1. IV. Christian Liberty (8:1-11:1)
    1. 1. Love Excels Knowledge (8:1-8:13)
      1. A. The Emptiness of Idols (8:1-8:6)

Calvin (10/08/17-10/09/17)

8:1
Paul now turns to a new matter, that of idolatrous feasts. This is actually something of a return to the brief statement offered in chapter 6. (1Co 6:9b-10 - Don’t be deceived. Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminates, homosexuals, thieves, coveters, drunkards, revilers, swindlers: None of these shall inherit the kingdom of God.) This came in pursuit of discussing matters of indifference: Matters neither good nor bad in themselves, but requiring moderation on the part of the Christian, lest liberty become licentiousness. Having covered matters of fornication, and their remedy in marriage, Paul now turns to this particularly grievous offense so common in Corinth; the indiscriminate participation in the idolatrous feasts of their pagan temples. “The Apostle teaches them that they rashly perverted the liberty granted them by the Lord,” in so doing. As he turns to this topic, we see that he anticipates the arguments presented in support of such practice, that they know there is but one God, and therefore these idols are false, and their Christian liberty permits them to partake without offense. All of this, Paul largely grants, but in such a way as to point out the emptiness of that line of argumentation. Knowledge without love, he points out, is of no use. It amplifies our pride, but has nothing of edification to it. Calvin offers a paraphrase to clarify the point. “Whatever is devoid of love is of no account in the sight of God; nay more, it is displeasing to him, and much more so what is openly at variance with love.” What produces arrogance is by definition opposed to love, as that arrogance produces contempt for others. Love, on the other hand, has concern for others, and seeks to edify them. This is not, to be clear, a condemnation of learning, nor a statement as to the normative course of becoming learned. It does speak to the effect when learning is separated from fear of the Lord and love of the brethren. “For the wicked abuse all the gifts of God, so as to exalt themselves.” But, it is the wickedness of men that makes evil use of these gifts, it is no wickedness in the gifts themselves. To lay the blame on the gifts would effectively remove responsibility from the abuser. Rather, “Knowledge is good in itself; but as piety is its only foundation, it becomes empty and useless in wicked men: as love is its true seasoning, where that is wanting it is tasteless.” The fault is not in knowledge, but in man. “Let this be considered as said with a view to certain fanatics, who furiously declaim against all the liberal arts and sciences, as if their only use were to puff men up, and were not of the greatest advantage as helps in common life.”
8:2
Here we are considering one who is so thrilled with his own opinions as to despise others, he being so far above them. Again, it is not knowledge that stands condemned, but the ambition and haughtiness of ungodly men. Neither skepticism nor false modesty are advised here, “as if it were a good thing to think that we are ignorant of what we do know.” Such self-conceit is evidence of not knowing in truth. “For the beginning of all true knowledge is acquaintance with God, which produces in us humility and submission; nay more, it prostrates us entirely instead of elating us.” “But where pride is, there is ignorance of God.”
8:3
Here is the positive conclusion. Knowledge, as any other endowment, is worthy of commendation if, and only if, we love God. “For if it is so, we will also love our neighbor in Him.” “He shows, therefore, from consequences, that no learning is commendable that is not dipped in the love of God.” (2Co 5:17 – If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things have passed away, and new things have come.) There, the point is that apart from the Spirit’s regeneration, all things are of no value. To be known by God means, ‘to be reckoned among His sons’. (Php 4:3 – I ask you to help these women who shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, and Clement, too, as well as the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.) In that book, not one prideful person is to be found.
8:4
He now turns more directly to their vain line of reasoning. Idols being but products of imagination, the consecrations done to them must likewise be nothing but foolish imagination of no importance. Ergo, they reason, a Christian participating in such things remains unpolluted by them, since he eats without any sort of reverence for the idol. Paul does not declare this false, for there is in fact sound doctrine to be found in that thought process. Rather, it is the abuse of liberty to which this has led them which he opposes, for that abuse stands opposed to love. Where the NASB has ‘and that there is no God but one’, Calvin prefers, ‘because there is no God but one’. This is the reason why idols are nothing. God is invisible, immaterial, ergo no idol aimed at representing Him can function as a visible sign. He cannot be represented by such things. So, then, whether the idol be of a false god, or proposed as representing the true God, makes no difference. (Hab 2:18 – What profit is the idol to is maker? It is but an image, and teaches falsehood. The maker of such a thing trusts in his own handiwork, having fashioned a speechless idol.) They necessarily deal falsely, for even if claiming to represent the true God, they cannot. Thus, the ‘nothing’, (or ‘no such thing’, as the NASB offers it,) has to do with quality, not essence. Of course, the idol exists. It has material form. What it does not have is any least quantum of truth. “As God does not choose to be represented in this way, it is vanity and nothing as to meaning and use.”
8:5
These gods which the idols represent may have the name, the title of gods, but they have not the reality. Whatever man’s esteem of such things, they are not real gods. When Paul applies the qualifier, ‘in heaven or on earth’, the former is to be understood to refer to such things as sun, moon, and stars. These, as much as they were worshiped in past ages, are but things created by our God for our use. They are, then, far from deserving ‘divine honors’. How absurd is it to assign worship to things given as our servants! The ‘gods of the earth’, would, in this view, refer to such men and women who have been idolized and exalted as objects of religious worship. This was not uncommon at the time, that mortal men would be construed as having been exalted to the rank of deity in death. Thus, for example, Hercules, Romulus, and even the Caesars, “as if it were in the power of mankind to make deities at their pleasure, while they cannot give to themselves either life or immortality.” Others have made gods of animals, or even plants so lowly as onion and garlic. The Romans even invested boundary stones with a sense of deity, having their god, Terminus, the god of boundaries. “They are gods, then, only in name; but Paul says that he does not stop to notice deifications of this sort.”
8:6
Here, Paul turns a repeat of their premise into a matter of instruction. Here is what sets God apart as the only true God: He is the only one from whom all things come into being. “Whatever has its origin from what is foreign to itself, is not eternal, and, consequently, is not God.” [Calvin appears to be quoting someone, here, but it does not identify who that might be.] By corollary, the One God that gives existence to all, being their supreme source; He is necessarily God, and must just as necessarily be One. The conclusion: There can be only one true God. He created us, and we subsist in Him. We could also take from this that having our beginning in Him, we ought rightly to devote our lives to Him. Paul does use this point to that purpose elsewhere. (Ro 11:36 – For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.) Demonstrating the Oneness of the Godhead, Paul now brings Christ Jesus in as likewise our Creator and sustainer. Thus, He and the Father are One, and yet, there remains the proper distinction of the Persons in that we are created in the Father, by the Son. “The Father is indeed the foundation of all existence; but, as it is by the Son that we are united to Him, so He communicates to us through Him the reality of existence.” Where no distinction of Person is being made, all that is said of the Father is rightly applicable to Christ, but as the two are in view together here, Paul rightly makes note of their distinctives. The Son, then, is distinctively our Lord. The Son received dominion and power from the Father, and is thus rightly spoken of as our one Lord, when there is distinction made between the Persons of the Trinity. His singular Lordship over us does not erase or alter civil authority. What we are concerned with in this passage are idols, purported heavenly powers; and as to this, Paul asserts there is but One. In point of fact, honor is due our civil authorities in our one Lord.
 

Matthew Henry (10/09/17)

8:1
For background, it was a common practice at the time, for these heathen sacrifices to include feasts to which participants would invite friends. Such feasts were typically held at the temple. (1Co 8:10 – If someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining at an idol’s temple, won’t his weak conscience be convinced that it’s ok to do the same?) What remained at the end might be given to friends, or to the priests involved, who might themselves choose to sell the leftovers at market. (1Co 10:25 – Eat whatever is sold in the market, without asking questions, for the sake of your conscience.) In general, all feasts were viewed as religious acts, and therefore inclined to include sacrifices; indeed, to feast without prior sacrifice was considered profanity. It is no surprise then, that questions arose as to what the good Christian ought to do in regard to such meals with friends and family who were not believers. Was this OK? Was it OK, as some supposed, to go so far as to accompany them to the temple feasts? That latter point is addressed more thoroughly in Chapter 10, but for now, Paul is concerned more with the abuse of liberty. The comments made in regard to knowledge are almost certainly to be heard with a tone of censure. Yes, you have knowledge, but not only you. Those who abstain from eating idolatrous offerings have just as much knowledge, as concerns the vanity of the idols. Now, hear that the abstainer has additional knowledge: That your abuse of liberty demonstrates a lack of charity toward your brother. The use you make of your knowledge is of no good to yourselves, and may very well prove hurtful to others. The rule of Love requires that we concern ourselves with their well-being, and act for their edification.
8:2
No more common evidence of ignorance is to be found than claimed conceits of knowledge. “He that knows best understands his own ignorance, and the imperfection of human knowledge.” It is one thing to know the truth. It is another to be improved by that knowledge.
8:3
By contrast, the one who loves God is necessarily influenced by that love to love his neighbor as well. Such a one demonstrates that he has been taught of God. “How much better is it to be approved of God than to have a vain opinion of ourselves!”
8:4
Paul’s meaning in this verse is left ‘elliptical’ (i.e. intentionally obscured). There is no idol, an idol is nothing, an idol can do nothing; the exact meaning is in question, but the point is not: Idols have no inherent divinity. “They are merely imaginary gods.” As such, they have no power to pollute. Foods are not somehow unfit by association. (1Ti 4:4 – Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude.) Idols are not gods, nor to be respected as such. There is but One.
8:5
As much as they may be referred to as gods, they cannot be. There is only One. Heathens have their myriad so-called gods, both in the heavens and on earth. The earthy gods are often referred to as Baalim in Scripture. These had the titles, but ‘all their divinity and mediation were imagery’.
8:6
We know better. There is only one God, the Father, and we are in and for Him. He is the ‘fountain of being’, ‘of whom and for whom are all things’. There are no ranks of gods with their varied assignments. Reference to the Father here is not in contrast to Son and Spirit, as if they were somehow excluded from the Godhead. Rather, it is in contrast to all created beings. Father, in this case, stands for Deity, and as such comprehends all three Persons. Here is a brief glimpse of the knotty doctrine of the Trinity. Father has, in a sense, preeminence, and may be spoken of as the ‘fountain of Deity’, as Calvin suggests, who communicates deity to Son and Spirit. Yet, there is but one God, Father is not God without Son and Spirit, nor are they three separate gods. We have also one Lord in Jesus Christ. We do not have multiple mediators ala the heathens, but One. In Him ‘all things were created and do consist’, and all our hope is established in Him alone. God made Him both Lord and Christ (Ac 2:36 – Let Israel know with certainty that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.) He has, as to his human nature, a delegated power, a name [authority] above every other. He is sole Lord, sole Mediator, that Christians may acknowledge. Those many lords of the heathens are imaginary. “It is the great privilege of us Christians that we know the true God, and true Mediator between God and man.” (Jn 17:3 – This is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent.)
 

