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The Sunday Sermon – 1st Corinthians 8:9-13


Liberty, Conscience and Example!
1st Corinthians 8:9-13

There has been another request from Corinth. There are people who think nothing of eating meat that has been offered to idols. There are others who would never eat such meats. There has been a row between them. The ‘eaters’ have claimed the grounds of ‘knowledge’ arguing that everyone knows that idols are just lumps of wood, they don’t exist, and so why should we avoid eating meat because of a lump of wood or stone? Anyone who says differently is pathetically stupid indeed.
But the ‘abstainers’ also have a good argument. Buying the meat at the temple butchers’ shops encourages people to sacrifice, for it financially supports the temple, pays the wages of the temple priests and priestesses, and so promotes evil in the city.

Let me use a modern example. A church was offered a lottery grant for good purposes. It was supplying the necessary funds for a project which would bring people into contact with the church, and who knows, through subsequent witnessing, someone may be saved. So a debate raged! Some people said yes! Take the money; we’ll put it to good use! Others said No! If we take it we are saying that we support the lottery, and we are giving credence to a system that takes money from the poorest people in society, and perhaps encourages people toward a lifetime gambling addiction. The ‘takers’ replied, “But we don’t know where any money has come from, who knows what we are encouraging” The ‘refusers’ countered, but we DO know where this money is coming from…” It was a real dilemma.

As we saw in our last study, Paul opens the teaching on this subject by making three basic points:

All our knowledge must be tempered by LOVE. In other words, it is not just enough to assert a truth, and to do so in a way which belittles or disparages others. Truth and Grace, Knowledge and Love, always go together!

Young or immature Christians must be gently led on in their Christian pathway.

There are certain foundational truths on which we can never compromise, and which should help us to know where to draw the line when ethical decisions need to be made! In this case, in the matter of idolatry, there is only one God! That is absolutely basic to any discussion on the matter!

Now, Paul adds another factor to be taken into account. A Christian must never do ANYTHING which would cause another believer to stumble!

The Question of Liberty!
1 Cor. 8:9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. This is the very essence of Christianity! The Christian is free! He has liberty! His sin is forgiven and his slavery is cancelled! What glorious freedom!

In 1838, after a strong emancipation movement among blacks, slavery was abolished in Jamaica, to take effect on August 1. On the evening of the last day in July a large company of former slaves gathered on the beach for a solemn, yet joyous, occasion. A large mahogany coffin had been constructed and placed on the sand next to an accommodating hole in the beach. All evening the soon-to-be-emancipated slaves placed, with some ceremony, symbols of their enslavement. There were chains, leg-irons, whips, padlocks, and other similar symbols of slavery. A few minutes before midnight came the box was lowered into the hole in the beach. Pushing sand into the hole to cover the coffin, all joined their voices with one accord to sing: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below, praise him above ye heavenly host, praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” They were free from their slavery.

How much they were like Christians, who, through Christ’s death are free from their slavery to sin. And how like them are Christians, who in heaven shall be free from the very reminder and presence of sin. We are to cherish that liberty! Paul says, Galatians 5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. But please understand that:-

Christian liberty implies responsibilities! Just because we have LIBERTY that does not mean we can do whatever we like! We live in a free country; we are free to do whatever we want! But we cannot break the law!

Someone once used the illustration of a Russian who arrived in the UK during the ‘Cold War.’ He had been used to the oppressive regime of the USSR and he was so happy to be in the West, where he could be free! So he got out of bed one morning, walked down to the local car park and picked himself a nice car, and drove it a 100mph through a busy town! Before long he was up before the judge, and his defence plea was, “But this is a free country! You can do whatever you like here!” You can imagine the reaction of the judge as he passed down the sentence! “Freedom implies responsibilities!” The Christian has freedom, but with freedom comes responsibility!

The word rendered liberty here is ‘εξουσια (exousia). It literally means POWER or RIGHT. Now ‘rights’ is one of the so-called ‘buzz words’ of today. Everyone has their rights, and everyone demands that their rights are respected. We now have the European Human Rights Act incorporated into our law. To the Corinthians Paul says, “When you demand your rights, remember that if that right harms others, you should never insist upon it!” Galatians 5:13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

Our liberty can be a stumbling block to others! Here Paul mentions, in this instance, these new, weak Christians. I would extend that to others as well! A Christian should never go out of his way to cause deliberate offence or to trip up another Christian! You can see all the modern applications! Some might argue that a Christian has the right to: DRINK ALCOHOL, WATCH HORROR MOVIES, GO TO DISCOS, BE INVOLVED IN PARTY POLITICS, etc. But, the great ethical question is, WILL MY ACTIONS BE DETRIMENTAL TO OTHER CHRISTIANS! Romans 14:13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. Romans 14:21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.

