When Rights Are Wrong.

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. – 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 ESV

With the opening words of this chapter, Paul reveals that he is answering yet another one of the questions sent to him by the church in Corinth. It had to do with food offered to idols. To modern, 21st-Century Christians, this will sound like a strange discussion that has nothing to do with us, and little in the way of practical application. But Paul’s primary point has to do with knowledge and what we do with it, especially in our interactions with “weaker” or less spiritually mature Christians and with the lost.

There are two major views as to what was going on in the Corinthian fellowship that caused them to raise this question with Paul. The more traditional view is that there were former pagans in the church who had come to faith in Christ and who were still buying meat in the marketplace that had been sacrificed to idols. It was a common practice for pagan priests to offer sell in the market some of the meat left over from a sacrifice to their god. This was considered good, high-quality meat. The converted pagans in the church knew that the meat was good and they also knew that there was no such thing as idols. So their conclusion was that it was perfectly acceptable to buy and eat the meat and even serve it to their believing friends. And Paul confirms their conclusion when he writes, “we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one’’ (1 Corinthians 8:4b ESV). Their “knowledge” or understanding of the matter was correct, but that same knowledge was a source of pride. It was causing them to look past the negative influence they were having on their fellow church members. There were younger, less mature believers in the church who did not yet understand the truth regarding idols. Paul writes, “not all possess this knowledge” (1 Corinthians 8:7a ESV). These people were confused by the actions of their fellow church members. And when they saw what they were doing, they were tempted to sin against their consciences. They could not help but eat that same meat and feel like they were being unfaithful to God. The spiritual arrogance of their brothers and sisters in Christ was causing them to stumble in regard to their faith.

But there is a second view regarding what was going on in Corinth that carries an even more shocking indictment on those who were eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. It seems that this was more than just a case of buying meat at the market and serving it for dinner in your home. The problem involved a continuing practice of eating meat sacrificed to idols in the very temple dedicated to that idol. In verse 10, Paul writes, “For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?” It seems that there were those who had gone back to celebrating at the feasts as part of the worship of the false gods. These were common affairs in the Greek culture and were well-attended. They were social gatherings where the community came to worship their god and to share a celebratory meal together. Evidently, there were believers in the church in Corinth who were attending these meals and justifying their behavior based on their “knowledge” regarding the non-existence of idols. Their reasoning was that if idols do not exist and God is the one true god, then what difference does it make whether we eat meat in the temple of an idol or not. And while their logic made perfect sense, they were leaving out the Savior’s admonition that we love one another. They were disregarding the spiritual well-being of those within their fellowship who might be confused by their actions and caused to follow their lead.

For Paul, the issue had little to do with meat sacrificed to idols, eating in temples, or spiritual knowledge. In fact, he simply states, “this ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1b ESV). Their knowledge had led to pride and arrogance, rather than love. They cared more about their so-called rights than they did about the spiritual well-being of their fellow believers. They enjoyed eating meals in the temple. The food was good and the fellowship was great. They got to be with all their pagan friends and act as if nothing had changed in their lives. They may have even used the excuse that being in the temple with their lost friends and neighbors gave them the opportunity to share the gospel. But Paul knew that their actions were motivated by selfishness, not selflessness. They were doing what they did for themselves, not for the sake of others.

Paul makes it clear that the issue has nothing to do with meat. He writes, “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do” (1 Corinthians 8:8 ESV). But the issue is about rights. “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9 ESV). For Paul, it was simple. He would rather give up meat altogether if it was going to cause a brother to stumble. It wasn’t worth it. If our freedoms in Christ cause a brother or sister in Christ to become enslaved to their own sin, we have missed the whole point of the gospel. Not only that, Paul says that we have actually sinned against them and against Christ. We have become a stumbling block in their spiritual path. As Christians, we have certain rights based on our newfound freedom in Christ. But when we let those rights tempt our brothers and sisters in Christ to do wrong, we stand as guilty before God. My rights should never deter another believer in their pursuit of righteousness. It would be better to die to my rights than to die for them.


Dead To Rights.

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. – Romans 14:13-23 ESV

Paul bookends this section with virtually the same words. He opens with “let us not pass judgment on one another” (Romans 14:13 ESV) and ends with “blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself” (Romans 14:22 ESV). The only difference is the one on whom the judgment is assessed. We are not to judge each other and our actions toward one another should give us no cause to judge ourselves. And in both cases, it all seems to revolve around the issue of rights. Paul used himself as an example. He declared that had the right to eat whatever he wanted, because nothing was unclean for him. Paul would have been very familiar with the teaching of Jesus. “It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart” (Mark 7:15 NLT). When Jesus had spoken those words, His disciples were confused, so He provided clarification. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes)” (Mark 7:18-19 NLT).