Adam Clarke (10/09/17)

8:1
This chapter may be better understood given some background concerning the debates between the literalist and traditionalist camps in Judaic practice. The literalists, holding to the letter, insist that absolutely no ‘emolument’ or benefit is to be derived by the faithful from idols and the things offered to them. As such, animals prepared for such idolatrous sacrifices, particularly if they ‘bear the mark of the idol’ are absolutely prohibited. Traditionalists, on the other hand, would permit anything that did not bear such mark. These signs were typically applies pre-sacrifice, and often in ways that would not be evident in the marketed flesh, whether consisting in garlands, or markings on hoof or horn, or what have you. Since the meat at the market could not bear such markings, the traditionalist took it for granted that they could buy the meat. The literalist took for granted that he could not. It should also be noted that in the marketplace, no particular distinction was made between meats from sacrifice and meats slaughtered for common use. Add, too, that even the traditionalist would prefer to avoid the sacrificial meats. All of this would have carried over into their Christianity, and for some, even having come from traditionalist backgrounds, there would have been a tendency to become more literalist. Others, particularly the non-Jews, went the opposite direction, laying aside all scruples as to the origins of their foodstuff, even to the point of partaking in the idol-feasts themselves, which must surely constitute idolatry in its own right. It’s not hard to see how misunderstandings and offenses would arise in such a setting. Whether Paul quotes the letter to him from the Corinthians or not, the point is valid, so far as it goes. All Christians do have sufficient knowledge about idols and about liberty. But, this does not prevent many from taking their liberty too far, doing ‘what is neither seemly nor convenient’, to the offense of others. Such abuse of knowledge demonstrates pride, and it is hardly a rare thing for knowledge and pride to become close allies. [A little knowledge is a dangerous thing!] Boastful knowledge has no care for others, and leads to holding those who disagree in contempt.
8:2
Such a rash, unfeeling response to knowledge demonstrates that the possessor does not yet know aright. To know aright, we must know the greatest commandments: Love your God with all of you, and love your neighbor as yourself. “He, then, that can torment his neighbor’s weak or tender conscience with his food or his conduct, does not love him as himself, and therefore knows nothing as he ought to know.”
8:3
To love God as the commandment requires, one must necessarily love one’s neighbor. This demonstrates that God has approved of this one as a genuine follower.
8:4
No earthly idol can possibly represent the true God, for they are all of them material in nature, and God is ‘infinite Spirit’. An alternate understanding of Paul’s point would be that all idols are but nothings, or vanity, as the OT tends to express it.
8:5
The divinities represented by such idols are nothing but ‘figments of mere fancy’. As such, the images can have no reality either. The reference to heavenly gods and lords refers to planets and stars and the like, the earthly ones are references to oceans, rivers, trees, and so on. All such things had their worshipers of old. [And a fair number today.]
8:6
God alone being ‘uncreated and unoriginated’ created all things, and we are in Him, and we are for Him; “all intelligent beings having been created for the purpose of manifesting His glory, by receiving and reflecting His wisdom, goodness, and truth.” There is but one Governor of world and Church. He is the Creator and Upholder of the universe, and by Him we are brought into true knowledge of the true God. Only the Son can reveal the Father. If the gods of the heathens were objects of worship, lords were worldly rulers, who were held to be next to gods, if not in fact deified. But, there is only One Father, the ‘fountain of our being’, one Christ who governs all things. “We, as creatures, live in reference to him, God the Father, who is the fountain of our being: and, as Christians, we live by our through Him, Jesus Christ; by Whom we are bought, enlightened, pardoned, and saved.”
 

Barnes' Notes (10/10/17-10/11/17)

8:1
Paul is asked for a general principle in regard to meats that were the result of idolatrous sacrifices. Can they be eaten or not? Under what conditions? (1Co 8:10 – If one of weak conscience sees you, with your knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, won’t they be convinced to eat such sacrificial meats, too? 1Co 10:20-21 – I tell you that what the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, not to God. I don’t want you becoming sharers in demons. You can’t drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You can’t partake of the Lord’s table and the table of demons.) The clause, “we know that we all have knowledge,” likely echoes something from the letter to Paul. In essence, it says they were aware of the nature of these idols, assured that they were nothings. From this, it seems, they inferred that it was ‘right and proper’ to eat those foods without concern either for source or location. The crux of Paul’s response is found in the verse following this section. (1Co 8:7 – Not all men have this knowledge. Some of them, having been accustomed to idols before, eat those foods with the mindset that it is in fact sacrificed to an idol. Thus, their weak conscience is defiled by the act.) The Corinthian argument, then, is that being quite aware that idols are nothing, there can be no danger of being drawn into idolatry, even if one participates in the feasts connected with those idols. The first half of this passage serves as a statement that mere knowledge is insufficient as a guide in such matters, since it produces pride rather than instruction, whereas love ought to guide our course. Secondly, as indicated in verse 7, it simply isn’t true that everybody knew this. Thus, their eating could in fact lead to spiritual injury in their brothers. Verse 4 returns to the argument presented by the Corinthians, to which Paul concedes that there is only one True God, but as precursor to his point in verse 7. “Knowledge puffs up,” begins Paul’s parenthetical response to the Corinthian premise. Knowledge, it should be noted, does not necessarily produce prideful arrogance, but it assuredly runs the risk of doing so. It is this tendency that renders it an unreliable guide on its own. Knowledge must be guided by charity, and in fact, charity will be the safer guide. It was exactly this sort of ‘pretenders to uncommon wisdom’ that had caused the factions and disputes already addressed in this letter. So, then, this is something of a reminder. “Mere knowledge, or science, when the heart is not right, fills with pride; swells a man with vain self-confidence and reliance in his own powers, and very often leads him entirely astray.” Love to God and to others, when combined with knowledge, provides a trustworthy guidance. [I note with emphasis: Love combined with knowledge.] Don’t be satisfied with bare, abstract knowledge. Ask what love to others would demand. If such love prompts and permits your action, then proceed. If not, don’t do it. Such love will prompt us to seek the welfare of others and to avoid doing injury to them. “The man who is influenced by love, ever pure and ever glowing, is not in much danger of going astray, or of doing injury to the cause of God.” The one who relies on mere knowledge will tend to be opinionated, contentious, and obstinate. “And most of the difficulties in the church arise from such people.”
8:2
That sort of knowledge which makes us proud and conceited, leads us to despise others and have no care for their interests. This sort of knowledge, Paul says, is not knowing much at all. “True knowledge will make us humble, modest, and kind to others.” (Ro 11:25 – I don’t want you uninformed as to this mystery, lest you become wise in your own estimation. A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.) This sort of knowledge has not come to know what is most necessary to be known, nor learned the true use of knowledge – to edify others. “If a man has not so learned anything as to make it contribute to the happiness of others, it is a proof that he has never learned the true design of the first elements of knowledge.” When knowledge is used rightly, it promotes everybody’s happiness. Knowledge ‘is valueless unless it is diffused’.
8:3
True knowledge is always connected with love to God, which love MUST prompt one to love his brothers and seek to promote their happiness. “Love will prompt to what is right; and love will secure the approbation of God.” Love is the ‘safer and better principle’, whether considered toward God or toward man. This will be developed more in chapter 13. To be known of God is to be approved by Him. Such as love God will seek His glory, and seek the good of their brothers, and so be likely to do right. As such, God will approve of such a one and regard him as His child.
8:4
The remainder of this passage is an acceptance of the particulars of that knowledge all had. Paul effectively says all of this is granted and agreed to. It will wait for verse 7 to arrive at his counterpoint. We gain the added detail that the specific concern was with the meats from sacrifice, whereas the original stating of the question had just specified ‘things’. We see, then, that Paul is keeping the object of their premise in view as he addresses the premise itself. Their goal is to demonstrate that there can be no problem in partaking of these meats. [The question that must be asked is whether the premise supports the conclusion. Failure on that point does not invalidate the premise, only its application.] Certainly, the idol itself is of no value as an object of worship, being incapable of receiving such worship or of giving benefit to those who would worship it. Granted, it’s all delusion, and merely eating isn’t going to make one suddenly start believing otherwise. Granted, as well, that most Christians, and likely many pagans, recognized this point. Yet, some retained their superstitions, supposing invisible gods inhabiting the visible idols. All those in positions of power ‘were careful to cherish this delusion’. The ‘nothing’ that describes the idols may be Paul pulling from OT descriptive language. (Lev 26:1 – You shall not make idols, nor set up images or pillars, nor set up figured stones on your land to bow down to; for I am the LORD your God. 1Chr 16:26 – All the gods of the peoples are idols (eliyl, nothings), but the LORD made the heavens. Isa 2:8 – Their land has been filled with idols. They worship the work of their hands, things their own fingers made. Isa 10:10-11 – As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols, whose graven images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria, shall I not do likewise to Jerusalem and her images, as I have already done to Samaria and her idols? Isa 19:11 – The princes of Zoan are mere fools. The advice of Pharaoh’s wisest advisers is stupid. How can you say to Pharaoh, “I am a son of the wise, a son of ancient kings”? Isa 19:13 - The princes of Zoan have acted foolishly, and the princes of Memphis are deluded. The cornerstone of Egypt’s tribes has led her astray. Isa 19:20 – It will become a sign and a witness to the LORD of Hosts in the land of Egypt. They will cry to the LORD because of oppressors, and HE will send them a Savior and a Champion to deliver them. Isa 31:7 – In that day every man will cast away his idols of silver and gold, which your hands made as a sin. Ps 90:5 – Thou has swept them away like a flood. They fall asleep. In the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew. Eze 30:13 – I will destroy the idols, and make images to cease from Memphis. There will no longer be a prince in Egypt, and I will put fear into the land of Egypt. Hab 2:18 – What profit is the idol when its maker has carved it? What use an image, a teacher of falsehood? For its maker trusts in his own handiwork when he fashions speechless idols. Zech 11:17 – Woe to the worthless shepherd who leaves the flock! A sword will be on his arm and in his eye. His arm will be withered, and his eye will be blind.) [Worthless, in that last, is haa-liyl, the same term used for idol.] The gods the pagans worship have no real existence anywhere. There is only one God, as we all know. (Dt 6:4-5 – Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.) So plain a truth must be admitted. The Corinthians supposed, based on this, that it could not be forgotten even if they were eating idolatrous sacrifices.
8:5
Pagans had myriad objects of worship which they named as gods. The reference to gods in heaven might be intended to speak to sun, moon, and starts, but more likely refers to the supposed residence of the gods which were supposed to only visit the earth occasionally. Other gods were seen as reigning over earthly demesnes, ala Neptune or Pluto. So, then, there are many called gods and lords by the pagans, and regarded as such. We dare not suppose Paul to be admitting any truth to the claims, but rather he speaks of how they were viewed by the locals. The emphasis is on many, and on the fact that they were indeed worshiped as gods, as well as being granted influence over the minds of their adherents. The effect, then, was just as real as if they had been real. “So that though the more intelligent of the pagan put no confidence in them, yet the effect on the great mass was the same as if they had had a real existence, and exerted over them a real control.” Lord signifies law-giver as well as law-enforcer, and this title was often applied to idols. Thus, the Canaanite term baal. (Jdg 8:33 – As soon as Gideon was dead, the sons of Israel again began playing the harlot with the baals, making Baal-berith their god. Jdg 9:4 – They gave him seventy pieces of silver from the house of Baal-berith. With these, Abimelech hired worthless, reckless fellows to follow him. Jdg 9:46 – When the leaders of the tower of Shechem heard this, they entered the inner chamber of the temple of El-berith.) Used in reference to idols, the term indicates the control these held over the minds of their worshipers.
8:6
But we know there his only one God, the Father of all, and the Author of all things. This is not a reference to the first person of the Trinity, but applied more generally to God in His totality. This is shown in that Paul does not proceed by identifying Jesus as the Son, but as the Lord. Further, the context requires a more holistic view of God in His full, divine nature: “one infinitely holy Being.” He is father to all His creation. [Even those who acknowledge Him not.] He has a fatherly regard for all. (Ps 103:13 – Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. Jer 31:9 – With weeping they will come, and by supplication I will lead them. I will cause them to walk by streams of water on a straight path which will not make them stumble. For I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born. Mal 1:6 – A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If, then, I am a father, where is My honor? If I am Master, where is My respect? Thus does the LORD of hosts ask you priests who despise My name. And yet you ask, “How have we despised Thy name?” Mal 2:10 – Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously against our brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers? Mt 6:9, Lk 11:2 – Pray thus: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”) Where persons are to be distinguished in the godhead, we find Jesus referred to as Son. (Lk 10:22 – All things are handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Lk 22:42 – Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Yet, not My will, but Yours be done. Jn 1:18 – No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten of God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. Jn 3:35 – The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. Jn 5:19-23 – Truly, truly, I say to you that the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all the things that He Himself is doing. And greater works than these will He show Him, that you may marvel. For just as the Father raises the dead to life, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. For not even the Father judges anyone, but has given all judgment to the Son, in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. Jn 5:26 – For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself. Jn 5:30 – I can do nothing of My own initiative. As I hear, I judge, and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. Jn 5:36 – But the witness which I have is greater than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish are exactly what I do, and they bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me. Heb 1:5 – To which of the angels did God ever say, “Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee?” To which did he say, “I will be a Father to Him and He shall be a Son to Me”? 2Pe 1:17 – When He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory: “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased.”) The Father is the fountain and source of all being, and all depend on and from Him. The Agent of this production was the Son. (Col 1:16 – For by Him all things were created in the heavens and on the earth, visible and invisible alike, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created by Him and for Him. Jn 1:3 – All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being which has come into being.) The whole work of creation has its origin in God. (Ge 1:1 – In the beginning God created.) All is by His plan and depends on Him as Father. As to Christians, “We are what we are by Him. We owe our existence to Him; and by Him we have been regenerated and saved.” “We are formed FOR him, and should live to his glory.” In contrast to the many ‘lords’ of the pagans, we have one LORD. He alone rules and governs us. We do not acknowledge subjection to many rulers, spiritual or human. We have One Lord. Again, the title must be seen as applied to God in toto. No inferiority of the other persons of the Trinity is implied by assigning the title to Jesus. We have, however, received our Law from Him. He is the agent of our being. ‘All things’ encompasses the entirety of the universe. Some try to scope this only to the new creation, but that is not how this would naturally be heard, nor does the context require any such understanding. Paul is contrasting Christian understanding to pagan perspective, as concerns the very fabric of reality. Whether, then, we consider our original creation or our hopes of heaven, the fact remains: our being is By Him and through Him. As concerns the essential Fatherliness of God, we are unto Him. As to the essential Lordliness of God, we are by Christ’s agency. He is then both source and means of our being, author and sustainer. The Arians and Socinians take this to demonstrate that Jesus is lesser, as He is labeled as Lord rather than God. But, we do not deny a distinction between Father and Son. Rather, we apply it to His office as Mediator. Neither can it be supposed that the title of Lord is necessarily inferior to that of God. In point of fact, the passage intends to demonstrate the equality of the Persons of the Trinity, as they are shown in relation to the multiplicity of gods and lords the pagans so adored. The whole point is God is One, Father and Son and Spirit equal in nature. Here, too, we have the work of creation directly attributed to Jesus. As such, He cannot Himself have been a creature. That work can only be done by God. God cannot delegate Godness or Omnipotence such as that work requires. “The work of creation implies divinity; or it is impossible to prove there is a God; and if the Lord Jesus made ‘all things,’ He must be God.”
 

