Exposition of 1 Corinthians 8:9-13, Knowledge leads to love

1 Corinthians 8:9-13

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.

Paul is not nearly as optimistic about rights (1 Cor. 8:9) to eat meat associated with idols as those with knowledge seem to be. He can imagine situations in which their exercise of the right to choose can bring ruinous harm to the weak. In place of the blithe confidence of the strong, he commands watchfulness for potential harm. Think of the vigilance of a mother whose child is swimming in a lake when a boat comes quickly toward the shore.

Bear in mind that both the Old and New Testaments speak about life using a metaphor of walking step by step. With that common metaphor in mind, we can easily see that falling is an unwelcome and perhaps even calamitous event. That cause-of-falling is the metaphorical idea behind stumbling block (1 Cor. 8:9).

As we enter the conclusion of chapter 8, keep in mind that Paul has been carefully building his argument. He began his argument with this shot across the bow: But knowledge puffs up while love builds up (1 Cor. 8:2), a theme that will recur at the end of chapter 8. Then he seemed to agree with the strong that an idol is truly nothing (verse 4). Slowly Paul has built his argument about the effect on the weak of those asserting their right to choose. He will end with a bang by expressing his own conclusion about how to behave.

In verse 10, Paul imagines the highly probable scenario in which the weak see the strong eating in an idols temple, which was a very public place. With great irony the apostle conjectures that the weak will be built up — NIV says emboldened — to imitate this behavior. In verse 11 we encounter a quirk of Greek grammar; the main verb can be translated either in passive voice (is destroyed) or reflexively (ruins himself). NIV takes the former translation[1], but Anthony Thiselton prefers the latter.[2] The believer with a weak conscience wants to behave like the strong one, follows his example, but finds himself ruined rather than built up. For the weak, this is a bridge too far, and it collapses! Their conscience cannot stand so much freedom.

Compounding the error perpetrated by the strong using their right to choose, the person they have built up for ruin is a brother or sister for whom Christ died (1 Cor. 8:11). That makes their provocative behavior a sin against Christ (1 Cor. 8:12). Because every Christian is united with Christ, a sin against a fellow believer is always a sin against Christ.

Thiselton corrects one possible abuse of Pauls teaching when he says:

It has little or nothing to do with whether actions offend other Christians in the modern sense of causing psychological irritation, annoyance, or displeasure at a purely subjective level. It has everything to do with whether such attitudes and actions cause damage, or whether they genuinely build not just knowledge but Christian character and Christian community.[3]

Paul closes his argument with a very strong personal appeal (1 Cor. 8:13). Though he never actually commands the Corinthians to abstain from association with idolatry, the command is implicit because of the danger to those with a weak conscience.

Fee tells us, The abuse of others in the name of knowledge indicates a total misunderstanding of the nature of Christian ethics, which springs not from knowledge but from love.[4] That statement in no way demeans the knowledge Christ gives us through his Word and his Spirit, but we must see that knowledge in its proper role. Only knowledge that leads to love can claim the imprimatur of Jesus Christ.

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] A choice that inevitably leads to the view that salvation may be lost; see Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987)387, footnote 61.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 653.

[3] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 658.

[4] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 390.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 8:1-6, Knowledge and love

1 Corinthians 8:1-6

1 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.

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.

Our opening verse contains both the problem Paul is addressing and the beginning of its solution. While idolatry provides the context of the argument between Paul and the Corinthian believers, the real conflict is between two different kinds of knowledge. The form of knowledge that Paul opposes is the one that leads to spiritual pride and an excessive focus on individual rights exercised without regard for others in the church. The form of knowledge that Paul advocates is the one that leads to love for others, building them up and putting their interests ahead of ones own. This fact will not become fully obvious until the conclusion of chapter 8.

Be clear on the fact that Paul is not pitting love against knowledge. Nor is he saying that love is good and knowledge is bad. Instead, godly knowledge is the kind that results in love for others while worldly knowledge leads to selfish assertion of rights no matter how it affects others.

