I Corinthians 8
The Relation of Love to Knowledge with the Respect to the Question of
Eating Idol-Offerings (vs. 1-13)
1 Now as touching things offered unto idols” - This was doubtless one of the questions
on which the Corinthians had asked for advice. We judge from the tone of the questions to
which Paul here replies that the majority of the Corinthians, being liberal in their views, held
that it was a matter of perfect indifference to eat idol offerings; and that, in acting upon
this conviction, they contemptuously overrode the convictions of those who could not help
thinking that when they did so they committed a sin. The practical decision of the question
was one of immense importance. If it were unlawful under any circumstances to eat idol
offerings, then the Gentile convert was condemned to a life of Levitism almost as rigorous
as that of the Jew. The distinction between clean and unclean meats formed an insuperable
barrier between Jews and Gentiles. Wherever they lived, Jews required a butcher of their
own, who had been trained in the rules and ceremonies which enabled him to decide and
to ensure that all the meat which they ate should be clean , not unclean. They could touch
no meat which was not certified as free from legal blemish or ceremonial pollution by the
affixed leaden seal on which was engraved the word “lawful” (kashar). But Gentiles had
always been accustomed to buy meat in the markets. Now, much of this meat consisted
of remnants of animals slain as sacrifices, after the priests had had their share. The market
was therefore stocked with meat which had been connected with idol sacrifices. The
Christian could never be sure about any meat which he bought if he held it wrong to
partake of these offerings. The question “to eat or not to eat?” was a burning one.
It will be seen that Paul treats it with consummate wisdom and tenderness. His liberality
of thought shows itself in this — that he sides with those who took the strong, the broad,
the common sense view, that sin is not a mechanical matter, and that sin is not committed
where no sin is intended. He neither adopts the ascetic view nor does he taunt the inquirers
with the fact that the whole weight of their personal desires and interests would lead them
to decide the question in their own favor. On the other hand, he has too deep a sympathy
with the weak to permit their scruples to be overruled with a violence which would wound
their consciences. While he accepts the right principle of Christian freedom, he carefully
guards against its abuse – “we know that we all have knowledge.” - It is very probable
that this is a semi-ironical quotation of the somewhat conceited remark which had occurred
in the letter from
intellectual and that usually tends to self-conceit and pride. The brief energetic clause,
“Knowledge puffeth up; love buildeth up,” shows the strong feeling with which the
apostle enters on the discussion. There is a wide distance between theoretic knowledge
and heavenly wisdom (James 3:13-18). “He who is full is rich; he who is puffed up is
By this Paul means that the heart must be under the influence of grace, and thus inspire the
intellect so that I may be delivered from its selfishness and especially its self-conceit.
There is no reason whatever for the rendering of ajgaph< - agape - sometimes by “love,”
sometimes by “charity.” The fondness for variation which led King James’s translators to
do so only obscures the identity of thought which prevails among all the apostles respecting
the absolute primacy of love as the chief sphere and test of the Christian life. Edifieth.
Helps to build us up as stones in the spiritual temple (ch. 3:9; Romans 14:19; Ephesians 4:12).
“If because of meat thy brother is grieved, thou walkest no longer in love”
(Romans 14:15). 2 And if any man think that he knoweth any thing” - Humility is the
test of true knowledge, and love the inevitable factor in all Christian knowledge. The conceit
of knowledge is usually the usurped self assertion of an imaginary infallibility. We only know
“in part,” and our knowledge, having at the best a purely relative value, is destined to vanish
away (ch. 13:8-9). As finite beings we cannot measure the arm of God, the Infinite, by
the finger of man – “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” - Not only by creation and
preservation, but much more by redemption and adoption, and as the Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ (Romans 8:15;Galatians 3:26) – “of whom are all things” (Romans 11:36)
All things, “visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or
principalities, or powers; all things were created by Him and for Him,… and by Him
all things consist” (Colossians 1:16-17) - “and we in Him” - rather, into or for him.