Wycliffe (10/12/17)

8:1
“Christians do possess knowledge, but it may be only superficial and incomplete.” Add to this that knowledge alone is insufficient to address issues, since it will tend to puff one up used that way.
8:2
Man’s knowledge is necessarily incomplete in this life. So, to suppose absolute assurance of knowledge demonstrates the opposite. (1Co 13:12 – For now we see as in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know only I part, but then I shall know fully just as I have been fully known by God.)
8:3
Loving God brings knowledge of God, as well as recognition of God’s knowledge of you. This knowledge by God implies personal, intimate, first-hand knowledge. (Gal 4:9 – Now that you have come to know God, rather, to be known by God, how can you return to those weak, worthless, elemental things to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?)
8:4
No idol can possibly be a real representation of God. Corruptible materials cannot hope to model the incorruptible God.
8:5
That hasn’t stopped man from labelling all manner of things as gods.
8:6
The transition to this verse is forceful. There was the normative state of humanity. But, for us it’s entirely different. All things refers to Creation, and the Father is source of all. (Ge 1:1- In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.) We, in relationship to this act of Creation, are the very goal: The Church. “The Church’s function is to glorify Him.” Jesus Christ, the Lord, is spoken of as the agent of this creation. (Jn 1:3 – All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.) He remains the agent of our new creation. (Col 1:15-18 – He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all Creation. For by Him all things were created, in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities alike – all created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also the head of the body, the Church. He is the beginning. He is the first-born from the dead. By this, He comes to have first place in everything.)

Jamieson, Fausset & Brown (10/12/17)

8:1
To those who know an idol has no valid existence, eating idol-meats might seem unimportant, but this didn’t hold for all. This opening clause appears to reference the letter from the Corinthians to Paul. (1Co 7:1 – Concerning what you wrote, “it is good for a man not to touch a woman.”) What was not consumed on the altar belonged to the priests and the participants. This would be eaten at a feast, eaten at home, or sold at the market. As such, they were a constant temptation for the Christian, as use of such things was forbidden. (Nu 25:2 – They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. Ps 106:28 – They also joined themselves to Baal-peor, and ate sacrifices offered to the dead. Ac 15:20 – Abstain from things contaminated by idols, from fornication, and from what is strangled and from blood. Ac 21:25 – Concerning the Gentiles who have believed we wrote, having decided they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols [eidolothuton – idolatrous offerings], and from blood, and from what is strangled and from fornication.) Here, the general rule is admitted, that we all have such knowledge, although verse 7 makes clear that some did not. Knowledge without love puffs up. This introduces a parenthetical thought which concludes with verse 3. Puffing up pleases self. Edifying benefits others. “Knowledge says, All things are lawful for me: Love adds, But all things do not edify.” (1Co 10:23 – All things are lawful, but not all are profitable. Not all things edify. Ro 14:15 – If your eating hurts your brother, you no longer walk according to love. Don’t destroy him for whom Christ died with your food. 1Co 3:9 – We are God’s fellow workers and you are God’s field, God’s building. 1Co 6:19 – Don’t you know your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you? You have this from God. You are not your own!)
8:2
“The first step to knowledge is to know our ignorance.” The knowledge spoken of here is personal, experimental acquaintance, not mere awareness of facts. That sort of head knowledge was in view in verse 1. To know as one ought requires knowing ‘in the way of “love”’.
8:3
Loving God is the source of loving our neighbor. (1Jn 4:11-12 – If God so loved us, we should love each other. No one has seen God at any time. But if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 1Jn 4:20 – If one claims to love God yet hates his brother, he is a liar. The one who doesn’t love the brother he can see cannot possibly love the God he cannot see. 1Jn 5:2- By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.) For God to know you implies His approval of you. (Ps 1:6a – The LORD knows the way of the righteous. 2Ti 2:19 – The firm foundation of God stands, bearing this seal: “The LORD knows those who are His. Let everyone who names the name of the LORD abstain from wickedness.” Mt 7:23 – I will declare to them, “I never knew you. Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” 1Co 13:12 – For now we see dimly, in a mirror, but then face to face. For now I know in part, but then fully, as I have been fully known. Gal 4:9 – Having been known by God, why would you return to those worthless, elemental things that you seem to desire to re-enslave yourselves to?) “To love is to know God: He who thus knows God has been first known by God.”
8:4
Idols have no true being. Don’t suppose this contradicts what Paul says later. (1Co 10:20 – The things the Gentiles sacrifice are sacrificed to demons, not to God. I don’t want you becoming sharers in demons.) Here, Paul speaks of the gods imagined by the pagans, and declares them to have no real existence. There, he is concerned with the devils which delude the idolatrous worshipers.
8:5
Suppose these gods of theirs had real existence, whether we’re talking planets and stars, or deified kings. It changes nothing. (2Th 2:4[The son of destruction] opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god, every object of worship, so as to take his seat in the temple of God and display himself as being God. Dt 4:19 – Beware lest you lift your eyes to observe the sun, moon, and stars, and be drawn away from worshiping God to serve them. The LORD your God has allotted these things to all peoples. Dt 10:17 – The LORD your God is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the great, might, awesome God who shows no partiality and takes no bribe. Ps 135:5 – I know that the LORD is great. Our Lord is above all gods. Ps 136:2 – Give thanks to the God of gods, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.) To the degree that they exercise power delegated to them by God, these may be termed gods, whether in fact angels or men. (Ex 22:9 – For every breach of trust, whether over animals, clothing or lost items; when one comes saying, “This is it,” the case shall come before the judges, and whom the judges condemn shall repay twofold to his neighbor. Ex 22:28 – You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people. Ps 82:1 – God takes His stand in His own congregation, and judges in the midst of the rulers. Ps 82:6 – I said, “You are gods, and all of you are sons of the Most High.” Jn 10:34-36 – Has it not been written in your Law, “I said, you are gods”? If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said “I am the Son of God”?) “Pagan ‘gods’ are only supposed gods: yet real powers of evil suggest them, and gain ascendancy over man through them.”
8:6
God, as Father, is First Cause and Source. “Creation is His exclusive prerogative.” He is FATHER, the ‘end for whose glory believers live’. (Col 1:16 – For by Him all things were created…) There, this is attributed as being by and for Christ. “So entirely are the Father and Son one.” (Ro 11:36 – For from Him, through Him, and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. Heb 2:10 – It was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.) The Spirit, “who brings all to their Source,” is also implied here. Unlike the many lords of the pagan, we have one Lord. “Their notions of Godhead were vague: Lordship is perfectly realized only in God-Christ.” (1Co 15:24-25 – Then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.) He is Mediator between the Physical and the Spiritual. (Jn 1:3 – All things came into being by Him. Apart from Him nothing that has come into being came into being. Heb 1:2 – In these last days He has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed as heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.) We, particularly, are restored to Him by the new creation, and this is also by Him. (Col 1:20 – Through Him to reconcile all things to Himself having made peace through the blood of the cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. Rev 21:5 – He who sits on the throne said, “Behold! I am making all things new. Write, for these words are faithful and true.”)
 

New Thoughts (10/13/17-10/20/17)

What’s Wrong with Knowledge? (10/15/17)

It may seem odd to ask what is wrong with knowledge.  Yet there are those currents in the life of the Church that seem to suggest it’s a question that needs asking, and it is; if not in the way the asker may think.  There is, for example, that strained strain of thought that supposes as good Christians, we are supposed to effectively stop thinking, that somehow faith and reason are diametrically opposed.  There are others that conclude that the sort of bookish learning that Western society promotes is inherently inferior to the orally transmitted mentoring approach of the rabbis.  That rather fails to note the lifestyle of the Greek philosophers, but the thought persists.  We may also find those who insist that an intellectually rigorous presentation of the gospel leaves the women behind, or simply fails to appeal to them.  Some of these views may have a grain of truth to them.  All of them are fundamentally wrong.

