Caution: Handle God’s Possessions with Care

1 Corinthians 8:11-13

Introduction[1]

 

We will be finishing up 1 Corinthians 8 this morning. It will be helpful for us to do a bit of recap before jumping into the text. I will remind you of five things.

1. In Corinthians 8 Paul is addressing the issue of eating meat which has been sacrificed to idols (see 8:1, 4).
2. There are two different camps in the Corinthian church; the strong and the weak. The strong feel full liberty to eat meat sacrificed to idols while the weak do not. The strong can eat such idol meat with a good conscience because they understand that there is only one God and that idols are nothing in the world (8:4). The weak, on the other hand, are those who have recently converted out of idolatry (8:7). Because they have recently converted out of idolatry they are still in the process of adjusting to the basic, fundamental truths of Christianity. They weak cannot eat meat sacrificed to idols with a good conscience because, being new to the Christian faith, although they have embraced Christian truth, they have yet to understand the full implications of Christian truth.
3. Paul agrees with the strong theologically (vss. 4-6). However, he rebukes the strong for not being willing to give up the right of eating idol meat for the sake of their recently converted, vulnerable brothers and sisters in the faith.
4. Paul’s greatest concern is that these newly converted brothers and sisters will fall back into idolatry by mindlessly imitating their spiritual mentors (the strong). The weaker brothers have always and only eaten meat sacrificed to idols as an act of worship to whatever idol the meat was sacrificed to. They do not know how to distinguish between eating idol meat and worshipping idols. What the strong do with knowledge, the weak will do ignorantly (vs. 10). Paul’s concern is not that the weak will feel uncomfortable by the actions of the strong. His concern, rather, is that the weak will literally fall back into idolatry by ignorantly following the example of the strong. What the strong eat as a simple meal the weak will eat as an act of idolatrous worship.
5. Paul’s basic instruction is directed to the strong. His admonition is to patiently and lovingly set aside eating meat sacrificed to idols for the sake of the spiritual well-being of the weak in Corinth.

In this message we will be focusing primarily on vss. 11-13. In these 3 verses Paul underscores the seriousness of his instruction. The actions of the strong are not small or inconsequential. Ultimately, Paul communicates that the strong are in sin. They are running roughshod over those who are vulnerable to the pull of idolatry without a concern for how it will ultimately affect their spiritual wellbeing. This to Paul is sin as we will see in vs. 11. That is, those who are carelessly pursuing what is rightfully theirs to do the detriment of their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are in rebellion against God. Paul agrees with them theologically. However, he calls them to flat out repentance in vss. 11-13. Their problem is that the knowledge of God’s word has produced in them arrogance and apathy instead of humility and love. Turn with me, then, to the passage and consider with me the seriousness of selfishly clinging to rights regardless of how it affects the people of God.

The Worth of God’s People (8:11)

In an attempt to demonstrate for the ‘strong’ in the Corinthian church the seriousness of their arrogant and selfish pursuit of rights, Paul identifies the worth of the people of God. He wants the ‘strong’ to know exactly who it is that they are tripping up. Look at vs. 11 with me.

11 Then the weak person, the brother for whom Christ died, is ruined by your knowledge.

Do you see what Paul does here in vs. 11? He clarifies for the strong exactly who the weak are. He wants them to understand that the weak are not to be regarded as useless. No! The weak first of all are their brethren. They are co-heirs with Christ. They have been adopted into the same family. But he wants them to understand something even more important. He wants the strong to see that the weak are those “for whom Christ died.” The weak are not just God’s image bearers; they are God’s blood bought image bearers! Do you see how serious this is? The strong are treating God’s blood-bought possessions as if they were dispensable. They are handling them without care. So Paul reminds the strong of who the weak are so that they might see the seriousness of their actions.

