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. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.
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.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— 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.
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. “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. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 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? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 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.
They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
From our childhoods,
we Americans are taught that liberty is our greatest possession.
We have it as a gift from God.
Men and women have died for our liberty.
Patrick Henry is said to have proclaimed,
‘Give me liberty or give me death!’
Patrick Henry did get his liberty from Britain,
but died believing that he was not free.
He was vehemently against the United States Constitution of 1787
because he believed it infringed too much upon liberty.
It’s also a great American tradition to argue about what liberty means
and be convinced that the system we live under now is not real liberty.
As we have heard the past few weeks,
the Corinthians were also very interested in liberty.
Not political liberty, but spiritual liberty.
Our section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians today
Paul admonishes them about behavior regarding food.
This section of Paul’s letter makes little sense to us today,
but with a good study Bible we can begin to understand.
Very simply, the problem was this.
Many of the Corinthians would be invited by their pagan friends
to a convivial meal,
at which some food was offered in sacrifice to a pagan god
and the rest of it used for supper.
The Corinthian Christians knew that the idols were not real,
and so they reasoned that they were free to go to these meals
because they knew they were not really sacrificing to any god.
If they believed the gods had power,
then it would be wrong.
But since the gods weren’t real,
they could keep this knowledge to themselves
and in the meantime stay in good with their pagan friends.
Their knowledge of the truth
made them free to do what they wanted.
It seemed to make sense,
but Paul had a different view.
Paul wanted to make the point
that they were indeed free,
but they were to use their freedom in love,
specifically, love for their Christian brothers and sisters
who had until recently believed in the pagan gods.
Paul was concerned that if these people,
just coming into the church,
would see the already established believers
participating in these rituals,
it would perhaps bring them back into the world of sacrifice to idols.
Perhaps they would then believe that the God of Jesus was one among many,
instead of the only God.
While Paul grants the Corinthians their liberty,
he urges them to temper their liberty with love.
Indeed, love should guide liberty.
Liberty, freedom, is only good in Paul’s view
insofar as it can be used for God.
The great gift of freedom in Christ
is that Paul could freely give up his advantages
for the sake of God and others.
This is a very different view than many people have.
For them, liberty and freedom
means primarily self-assertion against others.
When I read books about the great wars of the twentieth century,
I am more and more grateful
for the political liberty we enjoy,
including the relative freedom from government.
However, I am also mindful that being free in a political sense
can be injurious to my spiritual health,
if I forget that true freedom is found in submission,
not submission to the power of others,
but submission to God’s power.
Paul would say that we are not truly free
until we are obedient to God,
acting out of love for our neighbors,
and Martin Luther would say the same thing.
He stated this paradox:
A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none;
a Christian is a perfectly dutiful slave of all, subject to all.
A truly free person in Christ
is able to freely renounce advantage and self-assertion
in order to do God’s will in whatever situation.
And yet it is not in our power to make ourselves free.
We say that whenever we make our confession.
We say, ‘we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.’
It is the unclean spirit of self-assertion and self-preservation
which keeps us in bondage,
the unclean spirit who would dominate our wills
and keep us curved in upon ourselves.
We need liberation from the outside,
and this is what we see in our Gospel lesson.
We see Jesus beginning his work of liberation among the people.
It is a work of authority and power.
He comes into the synagogue on the Sabbath Day
like a whirlwind,
like a superhero,
teaching what is right and true,
and with a word silencing the unclean spirit.
He frees the afflicted one to stand before him,
to be able to praise God,
which he could not do when the unclean spirit possessed him.
Instead of being possessed by the spirit,
he is possessed by Jesus.
And this possession makes him truly free.
Our political freedom gives us certain rights against others,
but our spiritual freedom in Christ gives us the right to be with Christ.
Can we assert our freedom from others
and at the same time be free in Jesus Christ?
Paul says no.
In fact, when we use our freedom against others,
we sin against Christ,
for Christ died for others.
All of us will be able to easily identify
how others offend against this principle,
how others misuse their freedom.
However, we do not hear today’s lessons
primarily to use them against others.
We must hear it upon ourselves
before we can identify it in others.
Jesus says in another place,
‘Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye
and not see the log in your own eye?’
Perhaps it was this very teaching with which Jesus
held the congregation in that synagogue spellbound,
that very spellbinding which liberated.
This teaching is a teaching of authority and power.
It exorcises the unclean spirit of judgment and contempt
which would dominate our hearts.
It is in hearing the word of Jesus that we know true liberty.
And this liberty can never be taken away,
for there is no condition in which we can exist
that we cannot freely serve the other.
It is this liberty that Christ gives us,
for the same Christ who died for others
also died for us,
that we might be free indeed.