January 29 2012
1 Corinthians 8:1 Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. 4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth–as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”– 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. 7 However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
Sometimes when we look at ourselves, our church body, our own congregation even, all we see are problems. There are financial problems, problems with attendance, problems finding people to volunteer to do things. There are people who don’t seem to want to do their share of the work or help out in the church. These are just the little things. We also see problems getting along with each other, fighting and bickering, personality conflicts, differences in opinion. It would be so refreshing if just once we could all get along together and see eye-to-eye on something. If we could just be united and all have the same vision and goals and work together with a unified purpose and mission. That would be a God pleasing thing. That is the way God wants it to be in his church and among his people. “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you,” says Jesus. That we would “be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Doing nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant that yourselves,” says St. Paul (Phil 2:2-3). But that goal seems like the impossible dream.
Fact of the matter is, the church at Corinth was just the same. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians mainly deal with issues and problems in the church. There were divisions, infighting, church members living in sexual immorality, even Holy Communion was being abused and used improperly.
Here in our text today, Paul is addressing still another of these problems. The question of eating food which had been sacrificed to idols was the cause of another division and quarrel in the congregation of Corinth. Now it is not likely that anytime soon someone will bring food offered to idols to a church pot-luck here at Emmanuel, however, the underlying problem is one common to all congregations. In fact the real problem was not the food. Paul, in our text 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.” The real problem Paul was addressing, was that some people in the church thought they knew more than others, and they tried to impose their way on the rest of the group. They thought they were more spiritual than others in the congregation and that they knew and understood more than the rest.
The same thing happens today. Some think they know more than the rest. Some think they are on a higher spiritual level. Others look down on those who do not do their share of the work around the church. While some are just plain “know-it-alls” who think they know better than the rest how things should be done. This issues today may not be about food offered to idols, but the problem is the same—pride in our hearts which is lack of love for one another. As Paul states, “knowledge puffs up.” It makes us arrogant. It makes us feel superior. It makes us proud.
One example might be people who boast about their college degrees or graduate degrees. Another example are those who have done the same job in the church for several years and think only they know how to do it right. Another would be those who judge and criticize anyone who makes a mistake or oversight. Knowledge puffs up. And arrogance and pride are what comes from a sinful heart; a heart without love. Such puffed-up-ness shows a sinful heart, the one that we were all born with.
However, Paul says here, “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.” We all know someone who is a “know-it-all.” Someone who is always correcting everyone else and letting them know what the truth really is. Fact is, you and I have all had these attitudes at one time or another. We all think we know more about something than someone else. But Paul says, “If that’s how you feel, you don’t yet know as you ought.” In other words, the person who thinks he knows it all is the person who does not fully understand. For with true understanding comes the realization of how much more there is to know. When a teacher asks his students if they have any questions, and no one raises his hand, the teacher does not think to himself, “Boy, I must have done a really great job of teaching today for all my students are now masters of the subject.” No! The teacher says to himself, “Apparently they haven’t grasped the subject yet. They don’t understand it well enough even to know what the questions are.”
So it is with knowledge. The person who imagines that he is more spiritual, or knows God better, or is a master of God’s Word and doesn’t need to learn more, is the one who does not yet understand. With true knowledge comes humility.
And that is our problem. We know so little that we don’t even realize how much more there is yet to know. So Paul says, “knowledge puffs up; it makes us proud and arrogant. But love builds up.” The real issue here is love. The person who is proud and feels superior to others, lacks love. He is living in sinful disobedience to the command of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Love does not puff up, but builds up those around you.
But true love starts with God’s love. Paul says, “if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” Ultimately, says Paul, what good is all that knowledge you have? You may have great learning. You may be a doctor of science or of law or of the Scripture. You may be a super spiritual Christian. Paul says, “If I understand all mysteries and have all knowledge, and have all faith so as to remove mountains, but if I have not love, I am nothing.” Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant, or rude, it does not puff up.”
“But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” It’s not important what you know because in the end it won’t do you any good. If you have the highest grades in school, the most degrees, the highest level of learning imaginable, it doesn’t matter in the end. You are going to die and it won’t make one bit of difference what you know. The only knowledge that counts for anything in the end, is what God knows: that God knows you!
God knew you from before the creation of the world. Before he made the world, He chose you to be his children, and “he predestined you to be conformed to the image of his Son. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29f). To be known by God means all your sins have been forgiven. You have been declared righteous in Christ. You have been saved from God’s wrath and given eternal life in his kingdom.
And all this he did in and through his Son, Jesus Christ, the one Lord through whom are all things and through whom we exist. While we go around boasting of our great knowledge, of how great we are, of how spiritual we are, the Lord Jesus Christ humbled himself to the cross and gave his life for you. That’s right, true knowledge and true loves brings with it humility. Jesus emptied himself of his infinite knowledge and power and glory, to become one of us. By his incarnation, his holy life, his humility, his suffering and death, and his resurrection your sins were forgiven and you were given eternal life and the promise of resurrection. At baptism God made you his child. That is the knowledge the counts. That in Baptism he knew you and placed his name on you. The only knowledge that matters in the end is that God knew you before the creation of the world, and in His Son Jesus, he has redeemed you and that in Baptism He made you his sons and daughters.
Rather than boast of your knowledge, says Paul, our boasting is in the Lord. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (I Cor 1:31; II Cor 10:17) Our glory is in the Lord. Paul says, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (II Cor 11:30) Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, says Paul, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses….Be it far from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
James says, “you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” It comes from a heart of sin. But the work of faith is love. Love does not puff up, rather love builds up. It builds up one another. It builds up your neighbor. That is the point of what Paul here tells the church in Corinth: “By your knowledge the weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. If food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat again.” The point here is that love does whatever it takes to build up your neighbor. To strengthen him. To lift him up. Love does not tear down, but builds up. Love is not arrogant or proud, but considers “others more important than yourself.” (Phil. 2:3 NAS) Love “suffers all things, believes all things, hopes all thing, endures all things.” And that love is what God gives to those he knows. You cannot change your heart. You cannot decide to start loving your neighbor. The heart can only be changed by God’s love for you; he knows you. You can only love because He knows you in Baptism, he knows you in Holy Communion. It is here, in Word and Sacrament that he knows you and gives you a heart full of love for one another.
Thanks be to God. Amen.