Kristal and I watch the Antiques Roadshow on a regular basis. A few weeks ago we watched an episode where a middle aged lady brought in a rough looking wooden bowl. Now I am not sure of all of the details of the story (because I only saw it once and the details escape me), but I will do my best to give the basic jist of the story. The woman who brought the bowl in said that it was given to her by her grandmother who had apparently grew up in Germany. She told the expert appraiser that she had only kept it around because it was the only thing she had left to remind her of her grandmother. The appraiser asked her where she had put the bowl. She chuckled and said that it sat on top of her t.v. at home—it was used for the purpose of holding dvd’s and other odds and ends. The appraiser told her that it might be best to put it elsewhere. In classic Antiques Roadshow fashion he began to tell her the details about the bowl. Apparently it was made in Germany in the early 19th century. He explained that it was carved by one of the most infamous woodcarvers in Germany. To the surprise of the woman who brought it in the appraiser said that he would conservatively estimate that the bowl would sell at auction for at least $100,000! Immediately the woman said, “Wow! I guess I will no longer haphazardly throw dvd’s in it!” Once you know the true value of a possession, you treat it with a greater amount of care.

Paul is here putting a value on the weaker brother. He wants the strong in the church to understand that they are messing with God’s valuable possessions. If God were to hold His own form of the Antiques Roadshow for the purpose of valuing His people, each of us would wear a price tag that read, “Invaluable: Bought with the blood of Jesus”. You don’t haphazardly throw dvd’s and odds and ends in a $100,000 bowl. In the same way, you do not carelessly handle the people of God, regardless of where they are at theologically. Why? Because they are invaluable. It is sad and embarrassing that we are more careful with our cars and houses and dishes than we are with God’s blood-bought children. Turn with me to 1 Peter 1:18-19 to see the true value of the people of God.

18 For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from the fathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.

Your brothers and sisters in Christ were bought with the blood of Jesus. He spilled His blood to purchase a people for God from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation (Revelation 5:9-10). Notice how Peter speaks of the blood of Jesus. He contrasts it with the most valuable things on this earth. God hasn’t redeemed us with chincy precious medals. No, He redeemed us, purchased us, with the infinitely valuable blood of Jesus.

You have to understand that in emphasizing to the Corinthians the true value of the weaker brethren, Paul is making a statement. He identifies them as those for whom Christ died. Do you see how gross and sick the strong are? Jesus, being equal with the Father, became a man and died a gruesome, painful, and shameful death on a cross. He bore the infinite wrath of God. All of the righteous anger and holy indignation of God the Father was pointed at the sinless Jesus who hung on the cross for you and I. Jesus took the full penalty of our sin. Do you get it? Jesus gave His life under the full strength of God’s wrath for our weaker brethren and the strong are not even willing to change their diet![2] Jesus died for your brothers and sisters—He gave His all. This is embarrassing isn’t it? We cling to and hold on to our puny little rights at the expense of the spiritual wellbeing of our brothers and sisters in Christ when Jesus endured the shame and pain of the cross and infinite wrath of God as an innocent sufferer for their salvation. See what Paul says about Jesus’ self-giving spirit in 2 Corinthians 8:9.

9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty you might become rich.

I know that I reference this passage on a regular basis. I cannot help but revisit it and revisit it and revisit it. It certainly does put us in our place. Jesus set aside infinite riches for you. He assumed the posture of a slave and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). He set aside what was rightfully His for the sake of our good. How shaming is it that we would not be willing to give up our favorite music or our wardrobe or our diet or our hip and trendy styles for the sake of our struggling brethren. How much do we value each other? Do we value each other enough to give up our rights?

Sinning Against Christ (8:12)

In vs. 12 Paul identifies the careless and selfish actions of the strong as being nothing less than sin.

