Daily Living - Freedom and Responsibility, 1 Cor. 8
H. Beattie, Bury St. Edmunds
In Chapters 8 9 and 10 of this first Epistle to the Corinthians Paul deals with the question of Christian con- duct generally. Romans 14.1 to. 15. 3 is a corresponding passage where we read “none of us liveth to himself and no man dieth to himself” 14. 7. We realise that the behaviour of the individual believer as the servant of God must be ever influenced by the fear of the Lord. Visible conduct always has repercussions on the thinking and the lives of others.
The teaching of the New Testament as opposed to that of the law., does not present a series of definite interdictions and recommendations to observe. The new covenant implies maturity, “I will put my laws into their hearts and in their minds will I write them” Heb. 10. 16. These chapters are of primary importance therefore in guiding the sincere Christian in his everyday living in the world of men and in the assembly. There are various degrees in the emancipation of the born- again man or woman and this liberation must come through spiritual maturity and must never be expressed in a way that will stumble the believer who is slowly and perhaps painfully advancing towards it.
Let us distinguish at the outset between valid causes of stumbling as the eating of meat in the idol temple and imaginary causes. Man’s tradition will always lead into bitter bondage and in such circumstances the attitude of Paul is crystal clear: “when Peter was come to Antioch I withstood him to the face because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come he withdrew and separated himself fearing them which were of the circumcision” Gal. 2.11-12. The hypocritical fear of man as opposed to the sincere fear of God leads the heart into a barren state of tension and slavery. How blessed are those whose minds are guided exclusively in these things by the Word and the Spirit of God 2 Cor. 3. 17.
The question asked by the Corinthians concerns things offered to idols. In a letter they seem to have boasted about the extent of their knowledge. Paul takes up their expression ironically and contrasts once again the effects of heady and hearty ministry. The assimilation and impartation of facts leads to what is commonly referred to as a swelled head. Ministry inspired by the love of God always leads the filled and over- flowing heart to bow and worship. This is true edification. The man who thinks he knows a lot about things really knows nothing properly. But the man known of God and loving Him and to whom is revealed something of the eternal reality of His light and love in Christ may become a true channel of divine communication cf. John 14. 23; 1 Cor. 13. 12.
In verses 4 to 6 the apostle presents the standard conception of the mature saint. His mind is delivered from superstition. His vision is filled with the person of the Father, Source of all creation, and of the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things came to be. The believer dwells in the Father through Christ, John 17. 21. Here the spirit is untrammeled, Christian liberty is perfect, and deliverance from petty, tangible restrict- ions of human origin is complete.
This emancipation has not been the portion of all. Early upbringing in religious spheres leaves very deep marks on the conscience which years of contact with the Gospel may not totally eradicate. Association of ideas is a strong factor in determining conduct. To the mind of the recently converted man in Corinth the idol and the meat were inseparably linked. The sight of a mature, responsible Christian eating meat in the idol temple would first shock the new-comer, but more unfortunate still, would draw him back to his old practices in idolatry, and thus cause his life and testimony to be rendered ineffective. A mature Christian entering a continental cathedral for a time of prayer could so easily become a stumbling block to someone recently delivered from what is erroneous in that connection.
The perseverance in frequenting the idol temple in Corinth is called “sin” in verse 12, and sin against Christ, because it constitutes a snare for the brother or sister for whom He died. There is nothing special about the meat, and the idol is called “nothing”, but the two ideas form in the weak conscience a re- doubtable obstacle. To avoid this, Paul is willing to abstain even from the legitimate in his conduct for a long time in order to safeguard his brother. Freedom’s responsibility assures gradual liberation for those who are immature in Christ. “For, brethren, you have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another”, Gal. 5. 13.
Two things must be remembered in this matter of the weak conscience. The trouble was caused by the mature, liberated brother’s association with what, to the weaker man, looked like very definite evil. And the mature Christian’s abstaining had in view the eventual development of the immature brother. “Let everyone of us please his neighbour for his good to edification”, Rom. 15. 2. Edification, or building up, as in 1 Corinthians 8. 1, is the ultimate aim. “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”, John 8. 32. To some perpetually complaining Christians, who strangely enough profess a strong conscience, spiritual immaturity seems to be the desired and accepted condition.