1 Corinthians 8:1-6
June 10, 2018
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 16:15 in the audio file.
Or, A Primer on the God of Food
Food is a strange and fascinating subject. The growing, hunting, purchasing, preparing, cooking, eating, cleaning up from, and thinking/talking about food occupies perhaps the majority of waking hours for the majority of the people in the history of the world. Food belongs with big business, big parties, and is one of God’s big gifts.
Food is also a god for many people, used to medicate or distract, or because they believe humans have an obligation to honor the vegetables and animals that become our food. Food is associated with the gods, given from them or demanded by them. Food has been associated with sacrifices of worship since at least the sons of Adam and Eve.
The Bible says a lot about food, and food is the presenting problem in 1 Corinthians chapter 8, it is an issue again in chapters 10 and 11, and though chapter 9 isn’t about food, it provides an complementary example that teaches us something about food.
I don’t have the ambition to say everything that can be said about food in the upcoming sermons. I don’t claim to know all there is to know about food anyway. And I am particularly interested in the context in Corinth and Paul’s instructions to them first, though there are principles with plenty of application for us in a different setting with our own set of problems.
This is another branch growing from the same root problem among the Corinthians. They knew enough to be mean to each other, they heard enough of Paul’s teaching to spread their pride on almost everything. They had so-called knowledge, which actually led to so-called snobbery. They believed in the sovereignty of God, and applied that doctrine to the subject of food. But based on how they treated one another it was clear that they did not actually know the God of food.
The issue in this section of 1 Corinthians relates to conscience (verses 7, 12) over consuming certain food (verses 1, 4, 7-13) among the community of believers in a culture full of idolatry (verses 5, 9-13).
It is not a new issue; certainly Paul had worked through some of theses problems during his stay and teaching in Corinth. But some of them had taken his teaching in unhelpful ways and had written to him for confirmation. Paul does some confirming and a good amount of correcting.
Now concerning food offered to idols. This is the same formula that he used in 7:1 and 7:25 to bring up topics from their letter to which he’s replying. First was married celibacy, then singleness and betrothal, now food. The subject of food and worship takes up all of chapter 8 and much of chapters 10-11, with chapter 9 related in a different way.
Food offered to idols is one word in Greek (a form of εἰδωλόθυτος) and means “something offered to a cultic image/idol“ (BDAG). It could have been eaten in a few different contexts. It could have been food provided at social events held in a pagan temple (compare it to maybe the fellowship hall of a Baptist church), it could have been food sold by the pagan temple butcher shop, or it could have been food bought and served by a pagan friend who invited you for dinner. There is a social level, an economic level, and a personal level.
It appears that Paul quotes (as the ESV represents) from their letter: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” He will provide the content of this knowledge in verses 4 and 6, but before he talks about the knowledge, he talks about the relative importance of knowledge and how knowledge that leads to snobbery over fellow believers is not as impressive as we think.
This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. This is the same root of puffing-pride as mentioned previously in the letter (1 Corinthians 4:6), and there is an entire chapter coming up (1 Corinthians 13) that stresses love as not boasting or arrogant. There is a knowledge of truth that, ironically, is not consistent with the truth. It is accepting the truth in part, and usually the part that makes us look better. Thispuffs up the individual rather than builds up the body. The knowledge is a facade not firm, it’s posture and pretense not solid and strong.
Love means “treating someone lawfully from the heart” (see here). It means “the quality of warm regard for and interest in another” (BDAG). Love is affectionate thoughts and service for other than oneself. Self-importance, even propped up by accurately confessed theology, does not edify.
Knowledge/truth and love are easy to pit against each other. There are some who love the truth more than love in the name of Truth, and there are others who think truth/knowledge is the enemy of love because, after all, look at how much division arguing over truth has caused. What is the answer?
The answer does not require avoiding theology, it requires knowledge of theology that promotes humility and relationship. If our knowledge of God does not produce both those things, then something is wrong with our knowledge.
First: humility. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.. The truths of God’s sovereignty that Paul affirms in verses 4-6 are true, truly knowable, and also fully incomprehensible to finite minds. If we ever think that we’ve wrapped our minds around theology, we demonstrate that we have merely stuffed the theology we could into our small-minds and called it good.
Second: relationship. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. It’s not what we expect, either based on verse 2 or comparing the two halves of verse 3. What does God want with us? He hates rivals. He is jealous for His name and glory. So He desires our knowledge of the truth for sake of us not being idolators. But knowing how to identify poison does not mean that we’ve eaten any bread, and God wants us to eat! He made us to know facts about Him for sake of fellowship with Him. The glory of our salvation is not that we escape from hell, as great as that is. The glory is in being made His children.
He took the initiative. To be known by God is to be chosen by God, to be brought not only out of idolatry but also into intimacy with Him by the Son and through the Spirit. We love Him because He first knew us. This increases our humility, and it is the humble whom He exalts in His presence.