He is the End and Goal as well as the Author of our existence – “and one Lord Jesus
Christ, by whom are all things” - “All things were made by Him; and without
Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). He is the Agent of both
creation and redemption (John 1:3,10; Hebrews 1:2-3) – “and we by Him.” - as the
Mediator and the Giver of life. 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. 8 But meat commendeth us
not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are
we the worse. 9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a
stumblingblock to them that are weak.” rather, this power or right of yours. To
lead any one to do that which he thinks to be wrong is to place a stone of stumbling in
his way, even if we do not think the act to be wrong. For we make men worse if by our
example we teach them to act in contradiction of their conscience. “Let your motto be
forbearance, not privilege, and your watchword charity, not knowledge. Never flaunt
your knowledge, seldom use your privilege.” 10 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” - rather, be edified. The expression is a very bold
paronomasia. This “edification of ruin” would be all the more likely to ensue because
self interest would plead powerfully in the same direction. A little compromise and
complicity, a little suppression of opinion and avoidance of antagonism to things evil, a little
immoral acquiescence, would have gone very far in those days to save Christians from
incessant persecution. Yet no Christian could be “edified” into a more dangerous course
than that of defying and defiling his own tender conscience – “to eat those things which
are offered to idols. 11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish,
for whom Christ died?” - The fact that he was “weak” constituted a fresh appeal to pity.
It made him more emphatically one of “Christ’s little ones,” and Christ had pronounced a
heavy malediction on all who caused such to offend. (Matthew 18:6) But if there is this
“ruinous edification” upon the trembling and sandy foundation of a weak conscience, what
could possibly follow but a gradual destruction? The tense is the present “and he who is
weak, in thy knowledge, is perishing” — “the brother for whose sake Christ died.” The
order of the original often gives a force to the words, which it is difficult to reproduce,
as here. The word “is perishing” becomes very emphatic by being placed first in the
sentence. “Destroy not him with thy meat for whom Christ died”(Romans 14:16).
“Perish” - Paul could use no word which would more effectually point his warning.
12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience,
ye sin against Christ. 13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will
eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”
Knowledge and Love (v. 1)
In the Divine Being Himself both knowledge and love are perfect; He is light; He is love.
Man, made in God’s image, is capable of both; but his knowledge is and must be very limited
and partial, whilst he has vast capacities for love. Not only so; as the apostle here teaches,
love is better than knowledge, for whilst this puffs up, that edifies. We recognize this
superiority in several particulars.
observation convinced him that this was the case. There were
those who boasted of their knowledge, of their intellectual powers of discrimination,
of their superiority to the ignorant and vulgar. But these very persons, although
Christians in name, were very far from displaying the character of Christ Himself,
evincing little of consideration and forbearance towards their fellow believers. In fact,
they were “puffed up,” their knowledge inflating them, but imparting to them no
real stability or vigor of character. On the other hand, such as were animated by the
purifying and elevating principle of love were, by the action of that principle, delivered
from selfishness and self seeking. They were “edified,” i.e. built up, as a temple in
stately proportions, upon a secure and ample foundation. This is a generalization, the
which is borne out by the experience of the
knowledge is often unlovely when compared with the reality of love, which imparts
a beauty and a radiance to the character beyond what human effort and culture can
moral beliefs have no influence in the development of society, which is due to the
advance of scientific knowledge. But facts are in contradiction to this theory.
Learning, science, art, are all good in themselves; but they give no guarantee that
they shall be wisely and beneficially used, and they may be far from a blessing to
society. But where compassion and benevolence are prevalent and ruling principles,
there society feels the benefit of their operation. The Church is maintained in peace
and harmony; the world around is profited by the self denying efforts made for the
amelioration of its condition.