12 Now when you sin like this against the brothers and wound their weak conscience, you are sinning against Christ.

Paul does not see the actions of the strong as merely evidencing a lack of wisdom. Paul comes right out and calls it for what it is. The arrogance and selfishness of the strong that is leading to the real spiritual ruin of the weak is nothing less than hardhearted rebellion against Jesus Himself. You will notice that he first speaks of it as a “sin… against the brothers.” But he doesn’t stop there. Although this certainly is a sin against the weaker brothers, Paul ultimately identifies this as a sin against Jesus Christ Himself—‘you are sinning against Christ.’ To sin against the people of God is to sin against Jesus Himself. Why? For a few reasons. First, because all sin is ultimately against God. After all, if you steal a man’s car, although you are taking something that does belong to him, you are not ultimately breaking that man’s law; you are breaking God’s law. This is why after sinning against Uriah the Hittite by sleeping with his wife and directly plotting his murder, David prays the following to God in Psalm 51:4:

“Against You—You alone—I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight. So You are right when You pass sentence; You are blameless when You judge.

David understood that his actions against Uriah were ultimately an affront not against Uriah but against God. This does not mean that he didn’t sin against Uriah, but it certainly does mean that his sin was not ultimately against Uriah. David understood that he was not accountable ultimately to Uriah—he was not going to have to answer before the judgment seat of Uriah, but before the judgment seat of God. Second, sins specifically against the people of God are ultimately against Jesus because God’s people are God’s possession. Do you remember what Paul said earlier about God’s people? Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

19b You are not your own, 20 for you were bought at a price.

If Jesus died for you, you are God’s property. Jesus gave His life to purchase you, therefore you are His. To sin against the people of God, then, is to sin against God Himself because the people of God are His goods. For the strong to selfishly and arrogantly wound the conscience of the weak is for the strong to assault God’s blood-bought servants. Lastly, to sin against the people of God is to sin against Jesus Himself because Jesus is one with His people (see John 15:5-7; 1 John 3:24; 4:13-16). This is why Jesus is referred to as the head of the church and we as His body (Ephesians 5:22-33). This reality is most clearly evident in Acts 9:1-6.

1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest 2 and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. 4 Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ 5 ‘Who are You, Lord?’ he said. 6 ‘I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting’…

So Paul is running around the ancient world imprisoning the people of God. While on his way to wreak more havoc on the people of God, Jesus strikes him with blindness and says to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting the church’. No! Actually He doesn’t charge Paul with persecuting the church. Jesus charges Paul with persecuting Jesus Himself. How can He make this logical leap? Well, it isn’t a logical leap. Jesus is, after all, one with His people. To persecute them is to persecute Him. Let me put it this way; how you treat the people of God is how you treat God Himself. I don’t have to ask you whether you prize Jesus or not, I just need to see how you prize His people. I don’t need to ask you whether you are passionate for God, I just need to observe how passionately you serve and love His people. He is one with those He came to save.

Paul rebukes the strong not ultimately for selfishly and arrogantly causing the spiritual ruin of the weak. Paul rebukes the strong for beating Christ Himself. The strong are in sin. Certainly, they are theologically correct to see that meat sacrificed to idols is not inherently sinful. However, they have sinned against Christ by having no regard for His body.

Drastic Measures (8:13)

In vs. 13 Paul demonstrates the length which we willing should go to protect our brothers and sister in Christ from falling into gross and heinous sin.

13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to fall, I will never again eat meat, so that I won’t cause my brother to fall.

In this last verse Paul is using hyperbole—he is speaking in extremes to make a clear point. All throughout 1 Corinthians 8 Paul has been addressing the issue of meat sacrificed to idols. Here Paul seems to almost change subjects. You would think that he would have said, ‘Therefore, if food causes my brother to fall, I will never again eat meat sacrificed to idols…’ But he doesn’t say that. He doesn’t say that he will merely give up eating meat sacrificed to idols. Rather, he states that he will go to the extreme and give up meat altogether. Not only will he give up idol meat, he will become an all-out vegetarian! He is saying that there is no limit to how willing he is to accommodate a weaker, vulnerable brother. Paul, like Jesus, did not cling to his rights at the expense of the wellbeing of his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. He was more than willing to do whatever it might take to make sure that the pursuit of his rights did not become a stumbling block to his fellow blood-bought brothers and sisters in Christ.

