An Outline of Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (Part 16)

M.A. Rudge

Christian Liberty: Its Use and Abuse (6:12-11:1)

In chapter 8, Paul deals with another subject which had been referred to him by the Corinthians, "now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge" (v. 1). "Things offered unto idols," is a reference to meat left over after sacrifice to idols and which was available for sale (10:25). It is not a live issue today, as it was an issue in Paul’s day, when it was closely linked with moral impurity (Acts 15:29; 21; 25; Rev. 14:20). The association with idol-temples, raised wide-ranging issues about associations and fellowship, and the way in which they affect the believer’s relationship with God and fellowship in the local assembly. The apostle deals with the principles involved in this issue, which are still relevant today. This is given a further application in 10:19-11:1.

Paul commences by saying that although all Christians have a certain amount of knowledge concerning idol-gods and the sacrifices offered to them (vv. 1,4), there are different types and degrees of knowledge. Some are not so well informed or as clear in their understanding as others (v. 7). There is a need to "take heed lest by any means this (supposed) liberty of yours (to be involved in matters associated with idol-temples) become a stumbling block to them that are weak" (v. 9). They are brethren, "for whom Christ died" (v. 11). He ends by referring to his own example in exercising restraint upon personal liberty in the interests of his weaker brethren (v. 13). This is in keeping with the general subject in this section of Christian Liberty.

The words "we know that we all have knowledge" (v. 1), refers to knowledge of the one true God (vv. 4-6), but in verse 7, it is qualified by, "Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge...", which is a reference to the nothingness of idols (4b). The knowledge of the one true God, is possessed by all Christians. The apostle commences with a digression in which he distinguishes between a vain and meaningless type of knowledge and true knowledge. "Knowledge puffeth up but charity edifieth. . .But if any man love God, the same is known of Him." (vv. 2-3). "Knowledge" by itself has the tendency to give an inflated sense of self-importance, to "puff up", but true knowledge is inseparable from love, i.e. love of God and "love buildeth up." In the first instance, the person only thinks he knows. It is an assumption, an empty pretence. He "knoweth nothing" of true knowledge, "as he ought to know." (v. 2). "But if any man love God, the same is known of Him" (v. 3). It may seem surprising, but it is instructive that Paul speaks first of love to God in a situation which called for love and consideration to be expressed towards fellow-believers. This is always the Divine order (1 Jn. 4:8; 5:2). Knowledge by itself, is not the answer to the questions being asked but love is.

We might have expected Paul to say, "But if any man loves God, the same knows God," but to know a person is not necessarily the same thing as being "known by Him." The expression, "the same is known by Him," implies a greater intimacy (Gal. 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:19; Psa. 1:6). "In a residence everyone knows the monarch; but everyone is not known by him." (Godet). "The same" is a person who has the true knowledge in contrast to an assumed knowledge and this person is "known by Him." God only imparts this knowledge to those who He knows truly love Him.

(8:4-6) "As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth (as there be gods many and lords many), but to us there is but one God, the Father, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things and we by Him."

In verse 4, "we know" is true knowledge derived from Divine revelation and is true of all believers. It is firstly knowledge of the nothingness of idols and secondly, the knowledge of the one true God; who has been revealed as "God the Father" by the Son. The fictitious, idol-gods existed only in the imagination of their adherents and were only gods in name, although the demon power associated with idol worship was real enough (10:19-21). The contrast with heathen deities and the prepositions which are used in verse 6, both point to the mediatorial role which the Lord Jesus Christ has assumed, in order to bring about the revelation of the one true God. As God, the Father, is contrasted with the principal heathen deities, Christ, the Lord, is contrasted with the secondary deities who served as mediators between the great gods and the world.