This applies to everything we do! Paul argues here “take heed lest BY ANY MEANS.” Every single action, every ethical decision, every moral dilemma which a Christian must face must be tested by this, “Will my decision cause another brother to stumble?”

So Christian liberty is heavily circumscribed! I wonder is Paul being a little sarcastic! Later he will speak of how eating in a pagan temple as being ‘communion with demons.’ 1 Cor. 10:21 Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils. It is a clear instance of people demanding a freedom which is in fact prohibited by another portion of God’s Word. They did not know that as yet, but now they do! So Christian freedom is never lawlessness, there is a balance between freedom and the precepts of the Word. Our freedom is restricted by God’s written precepts, and we cannot go against the Word, and then claim liberty as our excuse! These people are saying, “There is no harm in sitting in the idol’s temple for a meal! It will not affect me, in fact it is my right to do so, I am free!” Paul implies, “Your defense of freedom must be tested against the rest of God’s Word!”

So we have great liberty as Christians, but we must exercise that liberty in a way consistent with the word, and in a way that will not hinder or offend other believers. We must take Christ Himself as our great example in this matter. Think of the great freedoms, rights and liberties he gave up for us on the Cross. He laid aside His rights, to die on the Cross. He had the right to defend Himself, the right to call upon the host of angels, the right to deliverance, the right not to suffer, but He laid aside those rights when He laid aside His majesty. He did that for us, weak and frail believers. Can we not do that for others believers? 1 John 2:10 He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.

Again a word of warning. Paul here is talking to saved, born-again believers, about saved, born-again believers. He is not telling us that we are to take account of the sensitivities of this world in our walk and witness! On the contrary, we are to be salt and light in this world. Salt is abrasive! The Gospel message itself is deliberately offensive to sinners, for it points out to them their true condition, and informs them that they are unable to help themselves!

The Question of Conscience!
Paul now addresses the matter of conscience. He makes two simple, but very important points.

Firstly, that everyone’s conscience is different. 8:10-11. Conscience is a strange thing. It is that little inward voice that tells you when something you are doing is wrong. But it can be salved. It can be conditioned and others can influence it. Because of this, conscience alone is not enough to guide a Christian, it is far too subjective. We need to inform our consciences with God’s Word! Paul notices this point here. 1 Cor. 8:10 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 to eat those things which are offered to idols; You can see what might happen. Some of these young Christians were being taken along to the idol’s temple to eat. Afterwards, they were terribly conscience-stricken, and they knew that they had done something terribly wrong. They just couldn’t handle the awful feeling of guilt! They couldn’t forgive themselves for what they had done, and they couldn’t accept that God would forgive them for such a thing. In despair, they began to slide back into the world. They employed the old argument, “I would love to follow Jesus, but I know I just couldn’t keep it!” The fact that it was older, supposedly more mature Christians who were involved in this ‘eating’ actually helped to bring this situation about. They were respected. They were the natural leaders. They should have been a firm example! Listen to what Jesus said, Mark 9:42 And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.

Secondly, When you wound a brother, you wound Christ! 8:11-12. It is a great sin to wound the conscience of a brother in Christ! A wounded spirit causes a man or a woman to give up, or to be discouraged. Remember if a person is a true believer, then Christ dwells within Him in the person of the Holy Spirit. When we look at a believer, regardless of how imperfect that believer is, we must learn to see Christ in that believer! We must remember not to harm him in any way!

Also, when we teach a brother, we must be careful how our knowledge is applied! Paul refers here to the use of knowledge. through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died So we must be careful, in how our knowledge is applied to others! Of course we must impart knowledge to young believers. We must guide them, and help them and teach them the way of Christ. But we must do so positively, by way of encouragement, not negatively, by way of criticism and put-down! Acts 20:35 I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. Cf Romans 14:1, Romans 15:1, 1 Thes. 5:14, 1 Peter 1:22

The Question of Encouragement!
1 Cor. 8:13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. We must do absolutely nothing in our assembly, which might cause a brother to stumble. Think before you act! Ask, “Am I a stepping-stone, or a stumbling block?”

The story is told how, as a boy, a young man worked long hours in a factory in Naples. He longed to be a singer. When ten years old, he took his first lesson in voice. ‘You can’t sing. You haven’t any voice at all. Your voice sounds like the wind in the shutters,’ said his teacher. The boy’s mother, however, had visions of greatness for her son. She believed that he had a talent to sing. She was very poor. Putting her arms around him she encouragingly said, ‘My boy, I am going to make every sacrifice to pay for your voice lessons.’ Her confidence in him and constant encouragement paid off! That boy became one of the worlds greatest singers — Enrico Caruso! Not many will become as famous as Caruso, but without the confidence and encouragement of His mother, he would never have succeeded!

With God’s help and using the gifts he has given to each of us — whether they be great or small — we, too can be a stepping stone for others, instead of being stumbling blocks!”

From → Sermon Notes

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