Continuing our study of 1 Corinthians, we come to 1 Corinthians 8 and 9 and a subject that is championed by some, and vilified by others. “Christian Liberty” (as it is labeled and defined in the 21st century) has been a theme of sermon series, Bible studies, and celebrations for two decades. Under the mistaken notion of “FREEDOM” from the Law, church leaders have led their congregations and school bodies down a path that instead has led to a license to sin. Tragically, the emphasis on freedom has seen a rise in carnality that was predictable by any who know the Scriptures and rightly interpret the immutable Word of God.
What do the Scriptures teach on the matter of “Christian Liberty?” Today’s devotional is taken from 1 Corinthians 8, which is a central passage on the subject of Liberty.
“To Eat or Not to Eat?” (8:1-3)
Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians 7:1 he had received a letter from believers in Corinth. In addition to their question on sexual morality, marriage, and divorce (1 Corinthians 7), it appeared they asked for Paul’s judgment on another topic: Eating meat (and other food items) that had been offered to idols (8:4). Before he tackled that subject, the apostle addressed a fundamental issue that provoked the question: Pride; in this case, pride prompted by one’s knowledge or understanding (8:1-3).
Isn’t interesting: The question of liberty arose within a church that wrestled with knowledge in the absence of love? (8:1) Regarding idols, Paul wrote, “we know that we all have knowledge” (8:1). Knowledge of what? The understanding that an idol is nothing! Believers understand there is One God, and He is God alone, and there is none other. Yet, that knowledge (that an idol is nothing), had given cause for some to be proud (“puffed up,” 8:1b). Then, Paul asserted, “charity edifieth” (8:1), meaning love in action builds up, and strengthens fellow-believers.
The problem with those believers who were championing their liberty is they were arrogant. While they boasted they had knowledge, they were missing the most fundamental doctrine—Charity (i.e., love; 8:2). Paul wrote later, without love, “I am nothing” (13:2). So, those who boasted in their liberty were guilty of being unloving to fellow-believers, and Paul judged those saying, “he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know (8:2). Loving God is evidence of our intimate knowledge of Him (8:3).
Regarding Eating Things Offered to Idols (8:4-8)
It is doubtful 21st century believers will face the question of eating meat offered to idols; however, it is important we grasp the spiritual principal Paul taught. There is evidence idol worshippers would sacrifice animals or other food items in temples, and heathen priests would sell the overflow of those sacrifices in a market attached to the temple. It is supposed such gave rise to the question: Do believers have liberty to purchase and eat meat or produce from a market, knowing it was offered to an idol.
Paul affirmed, believers have liberty to purchase and eat meat or any other food offered to an idol, for an “idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one” (8:4). Though a heathen worships his idol as a god (of which there were many, 8:5a), believers had knowledge “there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ (God who came in the person of Jesus), by whom are all things, and we by him” (8:6).
The question of eating anything offered to idols was a matter of liberty (whether to eat or not to eat); however, the issue was not a believer’s freedom, but the affect his liberty would have on other believers. Why? Because not every believer could eat anything offered to an idol with a clear conscience (8:8a). Rather than a question of liberty or freedom, it was an issue of one believer’s affect or influence on another. Eating or not eating meat offered to an idol was not an issue with God (8:8). Also, the Scriptures do not forbid eating meat offered to idols (Romans 14:14-15).
Brotherly love is concerned with how one’s liberty affects others. (8:9-13)
Rather than a defense of personal freedom, or an insistence on a believer’s right to exercise liberty, Paul’s tone was a warning: “Take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock [an offense] to them that are weak” (8:9). In other words, to insist on your right to do something when you know it offends others, is unloving. There were believers who chose to eat meat offered to idols, even though they understood it was an offense to other believers (8:9). In doing so, they became “a stumblingblock” (8:9).
Paul appealed to those with understanding, but had been unloving in their demands for liberty, and asked, “through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?” (8:11). What a tragedy! Though they understood there is only One God, and an idol is nothing; yet, they failed the love test and willfully imperiled the spiritual lives and walk of other believers.
Closing thoughts (8:12-13) – I fear some believers (fathers, mothers, pastors, teachers, deacons) may read this devotion, and are too proud to see the effect of their liberty on others. Are you guilty of flaunting liberty, even at the risk of offending fellow-believers? Paul warned, when a believer exercises liberty in areas that offend others, they not only sin “against the brethren,” they “sin against Christ” (8:12). In essence, a believer does not have liberty if his liberty offends. Modeling the spiritual mature believer, he was, Paul determined: “If meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (8:13).
Warning: What some insist is their liberty, has become a license to sin. They not only sin against others, but against Christ (8:12). Such have become the unloving champions of “Christian Liberty.”
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Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith
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