Knowledge, Love, and Idols - Page 1 (Lessons on First Corinthians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

January 2, 2013
Commentary on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe

Lesson 7.1: Knowledge, Love, and Idols
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 8.1-6

1 Cor 8.1-6 (KJV)
1 Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.
2 And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.
3 But if any man love God, the same is known of him.
4 As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.
5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

Introduction to Chapter 8
In this chapter, the apostle answers another question posed to him by some of the Corinthians, about eating those things that had been sacrificed to idols. There are two elements to his answer:
1. He implies that he knows there are Christians in Corinth who are offended by other Christians who are eating meat offered to idols; and he cautions them against getting “puffed up” with pride in their personal knowledge. And then he emphasis the pride and futility of worshipping idols, the unity of the Godhead, and the exclusive mediation of Christ between God and man.
2. He tells them that although they all know that it is lawful to eat food offered to idols (because idols themselves are nothing), nevertheless they must consider the weakness of their Christian brethren, and do nothing that might cause one of them to stumble, and induce them to sin, and lead to their destruction.

The chapter has been divided into two lessons:
Lesson 7.1: Knowledge, Love and Idols, verses 8.1-8.6
Lesson 7.2: Christian Freedom and the Weak Brother, verses 8.7-8.13

“Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much; Wisdom is humble that he knows no more.”—William Cowper

1 Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.

Now as touching things offered unto idols.
Idolatry pervaded almost every aspect of Greek and Roman life. Their social contacts, their feasts, the administration of justice, public entertainment, the offices and honors of government, were all more or less connected with religious services. Christians, therefore, were constantly exposed to the danger of being involved in some idolatrous ritual or worship without even knowing it. This gave rise to numerous perplexing questions of conscience, which were often decided differently by different groups of Christians, and it is one of the factors that caused factions to spring up in the Corinthian Church. Note: Paul also dealt with this matter in his letter to Roman believers—see Romans 14.

Corinth, like all Greek cities, was full of temples housing heathen idols. At their altars animals were constantly sacrificed, and the flesh of those animals was eaten afterwards. The question arose whether a Christian could eat such flesh without committing the sin of showing respect to an idol. The meat offered on pagan altars was usually divided up into three portions: one portion was burnt in honor of the god; one portion was given to the worshipper to take home and eat; and the third portion was given to the priest. If the priest didn't want to eat his portion, he sold it at the temple restaurant or meat market. The meat served and sold at the temple was generally cheaper; and then, as well as now, people loved a bargain (including Christians!). But the issue raises many questions: can we eat meat purchased at the temple meat market? Can a Christian eat at the restaurant at the pagan temple? What if we are served meat purchased at the temple meat market when we are guests in someone's home? Refusing to attend such gatherings would be like not attending weddings or other social functions today.

The phrase “Now as touching” (now concerning, in regard to) indicates that the Corinthians had asked Paul some questions in regard to this matter we do not know the exact questions, a fact also indicated by the use of quotation marks to set off portions of this verse and in 1 Cor. 8:4 and 1 Cor. 8:5 in the RSV. The Corinthians wrote to the apostle because they wanted to know his opinion on the matter. It was not the first time the question was asked, because the council at Jerusalem had already decided the matter—“The Holy Spirit and we have agreed not to place any additional burdens on you. Do only what is necessary…by keeping away from food sacrificed to false gods, from eating bloody meat, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual sins. If you avoid these things, you will be doing what's right” (Acts 15:28-29; GW), and it was agreed that for the peace of the churches, that the Gentiles be advised to abstain from eating food offered to idols; however, it seems, the church at Corinth knew nothing about it, since the controversy was now raging among them. Some of them (probably Jews) that were weak in the faith, and did not have a clear understanding of Gospel liberty, though it was criminal and sinful to eat them. There were others (probably Gentiles) who boasted that they had more knowledge, and they would not only eat them privately at home, after buying them from the Heathen priests, or in the common meat markets; but would even go into an idol's temple, and sit and eat them there, which aggravated and confused weak Christians; and what was it that they pled in their defense; their knowledge.

One thing that must not be overlooked in this controversy is the matter of Christian love. The principle of Christian love is that believers should not take part or participate in anything that might cause a weaker brother to stumble: “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself” (Romans 14:7; KJV). In this sense, spiritually speaking, we are our brother’s keeper, and if eating meat offends our weaker brother, we should not eat meat. Whatever a believer participates in should be done to the glory of God—but it should also be for the prophet, benefit, strengthening, and edification of all believers. “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Cor 10:14; KJV).

Something to Think About
Archaeologists testify that throughout history there have been idols in every culture. Man is created with a need to worship, but when that pursuit for divine communion is misguided, idols are formed. Every idol reminds us of our need to worship. May we remember that there is only One who is worthy of worship.—“Accept No Substitutes,” Rick Warren, Saddleback Church
we know that we all have knowledge.

This was the conceited declaration of those Corinthians who had written to Paul, and asked him these questions which he is in the process of answering. They had evidently indulged themselves in the pagan temples without regard to weak brethren, and the first thing Paul did was to nail down the fact that "knowledge" without love was the grossest ignorance.

I am inclined to think that these are not the apostles words, but a quotation from the letter written by the Corinthians to him, and a proof of what the apostle says below, knowledge puffeth up; but however the words may be understood as to their origin, they contain a general truth, as they relate to Christians of those times, and they may be paraphrased as follows; "All of us who are converted to God by faith in Christ have enough knowledge concerning idols and idol worship; and we also know about the liberty which we have through the Gospel; that we are not bound by Jewish laws, rites, and ceremonies, but there are many who carry their knowledge of this liberty too far, and do that which is neither decent nor fitting, and as a result, they have offended some who have less knowledge than we do.” But knowledge alone will not suffice when dealing with Christian liberty. Paul is about to introduce a much higher principle.

We know. We admit; we cannot deny it, it is as plain as the nose on your face, that no one can be ignorant on this point. They are affirming that they are not ignorant in regard to the nature of idols; they knew that they were nothing at all; and consequently they seemed to infer that it might be right and proper to partake of this food anywhere and everywhere, even in the idol temples themselves: “For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols” (1 Cor 8:10; KJV). To this Paul replies in the course of the chapter, and particularly in 1 Corinthians 8:7: “Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.”

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