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08.29.21 Educating Christians 1 Cor. 8.1-7 Sermon Summary

by on August 31, 2021

If we could write a letter to Paul, what questions would we ask? Some would ask, What should we make of “modern worship,” with the different music, skits, and non-traditional sanctuary décor?

What about more contemplative devotional practices like meditation or chant? Can there be such a thing as Christian Yoga? What about things like singing bowls and intinction—isn’t that a Catholic thing?

Our church questions reveal the intersection of Christianity and the world, of worship and worldliness. In my Calvinist tradition the solution early on, and still for some congregations today, included the prohibition of musical instruments of any kind. Too worldly for worship.

The churches in Corinth presented Paul with a list of questions. Here is one of his answers. A burning question in Corinth regarded food used in pagan worship. Can Christians eat it?

In his answer, Paul introduces two criteria. 

  1. What we know to be true
  2. A truth beyond that

He distinguishes between knowledge and “necessary knowledge.” He implies a knowledge beyond knowledge, a truth truer than truth, and the existence not only of human truth, but also a divine truth.

This makes people nervous, especially wordy people like Presbyterians. As a Presbyterian I’m trained to look for truth in words, most especially the Bible. But after that, in theology, creeds, confessions, disputations, theses, and long, long sermons. Nonetheless, Paul contrasts knowledge which puffs up, with love that builds up. 

Some Corinthians had knowledge, and Paul appears to quote them in this passage. “There is only one God,” they started. “So what exactly is eating pagan food—food of another god—but merely the food of a non-god? It’s all God’s food—our God’s food. Thus, it’s fine for us to eat it.”

OK, Paul responds, what about love? What about love for “the weaker” (Paul’s word) Christians? The “weaker” Christians are undiscriminating. They see “stronger” Christians exercising their liberty to eat anything, based on their ability to discriminate. So the weaker emulate the stronger Christians but without discrimination.

The weaker don’t know or believe what the stronger do. They act the same way—eating pagan meat—but in doing so they violate their conscience. The strong act according to knowledge, belief, and conscience. The strong act faithfully. The weak engage the same behavior but they are unfaithful. Same act, but for them it is sin.

This Paul lays at the feet of the strong, of the knowledgeable, because they acted according to knowledge, but not according to love. Knowledge puffs up; love builds up. Later in the letter Paul will famously assert: “If I have all knowledge and understand all mysteries, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:2)

The knowledge beyond knowledge, the truth truer than truth, the divine truth, is love. And where does the capacity to love come from? Who knows how to love this way? Paul tells us.

“For us,” Paul says, “there is one God known as ‘father.’ All things come from this God and we exist relative to this God. And for us there is one Lord known as Jesus Christ. All things came through him and we exist on his account.”

This utter, fundamental dependence on God is grace, and if true, if all things come from God and all things depend on God—including us—then how can we be anything BUT loving? Our lives and everything that exists are a gift. So who are we to withhold love?

In other words, out of gratitude for our lives and all that is, we are able love others by seeking their good and not our rights. We don’t even have rights. We are beneficiaries. Or in the words of Jesus’ teaching, “Freely receive, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)

This is the calling of Christian education. May all we do—classes, Bible studies, crafts, activities, small groups, fellowship activities, service projects, worship—EVERYTHING—remind us that our lives and everything we know are gifts of God through Jesus Christ. 

And always let us love one another, no matter how much we think we know.

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