1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3 but anyone who loves God is known by him.
4 Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact 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 It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 “Food will not bring us close 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 liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11 So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12 But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
Sermon Love Over Knowledge
Good morning. I absolutely love the first verse of our reading this morning from the Apostle Paul: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” It’s one of those statements from scripture that applies to so many different things in our lives. It’s the reason I chose this reading.
I have to admit, a passage that begins with the phrase, “Now concerning food sacrificed to idols…” sounds a little bit weird in the year 2021. Have any of you been served food that was sacrificed to an idol? I’m guessing that most of you have never had to wrestle with this question. But this text isn’t really about animal sacrifices and what kind of food is acceptable. It’s about love and community.
Paul wrote this letter to the congregation at Corinth because it was on the verge of being torn apart by conflict. The letter addresses a number of different conflicts among the congregation. In this case, there was a division between the newer converts to Christianity and those who had been part of the community of faith for a longer time.
In verses 8-11, Paul talks about “weak believers,” or those with a “weak conscience.” This isn’t a condemnation. Paul is simply identifying those believers who were raised in pagan traditions, and have only recently set aside their loyalties to all of the different gods and goddesses of the Greco-Roman world.
Paul’s primary audience is the established members of the congregation, who probably saw themselves as faithful Jews, and who also happened to believe that Jesus was the Messiah.
There would have been small Jewish communities in all of the major cities and towns of the Roman Empire. The members of these communities were merchants and tradespeople who had set up shop in what is now Lebanon, Syria, Greece, Italy, Egypt, Turkey, and many other places.
These Jewish communities were surrounded by cultures that worshiped many, many different gods. The members of those communities had to figure out how to make a living in those places, while still being faithful Jews. They had to reconcile God’s commandment—3 You shall have no other gods before me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them—they had to reconcile that commandment with life in a foreign country that was filled with idols.
How did they work that out? How did they square that circle?
Their understanding of God evolved. They decided that the pagan gods weren’t real. There was no Zeus. No Poseidon. No Ishtar, no Venus, no Mars, no Isis, no Aphrodite or Athena. They were all figments of the imagination of the pagans. That’s why Paul says, “we know that ‘no idol in the world really exists,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’”
In other words, if there are no other gods, then the idols and temples dedicated to those gods are meaningless. One can be a faithful Jew and enter a pagan temple, eat meat that was sacrificed to an idol, knowing that you haven’t really broken the Second Commandment. That is the knowledge of which Paul speaks, the knowledge that “puffs up.”
But the congregation at Corinth includes new believers—converts who had previously worshiped those pagan deities. Those converts were struggling with their new faith, with Christianity. They couldn’t the practice of eating meat that was sacrificed to an idol with the commandment against idolatry. They don’t have the knowledge that the other believers have and Paul is honestly afraid that the new converts might return to their pagan practices.
Paul’s answer is that love and community are more important than knowledge or meat sacrificed to idols, or all sorts of other concerns. That’s why this piece of scripture is still relevant today. In fact, it’s essential to our practice of our faith.
We are the Church, with a capital-C. We are Christ’s church in the world. And we are called to reconcile ourselves to God and to one another. We are called to do that work of reconciliation in a world that is very broken, in communities that are on the verge of falling apart—just like the congregation in Corinth.
We see this in so many different aspects of our lives, but none more obvious in our broken politics. Let me be clear, our politics has been broken for a long time. Donald Trump was not responsible for this brokenness, nor was Barack Obama. And it isn’t going to go away just because we’ve elected a new president.
The problem is inside of us, and it has gotten worse, particularly during this pandemic. In the last year, we’ve spent a lot more time glued to our TVs, our cell phones, and computers. We’ve spent a lot more time consuming the news sources that conform to our secular identities. We’ve done this because it’s comfortable and because we aren’t able to socialize in all the ways that we used to.
We filter the news through our secular identities: conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, educated or working-class. We view the news through lenses of race and wealth. In the process, we sort ourselves into opposing camps and further increase our separation from one another.
Our news is knowledge. Just like the knowledge Paul speaks of.
We are convinced that the news we watch is right. We are convinced of our own righteousness. We are convinced that our knowledge is correct. And we get sooooo angry at the people who have different knowledge! We know that they are wrong and we are right!
The truth is, we are all puffed up!
We all choose knowledge over love from time to time. And when we do this, we make our own idols. We make idols of our secular and political identities. We can even make idols out of concepts like freedom.
Paul’s answer is that we have to set aside all of those idols, all of those secular identities, all of those stumbling blocks to reconciliation. Yes, we are all free, as Americans, to choose whichever political party or news channel we like. But as Paul says: “take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” Paul also reminds us that Jesus died for the weak as well as the strong.
Here’s the thing: We’re all weak from time to time. Most of us know the arguments for our political parties better than we know the scriptures. Most of us have more “knowledge” about our country and our government, than we have about the Church. We certainly spend more time watching the news than reading the Bible. We spend more time arguing with one another about our “knowledge” of politics, than we do in conversation and fellowship with one another, breaking bread and sharing our faith.
Paul tells the congregation in Corinth that love and community are more important than knowledge or meat sacrificed to idols. That love is the love that comes from God: the love in which we were created and the love we are called to share with one another and with the world outside of our walls. That community is the Church, with a capital-C. The Church is the body of Christ, those who gather together as a witness to the love of God in the world.
Paul asserts that any divisions within that body, within the Church, must be overcome. Such divisions weaken the witness of the Church. Such divisions drive people away from the Church. Such divisions weaken relationships and make it difficult for us to practice love.
I’ve never been married, but I know that it’s often difficult to hold a marriage together. I understand that if a couple goes in for counseling, one of the first questions a therapist will ask is: Do you need to be right, or do you need to be loved? What’s more important? Paul is telling a faction of the Corinthians that they don’t need to be right, they need to be loved and they need to practice love.
Practicing love is more than simply tolerating those people who hold different ideas and opinions. Practicing love is actively making peace with others. Practicing love is letting go of our “knowledge,” of all the things that puff us up. Practicing love must start here inside of the Church, and then it must continue as we go out into the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Beloved, as you go forth into the world, remember to seek love over knowledge. Go forth and be instruments of God’s peace and love and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. Go forth and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!