Today, we might find the argument has shifted somewhat.  We do have an ongoing battle, it seems between science and religion, each holding the other in disdain.  I would argue the issue is not so much with science as with scientism.  That is to say, when the scientist is lifted up as an arbiter of morality, science has been made a religion itself, and it is this ‘science as god’ perspective that necessarily leads to rejection by Christians.  It has to.  I could no more accept the Muhammedan’s god as being truly God.  There is only One.  But, that gets us far ahead of ourselves.  Right now we are asking, “What’s wrong with knowledge?”

After all, Paul himself declares the wisdom of this world to be foolishness, and isn’t that what knowledge is?  What do we learn in school, if not the wisdom of this world?  Isn’t this a problem?  Well, yes, there’s a definite problem – more than one.  But, the problem isn’t knowledge per se.  Knowledge is, after all, to be accounted among the gifts God has given to man.  Moral responsibility, which comes with knowledge, I think, is also, for all the difficulty it has caused, a gift God has given to man.  We might posit that it is when knowledge is unmoored from moral responsibility, or when what is known to be possible is assumed to be permissible that we arrive at the sort of worldly wisdom that is going to give us trouble.

Calvin, as is his wont, is a bit more straightforward in his assessment:  It is the wickedness of man that makes evil use of good gifts.  The fault is not in knowledge, but in man.  How can this be?  Well, let’s just say this.  It takes a certain perversity of mind to look at the things we have come to know and suppose them inherently awful.  We have come to an age of marvels in many ways.  I think about the video I saw the other day of a young father whose son was born with an effectively dead arm.  That father took himself off to college to learn engineering, and devised a means for parents such as himself to create a scan of their child’s limb, send it off to the lab, and have a custom prosthetic delivered nigh on instantaneously.  This is amazing, and to see his son off playing with both arms has to touch your heart if there’s any humanity in you, I think.  Not so many decades ago, this child had no hope of such a thing.  Even a poorly fitted appendage would have been out of the question.

Now, I can grant that much of modern medicine seems as likely to kill as to cure, yet there are those cases that are clear advances.  We cannot deny that life expectancies have been increased, both due to medical knowledge and knowledge about how to make more effective use of resources.  We farm so effectively these days that we feed the world in large part.  Yes, there are problems, but scarcity isn’t one of them, really.  We can build houses that are infinitely superior to those of our forebears, in terms of comfort, efficiency, and what have you.  We can travel further in search of suitable employments rather than being tied to the parcel of land on which we happened to have been born.  Shoot, we can relocate cross-country with relative ease, if that’s to our purpose.

All of these are potential goods that derive from knowledge.  The fact that I’m sitting here in a warm, well-lit room on so gray a morning, able to read through however many versions of the Bible I please, look up information instantaneously from a number of different commentaries, lexicons, or encyclopedias, happily organize, reorganize, type, and maybe even edit my thoughts, and then post them off to the world at large is a multiplicity of wonders.  Is any of that evil?  I should hope not!  Is it an awful thing, dear Christian, that you can, at present, hop on the web and go listen to the current crop of Christian music regardless of the fact that no Christian broadcasts exist in your area?  Not for you, it isn’t.  We can argue the effect on the musicians, but that just brings us back to our point.

The issue isn’t with knowledge.  The issue is with man.  What have you done with what you know?  How have you used this gift?  That, you might note, is something of a recurring theme in this letter.  Congratulations, you have these gifts.  What are you doing with them?  Sadly, the answer seems to have been ‘becoming arrogant’, more often than not.  Sadly, the same probably applies today.

The Poison of Pride (10/15/17)

Arrogance is another word for pride, and pride, more so even than the love of money, lies at the root of sin.  Lest you think I alter Scripture with that assessment, let me just quote the pertinent passage.  “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang” (1Ti 6:10 – NASB).  Note:  A root, not the root.  What is it that leads us to love money?  I would argue it’s pride.  We want stature.  We want power.  We want, we want, we want.  Why?  Because we’re proud, or we want to be.

This plays into the issue with knowledge.  Notice Paul’s verdict here in verse 1:  Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.  Alternately phrased:  Knowledge puffs up.  Love builds up.  Verse 2 gives us the corollary, which Calvin restates in a useful fashion.  “But where pride is, there is ignorance of God.”  Notice, in this application, the ironic suitability of this.  Here is our gifted, learned instructor, so proud of his superior knowledge of God and ready to let you know about it.  But, it turns out, that pride demonstrates his ignorance!  It demonstrates that he knows less about God than you do, dear one.  And, as Calvin swiftly recalls to our minds, in the Book of Life, you will not find so much as one prideful person listed.

Isn’t that wonderful?  Isn’t that dreadful?  What are we to do?  Shall we cease from studying, cease from grappling with the text of Scripture?  Should we withdraw from all technological, scientific, or even educational pursuits?  Clearly not.  The issue, again, is not with knowledge, it’s with an unwarrantedly high assessment of our knowledge.  The issue is that, having gained a little knowledge, we think we have the whole Truth, perfectly understood, and anybody who says otherwise must be a fool.

Oops.

And that’s actually exactly the point.  We gain some understanding and pride jumps on it.  That doesn’t invalidate what we understand.  It merely demonstrates that we don’t yet fully understand it.  We have the bare facts, but not the application of them.  Here, the commentaries are all of great benefit in bringing us points to remember, and thereby keeping an eye on our own fallen response to knowledge.  Take the JFB, for instance, which has it distilled and decanted for us.  “The first step to knowledge is to know our ignorance.”  If you are so full of yourself that you find it unacceptable to utter the words, “I don’t know,” look out!  The first thing to know is that you don’t know; certainly not in full.  Perhaps the second thing to know is that neither do your heroes.  It’s a hard thing to bear, I think, but those theologians we hold in highest regard do not have a 100% lock on the Truth, either.  Calvin has made mistakes.  Luther has made mistakes.  Sproul has made mistakes.  Can I point to specifics?  And on what basis do I vaunt my view as right and theirs wrong?  That latter is a question I do well to ask myself!  I can tell you that there are points with which I disagree, and particularly in Calvin’s case, such disagreements give me pause, because I respect his careful concern for Scriptural Truth very much.  But, if conscience and careful study lead me to a different conclusion, it is neither safe nor wise to concede the point just because it’s Calvin gainsaying me.

I also have no doubt in my mind that men such as these would be the first, or at least the second, since Paul beats them to it, to admit their limitations.  “For now we see in a mirror dimly” (1Co 13:12).  We know in part.  We have limitations.  If you don’t realize that, then you are mired in ignorance.  If you can’t admit that, then you’re plagued with pride to boot.  Let me turn this over to Matthew Henry for a moment.  No more common evidence of ignorance is to be found, he says, than claimed conceits of knowledge.  “He that knows best understands his own ignorance, and the imperfection of human knowledge.” 

This gets us near to the core of Paul’s argument here.  He is not, to be absolutely clear on the point, suggesting that knowledge, even written as human knowledge, is evil.  Any survey of his writings will make this clear.  He is quite willing to quote philosophers and poets, and even finds reason to agree with them.  Why not?  All truth is, after all God’s truth.  Their understanding may be far from even our incompleteness, but they’re not completely devoid of understanding.  Here’s the problem, though:  Mere knowledge is an insufficient guide for our decisions and actions.  Bare knowledge tends more to produce pride than instruction in us.  I could bring James to the subject.  “You believe that God is one.  You do well; the demons also believe this, and shudder” (Jas 2:19).  You’ve got knowledge, but so do they, for all the good it does them.

I’ll go back to Matthew Henry.  It is one thing to know the Truth.  It is another thing entirely to be improved by that knowledge.  You can see James’ point playing out in that, yes?  They know.  They are not improved by knowing.  Why?  Is their knowledge so incomplete?  Well, yes and no.  In many ways, I suspect their knowledge is far more complete than our own.  After all, they have had more direct experience of God and of angels than we generally do.  I don’t discount – believe me! – the inestimable value of being indwelt by God Himself, but even with that, to what degree would you say you’ve had direct, tangible, experience of the spiritual life of the heavenlies?  Yes, I know.  Some would claim to have quite a bit.  I become more and more inclined to question that.  It may be experience of spiritual beings, but whether of the heavenlies is another question altogether.

No, we need the tempering guidance of love combined with knowledge.  It is through the agency of love – that particular sort of love engendered in us by God’s love for us – that knowledge is moved from puffery to constructive application.  Love provides the  necessary guidance system for knowledge.  Let me quote Barnes here, because his statement really gives shape to what this looks like.  “If a man has not so learned anything as to make it contribute to the happiness of others, it is a proof that he has never learned the true design of the first elements of knowledge.”  So, then, do we just consider the happiness our actions produce and that’s good enough?  No.  Because even our understanding of happiness is corrupted and incomplete.  I’ll touch on this more in the next section, but love and knowledge must work together.

Before I move on, though, I would address one other item.  Notice how Paul treats on this matter.  The Corinthians have presented their premise and the conclusions drawn from that premise.  Paul’s issue is not with the premise.  In fact, this whole section is effectively granting the entirety of the premise.  Yes, you do have knowledge.  Yes, these idols are devoid of any real value or power.  Yes, there is only one God and Lord.  You’ve got all that right, and that’s wonderful.  Here’s the thing, though.  Those who disagree with you in the Church know this, too.  Their scruples about eating stuff sacrificed to idols is not – at least not necessarily – due to a lack of knowledge about the vanity of idols.  Rather, it is a reverence for the one God Who Is.

You see, he doesn’t reject the premise just because the conclusions are off.  We have this tendency, I think.  Either the whole fabric of the argument is right and we accept it, or we disagree with the conclusion and therefore reject the whole argument.  That is not the course of wisdom, nor is it respect for Truth.  If we are going to speak the Truth in Love, then we must acknowledge Truth even when presented in the support of falsehood.  It is the falsehood that needs to be excised and exposed.  But, the Truth should also be exposed and supported.  There is the way of edification!

Do you see what he has done?  He has built up.  You are right about this!  Yes, this is wonderful!  You’re quite right that all these myriad gods and lords of your past are vanity and wind.  You’ve got it!  There is one God who created all.  There is one Lord to whom you answer.  Beautiful!  Well done!  Now, here’s the issue:  Those premises don’t support your conclusion that you can go partake of this stuff with impunity.  It’s not that they have power to pollute you.  It’s that love requires you to limit your options in preference for building up the weaker ones among you.

For those of us who teach, this is a most wonderful lesson to learn.  As I continue on in these morning studies, I do find a peculiar effect.  I stated it in my previous notes on this passage.  “I knew better back when I knew less.”  I was, I think, far more open to hearing Scripture say something that was at odds with what I thought I knew.  Now?  I am dangerously certain of my positions.  I need this reminder as much as anybody:  I know only in part.  My knowledge remains incomplete, and too often fails to take guidance from love.  I have that propensity for just insisting I’m right and you must be wrong.

Lord, keep me mindful of my proclivities.  Remind me of Your love.  Teach me to love in the same way.  Guard me, as always, from arrogance, for I know my pride is ever with me.