Divine Ruler is indifferent to the progress of knowledge. “That the soul be without
knowledge is not good.” And there is a kind of knowledge which is near akin to love:
to know God is life eternal. But mere intellectual activity, mere speculative
acquaintance with truth, are vain and worthless in His sight to whom all things are
known from the beginning. But love, as it is the highest expression of the Divine nature
and character, is peculiarly congenial and acceptable to God. With the loveless soul
God has no sympathy; but the soul that is on fire with love to God and man is
preparing to dwell in the everlasting radiance which makes and. blesses heaven.
Intimacy between God and Man (v. 3)
As the passage treats of man’s knowledge professed, supposed, and real, we should expect
in this verse to find a statement regarding man’s knowledge of God. And by some the second
clause of this verse has been interpreted in this sense. If this somewhat strains the language,
and if it is necessary to understand that we have here an assertion that the lover of God is
known by God, all the same the apostle must be acknowledged here to affirm a
spiritual intimacy between the human spirit and the Father of spirits..
ü It is a condition which could scarcely occur to man apart from revelation.
Men fear God, reverence God, worship God, seek to avert the wrath of
God; but to love God is not an exercise of mind which seems congruous
to the relation between the Creator and His creatures.
ü It is a condition which Christianity renders possible and natural. By
revealing God as love, by bringing that love home to the heart in the
incarnation and the sacrifice of the Son of God, Christianity makes a claim
upon human love. The manifestation of affectionate interest and
benevolence in a way so remarkable, so unique, is sufficient to account for
a new relationship, and for new emotions corresponding therewith.
ü It is a condition capable of universal fulfillment. “If any man love God.”
There are many whose natural powers of body and of mind are very
limited. But there is none who has not the capacity for love. There may be
a moral unpreparedness, but this may be overcome. The Gentile as well as
the Jew, the illiterate as well as the learned, are capable of loving the
Author of salvation.
as involving, knowledge.
ü On the side of God Himself. This is the explicit statement of the text:
“The same,” i.e. the man who loves, “is known by Him,” i.e. by God.
Knowledge is, in Scripture, according to a Hebrew idiom, often used as
equivalent to favor; even as we say we know a person intimately, meaning
in the knowledge of friendship. Of course, the Omniscient knows all His
creatures; but He has a friendly, fatherly, affectionate, intimate knowledge
of those who love Him. He reads the language of their hearts. “The Lord
knoweth them that are His.” He knows them to watch over and keep, to
guide and govern, to strengthen and to save them.
ü On the side of man. This is the implicit statement of the text; for he who
in the sense affirmed is known by God also knows God. How true it is that
he who loves God knows Him too! There are many respects in which we
cannot know our earthly, human associates, unless we are drawn to them
by the cords of love. Love opens the doors of knowledge. It creates that
sympathy which gives intensity to the intuitive gaze of the soul. Thus it is
that, whilst many learned and philosophic minds are ignorant of the Deity,
there are to be found, among the lowly, the ignorant, and the feeble, those
who, with hearts quickened and softened with grateful love, live in a
hallowed intimacy with Him who is the Father of their spirits and the God
of their salvation.
One God and One Lord (v. 6)
Scriptures. The true
The conflict, contradiction, confusion, and absurdity, conspicuous enough in the
polytheistic systems, find no place in Judaism or Christianity. The oneness of Deity is
ü the Moral Sense. The one God is:
Ø The Source of all things. “Of whom are all things.” He is the
great Originator; all things sprang from His creative touch. We know
not how — the manner is not revealed to us, the fact is. God may
have left much to man’s scientific instinct to discover; He may have
intended not a little to remain enshrouded in mystery. We may travel
reverently along the lines of true knowledge until they cease for us;
then the great truth remains still for our enlightenment and comfort.
The march backward of science is towards unity; revelation began
Ø The End of all things. “We unto [not ‘in’] Him.” What is here
asserted of some of God’s works (“we”) applies to all (see
Colossians 1:16). All things were created “unto” God; the object
of their existence terminates in God, they show forth His glory, they
subserve His purposes. The whole universe looks God wards.