It is important to see that the verses do not imply that Deity belongs exclusively to the Father any more than they imply that lordship belongs exclusively to the Lord Jesus Christ. The verses teach us the way that the true knowledge of God has been revealed to those who are believers in the present dispensation. In order to make this possible, relative positions have been taken by Divine Persons who are each equal with one another. These arrangements do not and cannot affect the truth of the essential Deity of the Son or the Holy Spirit. The true knowledge of the one true God and the only true knowledge we have, has been brought to us through the Son, who has "declared Him" (Jn. 1:18; 5:20, Cp. Jude 4). This knowledge requires us to understand and acknowledge the relative positions that have been taken by the Son and the Holy Spirit to bring this revelation to us. It has been said that the Father alone remained in the "position" of absolute Godhood. While necessarily retaining their essential Deity, in order to accomplish this purpose of grace, the Son and apparently (though little is said of this) the Holy Spirit have voluntarily subjected themselves to the Father (Phil. 2:5-7; Jn. 14:26 and 15:26). So the Son, although essentially one with the Father, declares Him to be officially "greater" than Himself, inasmuch as the Father sent Him and gave Him commandment (Jn 14:28). JG Toll - Present Truth (March 1987).

(8:7-13) "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. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." In verse 1 the definite article is omitted before "knowledge," i.e. we all have some" knowledge. But in verse 7, the definite article is used before "knowledge" to indicate a specific knowledge. One is general and the other specific. All have the monotheistic knowledge in general (a certain knowledge, v. 1) but the precise knowledge which is in question here (the heathen deities do not exist and consequently cannot contaminate either the meat offered to them or those who eat them), this knowledge is not in all, has not yet penetrated the conscience of all to the quick, so as to free them from every scruple (Godet) .

In verse 7, "that knowledge" is the knowledge required to eat meats offered to idols without harm to the conscience or the spiritual life. When the weak brother’s conscience is defiled as a result of acting contrary to its promptings, his communion with God is lost and the spiritual life is affected. The conscience must be continually regulated by the word of God and it is a necessary, ongoing, educational process if we are to be exercised "to have always a conscience void of offence before God and men." The connection between verse 8 and the previous verse is that by eating meats offered to idols the "strong" or unexercised brother, may lead the "weak" brother to do what is contrary to his conscience, which is not in his best interests. In verse 9, "this liberty, " while seemingly it is a strength, has the potential to harm others if it is not exercised with care. What we feel at liberty to do although unimportant in itself, can have serious consequences for others (vv. 8-9).

"Knowledge has to overcome inheritance and environment, prejudice, fear, and many other hindrances. The idol-taint clings in their mind to this meat. ‘Being weak,’ it (the conscience) is defiled, not by the partaking of polluted food, for food cannot pollute (Mark 7:18; Luke 11:41) but by the doing of something which the unenlightened conscience does not allow. Even if unenlightened, one must act according to his conscience, a sensitive gauge to one’s spiritual condition. Knowledge breaks down as a guide with the weak or unenlightened conscience" (A. T. Robertson).

In verses 10 and 11, "knowledge" is an assumed but imperfect knowledge and a misunderstanding of the true nature of Christian liberty. Paul warns of the danger of its exercise becoming a stumbling block to others with disastrous results (vv. 10-12). There is an obvious contrast between "emboldened," lit ‘built up’ (v. 10) and "love buildeth up" (v. 1). In the first instance, the weak brother is ‘built up’ to do what is to the detriment of his spiritual welfare. In the second instance, love ‘builds up’, as a result of consideration for the spiritual welfare of others. Knowledge by itself could cause a person to feel free to partake of meats offered to idols but love would refrain from this use of personal liberty, where the interests of others was an issue.

While every consideration must be given to the conscientious scruples of others, Romans 15:2 sets a limit to being governed by the scruples of others. Liberty is not to be sacrificed at the whim of others. A line should be drawn when it is not for "edification."

The weak brother is probably a person with a background of association with heathen deities, who has not been able to free himself from the idea that they are real, instead of imaginary. He feels that the meats offered to idols must not be eaten. He should have been freed from this at conversion but the illusion persists and cannot altogether be ignored. He is a "brother... for whom Christ died" (v. 11), which is yet another reference to the death of Christ in the epistle, with a practical bearing, designed to act as a remedy (Cp. v. 12c). Christ not only died in order that we might not perish eternally, but also in order that our lives should be saved for Him. What a tragedy if we should become a stumbling block to others by our example, and in so doing, become the means of ruining the spiritual lives of others who have been saved at such a cost from perishing eternally.

"Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend, " (v. 13), draws together all the teaching of the chapter and adds to it the personal example of the apostle.