The Tempering of Love (10/16/17)

Before I transition to the proper course that Paul sets for us, let me just note this.  What happens in the case of one whose knowledge is not tempered by love?  I think we catch a glimpse of that here.  It’s more than just a boasting of how much I know.  It leads into seeking to shape everybody else after my image.  Seeking to shape everybody else, were it done rightly, might be a fine goal, reflecting exactly that process of edification that Paul advises.  But, without love, it’s just making idols to self.  You should be like me.  No.  No, you certainly shouldn’t.  You should be like God made you to be.

Take your mind back to the days when Israel was first learning what it meant to be God’s people.  They received ample instruction in that regard, and part of that instruction concerned how altars were to be constructed.  Of great note when it comes to that topic is the point that the stones used to build the altar were not to be reshaped by any tool of man.  Leave them as God made them.  His work really doesn’t bear improvement anyway.  Take that image and bear it forward to the Church.  Here you are, a temple of the living God, and what must be at the heart of that temple if not the altar?  Let’s take a slightly different look at this temple.  “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1Pe 2:5).

It is one thing to work together with your neighboring stones to ensure the edifice we are building together is firmly on the foundation and erected straight and true.  Wonderful!  Support one another with all that you have in you.  Help each other to stand fast, and, since you are living stones, to grow.  But, don’t try and be chisel to your brother’s stone.  Don’t seek to retool the altar in your own image, or after your own understanding.  He is not here to serve you.  He is here to worship God, and to offer up acceptable spiritual sacrifices.  He cannot do that if you have violated the first rule of altar-building at his expense.  What else can we expect to happen if we apply our superior knowledge (as we seem ever to suppose ours must be) without the love of God?  Knowledge without love of God is always going to be a self-serving, self-exalting thing.  That’s where Paul begins his answer.

Let’s have a look at the flow of his argument here.  Step 1:  Be it acknowledged, that we all have knowledge.  Two unstated sub-heads must appear to us.  A:  If we all have knowledge, that includes those whose conclusions differed from yours.  B:  That knowledge, though we all possess sufficient understanding to come to God and to receive the salvation He so freely gives, remains partial, and if partial, then partially inaccurate.  Step 2:  True knowledge is necessarily grafted together with love.  This is what produces living stone.  This sort of knowledge will – again necessarily – find its purpose in seeking to build up others.  It will regard others as more important than self.  Where have we heard this again?  Ah yes, Philippians 2:3 – Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit.  There’s your unalloyed knowledge.  But with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.  Notice:  Immediate antidote to pride is found in humility of mind.  Humility of mind is demonstrated in what follows:  Care more about others than self.  Build them up, not yourself.

Step 3:  Your love for God demonstrates God’s knowledge of you, which is far more important, really, than you knowing Him.  For Him to know you is for Him to approve you, at least as applied here.  For Him to approve you requires that His love has been shed abroad in your heart, and if His love has been shed abroad in your heart, it can’t help but demonstrate in overflow to your brothers and sisters, your fellow stones in this temple.  For the moment, never mind the lost.  We’re talking about in-house relationship here.  You cannot make truthful claim to loving God if you do not love your brother (1Jn 4:20).  How does love demonstrate?  Does it demonstrate in arguments over who’s right and who’s wrong?  There’s a place for that sort of discussion, but argument isn’t it.  Discussion from a place of humility, yes.  Argument from a place of unassailable certainty, no.

Now, in three steps we’ve walked three verses.  I would maintain the next three simply take the general instruction of the first three and apply it to the specific case.  This is much the same as we see Paul doing throughout this letter.  State the principle.  Demonstrate the application of the principle.  If necessary, demonstrate the exceptions as well.  The knowledge we all possess is declared:  We know these idols are nothing because there is only one God.  But, here’s where the conclusions start to veer off, and you’ll miss it if you’re not careful.  Where Paul takes this is telling:  We are all the creation of this One God, and we all answer to this One Lord.   The all is important here.  The point is already being made, and so far, the arrogant probably only hear affirmation.  But, what is being said here has the same force as step 1.  If we all answer to this one Lord, that includes the abstainers.  Don’t try and reshape that stone!

As this flow goes, we will need verse 7 to see the applied tempering of love:  Not everybody fully gets the vanity of the idols, because they grew up in this world.  They haven’t fully shed its ways.  Now, let me pause.  Does this set a limit on the ‘all’ of what came before?  Or, are we perhaps looking outside the Church to find these who don’t get it?  Well, I don’t think we can conclude that he’s looking outside.  How can one defile what is already fully polluted?  So, yes, I think maybe we are setting a limit on the ‘all’ particularly of verse 1.  Or perhaps, more fittingly, we are setting a limit on the knowledge that all possess.  All believers necessarily know God and know that He is the only One.  But, not all have worked through the implications of that to the idols they grew up knowing.  All are surely aware that they answer to this one Lord only, but for some, that knowledge has led them to conclude they should avoid these feasts in reverence for their one Lord.  And, as Martin Luther so clearly declared, to act against conscience is neither safe nor right – certainly not when that conscience has been captivated by Christ.

Let’s return, though, to this matter of love.  “If anyone loves God…”  It’s an interesting choice of phrase, isn’t it?  We’re talking about love-tempered knowledge, aren’t we?  So, why this detour?  We have moved from love edifies, to loving God.  Are we supposed to conclude that we have a duty to edify God?  Clearly not!  No, what is happening here is that love for God requires something of us.  It is not that passive, sappy emotional business that fuels the greeting card industry.  It’s not the insipid romance of film.  Among other things it’s a more active love, and more compassionate by far, not that we need to have compassion for God, rightly speaking.  But, love of God requires care for His commandments.  “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (Jn 14:15).  Now, before you get all bound up with that unattainable goal, recognize:  This is not itself a command.  It is an indicative.  It is a statement of fact.  In keeping with our current sermon focus, it is gospel.  It is good news:  You will.  It’s not bad news:  You had better.

This is where so many of us get tied up in knots.  I failed this commandment today.  I must not love God.  Gah!  I’ve sinned again.  All is lost!  But, it’s not!  You will keep them.  It seems unbelievable, and it bothers folks no end to think that God’s salvific work requires nothing of us, but that’s the whole point!  You will keep them because He has kept them for you.  You will be sanctified because He is doing the work in you.  That doesn’t absolve you of all effort, but it completely changes the dynamic.  Obedience is now an expression of love, not an earning of worth.  Obedience is now an expression of love rather than a begging for love.  I’ll take it a step further:  Obedience is now an evidence of His love for you, not a proof of your love for Him; although your love for Him can only be evidence of His love for you.

So, then, what does love for God look like?  You’re being told in this very passage!  Love for God, according to the commandment He assures you that you will keep, requires – insists – that you will love your neighbor.  Those two commandments that Jesus declares as the sum of the Law are conjoined twins.  They go together like, oh, knowledge and love.  You cannot love God and not love your neighbor.  You cannot love your neighbor as you ought except you love God as you ought.  And, to square the circle, as it were, you cannot love God as you ought except He has put His own love in your heart.

Love for neighbor will necessarily temper how we deliver what knowledge we may possess.  It won’t be a hammer over the head to demonstrate our superiority.  It will be a caring, charitable, gentle work of seeking to aid another in their own growth.  Love-tempered knowledge, I dare say, would be exceedingly pleased to see our neighbor excel us in growth, and this without the least hint of self-serving consideration.  Be it granted that if they excel us in growth, they are likely to turn around and seek to aid us in catching up and excelling them, but that’s just a bonus.  What has transpired in the first step is already entirely wonderful.  God is being glorified the more, and that is really the only goal worth pursuing.

Love-tempered knowledge recognizes something else, too:  That one we think to help?  He already has that which will help us.  However much we may have grown in our faith, doctrine, and practice, there will always be room for improvement.  God has been pleased to work much of this improvement by means of the ‘iron sharpens iron’ method.  That, contrary to popular perspective, doesn’t require confrontational argument.  It does require two godly individuals who recognize with humility their own finite capacity for understanding, and who recognize in each other the potential for godly correction.  How do we get there?  Well, we might start by recognizing that it is far more critical for us both that we are known by God, than it is that we have carefully read book after book after book and arrived at this well-informed view of who He is.  Books, we must note, are written by men as fallible as ourselves.  The author is just one more individual of finite intelligence, as capable of being taught by us as he is of teaching us.

But, in spite of that, let me quote the writing of a man.  “Mere knowledge, or science, when the heart is not right, fills with pride; swells a man with vain self-confidence and reliance in his own powers, and very often leads him entirely astray.”  That comes from Mr. Barnes, and I dare say he captures the problem well.  As we noted already, the issue is not with the premise put forth by the Corinthians.  The issue is with the unsupported conclusions they draw from that premise.  Those conclusions demonstrate knowledge untampered by love. 

Barnes follows that point with the observation that love to God and to others, when combined with knowledge, provides a trustworthy guidance.  Notice, though:  Love alone, even love to God alone, is not advised as trustworthy guidance.  That course leads to the sort of thing Paul writes in regard to his kinsman in Israel.  “I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (Ro 10:2).  For all that, he could have written that about himself, prior to Damascus.  He had a burning love for God.  I don’t think that could reasonably be doubted.  But, he had next to zero knowledge of God.  It wasn’t for lack of learning.  He was being taught by the best that Jerusalem had to offer.  But, they couldn’t teach what they didn’t know.

No, love apart from knowledge is no better than knowledge apart from love.  The two must be grafted together, so closely bonded as to be inseparable.  I have to think this is a large portion of why God has designed to gather His children together in these local bodies called churches.  Here, week after week, we are fed knowledge of God – at least this is supremely to be hoped.  Here, week after week, we are given opportunity to come together as family, with all that this entails.  That doesn’t mean we’ll all be lovey-dovey, and get along famously.  Do you get along famously with every member of your earthly family?  I didn’t think so.  Why, then, would you expect a cakewalk with the family of Christ?  There are going to be those who are harder to love.  Yet, these are family, too, and love them you must.  Love them you will.  It goes back to that promise:  You will keep My commandments.  That doesn’t mean you won’t have to work at it, any more than the assurance of your salvation and sanctification means that you won’t have to work at sanctification.  What it does mean is that you can work at it with the confidence that God is working in you to see it done (Php 2:12-13).

Lord, here, too, I need so much help.  So much of what passes for superior knowledge of godliness today leaves me angry, and I must needs take care.  There is a place, I trust, for godly anger, but it’s very easy for me to set my own opinion as the gage.  Even these authors, for all that they seem to want to return to works, may have valuable insight in there somewhere, may be able to offer some aid of an edifying nature.  But, it rankles to see so much junk piled upon Your promise – burdens our fathers could not bear.  But, teach me, Father, to answer error with loving, compassionate, gentle nudges in the right direction, rather than fierce, tyrannical denunciations.  If there is a place for the latter, make it known to me, but let the former be my default.  It isn’t at present, and it should be.  Teach me, Lord, to sweeten my correction with the very love with which You have loved me.

Legalism, Liberty or License? (10/17/17)

Now that we have established that knowledge must be tempered by that love which God has set within us, what are we to do?  Does every sort of rule go out the window because love wins?  No.  That way lies the antinomian error, the idea that no law applies because we are free in Christ Jesus.  Well, then, do we instead insist that every law must be observed with Pharisaical strictness?  No.  That way lies the legalist’s error, the idea that everyone must comply absolutely with our code of ethics.  Well, then, where should we land?  The goal, dear brothers is liberty.

