March 15, 2020

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1436

March 15, 2020 1 Corinthians 8.1-6

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)


“Our Very Existence”


1Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.

2If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.

3But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

4Therefore, 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.”

5For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—

6yet 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.


  • A Problem (1a)


In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul writes to the church, "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote:" He then proceeded to discuss marriage, circumcision, freedom, and in chapter 8, food. There was a debate in the church about eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. It was not unusual for the market place to sell the meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Of course, Christians needed to shop in those same market places for meat and other foods, so some in the church questioned the faithfulness of eating a lamb chop that had been sacrificed to a wooden or stone or golden idol. Is that tainted meat? Maybe it is something like the debate about eating at certain chain restaurants that support unbiblical causes. Or buying any foods in the grocery store from companies known to operate in ways that dishonor Christian practices. Should we or shouldn’t we? Yet, we recognize that no company is perfect and we could not purchase anything once we discovered all the anti-Christian policies in the marketplace. We have to be in the world, we simply guard against becoming of the world.

It was certainly understandable in biblical times for someone who once worshiped an idol, then became converted to Christ, that he or she would have issues with anything connected to idolatry. The closest example in our day might be an issue like alcoholism. An alcoholic who comes to Christ and has seen and experienced the destructive power of alcohol may find it strange that anyone in Christ would drink. A converted gambler might think it wrong to play cards. What Paul conveys to the church is that we need to be sensitive to the foods eaten around former idol worshipers and, in turn, about drink in the company of alcoholics who live day by day in Christ seeking to stay away from such temptations.

We may know that certain things can be done in moderation and not destroy our faith. We know that, but not all Christians who come from shadowed background will accept that. Paul says that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Love is better than knowledge when it comes to dealing with these kinds of issues and situations. Loving one another will do better at building community and building the church than strutting out our knowledge to lord it over others. That is not to say that we stop seeking to educate one another and gain knowledge, but it is to say that our first step is to build up with love. Beside that, verse two indicates that we might not know as much as we think we know. Love carries a humble heart, but knowledge can lead to arrogance.


  • Knowledge and Love (1b-3)


Greater knowledge is found when we love God. If we love God, Paul writes, we are known by God. Parker Palmer wrote a book called, To Know as We Are Known, (1983). I think the title alone is valuable. To know as we are known as 1 Corinthians reveals is to love God in a way that brings us to know that we are known by God. As a Catholic writer once stated it, “to realize that we are realized.” God knows us; He realizes us. We are noticed, recognized, seen by God Himself! That’s amazing! We might say that God knows us so well because He loves us so well. In turn, to know as we are known is to grow to love God so that we might also know God as God knows us.

One thing we do know is that we are limited in what we can know of God. But there is a difference in knowing of God and knowing God. We can know in love much more than we can know with knowledge. Let me try to say more about this. Parker Palmer says there are three sources of knowledge: curiosity, control, or love (pgs. 7-10).

Curiosity – to know what is inside the box, knowledge alone is the end game (amoral passion).

Control – to reach a certain end, to control the situation or the person or persons (power).

Love – for compassion, to reconcile, to know in spirit, to reach for love, in this the act of knowing is an act of love, in terms of the spiritual the origin of knowledge is love (for the sake of another).

Curiosity and control come easy. This is the way of the world, for the most part. But love may require change and sacrifice and even more than we are willing to give. There is a quote from the movie, and I suppose in the book, titled Ender’s Game where the lead character, a young boy who is training to fight an enemy of earth, says this, “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.” The writer is named Orson Scott Card who is well known in the science fiction world. I have no idea of his faith or lack of faith and the quote could really play well in theology about love and knowledge as well as in Jesus’ command to love our enemies. The only problem with the quote is that it goes on to say that even though you come to know and love the enemy, you still destroy them. That is not good theology in the end!

Perhaps a better story to demonstrate knowledge and love is Pride and Prejudice and also one more familiar to you. Elizabeth Bennett is first appalled by Mr. Darcy, but after she begins to learn more about him, after she gains more knowledge, then she begins to love him. This is knowledge that leads to love instead of knowledge brought on by simple curiosity or attempts to control.

Understanding or knowledge aids our ability to love. But sometimes our knowledge can also prevent us from practicing love. This is what Paul warns and suggests that we love above all things, in this case, above our knowledge. One more thing to add which I find helpful. Parker Palmer suggests three disciplines to keep us in tune with love: study of the Bible, prayer and contemplation, and the gathered life of the community. Bible, prayer, worship. Sound practices to help us love above all.