Let me give you a similar situation. Suppose someone were to approach me about the fact that I wear jeans when I preach. They give me sufficient reason to believe that me wearing jeans in the pulpit is leading them into all sorts of real heinous sin and rebellion. Paul would respond like such; “Brother, if me wearing jeans in the pulpit is the cause of your spiritual ruin as I am convinced it is, not only will I not wear jeans in the pulpit ever again, I will not wear pants at all (not that I will preach in my undies)—I will go to the extreme of preaching in a kilt for the rest of my days. If it means the preservation of your soul, I will go against any and every cultural norm to make sure that I am not in any way leading you into sin.

How willing are you to dispense with your rights for the sake of the well-being of your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? This, to Paul, is an issue of obedience. This is why Paul says;

Romans 15:1 Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves.

If you love your rights more than the people of God, you are in sin. If you protect your rights more than you protect the well-being of your brothers and sisters in Christ you are in sin. Bottom line. It is essential that we be willing to set aside any right that we may have for the sake of our fellow siblings in the faith. Some may feel that this is a slippery slope: ‘Once we accommodate one weak brother, where will we stop? Pretty soon everyone in the church is going to be sporting their weak conscience to get their own way.’ This is not true. This is not a slippery slope. If we merely take the necessary biblical steps to distinguish between a genuine struggling, weaker, vulnerable brother and super-spiritual legalists who want to inflict God’s people with their own agendas and preferences, adopting Paul’s attitude toward those who are truly weak will never enslave the church or make her ineffective with the Gospel. But the church must learn to discern the difference.

I have decided that it would be counter-productive to give a parallel modern day situation to 1 Corinthians 8. Why? Because I think we need to approach this with an open mind. The principle which Paul lays forth, and ultimately the spirit of 1 Corinthians 8 is that we need to be willing to give up whatever may cause a brother to fall into gross and heinous error. I don’t want us to start categorizing what would constitute a 1 Corinthians 8 situation and what would not. The point that Paul clearly lays forth is that we must be willing to forgo what is rightfully ours, no matter how petty or puny or insignificant it may seem, for the sake of our fellow blood-bought brethren.

Conclusion

We must keep the cross at the center of all that we do. If the cross loses its place of first importance in the church we will lose both our ability to value the true worth of God’s people (bought with the blood of Jesus) and we will lose site of the radical standard of love which He has called us to. The cross is not just the basis of our hope, it is the center of our calling. We are called to both embrace the crucified Christ and to follow Him as our example. Behold the great salvation that Christ has won for you on the cross! Our calling is to receive the love of Christ and then to bend out that same self-sacrificial love and grace to our fellow brothers and sisters. If we keep the person and cross work of Jesus at the center of all that we do, we will understand that the standard is radical, because the standard is to “accept one another, just as the Messiah also accepted you, to the glory of God” (Romans 15:7).

Paul shifts the focus of the strong to the cross so that they might adopt this very same perspective (in vs. 10). And I can promise you one thing, you will never be called to lay down your rights for your fellow brothers and sisters more than Christ laid down His rights for you. How can this be the case? Because His rights are truly His rights. He deserves every right that He has while our rights are gifts of grace. Not only that, but God will never call you to, as a sinless person, take the infinite wrath of God in the place of depraved rebels who have transgressed your own law. The standard that God has given us is radical. And yet God has called us to a sub-bunny hill version of what He has done for us. This is not to say that you can be lax about fulfilling the law of Christ. Rather, it should cause you see the standard that God has set for you with the understanding that He has done infinitely more for you than you could ever do for your brethren. You will never love another like Jesus has loved you.

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[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman HCSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 378.