I have said before, and continue to maintain that there is a distinction between liberty and freedom.  Freedom knows no bounds, or at least refuses to acknowledge them.  On that basis, freedom will ever tend toward antinomianism and anarchy.  Liberty, on the other hand, recognizes that there are boundaries, and that it is only within these boundaries that freedom is exercised rightly.  We are told, for instance, that children want and need clearly defined boundaries.  Why is that?  Well, primarily so that they can be at liberty to be children.  We adults are really not much different.  If our employer fails to delineate what is acceptable and what is not, we work in constant fear of overstepping some invisible line.  In our relationships the same thing holds.  If your spouse does not clearly explain those things that may prove to be inadvertently hurtful, you are on eggshells all the day, fearing lest your off-hand, jovial remark be misinterpreted and lead to marital friction.

What’s happening?  You’re being asked to operate without borders.  You have no idea what is permitted and what is not until you discover yourself having stepped into the ‘what is not’ side.  You are not at liberty, and quite frankly, you’re not even free.

But, let us accept this Christian liberty that is ours.  We see the expanse of it in what Paul says in verses 4-6.  We know there is only one real God, and these idols are of no consequence.  I don’t know if we can grasp just how liberating this would be to the pagan mindset of the time, but think about it.  Every facet of nature had its god that needed to be appeased and attended to.  If you were going overseas, you would surely want to make sure you were in good standing with Poseidon.  If you were going overland, you might want to deal with Diana, I suppose.  If going to war, make certain to offer to Ares, or Mithras, or some such.  You couldn’t make a move without having some god to pay off.  And think about what those gods were like – the most capricious bunch of ne’er-do-wells you could ever expect to encounter.  Your offerings were no guarantee, but you had to do it anyway, just to improve your odds.  Why, looking at this matter of meats, consider that it was all but unthinkable to these people that they might eat meat without it having been made an offering to some god or other.  How freeing, then, to get this reduced to one, and that One, a consistent, trustworthy God who clearly delineates His expectations.  No wonder Paul spoke of this Christian life as being at liberty!  So much baggage is disposed of.

And, whatever else we may say of the Corinthians, they got it.  These other temples and their gods are just expensive noise.  They don’t matter.  They have no significance to my spiritual life.  So far so good.  But, what do we do with this recognition?  It’s clear what they wanted to do with it.  They wanted to enjoy life like they used to, but with the assurance of the Gospel.  So, off they went to these other temples, to enjoy the festivities, eat the feasts, and generally hang out with friends and family.  What could be wrong with that?  We know the god they worship is meaningless.  We’re not here to worship.  We’re here to party!  What’s the problem?

Well, the simple fact that they’ve found it necessary to seek Paul out on the matter indicates there certainly is a problem, and actually reveals the nature of the problem:  Not everybody had the same perception of these acts.  Now, let’s focus for a moment on this point:  It was indeed a matter of perception.  The overarching message of the New Testament authors in regards to these myriad pagan feasts and practices is that since the gods they honor are nothing, the acts themselves are nothing.  The acts, in and of themselves, have no moral weight.  They are neither good nor bad.  They are things indifferent.  It has been well noted, for example, that we cannot even make use of the calendar to identify days of the week without partaking in a bit of paganism, for every day is named in a fashion that dedicates it to some idol or another:  Sun-day, Moon-day, I forget Tuesday’s intent, Odin’s day, Thor’s day, Frieda’s day, Saturn’s day.

What are we to do?  Shall we make an alternate calendar to avoid this?  I suppose we could, but there’s really no reason to do so.  The names of the days are neither good nor bad in themselves.  I sincerely doubt that you give Thor even a passing thought on the average Thursday, unless a new movie’s come out.  The same would seem to me to apply to many of the holidays.  Is there a pagan root to Christmas as it is celebrated?  Certainly.  What about Easter?  Why, the very name, we are often reminded, is a tribute to another god.  What’s a good Christian to do?  I think we’re in the same place as meats with that.  And that may actually require us to rethink our behaviors just a bit.

This is an issue that’s come up in our household of late, as my wife has been reading through a book by some author convinced that if we don’t abandon Christmas entirely (and apparently take up the Jewish schedule of feasts instead) then God will smite the Church.  I may overstate the case somewhat, but not by much, based on what I’ve read of the book thus far.  But, Scripture seems pretty clear on this.  Some of you count certain days as more holy, some of you don’t.  It doesn’t matter.  Some of you are concerned about eating things from idolatrous sources, some of you aren’t.  It doesn’t matter.  Some of you, to bring it forward a bit, may shape your purchasing based on what is known of the corporate attitudes behind the companies from which you buy.  But, pretty soon, that sort of thing leaves you unable to buy much of anything from much of anybody.  The thing is, even this is a matter of indifference.  The stuff is not the point.  The days, the foods, the whatevers:  They’re all just things, and things have no particular moral qualities.  You’re at liberty to use them.  Here’s perhaps a first boundary:  Use them with an eye to honoring God.  That may begin to limit some of your choices.  Can I make use of tobacco in a God-honoring way?  Can I dine at a restaurant in a God-honoring way?  Can I go down to the casino and gamble in a God-honoring way?  For some things, the answer is going to be a resounding no.  For others, the answer may vary for a given individual.

And that brings us to our point here.  There is one way in which you cannot possibly do anything in God-honoring fashion, and that is when you do it with a total disregard for everybody else.  Here, it’s foods.  You know your brother has serious concerns about these meats from the pagan feasts.  You know it’s all but inevitable that if you head on down to the temple for supper, he’s going to know about it.  You know he also holds you to be somewhat of a leader in the church.  Of course he does, you’ve made sure he knows it.  Well, if you insist on your ‘rights’ of liberty, and your insistence leads him to violate conscience, what have you done?  Have you honored God, or have you become a snare and a stumbling block to your brother?  And if it’s the latter, what response can you expect from God whom you claim to serve?

Let’s swing back to this holiday issue, much as I’d prefer not to.  How does this instruction apply?  You know that there are those who view Christmas and Easter, in particular as pagan sops introduced into the Church to her great and lasting detriment.  You know, as well, that there is at least some validity to their premise, if not their conclusions.  What does knowledge tempered by love require?  If we follow this model, and it’s a model laid out more than once by Paul, then the correct answer would be to rein in our own liberties in loving respect for those we see as having weaker conscience, weaker understanding.  We might – really should, if we are in fact correct in our own understanding – seek to gently educate and edify these dear ones so that they may be freed of their unnecessary fetters.  But, here, I must insist we need still to remain careful of our own motivation. 

If we’re just trying to regain our own liberty then we are at risk of shifting our liberty to licentiousness, and worse, we are dragging others along for the ride.  If we are not seeking to build our brother or sister up in godliness, so as to promote their sanctification, then we have no business trying to improve their thinking.  It’s self-serving, whatever dressing we may apply.  We are abusing our liberty, or at least attempting to do so.

That’s the issue Paul has raised here.  Yes, you are right.  The idols are nothing, and eating their meats can’t do you any real harm – physical or spiritual.  And yet, this is no excuse to chow down.  It’s certainly no reason to claim it as if it were some right of which you must not be deprived.  Beloved, you have no rights!  You have responsibilities.  Your first responsibility is to God, and because this is so, your second is to your fellow believer.  You are responsible for loving them, for caring for them, for helping them.  You are certainly going to be held responsible for harming them.

Now, how indifferent was this particular matter?  Mr. Clarke notes that by the time these sacrificial leftovers hit the marketplace, there was no real distinguishing feature to indicate that they were something other than the general product of the slaughterhouse.  It wasn’t like you had one package over to the left that said, “Aphrodite’s Steak”, and another to the right with the Generic label.  Meat is meat, after all.  So, let us suppose you were concerned about this issue, and you’ve gone off to do your shopping.  What are you supposed to do?  About your only choice, it would seem, would be to have no meat at all, unless you could raise your own.  I could certainly see how somebody with less concern for idols would look at this situation and effectively arrive at the attitude of, “who cares?”  And, I think they’d be right, and I’m pretty sure Paul would agree.  But, look forward to where this chapter goes, and it’s not the marketplace where you had no way of knowing.  It’s the temple where the sacrifice was being made.  You’re down there with the crowd, digging in as it comes off the altar.  This is no longer a case of not knowing the provenance.  It’s certain.

The sum, then, is:  Love your brother.  Is your use of your liberty going to serve to help them grow in wisdom, grace, and holiness?  Is it going to hinder that growth?  If there is even the chance of such an outcome then love dictates that you should gladly choose self-restraint instead of insisting on your liberties.  Liberties insisted upon are licentiousness.  Liberties tempered by love are laudable.  Knowing your liberties is insufficient.  Knowing these idols are nothing is insufficient.  This bare knowledge will leave you happily doing what Clarke describes as being ‘neither seemly nor convenient’.  Oh, it’s convenient enough for you, I suppose, but insomuch as it bears potential harm to your brother, it is most thoroughly inconvenient.

Now, let us suppose instead that we are going to be intentional in pursuing a course that promotes this growth in wisdom, grace, holiness, and blessedness in our brothers.  How are we to go about it?  Well, I’ll tell you one way that probably isn’t going to work:  Don’t try to promote their growth by laying out your enumerated list of dos and don’ts.  Yes, there’s a place for Law in the life of the Christian, but not as a source of growth.  Rather, our growth will tend toward producing the obedience that God’s Law requires and deserves.

I need to go back once again to that most readily misunderstood declaration of our Lord – that one Lord through whom we exist.  “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (Jn 14:15).  A bit of syntactical work is probably in order.  The conditional here is third class, indicating a probable future.  So, Wheeler’s actually lists our verse as one in which we are presented a hypothetical without any affirmation as to the truth of the condition.  If you love Me – maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but if you do…  But, the point remains.  Jesus is not laying out a prerequisite for loving Him.  This is not, “Unless you keep My commandments, you clearly don’t love Me,” although we could probably read a bit of that idea back in.  But, that’s not the point Jesus is setting before us.  Rather than presenting us with a hurdle we shall find ourselves regularly failing to clear, and making this cause for us to question our love for Him, He is in fact delivering assurance.  If you love Me, you will.

If I unpack that a bit further, it’s incredibly powerful.   If you love Me, with a full biblical understanding, must imply that God has loved you.  If you love God, there can be no other cause underlying that than that He has first loved you (1Jn 4:19).  So, then, if He loves you, you will love Him.  If you love Him, you will keep His commandments.  It’s an indicative, a statement of fact.  It’s subjective in that the fact applies solely to those who love Him.  But, once that love is established, the apodosis follows as necessarily as night follows day.  Don’t look to your obedience to prove your love.  Look for your love to assure your obedience.  Recognize that Jesus can say this with certainty because He is Himself the guarantor of your obedience.  He has already obeyed for you.  He has sent forth the Holy Spirit to indwell you, to remind you, to instruct you, to advise you, and He it is who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His own good pleasure (Php 2:13).  Again, you can’t take this as excuse to become passive in your faith.  But, you sure can find rest in the assurance that has been given!