Whatever the problems related to food offered to idols, it started with a problem in the Corinthians’ worship. In one way, it didn’t matter how they claimed to be honoring God in how they handled food offered to idols because they were failing to honor the true God by their unloving (snobby) treatment of one another in the name of so-called knowledge.
It took him no time get distracted from his own reply, though it wasn’t really a distraction. Paul repeats: Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know… and now he tells us what was known. We know that “an idol has no real existence” and that “there is no God but one.” That he says we may mean that they had learned this from Paul’s own teaching. They were repeating it, but also not quite getting it, as we’ll see especially in the next paragraph (verses 7-13).
Of course idols are real things, and idolatry is a real sin that real men commit. But the idol, in name or statue, isn’t actually a god, and even when the idol represents a god “out there,” there really is no God but one. This is basic theology, Old Testament monotheism that dominated Jewish thought from Deuteronomy 6:4. “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (It is also believed by demons, James 2:19, and cognitively known by them more accurately than by men.)
That doesn’t keep people from using the word “god” to refer to many gods. For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth–as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”–. The multiplication of men on the planet brought the multiplication of rebels who then imagined and fashioned their own gods (e.g., Isaiah 44:9, 12). Polytheism is a child of sinners, contrary to the presupposition of liberal theologians that monotheism came later.
But there are many gods, so-called. They’re given the title, whether in heaven or on earth. Paul doesn’t name which ones he had in mind, but he was familiar with the Greek pantheon and the worship of planets in heaven (Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Mercury), and he also knew the deification of men and women on earth, not least claimed by Hercules, Romulus, and the Caesars (see Calvin). Various other deities were revered in Corinth (per Garland): Chronos, Poseidon, the Sun, Aphrodite, Artemis, Isis, Dionysus, Apollo, Hermes, Zeus, and Monsanto. (Oops, I’m not sure how that last one got in there).
What else would we expect from the enemies of God than that they would set up alternatives to God? What else would we expect from those who’s minds are darkened but that they would be blind to the light of truth about the true God? And since we are shaped by our worship, what else would we expect but that false worship had genuine affects?
habituated patterns of loyalty and devotion long practiced by new converts before their conversion cannot simply be brushed aside as no longer affecting their lives and attitudes in the present….“Paul believes in both the vanity and the power of the idol….But the ‘strong’ and the ‘weak’ hold merely to the vanity or the power of the idol respectively.” (Thiselton, italics his)
We, by God’s electing grace, know better: 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. That is some theology.
But note that while celebrating exclusive, sovereign, monotheism, all of which affect how to handle food offered to idols, this also celebrates God who is personal, both in His fatherhood and in His Triune nature (though the Spirit isn’t mentioned) in the incarnation of the Second Person.
Paul agrees with what he taught them. He doesn’t need to change the doctrine, but he is changing their angle on it.
We don’t worship idols because they are false. But the true God is not true “out there,” in heaven, transcendent and impersonal. We exist for God, but we exist for God as our Father. We are not known by God (verse 3) because He is the great Omniscient Databank in the Sky. We are known by God as His adopted children.
And we confess that Jesus is Lord. This is confession of our faith (see Romans 10:9), and it is an amazing declaration of the divinity of Christ along with the unity of the Godhead. There is one God, but the Father and Jesus are not the same Person.
It is through Jesus that we exist. It is by His first appearing and dwelling among men and revealing the Father to men that we know what our lives should reflect.
There are many so-called “gods” and “lords,” but we worship the God of gods and Lord of lords (Deuteronomy 10:17 and Psalm 136:2-3).
The from and for, with the through are majestic prepositions. All things, which in this (Kuyperian) context include food and persons, originate in God (their start) and are sustained by God and have their end (their telos, goal) in Him. Paul uses similar phrasing in his doxology of the God of history at the end of Romans 11, but here it is about the God of food. He made every animal and vegetable and mineral, and He made all the food for all the men whom He also made and whom He loves and wants to love one another.
Food prepositions are more important than food preparations. And food preparations, considered in any way that puffs up a person or causes him to despise another person, can be found to dishonor the God of food.
What does this make you want to do? Eat something with thanks with your people! This is feast inspiring, not tiresome or isolating. It ought not make anyone fussy, about their food or about the other person.
Food ought to make us thankful to God, and food ought to be received by us in such a way that helps us to receive and love one another. It is not only that beef and bread and bananas are a gift, but so are our brothers.
There is knowledge that feeds love, and knowledge that feeds snobbery. So-called snobbery, especially from Kuyperian Calvinists, is actually the worst. According to this paragraph, it is possible to be snobs by our theology of God’s sovereignty. Truth, partially understood and applied, does divide sinfully, and can be loved in such a way that keeps us from loving one another.
There is more about food and fellowship, personal rights and community righteousness, meat and monotheism (and Monsanto) to come.
The charge today is not to make it known to others how much you know, but to make it known to others how much you are known. You love God because God–the one God from whom are all things and for whom we exist–knows you. Don’t try to impress others with your grasp of God’s truth but rather with God’s grasp of you by grace.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36)