Before we get into verses 1-3 in detail, take a look at the following translation by Anthony Thiselton:

1 Now on the subject of meat associated with offerings to pagan deities: we are fully aware that All of us possess knowledge. This knowledge inflates; love, on the other hand, builds. 2 If anyone thinks that he or she has achieved [some piece of] this knowledge, they have not yet come to know as they ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves [God], he or she has experienced true knowing [is known by him].[1] (strikethrough added).

The translation just given is not the same as that of the NIV because the NIV follows a different line of NT Greek manuscripts than Thiselton follows. This is one of those rare instances in which the manuscript evidence can lead in two different directions (neither of which significantly alters any Christian theology believed by the historic church). Gordon Fee also agrees with Thiselton that the words in brackets ([. . .]) above are not part of Pauls original letter.[2] These words do not appear in the oldest available manuscript (p46) and were likely added by someone who mistook what Paul was driving at.

You may be asking What difference does this make? Good question! In this context, Paul is not talking about love for God or even being loved by God; he is talking about the need of the Corinthians to learn to love others; accordingly, the oldest manuscript (p46) does not mention God in this verse. Fee says, True gnosis [knowledge] consists not in the accumulation of so much data, nor even in the correctness of ones theology, but in the fact that one has learned to live in love toward all.[3] True knowledge is crucial to Christian faith, but it will always direct us toward love for others. We too must gain knowledge — true knowledge.

Returning to the question about the Corinthians association with idol worship (1 Cor. 8:4), Paul again quotes two Corinthian slogans: An idol is nothing at all in the world (verse 4) and There is no God but one (verse 4). By using these slogans, the Corinthians hope to live something close to the lives they led before trusting Christ. These sayings are intended to allow them to do as they like in relation to eating in idol temples, eating food associated with idols or participating in civic ceremonies somehow affected by idolatry. You might say that they are examples of Corinthian knowledge used to authorize individual liberties. Besides, living like they did before is good for business and advancement! But Paul has already warned them not to get sucked into the great game of this world, because this world in its present form is passing away (1 Cor. 7:31).

Paul will not fully correct their understanding until 1 Cor. 8:9-13. For the moment he starts where the Corinthians are and deals with the more general subject of idols, and their place in the minds of people who follow Christ; later he will introduce love for others.

In this context, Paul assumes for the sake of argument that idols exist and represent so-called gods (1 Cor. 6:5), and he goes on to speak of many gods and many lords. Fee explains that the gods designate the traditional deities (e.g., Poseidon, Aphrodite, and others) while lords was the normal designation for the deities of the mystery cults that had come to Greece from the Orient.[4]

Paul begins his shift away from idols and toward his theme of love with the words Yet for us there is but one God, the Father (1 Cor. 8:6a). In fact, Paul puts one God, the Father and one Lord, Jesus Christ in direct contrast with the many gods and many lords of the surrounding society.

In speaking of the one unique God, Paul describes our relationship to Father with the phrase for whom we live (1 Cor. 6:6) and our relationship to the Son with the phrase through whom we live. Our unique God is one, yet relates to us as Father and Son. The argument began with idols and has progressed — at this intermediate stage — to our relationship to Christ. Thiselton says, Christ-likeness and the shape of the cross mark all that a Christian believers are and do.[5] That being the case, Paul will soon take the next step in his argument by showing how those related to Christ in this way must live.

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 612-613, following p46, Siniaticus and Clement of Alexandria. p46 is the oldest known Greek manuscript of 1 Corinthians, from about A.D. 200.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 364-369.

[3] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 368.

[4] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 373.

[5] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 638.

Exposition of Romans 5:6-8, Love and death — Christ gave both

Part of the problem in being a twenty-first century American is that the idea that God loves us has been around for a long time. Indeed, that is by far the most popular theological idea even among people who do not think Jesus is anyone special.

The amazing thing is that reasonably intelligent, well-informed people, who read the newspaper and know a little history, would find it next to impossible to give you one good reason why God should not hate humankind in view of how we have behaved!