A Few Reminders (10/17/17)

Of course, lawyers that we are, we want our rules, right?  We want things defined.  We want to be able to take our measure in this matter of obedience.  Better yet, we want to take the measure of our neighbors.  After all, that’s likely to give us a bit of something we can feel good about.  However thin our own compliance, certainly we can think of somebody worse, even if we need to cast about in the pagan waters to find our example.  Well, be careful!  I just want to put a couple of verses before our eyes – mine first and foremost.  These came up in the JFB Commentary, and while I am completely disregarding their context, both in the commentary and in their Scriptural setting, yet they are two reminders worth keeping in view.

Let’s start here:  “You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people” (Ex 22:28).  Well, the first part’s pretty obvious, even if we are not always so good about our compliance.  We have learned from an early age to make use of God’s name in our own cursing.  This really shouldn’t surprise, should it?  After all, when it comes to cursing, we are entirely powerless, and so, quite frankly, is everybody else.  Government may be a curse in the eyes of many, but it cannot curse.  It hasn’t got the wherewithal.  Curses require an enforcing power, and when we swear, however unconsciously we may do it, we really are calling upon God to do some awful thing at our behest.  There’s a reason He doesn’t like this, but it’s not so much the disrespect for His name.  It’s the utter disregard for His purpose.  There’s a place, I think, to call down God’s wrath.  But, I also tend to think it’s almost never the place we think.  We’ll call it down, like James and John, those hotheads, because of the least little offense, even for something so benign as having stubbed our toe or banged our head on something.  It demonstrates a certain unwarranted levity as to the powerful wrath of God when we so freely apply it to every little personal inconvenience.  It demonstrates a lack of awareness as to our own privilege in calling upon Him, as well.

But, go to the second half:  Nor curse a ruler of your people.  Now it gets hard.  In our current system of government, it’s at best a 50-50 shot as to whether your representative represents your interests, or even shares your worldview.  It strikes me that most every presidential race I can think of in recent years has been a close-run thing.  There has not been a clear and decisive leader for a long time.  There has been no president, certainly in the lifetime of my daughter, who could claim a popular mandate for their plans.  So, what do we do when we disagree?  Do we curse our rulers?  Probably.  Should we?  Certainly not.  Do we simply denounce them as not being our rulers because we didn’t vote for them?  No.  That’s vacuous on a number of different levels.  But, for our purposes stick with this:  Denying their very real role as your ruler doesn’t change the facts, and does, in fact, constitute a cursing of sorts.  Still guilty, then.

With that in mind, let me turn to the second verse that caught my eye.  “God takes His stand in His own congregation, and judges in the midst of the rulers” (Ps 82:1).  Well, there is reason enough to stay in compliance with that first passage, isn’t it?  If God judges the rulers, certainly I can’t add anything to that.  He’s already on it.  I don’t need to be cursing them.  In plain point of fact, I’m actually instructed to pray for them, and in that context, prayers of vengeance upon their benighted souls don’t count.  Can you imagine Paul and friends being called upon to pray for Nero?  Can you imagine Paul, chained and imprisoned in Rome, awaiting a trial before this mad emperor, praying not so much for his own case, but for Nero’s salvation?  I can imagine Paul doing it, because we see it from him so often.  I’m not so sure I could see myself doing it.  But, I should.

There’s another piece to that second passage, though, maybe two pieces.  First, let me say this:  If you get involved in matters of church discipline, it won’t be long before you hear somebody toss out the “Judge not lest you be judged” line (Mt 7:1), as if this means we ought to make no judgments about anyone or anything, particularly in matters of faith and practice.  But, we might notice, this is a judgment call in itself.  Further, we are instructed that judgment begins in the Church.  The call, then, is not to make judgments at all, but – as it ever was – to do so righteously:  Judge fairly, impartially, and with the correct standard of measure.  That’s the point.  After all, going back to our Psalm, God judges in the midst of the rulers, and where does He do so?  In the midst of His own congregation.

Listen:  This is not so much a declaration that God is judging your rulers, although I am entirely certain that He is.  He is in control, even over those who deny His control.  But, rather, what God is saying in that Psalm is more along the lines of, “I’ve got your leaders’ backs.”  Worded differently, “Their judgments are My judgments, and are to be regarded as such.”  Now, those are words to strike fear into the heart of any sane leader, because we will be called to render judgments in matters great and small.  Our judgments, if we are leaders in the Church, are to be the expression of His judgments.  They are spoken as such, whether we are mindful of that reality or not.  As such, to speak His judgments puts us in the prophetic office, as His prosecutors.  That being the case, that same warning I tend to bring forward for the prophets applies to us as leaders – elders and pastors in the house of God:  To speak in His name without speaking His words is a deadly error.  We do well, then, to consider with utmost care how we render judgment in the house of God.  We cannot avoid it, but we must surely pursue it with much prayerful discernment, and utmost humility.  It is a fearsome duty.

That duty, I will note in closing out this topic, is a duty we perform more often than we suppose.  As we seek to pray for our flock, we judge.  We make our assessments as to the progress of individual sheep, ourselves included, I should hope.  When we receive prayer requests, we render judgments of a sort as to whether that request deserves our time, and if so, how much.  We render judgments in every consideration that concerns the church which Christ has set under our supervision.  What we teach reflects a judgment as to what they need to learn.  What we provide in worship is a judgment as to how able they are to worship.  I could go on, but I think the point has been made.

May You be pleased, dear Lord, to keep me mindful of this for more than a half hour.  Remind me often.  Remind me that You are in fact still ruling Your Church, and that at best I am just a conduit through which You do so.  May I then be a faithful conduit of Your grace and Your governance.  May I become daily more intentional in my care for, and mindful in my prayer for those whom You so love.

The Nature of Nothing (10/18/17)

As I turn more to the second half of the passage, we come to what may be taken as a restatement or amplification of the first verse.  To borrow the NASB, “We know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world.”  Other translations suggest we know that these idols are nothing.  This is a challenging text, because Paul leaves the matter vaguely stated so that it is not exactly clear what he intends to convey.  But, by considering other passages, and the evidence of reality, we can arrive pretty safely at the sense he has in mind.

Turning first to reality-based evidence, it’s quite clear that there are in fact idols in the world.  The physical objects referred to as idols quite clearly have a material existence.  So, that can’t be what he’s saying.  It would be a most inane thing to say if that was his intent, since it is so readily refuted.  It would be senseless to make such a claim as part of one’s attempt to make his point.  So, what then?  Well, they certainly cannot be real representations of God, because we know this one God, and He is Spirit.  How shall one make a physical representation of a being with no physical form?  That would seem a bit of a challenge.  Do they represent gods of some other form?  Well, we have a problem there, because we do not admit the possibility of other gods.  But, we must at the same time acknowledge, along with Paul, that the world posits any number of other gods and worships them as if they were real.  He even concedes some reality to them later in the letter, but their reality is not as gods, but rather as demons (1Co 10:20).  So, there’s something there.  It’s not entirely nothing.

They are, however, qualitatively nothing.  They have no essential power.  Worshiping the idol cannot possibly produce any useful result.  More to the immediate point, these idols cannot have any effect upon one who belongs to the one true God.  And yet, with all that being granted, we have the statement of chapter 10.  Don’t have anything to do with them because they are demonic, and you can’t be mixing Christ with demons.  Well, yes.  The very idea presents a bit of an impossibility.  You can’t.  More to the point, you shouldn’t try.  It’s an offense to the Christ you serve, and as such, it cannot be healthy for you even if it is deemed, on some level, safe.

This is, as you can see, hard to convey with a fully satisfactory explanation of the nothingness.  Calvin suggests that we’re talking quality, not essence.  That is to say, there is a something there, the demon who represents as some minor deity.  But, there can be no benefit to the worshiper.  Oh, he may eat and have an appetite filled for a time.  But, it’s valueless.  It cannot sustain life, certainly not on the eternal scale.  In plain point of fact, whatever the temporary, temporal pleasures and effects, it can only sustain death.  Every false religion is found to be a death cult, because that is the sum total effect it can produce.

Thus, we arrive at the conclusion the JFB offers:  They have no true being.  This perhaps gives a reason to God’s rejection of such idols for His own worship.  You shall make no graven image for worship.  Why?  Because they can’t possibly have any real being and must necessarily distract you from the One right object of your worship, the invisible, all-powerful God Who Is, and who is Spirit.  He cannot be represented, except by that one Representative of His choosing.  His only begotten Son, He has explained Him.  He is the image of God, and having seen Him you have seen the Father.  We, of course, have not seen Him, visionary claims to the contrary notwithstanding.  We have no possible means of confirming that whatever image may have formed in our mind’s eye conformed to the actual visage of the God-Man.  We have a fair amount of Scriptural evidence for insisting we have not.  For, we have it written in this very letter, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1Co 13:12).  We can add John’s testimony.  “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be.  We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is” (1Jn 3:2).

Granted, these speak of Christ ascended, restored to the fullness of His majestic splendor.  But, as concerns His earthly visage, we are told there was nothing about Him that would recommend Him to us.  He was not, at least according to Scripture, particularly attractive.  “He has no form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.  He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief.  He was one from whom men would hide their face.  He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” (Isa 53:2b-3).  Yet, it seems that those who have ‘seen’ Him always come away with this lovable image, a beautiful visage seen in their imagination.  Perhaps we are past the period where we see Him in a fully westernized form.  Perhaps not.  We have this tendency in us to want Jesus in our image.  Jesus would rather have us in His.  It will not be taken well by those who subscribe to such things, but it remains a very real, very serious concern that the purported visitation is, like the idols of Corinth, something foisted upon you by demons, rather than a real Christ.  There is a reason we are forever turned back to the Word to find God revealed.  The One He sent has explained Him.  Wouldn’t we do far better to spend our time considering the explanation He gave, rather than seeking the vanity and wind that our own imaginations throw up?

While it’s completely off topic for this part of the study, as this verse came to my attention this morning, and it does touch on the matter of visions, I want to make mention of it.  Daniel 9:24 is a very familiar passage, concerning, as it does, the Old Testament’s prophetic forthtelling of Messiah.  “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for inquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place.”  The passage continues with clear prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, and of the temple.  That act is generally confirmed as having been fulfilled when Titus destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD.  This is also seen as the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy as we have it in the Olivet Discourse.  If this assessment is correct, and I find no good reason to suggest it isn’t, then does this not indicate that the time had come, to take Daniel’s words, “to seal up vision and prophecy”?

This strikes me as being a far more compelling argument for the end of those particular spiritual gifts than any of the usual passages I see offered as evidence of their end.  By the time of Jerusalem’s fall, the New Testament has been delivered, at least in its original manuscripts.  We might have to make an exception for the Revelation, but then, we could as readily make the argument that the Revelation represents the sealing up of which Daniel spoke.  It is, after all, very Daniel-like in its own way, and builds quite a bit upon his prophecy.

All this to say that we could stand to be significantly more skeptical of those who come with claims of new revelation, promoting this change or that based on visions and impressions received apart from the Word.  The world is rife with such things today, and much of it, with but the least bit of careful consideration, proves to be not merely vanity and pointlessness, but is, like the nothing idols of Corinth, the work of demons, seeking, if possible, to mislead even the elect.

