him earlier on this subject and now he takes time to respond.

The Corinthians, located in Greece were active worshippers at various temples dedicated to various gods and idols. Technically it was a polytheistic culture. Poly, meaning many, theism meaning god. Many gods.           

Deities such as Artemis; the goddess of hunting. Hades; the god of the underworld. Athena; the goddess of intelligence. Asclepius; the god of medicine, and his daughter Hygeia; the goddess of health and sanitation and where we get the word hygiene from. How about Dionysius – the god of winemaking and ecstasy. I actually used to get my haircut at a salon named Dionysius. And the list continues.

Worship involved food offerings and animal sacrifices with the intention of securing either favor from the gods (get something) or avert their wrath (avoid something). Rationale: There are many gods and you better get them on your side.

Animals that were sacrificed at these festivals or gatherings would be portioned out three ways. Some of it would be burned, some would be given to these temple priests which would be served at following feasts which they would host and some would be sold for public consumption at the local marketplace. 

Some Christians would buy and eat this meat, or even attend these feasts and eat alongside these worshippers. To them it was no big deal. They loved their meat.

Other Christians believed any participation, touching/eating would defile the person because by eating they were actually engaging in actual idol worship.

The weaker Christians would witness stronger Christians eating at the festivals and then were convinced in their minds that because these “trusted” leaders were honoring the gods they should as well. Then they would leave Christ and go back to worshiping empty gods and idols and literally quit following Christ.

Their internal moral/spiritual guidance system was still being developed. They did not have the same understanding. Therefore they misperceived what the knowledgeable Christians were doing.

Paul had addressed this previously in another letter we don’t have, but those from the “free” position did not like his instruction. So they try again to reassert their convictions. Paul’s answer was absolutely a no to eat at these feasts, and a maybe in eating the meat sold at the marketplace.

This chapter is addressed primarily to those, the strong, who by knowledge feel they have the right to partake in any way even though it is distressing to other members of the church. Paul, in later chapters and even in other books will address the weak specifically.

This chapter is primarily targeted towards the so-called knowledgeable ones who are causing the distress. Distressing is too mild of a word, their eating is actually destroying the spiritual well being of fellow spiritual family members.  The wording Paul employs reveals this is no small matter.

These knowledgeable Christians who are in a place to empower younger believers to progress are actually the ones who are empowering them to go back to their pagan ways and destroy their faith.

There is much at stake here. In order to get the entire church to move forward he has to first address the leaders of the church. Let’s talk about how Paul moves Christians to help rather than hinder the progress of other believers.

This is Paul’s life’s goal. To help people advance and move forward in their faith.
Philippians 1:25 “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.”

Let’s see how he applies this to the Corinthians here in chapter 8.

First we must move from

1. Blowing Up to Building Up. (vs. 1-3)

“Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know, as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.”

This isn’t about food or eating or meat, it is about the attitude towards eating. Paul begins this section by mentioning their question, but seemingly not addressing it.

This is a prime example of bypassing the symptom to address the root. He moves beyond the action and goes for the attitude. This mess provides the backdrop for a very powerful principle stated so succinctly in verse one. “Knowledge puffeth up but love edifies.”

Many, many messes would have been avoided over history and in our lives by understanding and applying this principle. This is a vocal, confident group of Corinthians who think they are pretty smart and they are showcasing their so-called spiritual intelligence to Paul so as to convince him of their correctness.

Paul basically suggests they have spiritually blown up. Their confidence in their knowledge has puffed them up. The term does mean to puff up, to inflate, to swell. It also means to make natural, to cause a thing to pass into nature. This blowing up has actually reverted these Christians back to a more natural state rather than a spiritual state. The more pride we have the less spiritual we become.

But the nature of pride will be to tell ourselves we are actually advancing in the faith when in actuality we are digressing. It is the sneaky power of arrogance, we become self-deceived and blind to the ripple effects.

This is when we fail to be self aware. That is why the scripture can help us to detect possible blow-ups in our minds. I know we study the scriptures but I would also say the scriptures study us.

Paul is giving them some accurate feedback. This is a tough crowd to convince they don’t know they don’t know. Why? Because they think they know.

They have highly developed minds but underdeveloped hearts. Have you ever thought you knew something, but later realized you actually had no clue? Have you ever overestimated your abilities? There can be real consequences. Triathlon Illust.

A study was done at Cornell University and revealed something very similar. It is called the Dunning Kruger effect. Research: Each participant was given a set of exercises to perform. Mental and physical random tests. They were asked to project or estimate how they would perform.

Across the board those who projected themselves higher performed the worst. These are folks who suffer from a bias. Here is a picture of someone suffering from the Dunning Kruger effect….

Picture: Kitten and Lion

They are folks who overestimated their capacities. They have not developed an ability to recognize their own mistakes. These are the “I got this” crowd.

This is not a healthy environment for a church, or a home, or a business, or a relationship. Paul is seeking to move them forward from Blowing Up to Building Up.

When you are a knowledge-based believer your tendency will be to exalt yourself while marginalizing others. If you are a love based believer you will have a tendency to build others up without a thought as to your own stature.

