Greeting: Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and from Jesus, our Lord.
Text: 1) Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2) The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. 3) But the man who loves God is known by God. 4) So then, about eating foods 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 knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, 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 freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10) For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? 11) So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12) When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13) Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.
Introduction: “When dealing from strength, be guided by love.” That’s how the sermon title appears in the bulletin today, but isn’t there something wrong with it? Shouldn’t it read differently? Shouldn’t it say: “When dealing from strength, drive a hard bargain?” It would be modern version of the revised golden rule that says: “Those who have the gold make the rules.” Or perhaps it should say: “When dealing from strength, do what you please.” This wording would be similar to the old maxim: “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” Actually, the title in the bulletin is correct. “When dealing from strength, be guided by love.”
This is the principle God Himself gives us. It is certainly the way God operates. No one deals from a position of greater strength than the almighty God. Yet, for all His strength, He is guided by an incredibly powerful love. God has used His strength, not to crush us as our rebellious ways deserve, but to reach out to us through His Son to save us. In love, Jesus suffered hell and sacrificed Himself for us. In love, God pardons us and receives us into His family. When dealing from strength, God was guided by love. This is the principle He follows.
It is the principle He gives us to follow as we deal with other people. He tells strong Christians – those who have a clearer and fuller knowledge of God’s will than others have – to use that strength of knowledge and faith in loving concern for others.
The strength a Christian deals from consists in a having a good understanding of God’s will and how it applies to various situations. Paul discusses this matter of a Christian’s strength of knowledge. He tells us it is a knowledge that a believer receives from God Himself; a knowledge that instructs a believer’s conscience accurately and frees him/her from previous misunderstandings of what is morally right or wrong.
Paul writes: 4) So then, about eating foods 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.
Paul talks about the great spiritual knowledge that God gives us in His Word. He lets us know that of the many so-called gods in the world, there is only one true God and Lord, the Triune God. Only this Triune God is real. Only He has divine power. Only He can save from sin and death. Only He rules forever and ever. All other gods are false and imposters. They are nothings that have no reality. They are make-believe, figments of the imagination, delusions of the mind, no matter how popular they are or how avidly they are
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This strength of understanding is a wonderful goal for all believers to strive for. Having a conscience that is fully informed of God’s will, that is clear-minded about what God wants, that knows what things are right and commanded, what things are wrong and forbidden, and what things are neither commanded, nor forbidden and so are matter that are permitted is great blessing. This knowledge gives a believer great peace and comfort. It liberates a person from misunderstanding and uncertainty. It removes imaginary shackles from the mind and let a person live in a place of confidence and freedom.
1. Be Sensitive To The Weakness Of Others
Saint Paul teaches that this strength of a Christian is to be guided by Christ-like love, a love that shows its sensitivity to and concern for others. Paul writes: 7) But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, 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.
Paul tells the Corinthians – and us – that not all Christians deal from the same strength of understanding. In the Corinthian church, not all members had a clear knowledge in the matter of the food that came from the sacrifices originally offered to false gods. Some of the believers were weak in their conscience. They were unclear and uncertain whether the meats offered to idols and later sold to the public were proper to eat. Many of the Corinthian Christians had recently come from a pagan background and had previously been followers of these false gods. Even though they were now believers in Christ, they still struggled with the belief that the false gods had some reality and power. They thought that by buying and eating this meat, they would be declaring some kind of loyalty to this so-called god. For them to eat this meat would be a violation of what their unclear conscience was telling them. By going against the testimony of their conscience, they would be sinning.
God speaks to the strong in conscience today. He gives the same message that Paul gave the Corinthians. Be sensitive to the weakness of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. God wants us to realize that not everyone’s conscience is the same. Some are strong in their knowledge, others are weaker. In some matters, where God gives permission and freedom to act, some proceed with no problems, while others struggle with uncertainty. In a way, it is like the differences that exist among people in the strength of their eyesight. Some people have great vision and don’t need any corrective lenses. Then there are others, like me, whose vision is weak. Without my glasses, things are hazy and blurry. I am not sure of what messages appear on signs in the distance. Having poor eye sight, is very much the person with an uncertain conscience about God’s will.