So Paul, even though he was a Jew, lived his life with a new-found freedom when it came to his eating habits. He no longer lived under the dietary restrictions associated with his Jewish heritage. But he was willing to give up his rights for the sake of a brother or sister in Christ. It all goes back to the “weaker” brother narrative in the opening verses of this chapter. There will always be those in the church whose understanding of the life of faith is less developed. They will bring to their faith a certain degree of legalistic expectations, believing that what they do or don’t do is what earns them favor with God. In Paul’s day, both Jewish and Gentile believers brought their own list of restrictions to the table. There were converted Jews who still felt it necessary to maintain the dietary laws of their Jewish faith. There were also Gentile believers who felt convicted about eating meat that had been sacrificed to pagan idols. Paul had to deal with this issue in the church in Corinth. He told them, “we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God” (1 Corinthians 8:4 NLT). But he went on to say, “However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated” (1 Corinthians 8:7 NLT). Then Paul dealt with the real issue. “It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do” (1 Corinthians 4:8 NLT). But for Paul, it all boiled down to the spiritual well-being of his brother or sister in Christ.

But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble. – Romans 4:9-13 NLT

While a certain food may be perfectly fine for him to eat, Paul was not willing to demand his rights if it was going to cause a brother in Christ to stumble by sinning against his conscience. That is why he wrote, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes a brother to stumble” (Romans 14:21 ESV). It is a wonderful thing to enjoy the freedom that comes with the life of faith. Our right standing with God is not based on adhering to a long list of prohibitions and restrictions. But there will always be those who don’t understand this truth. They will have strong convictions regarding what they eat or don’t eat, what they can wear or not wear, and even what activities they can participate in or abstain from.

For Paul, the final word on all of this had to do with faith. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23 ESV). For the immature or weaker believer, conscience ends up playing a far greater role than necessary. Rather than enjoying the freedom that comes with knowing that his standing before God is fully taken care of by the finished work of Christ, he ends up operating off of his own inner sense of right or wrong. So if his conscience tells him not to eat something and he believes it is of God, to violate that belief becomes sin for him. He becomes burdened down with guilt for having done what he believed was against the will of God. Paul says, “whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith” (Romans 14:23 ESV). So the stronger believer, rather than wearing his or her rights like a badge of honor, should love their weaker brother or sister in Christ, willingly setting aside their rights so that they might not cause a fellow believer to sin against their conscience. We are always to build up, not tear down. We are to lovingly teach and instruct one another, not boastfully and arrogantly display our rights and flaunt our freedoms in Christ. Peter summed it up well when he wrote, “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 NLT).

1 Corinthians 8

Loving to Know Vs Knowing to Love.

1 Corinthians 8

But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes. – 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 NLT

Our society puts a high priority on knowledge. So did the one in Corinth in Paul’s day. Then, as now, knowledge was held in high regard. Education was important. It was and still thought to be a cure-all for all kinds of problems. It is often believed that education can solve everything from poverty to violence. More knowledge can empty out prisons and prevent wars, cure diseases, eliminate starvation and bring out the best in just about anyone. We blame a lack of knowledge for most of the world’s woes. But knowledge has a way of puffing us up, inflating our egos and causing us to become prideful and arrogant. There is nothing wrong with knowledge, but it is far from the answer to the world’s problems. It can actually become divisive and destructive. Which is exactly what was taking place in the church in Corinth.

Once again, Paul responds to yet another question the congregation had sent him in a letter. This one had to do with meat sacrificed to idols. To most of us, this chapter makes little or no sense. We have no context to which to compare this issue. And unless we do some digging into the historical nature of what was going on, this passage will continue to make no sense and will remain of little help. But Paul took what was a contextual problem, unique to the Corinthians church, and gave it a universal application. He dealt with a specific issue going on in the church in Corinth and provided a timeless lesson for congregations around the world and throughout history. In Corinth, the problem revolved around whether it was permissible for the believers to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. The Corinthian believers, who all, for the most part, had come out of pagan backgrounds, were under the impression that they were perfectly free to eat meat sacrificed to idols. This had been a common practice for them when they were pagans, and they saw no reason to stop now that they had become Christians. They based their conclusion on a “special knowledge” that they had. This knowledge or understanding gave them the freedom to do as they wished, in spite of Paul’s admonitions to cease and desist. Their knowledge was fourfold. They argued that they all knew that idols weren’t real and so eating meat that had been sacrificed to them made no difference. They also “knew” that what we ate or drank didn’t really matter to God. “It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat” (1 Corinthians 8:8 NLT). According to chapter 10, they also seemed to believe that their participation in baptism and the Lord’s Supper gave them some sort of magical protection or freedom to do as they wished. Their God was more powerful than any other potential god. Finally, they had reached the conclusion, that because Paul did not agree with them, he probably wasn’t really qualified to be an apostle in the first place. He was obviously not as knowledgeable as they were.