Knowledge is wonderful when surrounded by love and positioned or ordered properly.

Philippians 1:9 ‘ “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.”

But when it is overemphasized and isolated people become more and more self-centered as opposed to others minded. You can sense it in relationships.

Illust. Legend has it that British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and his political rival William Gladstone had a date with the same woman on different nights. When asked her impression of the two men, she said, “When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.”

Paul says love builds up. Love edifies. Many vulnerable believers in Corinth were being torn down by the example of knowledge-based leaders. People were not advancing in their faith; they were abandoning their faith.

The term build up means to edify. Edification is one of the greatest words in the Bible. You will find it mentioned 37 times in the New Testament. It means to remodel, rebuild, renovate. It is a construction term describing a process of transforming something from weakness to strength. (Farm Illustration)

Paul is coaching these people to become edifiers, rather than experts.  What this church needs is some heavy doses of edification. This comes from love. That is why love is so powerful. It fortifies those around us. One translation puts it this way:

“If one thinks he has arrived at knowledge, he does not yet know as he ought to know, but if anyone loves this one truly knows.”

So, our knowledge of God is designed to increase our love for people rather than make us more insensitive to people. Paul then highlights some very powerful knowledge for both the weak and the strong.

(vs. 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.’ For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 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, in speaking to the strong will also provide something very helpful to the weak. He is pulling back the curtain of myth and describing true reality, true knowledge of the spiritual realm.

He says there is just one God who is the Creator who has brought everything into existence and that His Son Jesus is the Lord of all, who is God as well. Paul applies the same description to God as he does to Jesus Christ.

Christians are technically Trinitarian Monotheists. One God in three persons. There are no other deities or gods. Those are made up idols created by man. However there are demons, fallen angels who masquerade as deities and utilize this counterfeit spirituality to entangle people into darkness. Paul refers to this later in Chapter 10.

These so called knowledgeable Corinthian’s have failed to understand that, yes there are no other deities or gods, but there are demons. They have underestimated the spiritual realm in all their knowledge and knowing and become vulnerable as well as further exposing those who would follow their example.

Which leads to the next way in which Paul will try to move them forward. By moving them from:

2. From Careless to Careful

(vs. 7-12) “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. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 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? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.”

In this section Paul not only wants to move them from Blowing Up to Building Up, but he also senses they need to move from being careless to careful.

He literally says in verse 9 “Be careful”. Their attitude has made them careless with others. As they exercise their liberties they are damaging other believers.

Drivers Test: I have a new friend; an Idaho Drivers manual. I am preparing to take a drivers test again since I have recently moved to Idaho. It teaches me driving laws designed to produce careful drivers rather than careless drivers. Careless drivers run into things, cars and even others. Whereas careful drivers make the roads safer. Man I hope I pass my test. 

Church in Corinth: This is an unsafe environment for some Christians. Paul is seeking to make it a safer place for everyone. This chapter is designed to make the church safer for others.

This chapter introduces us to the “stumbling block” principle. This is when our example actually trips another believer. A careless believer is insensitive to the ramifications of their unchecked liberty.

A maturing Christian has the awareness that their actions will influence others. We can either encourage people towards what is healthy or we can encourage people towards what is unhealthy.

Did you know even the most introverted person will influence over 10,000 people in their lifetime. I don’t care what Charles Barkley says, we are role models, however it is still to be determined what type of role model we will be.

The Corinthians example was tripping up others. Not only were they blowing up themselves, but blowing up others.

In professional sports it is pretty much a universal principle there is no tripping. If you trip someone in soccer or football you will get a red card or a yellow flag and a penalty is assessed.

Picture of offensive linemen tripping

The same can be true for us as it was in Corinth. Corinthians just got a yellow flag thrown into their church. God will throw a penalty flag when we trip other believers. Why? It is a protective measure.

Tripping or stumbling someone is not only causing them to fall but also to fall into something, namely sin and the sin they just recently climbed out of. Here is a list of words Paul uses to describe the after effects of their careless influence:

  • Defiled (vs.7)
  • Destroyed or Ruined (vs.11)
  • Sin against Christians (vs.12)
  • Wounded (vs. 12)
  • Sin against Christ (vs.12)

That is a formidable list.

I recently caught some of our own Life Center leaders causing vulnerable, impressionable men to trip and stumble and fall.

Picture – Here is a runner advancing but then suddenly interrupted, tripped up by a careless barrier, hindering his advancement.

Picture – Again, a vulnerable brother in Christ loosing his spiritual footing and notice the knowledgeable Christians brothers clapping and enjoying their brothers stumbling.

Picture – Not only did he trip and stumble but now he has fallen deeper into a pit of sin.

Picture – Here is a fallen brother who cannot climb out of the pit of sin. He is stuck in there and can’t get out and nobody is helping him.

Picture – Finally we see a brother destroyed and ruined.

These organizers will have to answer for their “stumbling block” influence.

Actually this was the greatest event ever, the Ultimate Day of Competition, and I can’t wait for next year, but you get the point J.

