Rev. L. Althouse
July 9, 2006
Background Scripture: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. Devotional Reading: Mark 9:42-48.
Much of 1 Corinthians consists of Paul’s answers to specific questions directed to him by the church at Corinth. Chapter 8 represents his response to a problem that at first may seem very remote to us: to eat or not eat food offered as sacrifices in pagan temples.
Animals sacrificed in the pagan temples were sold as food to the general public. In Corinth, some Christians purchased these meats and served them in their homes. Others, however, believed this was wrong, the meat being spiritually tainted by the pagan worship.
This is, of course, no longer a problem for Christians, but there are similar problems that do confront us. To what extent is it permissible for a Christian to participate in the materialistic culture of our society today? What kind of literature may the Christian read?
What movies or television should we watch? What kind of dress code should Christians adopt? How does being a follower of Jesus Christ affect what we choose to do or not to do?
Shall we dance?
I recently attended the 50th reunion of my seminary graduating class. Attending was a classmate with whom during our student days I had had a strong disagreement. In those days there were many in my denomination who believed that social dancing was incompatible with Christian morals. I personally saw nothing unchristian about dancing and enjoyed it, but my classmate said that dancing was “of the Devil.” He told me that dancing encouraged in him lewd thoughts and feelings and that, as Paul seemed to teach in 1 Cor. 8, I should not engage in it lest my dancing should cause “my brother to fall.” (8:13)
I wasn’t sure then nor am I now that eating meat offered to idols and dancing are on the same moral level. I would agree that, if my Christian brother could not dance without sinful thoughts and emotions, he ought not to dance. Nor would I seek to flaunt my dancing in his face. At the same time, I would not take a pledge not to dance because of his belief that it was evil. We ought not to call “sin” what we do believe is “not sin.” (Actually, he no longer has a problem with dancing, but the conflict is still illustrative.)
Pride of knowledge
The crux of the matter is the belief that my knowledge of what God wants us to do or not to do is something we must impose upon others. Paul says: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If one imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if one loves God, one is known by him.” (8:1-3)
Knowledge is not the problem, but pride of knowledge is.
If my ‘knowledge’ of God’s will puffs me up, then I have neither knowledge nor love. If my ‘knowledge’ strips us of humility, then it is a liability, not an asset. Knowledge should make us humble, not proud and it should not keep us from loving others. The world is filled with those who believe that they alone know the will of God. What God wants is for us to witness, not by our superior knowledge, but by our superior love. We may be divided by our ‘knowledge,’ but God calls us to be united by our love.
Like Paul, I do not want to occasion someone else’s “fall” by what I do or do not do. I do not want my “knowledge” to be a stumbling block to others. I think we must always be concerned about the influence, positive or negative, that our lives may have on others. But Christian witness should be positive, not negative and I would not want to affirm my brother’s belief/knowledge that what one eats or does not eat is the essence of the Gospel of Christ.
As Paul says, “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” (8:8)
Nor will knowledge or lack of knowledge commend us. But arrogant pride will always be a stumbling block.
This farm news was published in the July 5, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.