1 Corinthians 8: Truth with Love
April 11, 2023
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Paul now starts to address what can helpfully be categorized as “conscience issues.” Oftentimes in church life, people confuse or conflate the difference between matters of primary importance, secondary importance, and those that are of tertiary importance. There are things about which we can hold different viewpoints in the Christian body of the church, in good conscience, and still be in good fellowship with one another and support and respect each other. In Corinth, the issue of food offered to idols was a hot button issue. If you bought meat from the marketplace, likely as not it had been used in idol worship. But how did you know for sure? And was it really wrong to eat meat that had been offered to idols? People had different views on this.
Paul establishes some important principles here that we can apply to our own conscience issues today.
First, Paul says that knowledge is important. We should not downplay the significance of knowing what is true. Paul is not making an argument for doctrinal relativism. But to know truly means to know in the way God knows—that is with love. And it is love that builds up, while having knowledge without love just puffs up. It gives you a big head, it builds your ego, but it does not help you serve other people or know how to use your knowledge to build other people up. So by all means seek knowledge—reading, studying—but as you do, pray for the love to be able to use that knowledge for the good of other people.
Second, Paul makes it clear what the true answer is. Idols are nothing. It doesn’t matter then whether you eat meat that has been offered to idols. How can it? Idols are nothing!
But third, Paul says because not everyone realizes that idols are nothing (their consciences are “weak”), that means that we should be careful not to offend other people’s consciences by how we act. “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.”
If each of these principles was applied in balance to the many issues that trouble the conscience and cause controversy in the church today across the world, we would find much greater harmony, peace, and gospel progress. Don’t downplay knowledge. By all means, educate yourself in terms of what the Bible teaches about something—be it alcohol or some other conscience issue. But having educated yourself, do not get a big head and start to go around hurting other people’s conscience who have not come to the same understanding as you yet. Avoid those issues of needless pain for other Christian believers by acting in a loving way that does not needlessly aggravate their conscience.
Or, as so often with Paul, it is truth with love.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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