(NET) Romans 5:6-8

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.) 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Commentary

This group of three verses is remarkable by any standard. First, Paul uses three words to describe our condition before Christ took action: we were helpless, ungodly sinners. Second, we are told that God responded to our desperate situation with love and death. Indeed, each of the three Greek sentences ends with the same Greek verb for death (ἀποθνῄσκω) — clearly intentional.

From a theological viewpoint — something you should definitely strive to develop — it is vital to see that before we trusted in Christ we were helpless (5:6) to save ourselves from God’s wrath. Osborne says, “This does not mean that human beings are incapable of good — John Calvin, the Protestant reformer, called this ‘common grace,’ the ability of the natural person to do good since all are made in the image of God — but it conveys that they can do nothing that will make them right with God.”[1]

In relation to the word translated “ungodly” (5:6), the Greek adjective ἀσεβής here means “pertaining to violating norms for a proper relation to deity, irreverent, impious, ungodly.”[2] It is more than sad that contemporary American society is filled with such people, who pay no attention whatever to God. Secularism marginalizes God more now than at any time in a thousand years.

We have looked at the bad-news part of Romans 5:6, but the good news utterly overwhelms the bad news: “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (5:6b). C.E.B. Cranfield says, “For Christ’s death on behalf of sinners compare . . . 3:25; 4:25; 6:10; 7:4; 8:32; 14:15 (in the last two of these passages [the Greek preposition] huper is used, as it is here [5:6] and also in a good many other NT passages dealing with the same subject).”[3] Next we will discuss why that is important.

Huper — meaning “for, in behalf of, for the sake of”[4] — is one of the few Greek words that every serious student of the New Testament should know about because it stresses that Jesus died as our substitute. See also 2 Cor. 5:14, Gal. 3:13 and John 11:50. The preposition also occurs three more times in Romans 5:7-8.

Romans 5:7 is a comparative verse in which Paul presents the absolute most you can expect in terms of human love. Rarely, one person might dare to die for some other deserving person, described as either righteous or good. Such behavior is rare enough that we widely honor the sacrifice it requires. Think of the firemen rushing into the burning World Trade Center to help others during the 9/11 attack by terrorists.

But God has done so much more in “his own love” (5:8) than the greatest acts of human love. Christ, the beloved Son of God, keeps on demonstrating God’s love toward us in that he died for the helpless, ungodly sinners — the very ones also called God’s enemies (5:8). Seeing the desperate plight of sinful, lost humanity, God did not sit in heaven feeling affection for us and yet doing nothing. Christ came among us to suffer and die for us.

Grant Osborne rightly says:

This is the primary point Paul is making. Christ did not die for righteous people or for friends; he died for sinful human beings in all their degrading depravity, for those who “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (1:18) and do “not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God (1:28), who are “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil greed and depravity” (1:29). Therefore we deserved to experience the wrath of God and eternal judgment, but Christ took our punishment upon himself and paid the penalty in our place, thereby procuring redemption on our behalf (3:21-26).[5]

God’s love brings death and offers life

An ancient church father known as Ambrosiaster once said: “If Christ gave himself up to death at the right time for those who were unbelievers and enemies of God . . . how much more will he protect us with his help if we believe in him!”[6]

1. We will take a moment to review: (1) the penalty for sin is death (Rom. 1:32), and (2) you may pay the penalty either with your own death or use the death of Jesus instead (Rom. 5:8). Which will you choose? Keep in mind that not to decide is a decision in itself; you are not in a fail-safe position if you have never trusted in Christ!

2. Why do you think Christ was willing to die in your place? How does the extent of God's love for you, expressed in Christ's death, make you feel?

Each day’s lesson begins with a six-word theme. Here is another one:
Jesus Christ died in your place. Praise God forever!

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 132.

[2] BDAG-3, ἀσεβής, ungodly, q.v.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 264.

[4] BDAG-3, huper, on behalf of, q.v.

[5] Osborne, Romans, 134.

[6] Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 131.