Paul goes straight to the problem at the very beginning of this section. He tells them “while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church” (1 Corinthians 8:1b NLT). For Paul, this was all about love, not meat sacrificed to idols. This was all about arrogance and pride. It was about self-centeredness and selfishness. These people were going to do what they wanted to do, without any regard to how their actions or attitudes might affect those around them. Paul agreed with them, that there was only one God and only one Lord, Jesus Christ. He conceded that there were no such thing as other gods. They were a figment of man’s fertile and fallen imagination. But Paul also stated that not all believers in Corinth knew this. Many were still operating under the knowledge that while God was the superior God, there were other less significant, but nonetheless, real gods. So when they ate meat sacrificed to these idols, they were, in essence, worshiping these false gods. So while the more “knowledgeable” believers were able to eat the meat sacrificed to idols with a clear conscience, they were confusing the other believers and causing them to stumble. Paul said, “Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so then they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated” (1 Corinthians 8:7 NLT). He goes on to say, “For if others see you – with your ‘superior knowledge’ – eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol?” (1 Corinthians 8:10 NLT).

Then Paul brings this whole matter to a powerful conclusion: “And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ” (1 Corninthians 8:12 NLT). Wow! That’s a strong statement. Just because we know that something is permissible for us, doesn’t mean we have the right to flaunt our rights in the face of others. We can’t allow our knowledge to trump our love for others. We have a God-given responsibility to protect those around us who are less knowledgeable or who might lack in spiritual maturity. Paul is saying that we actually sin against God and that person when what we do causes them to stumble or violate their own conscience. Jesus Himself said that the greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Then He said that there was a second and equally important commandment – to love others in the same way we love ourselves. Our love for God and others is to trump our love of knowledge. We can be right and be totally wrong at the same time. I can know that what I am doing is entirely permissible for me and do it with a clear conscience. But if what I do causes a fellow believer to sin against his own conscience by following my example – I have sinned against Christ. I have forsaken the great commandment. I have chosen to love myself more than my brother or sister in Christ. Paul said “So if what I eat causes another brother to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live – for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble” (1 Corinthians 8:13 NLT). Paul will drive this point home later on in his letter in what has come to be known as the great love chapter. “If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2 NLT). Knowledge without love is nothing. It puffs up. It makes us proud. It is destructive. But love never fails.

Father, teach us to love. We love to learn and we can become so proud about what we know, but if we fail to love, we have missed the point. May we learn to live out the Great Commandment and love You and others more and more with each passing day. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Day 88 – Luke 17:1-10

When It Comes to Faith – A Little Goes a Long Way.

Luke 17:1-10

The Lord answered, “If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and thrown into the sea,’ and it would obey you!” – Luke 17:6 NLT

Once again, we have a very difficult passage this morning. There are two seemingly disconnected messages that have nothing to do with one another. What is it that Jesus is trying to tell His disciples and, by extension, us? The first message has to do with temptation. It is similar to a teaching Jesus gave that was recorded by Matthew. Jesus tells His disciples that there will always be temptations to sin. It is part of living life in a fallen world. But His real point seems to be that you don’t want to be someone who tempts or leads another person into sin. Because Luke has included this teaching of Jesus in this section of messages, I believe he is purposely connecting it to Jesus’ indictment of the Pharisees and religious leaders. One of His greatest frustrations with these so-called religious leaders was that, through their actions and attitudes, they were causing others to reject His message. They were preventing others from accepting the Good News that Jesus came to bring. Later on in His ministry, Jesus would make this point painfully clear: “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either” (Matthew 23:13 NLT). So I believe Luke is including these two teachings of Jesus in this section because he viewed them as having something to do with Jesus’ views regarding the religious leaders of the day.