3 keys to being careful:

  • Get to know people

These opponents of Paul assumed everyone has this same knowledge and therefore the same freedoms. Paul says that is not true. Some are still “accustomed” to idols. This word describes the entanglement, the familiarity, the conditioning that past idol worship has had on those with a weaker conscience. They have yet to develop that internal guidance system that can decisively recognize what is right and wrong. They are new believers, coming out of a significant challenge and they are vulnerable. They are at the crossroads.

The body of Christ is full of such people and Jesus loves them and died for them. They don’t have this knowledge just yet.

But the leaders think everyone knows this. But not the weak brothers and sisters. Their conscience has not been strengthened yet.

Take the time to hear what have people gone through? Paul knew more about their congregation from a distance than they did up close.

Mike W Illust. Gambling addiction. I have become much more aware of this area because I learned what my friend had been “accustomed” to.

  • Respect the spiritual world

      Idols are nothing but demons are real. These Corinthians were participating in demon worship while they were thinking it was harmless.

  • Accept the weakRomans 14:1 “Accept him whose faith is weak.”

YFC Illustration – See it as a stewardship. There will be days we will be on the weak side of the equation too. I am glad people were patient with me, accommodated my immaturity or my weakness.

Finally Paul desires to move them from a mentality that emphasizes their rights to a mentality that willingly refrains exercising certain liberties for the common good.

3. From rights to refrain

(vs. 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.”

Finally Paul sets a glorious example for them to follow when in similar situations. The art of refraining. The word refrain can either be a musical term or refer to a bridle.

Refrain: to keep oneself from doing or saying something. To bridle.

Ecclesiastes 3:5 ”a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain.”

There will be times when the best thing to do is not to do. There is greater good at stake.

Maybe we refrain from drinking, watching borderline movies, frequenting certain establishments, moderating more closely our coarse jesting, unclean language, questionable music.

Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should do it. I know that being a mature Christian isn’t based on things I don’t do. Just because I refrain from certain behaviors doesn’t necessarily mean I am in love with Jesus. You can be a high moralist and not have faith in God. I know that.

However, this is an area of discernment for loving Christians desiring to be an edifier of fellow Christian brothers and sisters.

Paul has great liberty from the knowledge of grace and victory in Jesus and he also has equally great liberty to moderate and curb the exercising of that very liberty. Paul is not so into his rights as he is into furthering others in their race.

There is an art and even a joy in refraining yourself so as to advance the gospel and promote the growth of someone else, and in particular someone in a vulnerable spot. Don Standeford illust.

Life Center staff members have a small number of self-imposed refrains in regards to some liberties due in large part to this verse. Eating meat is not one of them thank goodness, or drinking large quantities of coffee, or riding motorcycles, or wearing shorts and sandals to church.

When I came on staff I was asked to commit to being an example and accepting these refrains so that there would not be a possibility to being a stumbling block to any people. I so much appreciate and respect that.

There is a commitment to create an environment where a little thing (my rights and liberties) gets in the way of a big thing; sharing the gospel without unnecessary distractions and being mindful of young or newer Christians or believers seeking to climb out of a past addiction or entanglement.

Some people may not want the responsibility of having to watch their every move so as not to cause someone to stumble.

I actually can’t think of a better way to live. Having responsibility is what makes life significant and full of purpose. One of the greatest compliments you can get is when someone gives you more responsibility. God has given all of us a great responsibility. What a compliment.

To watch out for, be sensitive to and help build up are weaker brother and sisters. What a privilege. Paul has absolutely no problem being a vegetarian when the situation warrants it. The payoff is so great.

Paul follows the great example of Jesus who while on this earth let go of liberties, privileges, abilities so he could “stoop down and make us great” as it says in Psalms. That is the characteristic of a knowledgeable Christian as God sees it.

This is someone who curtails their advantages, strengths and freedoms at appropriate times to ensure brothers and sisters have every chance to excel and grow and transform and move past hindrances, bondages and patterns.

One of the greatest compliments is when vulnerable people feel strong around you. Paul’s goal was not to impress others with his maturity, but to impact people to support their maturity. Did you know the common and vulnerable people of the day loved Jesus. He wasn’t into himself, He was into them.

Corinth is a church with great potential. Paul is invested. We know of at least 4 letters that have been passed back and forth. The Corinthians are keeping Paul busy. But all this is worth it.

It is like a coach yelling at his players. This corrective tone implies there is so much potential. If you feel corrected through this series it is because God loves You, believes in You, and will never give up on you, and sees great potential in you.

Are you smarter than a Corinthian? Yes if…

  1. As you grow in knowledge of God you are equally growing in love for people.
  2. You view weaker Christians as valuable family members who need encouragement and grace and your glad to give it.
  3. You will willingly limit your freedoms that in someone else’s eyes would potentially lead them to sin…….and not be disgruntled about it.
  4. You have a proper understanding and healthy respect for the spiritual world. You realize that there are demons who will use idolatry of any kind to snare and destroy impressionable brothers and sisters in Christ.
  5. Weaker conscience Christians get closer to Jesus when around you rather than farther away