  • Idols (4-6)


Paul also deals with the problem of idolatry. As I have stated, there were some who believed with all their heart that food offered to idols was defiled. It was a sin to eat because it had been given over to an idolatrous practice. So, Paul says, that's okay, we who know better can just stop eating that meat since it may cause a brother or sister to stumble in the faith. Food doesn't bring us closer to God anyway. We are no worse off if we eat and no better off if we don’t. But how we eat may push us farther away from God. Paul doesn't make that point directly, but indirectly what we eat may cause another to stumble and thus we sin against Christ who died for both the knowledgeable and those who do not yet understand.

Eating is not in and of itself a sin, but in this particular case the eating depended upon how the less knowledgeable viewed the eating. We don't have the same situation today of meat offered to idols but we certainly have the same debate. There are those who say that because burger chain 1 exploits the poor in third world countries to grow cheap beef, we should not eat their burgers. There are believers who will not buy products made in China because of the oppressed labor force often including young children. There is even more evidence to suggest we should not do anything with China any more!

I sympathize with those who point out the oppressive practices that are funded by greed which leads to idolatry which is the very problem Paul is addressing. One problem we have today is that so much of what we buy and eat is tainted with greed. I don't know of much that we could eat today that could not potentially cause someone to stumble! In reality it makes no difference in our knowledge whether a rib eye is sacrificed to an idol because the idol is nothing. It is powerless, it is false, it cannot move or speak or save or forgive or love. In one sense it is not even a sacrifice because you can't sacrifice to nothing!

That's what we know. That's the theological truth of idolatry, that it is a false religion, it is useless, and it does not even matter because we know that there is no God but One. This knowledge would be enough if we all held the same knowledge, if we all thought the same way, but there is a problem. Not everyone has this knowledge. Some folks have been trained and educated in such a way that, God forbid, they think differently than us! Can you believe it?!

Paul says that we should not just ignore the problem. But we should love one another. Sometimes that will mean that we abstain from eating out of love even if it means going against the knowledge that there is nothing wrong with that action. We know it makes no difference but it may for someone else and since Christ died for them too, we do the act of love rather than an act of knowledge.

A concern is idolatry and I wanted to show you a couple of interesting passages to that end. The first is Psalm 135.15-18,

15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. 16 They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; 17 they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. 18 Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them.


The second is Jeremiah 5.20-22,

20 Declare this in the house of Jacob; proclaim it in Judah: 21 “Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not. 22 Do you not fear me? declares the Lord. Do you not tremble before me?


In Jeremiah we see a case when the idolatrous became like their idols. This too would be a concern for those who had issues with eating food sacrificed to idols. We may have knowledge that tells us it is not in and of itself a sin, but it is something to watch and take care lest we fall into idolatry.



  • One God, One Lord (4,6)


Eating habits are not a big deal on the one hand. Jesus said it is not what goes into the body that defiles a person but what comes out of the mouth from the heart. Peter’s vision in Acts of the animals lowered on the blanket revealed that what we eat does us no harm. But these are not warrants to eat whatever we want as if God would automatically protect us from all harm. These are not warrants to eat whatever we want if someone might be harmed spiritually in our eating.

This is true because of who God is and because of who God has called us to be. God is the one true God and Jesus the one true Lord and everything is tied to God. God the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist. Everything comes from God as we exist for God alone. Isaiah shows this point as well,


5 Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. 6 I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made (Isaiah 43.5-7).

We are created to bring glory to God. He formed us and made us. We owe everything to Him. He is the source of our very existence.


The second phrase from Paul is about Jesus, through whom are all things and through who we exist. The part about God speaks of everything from God and for God. With Jesus the prepositions are through and through. Everything is through Jesus.


Two passages to consider here. John 1.1-5,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

And Colossians 1.15-20,

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.


This is foundational to how we handle the things of life and church and fellowship with one another. God is our foundation. He is God and Lord, and because He is and He is the source of our life, we are called on to treat one another in love whether that is in dealing with food or drink or any concerns that might cause another to stumble. In one sense we are altering our practice of worship today because we want to honor God by keeping one another safe from the possibility of spreading a virus. We don’t want anyone to stumble spiritually or physically. We want to glorify God in worship in ways that honor our brothers and sisters in Christ and thus bring more glory to God. Let us consider focusing our energy toward the Bible, toward prayer, and toward worship together, that we might bring God glory and show the world that we need not fear, but practice the faith with a peace that passes all understanding (Phil 4.6-7).

  June 2021  
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