The last thing we should want to do as believers is to cause someone to sin. Instead, we should be calling one another to repentance. If it is necessary, we should even be willing to rebuke them in order to get them to repent. As representatives of Jesus, our job is to encourage one another away from sin, not toward it. Rather than encourage rebellion against God, we should motivate one another toward repentance to God. And when they do repent, we should be ready to forgive them – even if their sin was toward us. Over in the Matthew passage, Jesus takes this message a step further, saying, “So if your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut of off and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand or one foot than to be thrown into eternal fire with both of your hands and feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell” (Matthew 18:8-9 NLT). That seems pretty drastic, doesn’t it? But Jesus is trying to get us to recognize the seriousness of sin, both in our individual life and within the body of Christ. We are not to tolerate sin. We are not to become comfortable with sin – in our own lives or within the church. When Paul found out that there was a situation going on in the church at Corinth that involved a man having sex with his step-mother, he addressed it quickly and powerfully. He said, “I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you” (1 Corinthians 5:1 NLT). Evidently, the church had decided to simply tolerate this situation rather than deal with it. But Paul told them to remove this man from their fellowship. He said, “you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns” (1 Corinthians 5:5 NLT). Then Paul gives them the reason behind his harsh recommendation. “Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old “yeast” by removing this wicked person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7 NLT). Deal with it. Remove it. Take it seriously. Or it will spread and infect the whole congregation.

Back to Luke’s account. Jesus would love to see the religious leaders repent of their sins. He would love to see them recognize their sinfulness, turn to Him as their Messiah, and receive forgiveness. And even though their sins were directed against Him, He would have forgiven them. But until they did repent, Jesus would continue to point out their sins and rebuke them for their hard hearts and hypocrisy. We must understand the power and pervasiveness of sin. We cannot afford to make light of it. As Jesus said, it is like yeast, and will spread uncontrolled through our lives and through the church if left unchecked.

The second part of this passage appears to be a total detour. The disciples ask Jesus to show them how to increase their faith. It sounds like a legitimate request. But what are they really asking? Because of the manner in which Jesus answers them, it would appear that their request had an ulterior motive that was less than innocent. Their request for increased faith seems to be so that they could do bigger and better things. They wanted to do miracles like Jesus. They wanted to cast out demons like Jesus. They had gotten a little taste of what this was like when Jesus sent them out two by two with the power and authority to heal and cast our demons. They came back pumped. They liked what they had experienced. They were wanting more of the same. So Jesus tells them that it wasn’t a matter of the QUANTITY of their faith, but the QUALITY of it. He tells them that with just a small amount of faith, they could tell a tree to be uprooted from the ground and be thrown into the sea, and it would happen. Now, you have to stop and think about this statement. What is Jesus really teaching us? Is He saying that if we believe hard enough, we can literally uproot trees with a word from our mouths? The point seems to be the contrast between the size of the faith compared to the difficulty of the task. A little faith can do a lot. Jesus seems to be telling the disciples that they don’t need MORE faith, they need the right KIND of faith. Jesus uses a real-life illustration to make His point. If a master has a servant who has been plowing in the master’s field or caring for the master’s sheep, and that servant comes in to the house, does the master invite his servant to sit down and eat with him? Certainly not. He tells the servant to serve him first. And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was supposed to do? No. Then Jesus makes it personal. “In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty’” (Luke 17:10 NLT). Faith must be God-directed. The disciples wanted more faith so they could do more things for their own glory and benefit. They wanted to accomplish more, but they wanted to do it on their own terms. Jesus is telling them that they simply need to do what He wants them to do. They needed to be faithful first. They needed to trust Jesus and listen to what He was saying. Again, I think Jesus is also sending a message regarding the religious leaders. They refused to listen to God. They refused to obey God. They were rejecting the very Son of God. Rather than view themselves as servants of God, they had tried to turn the tables and almost demanded that God serve them. After all, in their minds, they deserved it. They were descendants of Abraham and faithful servants of God. But they were neglecting their duty to God.

Jesus wants the disciples to know that their faith must not be based in their ability to accomplish great things for God. It must be focused on God Himself. Our faith, even in small quantities, will accomplish incredible things, as long as we are leaning on and listening to God. If God demands that we uproot a mulberry tree, we will have all the power to do it, because we are doing His will. And He will get the glory, not us. Like the servant in Jesus’ example, we need to be willing to do our duty, faithfully. We need to be willing to focus on God and His desires. Then when He commands us to do something, we will have our faith in the right place and He will provide the power to produce the right outcome. We don’t need more faith, we just need to focus what little faith we have on the right thing – serving God.

Father, show me how to serve You more and me less. Help me make it less and less about me and more and more about You. If You are the focus, faith will never be a problem. If I realize that You don’t need me to do anything, but that You want to reveal Your power in me and through me, then I don’t need more faith. I have You.  Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men