There are any number of areas where our consciences can be challenged to realize the freedom that God allows us. For example: Is it alright for a person of legal age to drink an alcoholic beverage? Is it proper to listen to music that has some crude lyrics? It is allowable to smoke an occasional cigarette? It is Ok to play in a Poker Tournament? It is acceptable to participate in the office NCAA basketball tournament pool? Can a person watch a movie or play a video game that portrays a lot of violence? Should a person take his children or grandchildren to a museum or the zoo when some of its exhibits promote the theory of evolution? Can a person in good conscience eat at a Chinese restaurant that has a statue of Buddha on display? For a Christian with a strong conscience, these questions may not be hard to answer. For a Christian with a weak conscience, these questions may cause confusion and distress.
The strong in conscience have an obligation to help the weak grow and become stronger. They are to offer encouragement and careful biblical instruction to help them know more clearly what God commands, what He forbids, and what He permits. On a related topic, all of us are to be careful that we do not confuse stubborn strength for weakness. Some people object to things that God clearly permits, motivated not from a position of weakness, but from an erring misguided position of strength. They would take the things that God allows and permits and put them in the category of what God forbids. An example of misguided strength would be the Judaizers at the time of the New Testament who insisted that Gentiles would have to also have to be circumcised and adopt other Jewish ceremonial laws if they wished to be true Christians. An example in our time would be the 7th Day Adventists who insisted that followers of Christ must follow some of the Old Testament ceremonial laws such as Saturday worship. With people who operate from a position of misguided strength, we are to work to instruct them in the proper biblical understanding, but we are not to concede their insistence on a false teaching.
2. Be Yielding In Using Your Freedom
Paul directs the strong Christians in Corinth to use their freedom in a loving manner, in way that willingly yields and makes allowances from the good of the weak brother or sister in Christ. He writes: 9) Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10) For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? 11) So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12) When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13) Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.
Paul warns the Corinthians against using their freedom in such a way as to cause their fellow believers to stumble spiritually and to sin against their consciences. He gives the esample of a person with a strong conscience who chooses to eat meat that had been dedicated to an idol at one of the restaurants in the temple area. Following the lead of the strong conscience Christian, a weak conscience Christian goes ahead and also eats. But then later on the conscience of the weak Christian condemns him as a sinner. Paul says that this is a serious matter. The weaker brother or sister in Christ is the object of God’s love just as the strong are. The soul of this person is precious to God and to His believers. God went to great trouble and expense to redeem and save him/her. Does anyone have the right to cause them spiritual harm?
To intentionally mislead the weak Christian is a sin against Christ Himself. We are to serve Christ by giving loving service to our neighbor, especially to our fellow believers. So Paul teaches us that if a decision or action a Christian makes in an area of freely permitted things will mislead a fellow Christian into sin, we should refrain from it. The spiritual welfare of our brother/sister in Christ and his/her relationship with God is far more important and more valuable than the exercise of our freedom in one matter.
The same God speaks to us. He tells us to use our freedom in a loving matter toward our fellow Christians. Don’t intentionally act to harm your fellow Christians. We have freedom and may exercise it. We may not always know the particular weaknesses of our brothers and sisters in Christ. But if we do know them and then purposely act in such a way to draw them into taking an action that their conscience cannot endorse, we are misusing our freedom and harming our fellow Christians.
A good question to ask to guide our action is this: “Is this person genuinely unclear as to the correctness of this action at this point in his/her life?” Perhaps they need more instruction. Or perhaps the instruction they have received has not taken proper hold in their mind yet. Or perhaps they still struggle with incorrect things impressed on them earlier in life. Let love be your guide. Some things that may be perfectly OK for you, are not OK for them. Place love for them and their relationship with God ahead of your love for your freedom. Willingly yield, lovingly forgo your freedom until that person gains sufficient strength.
When dealing from strength, God dealt with us in love. He knew that He had every right to abandon us and forsake us in our sin. That would have crushed and destroyed us. God chose to deal with us in love and mercy. He sent Jesus to satisfy His just demands in our place. He spared us and cleansed our consciences from all the sins we have committed. Moved by that love, let us do the same for others. When dealing from Christ-given strengthen, let us be guided by Christ-like love for others. Amen.