So far as intelligent creatures do not find the end of their existence
in God, so far as they do not seek the Divine glory, so far they fall
out of harmony with the rest of creation and bring failure into their lives.
We are not created for ourselves, but for God; we should
therefore “glorify God in our bodies, and in our spirits, which are
His” and for Him.
We are here taught that the Head of the Christian Church was the active Power in
creation. Of the Deity, as such, were all things; through the one Lord, the second
person in the Deity, were all things. Some have been led by this verse to question
the divinity of Christ: it appears to teach it in a very impressive and convincing manner.
The administrative, mediating position occupied by Christ is indeed recognized,
but the assertion that “through” Him all things were seems scarcely susceptible
of a fair interpretation if His divinity be excluded. Moreover, this very expression,
“through Him,” is applied elsewhere to God as such (see John 1:3; Romans 11:36;
Hebrews 2:10). And the expression which we have here applied to God, “unto Him,”
is in Colossians 1:16 applied toChrist. The apostle is speaking to the Corinthians
about idols as “gods and lords.” These were all regarded as deities. In carrying
over the same terms to the realm of Christianity, there is nothing in the statements
made which should lead us to regard “Lord” as less Divine than “God.”
THE ONE LORD AND ONE GOD.
ü Believers are “through” Jesus Christ. As creatures, they are amongst
the “all things” which are said to be “through” Him. But the additional
statement, “we through him,” indicates a very special relationship.
Believers are such through Christ; they believe on Him. Through Christ
they are separated from the “all things” and made a “peculiar people.”
All that distinguishes them from others in condition and prospect is
“through” Him. He is their “Alpha and Omega.” He created all things,
and they are His new creation — a creation of a higher order and with
sublimer ends. Apart from Christ believers are nothing; through Him they
become “heirs of God.” As through Christ in the realm of nature the
chaos became order and beauty, so through Christ men pass from the
disorders of a lost state into the excellences and glories of a redeemed
and consecrated existence.
ü Believers are “unto” God. All things are, but believers are in a very
special sense. This is “through” Jesus Christ. As all the creation under the
administration of Jesus Christ is “unto God,” so in a peculiar and lofty
sense are believers. They show forth the Divine glories as none other of the
human race can. They reflect the Divine love manifested in the
transcendent work of redemption. They are presented to God as the fruits
of the Divine grace. Their “life is hid with Christ in God.” They are “not
their own.” Their lives are devoted to the Divine service. They are
“servants of God.” Once rebellious, they are now obedient; once defiled,
now purified; once lost, now saved “unto God.” Here is pre-eminently the
believer’s condition; he is emphatically “unto God.” Is this so with us? If
we are saved by Christ, for what, to what, are we saved? Some seem to be
saved for nothing in particular! Many are satisfied with being “saved,”
and never ask,” Saved for what?”
ü God is the Father to believers. In a certain restricted sense He is the
Father of all. We are all His offspring. But in a spiritual sense God is not the
Father of all. Of certain unbelievers Christ said, “Ye are of your father the
devil.” God cannot be our Father unless we are His children. There must
be the double relationship or none. Some are willing enough for God to be
their Father, but not willing at all to be His children! But the true believer
has received the adoption and cries, “Abba, Father.” High privilege indeed!
How it speaks of care, and support, and protection, and guidance, and
teaching, and love! How near to God we are brought when He becomes
our Father! Our origination is in the mysterious Deity; we are fashioned by
the hands of Christ; amid the infinities of creation receiving existence for
the Divine glory, we seek our own, and become blots on the universe
otherwise so fair; “through” Jesus Christ we become changed, redeemed;
by Him we are led back to God, and see as life’s supreme object the glory
of God, now brought so much nearer to our grasp; and as we reach the
dread presence of the Eternal, whence all things come, we lift up our eyes
and behold “our Father.” This also is “through Christ.” God is the Father
of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ has become our Brother. If Christ be our
Brother, His Father is our Father.
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