Until My Rights Are More About You Than Me They Are Wrongs
June 30, 2020
1 Corinthians 8:1-13 (NIV)
Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.
4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.
To those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people (i.e., us):
Today’s text holds a teaching of profound and universal importance for the followers of Jesus. The problem with today’s text is we have no clearly comparable situation in the twenty-first century (at least in the United States) in which to make application of the text. We have many challenges as Christians today, but eating meat sacrificed to idols is not one of them. Because the big idea here is the issue of a Christian doing something that causes another to stumble, people immediately want to jump to issues of a Christian’s use of alcohol in a world filled with alcoholics. There is application in this instance to be sure, but this discussion will be more properly had in chapter 10. Stay tuned. For now, today’s text presents us a much bigger principle which cuts to the heart of the Christian faith.
We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.
The Corinthians were all about “wisdom” and “knowledge.” The big problem and the ironic sign that they possessed neither of them is the way they sought to distinguish themselves over and against others who did not possess such wisdom and knowledge. Their knowledge produced a kind of elitism among them. It “puffed” them up. They readily translated their so-called knowledge into their own individual freedoms and rights without regard to the way their exercising those freedoms and rights would impact others.
Despite the way texts like these often get misappropriated into anti-intellectual sentiment in the church, knowledge is not bad. The issue is how we appropriate knowledge. Does our knowledge lead us to a deeper “knowing” of others or does it lead us to pride in ourselves?
Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.
I’ll close with an analogy that may turn out to be a rabbit trail through a minefield but as an attorney I can’t resist it. While the Constitution of the United States is a brilliant document, the real genius came in the Bill of Rights. The problem with the Bill of Rights, though, is we forget the overarching purpose. The Bill of Rights were not established to create a national ethos of unfettered individual freedom to justify doing just about everything under the sun under the auspices of one’s individual rights regardless of the offense or injury it may cause to others. The Bill of Rights was established to protect the citizenry from the government. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion and the right to bear arms and to be free from unreasonable search and seizure and so forth are not meant to establish a totalizing individual autonomy. They are meant to foster the common good and a government by the people for the people.
Free speech has nothing to do with a sacrilegious art display or an expletive on my t-shirt, and everything to do with the ability to voice a contrary opinion about the President of the United States without being arrested for it. These rights are for the flourishing and preservation of a certain kind of community. They are for the sake of one another far more than for my individual ability to do whatever the heck I want to do. We have run far amuck of our founders intention because these rights have become far more about ourselves as individuals than our relationships with one another. We think we know something, but do not yet know as we ought to know.
The issue is not our rights but our relationships. The issue is not knowledge of the law but knowing one another. We have not been rescued and set free from sin for freedom’s sake but for the love of God and the love of neighbor. Until my rights are more about you than they are about me then they are really wrongs.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Yes, Lord, knowledge is good but love is infinitely better. I ask you for the gift of the humility of Jesus, to have the mind of Christ, that I might learn to handle knowledge with love. I confess my pride as sin; even more I confess that most of my pride is yet hidden from me. Come Holy Spirit, and gently reveal my pride and give me the grace to repent. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
1. Where do you see this knowledge vs. love conflict in your relationships? In your life?
2. How do you relate to this distinction between individual rights and the good of others?