These pagan gods, then, are not really gods, any more than the less directly attributed gods of our own age.  This does not, however, deny that there is power of some sort in these things.  The idols of old, and the so-called gods they represented, had real power after a fashion.  The JFB attempts to make the distinction for us.  “Pagan ‘gods’ are only supposed gods:  yet real powers of evil suggest them, and gain ascendancy over man through them.”  Here, I think, we have the Scirptural balance.  They are not gods.  They do represent powers, and the powers they represent are – since they are not gods but foist themselves off as being such – necessarily opposed to God.  They are necessarily usurpers, interlopers, thieves come to kill and destroy.   That balances Paul’s words here with those in Chapter 10.  Yes, they are nothing.  Yet, they are tools of the demonic enemy, and you can’t unite yourself with both sides in this battle.  It will never work.

The gods that these demons wear as a front have no reality.  They are nothing.  The demons in gods’ clothing, however, are all too real.  I think (if I’ve not mentioned it here before), of the gentleman whose inn provided our accommodations for this last vacation.  He was largely reduced to caring for the gardens at this point, as his children took over the greater part of the operational duties, which was fine by him, for the gardens are clearly his passion.  But, that passion has led him into dangerous places, as he looks to this group over in Scotland, with their purported plant divas.  Oh, we pray to the plant divas, and they tell us what the plants need, and behold!  Look at the produce!  Here, in Scotland, where growing peat moss is a challenge.  Surely, these are angels sent to help us.  Well, doesn’t that sound charming?  Oh, it is.  It is charming, indeed, beguiling the minds of many.  The perpetrators of this deceiving boon make no mistake about it.  They do not attribute this to angels from God, but rather promote an ancient Egyptian ‘goddess’ as their primary source.  So, then, to call these agents of this so-called goddess angels may not be entirely false, but we must recognize that if they are angels, they are fallen angels.  What angel of God ever accepted prayer and worship?  These are, whatever the temporary, temporal benefit by which they beguile, demons, and the Christian cannot – CANNOT – grant them validity, let alone think to avail himself of their services.  “I don’t want you becoming sharers in demons.”

Before we shift our thoughts from the nothingness of demons to the nature of God, let me point out one other facet of this passage.  With the start of verse 5, we see that we are entering into an if/then clause of some sort, but the way things get translated, we might hold off the ‘then’ part for verse 6.  But, it’s an interesting sort of if/then clause.  It doesn’t really follow the usual course of the first through fourth class conditionals.  We have the word eiper as our if, with hoosper serving for the then.  At least, this is grammatically possible.  It is a construct known to the Greek.  We don’t really see this well in translation, certainly not in the NASB.  We have the if, but there’s no then.  There’s only the parenthetical admission in the second half of verse 4, “as indeed there are many gods and many lords”.

But, if eiper and hoosper define an if/then relationship, Paul’s message in verse 5 becomes, I find, far different in its implications.  Try it out.  “If there are things called gods by men then there are certainly rather a lot of them.  But for us, there remains one:  God the Father.”  That’s my paraphrase, obviously, but look at the flow.  We know these idols are nothing.  There is no God but one.  And, if there are gods such as the pagans pursue, wow!  So many!  But, dear ones, we know there is only One.  These can’t be real, then.  They can’t be valid.  For us, there is One:  One God, One Lord.  In plain point of fact, logic dictates that there can be only One.

We begin, then, our transition to considering God’s nature in contrast to this bevy of nothings.  I’ll quote whoever it was Calvin was quoting, which unfortunately goes unattributed.  “Whatever has its origin from what is foreign to itself, is not eternal, and, consequently, is not God.”  That’s really what’s at issue here.  How does one define God?  He is self-existent.  It’s there in His name.  “I Am that I Am.”  He is the One for whom no outside agent can be found.  He has no cause outside Himself.  He answers to no-one.  Fundamentally, there can be only One of whom this can be said, and whatever claims may come to the contrary, if your god cannot lay claim to having no outside cause, and no higher authority to which it must answer, then you have not yet found God.

If I might just bounce back to our earlier topic of legalism, liberty, and license, consider:  The antinomian purports to be against the very idea of law.  We hit another category in Scripture’s diagnosis of man, and that is the autonomian.  It started, it would seem, with Satan himself, and he spread it to mankind in short order.  We want to be a law unto ourselves.  In plain point of fact, every antinomian is in fact an autonomian.  However much he protests against there being any law to which he must answer, yet he establishes his own law, and woe befall the one who defies it!  But, you see, he wants to be an autonomian for the very reason that it takes God right out of the picture.  He answers to no-one but himself.  What does that define?  It defines God.  He seeks to be god himself, and becomes so in his own thinking.  But, in this, the autonomian is nothing but an idol, which is to say nothing.  What a sad place to be.

The Nature of God (10/19/17)

So, then, we have this contrast from verse 5 to verse 6.  These pagans, they sure do have a lot of gods and lords (verse 5).  We have One (verse 6).  Mind you, Paul is fully aware that those to whom he is writing come largely from that pagan mindset.  Why else would they be inclined to be eating at those temples in the first place?  It sure wasn’t the Jewish converts contemplating such activities.  But, this is it:  They have many gods, as the count them, and unreal though they are, the fact that they were worshiped gave them a certain degree of influence over the minds of their worshipers.  As Barnes points out, the effect of these idols on their adherents was just as real as if they were real.  That does not, however, speak to any real power or value in those idols.

It is also something of a warning, isn’t it?  Those who today hold up idols of money, or science, or mother earth, or political parties, or whatever else they may conceive of to worship; they do not render those worshiped things any more truly valuable or powerful than the nothings they truly are.  But, they do allow their own thinking to be influenced by the objects of their worship.  And, I should note, that influence is never to the good.  It is always a twisting, a distortion of real value.  I think of the way Steve Jobs was described as having a sort of distortion field that would tend to shift people’s thinking to align with his own.  That’s the power of the idol, and make no mistake:  Mr. Jobs was held as an idol by many, and not only those in his employ.

But, as Paul sets out this contrast between the many and the One, what he is doing is addressing our understanding of the very fabric of reality.  If we’re going to talk about knowing things, that might be a good topic to include, don’t you think?  But, what’s the contrast?  On the one hand, we have this view that the various facets of reality, while interconnected, are in fact independent operations with their own controlling structures.  So, we have a god for the ocean, and another to keep the sun in its course (never mind that it was actually the earth that was running a course).  We have a god for thieves and another for warriors, a god for travel and a god for the home, maybe another for the hearth.  We even have a god for the dead, to keep them from coming back up, I suppose.  All these little gods with their little fiefdoms, and here’s poor man with no fiefdom to call his own.  Every action he undertakes, every movement he makes, he must consider which of his gods needs to be appeased and cajoled into being more beneficial than detrimental to his pursuits.  And they’re fickle, these gods!  You can’t really count on them for anything.  Even if you give them the requisite offerings, there’s no guarantee.  Kind of makes you wonder what’s the point, doesn’t it?  It did for many of their contemporaries, particularly those with greater societal standing and power.  But, those with power found it useful to allow these perceptions to persist.

Compare and contrast.  We know there is but one God – no other to be considered; no other even theoretically possible.  See how He is described.  We have this one God, the Father.  All things are from Him and for Him.  He created everything, and on that basis assuredly has the right to rule and dispose His creations as He pleases.  The human corollary is readily recognized and acknowledged.  If I build a house for myself, why, the basic premise is right there in the doing.  It’s for me.  It’s there to serve me according to my good pleasure.  No other can rightfully lay claim to it.  I built it.  It’s mine.  We trend more towards the right obtained by purchase, but it’s really the same thing at base.  I have made my property what it is, and I have right to the benefits thereof, as well, we might note, as the losses that may ensue due to negligence on my part.  But, that drifts us off course a bit.  God, for one thing, is never negligent.  That being the case, there’s no concern for loss on His part.  The point stands:  He made all creatures, and has inherent right of rule over them.

You are not here for the desires of your idols.  You are not here even for your own desires.  You are not your own.  You were created, and created for a purpose.  Your purpose is to serve His purpose.  The same goes for those demonic powers that hide behind your idols.  You have no cause to serve them.  They are not your purpose.  In plain point of fact, though it galls them to recognize it, they, too, must in the end serve God’s purpose.  He created them, too.  Rebel though they might, they cannot finally escape their purpose, and certainly cannot thwart His.

Now, a stumbling block for the Jews certainly, and for many others, must be addressed.  If there is only one God, who is this Jesus?  If the Father is God, how is He also God?  Does that not leave us with one too many?  You will note, as many of our commentators have, that Jesus is not spoken of as the Son here, but as our one Lord.  Some, beginning, I think, with Arius and his followers, took this passage as proof that Jesus was Himself a created being, and therefore necessarily of lower standing than God.  He was important, oh yes!  He was sent by God, certainly.  But, He couldn’t actually be God.  There’s only One, don’t you see, and the Father is it.  And even Paul stops short of calling Him God here.  Lord, yes.  God, no.  There are still pockets of nominally Christian sects today that take issue with the idea of the Trinity, although they lean more towards Jesus being the sole claimant to the Godhead, with Spirit and Father set off to the side somehow.

But, as Matthew Henry and others point out, Paul’s use of Father in this passage is not in reference to the First Person of the Trinity in contrast to the Second Person of the Son.  That is, at least in part, the reason that Jesus is not referred to as the Son here.  It avoids the confusion that Arius tried to introduce.  Father, God as Father is being contrasted with those myriad gods of the pagan world.  No, Paul says.  You don’t have various things coming from various gods.  There is One.  He created everything and everyone.  All that is created, or ever has been, is created by Him for His purposes.  All answers to Him and Him alone.

Now, as Jesus is brought in, He is not brought in as the Son, because that might in fact imply the idea of created being that Arius insists on finding.  Rather, he is brought in as our one Lord.  Again, it is the contrast between many lords and One.  The pagans have all these many authorities to whom they feel they must answer, and, we might note, that plethora of authorities is bound to result in confusion as contradictory orders come down from those various sources.  If you’ve been in a workplace with too many managers, or where lines of communication and authority have not been clearly defined, you know the problem well.  However hard folks try to avoid it, you will wind up with conflicting priorities.  As Jesus said, you can’t serve two masters.  It’ll never work.

We don’t have to worry about that.  We serve One.  Notice the description given of the relationship we have to Him.  We are by Him.  Our existence is from God – He is our Father, just as we can attribute our physical existence to our earthly father.  Our existence is by God – our Lord Jesus has been the agent of our being.  It is by Him, as John declares, that all things were created that have been created, and no created thing has come into being apart from His agency.  So, too, the new creation that He has achieved in us.

Here, we really do need to turn our attention to the essential, defining characteristics of ‘god-ness’.  What does it mean to be god?  We have already noted one criteria:  God can have no external source.  He is that He is.  He is the sole uncreated being.  For now, let me strip the sole part, because that’s a harder point.  Leave it here:  God, to be a god, must be uncreated.  But, we have also noted that God cannot be answerable to any other power or authority.  Well and good.  Let us note, however, the argument we’ve established in regard to our own relationship with God.  He created us, ergo we are answerable to Him.  There’s a connection, you see, between createdness and answerability.  So, then, for God to be answerable to no other authority requires that He is uncreated.  We have a linkage here.  Had He been created, He would answer to His creator, and we would need to look to that creator as our god candidate.

Now, as concerns authority, as we have noted, and as Jesus has said explicitly, you can’t serve two masters.  Authority requires that at some point you arrive at a single, ruling power.  This is where we arrive at God as the sole uncreated being.  If you have two who answer only to themselves you inevitably wind up with confusion as conflicting orders come down.  Well, you say, what about the devil?  He doesn’t answer to anybody, does he?  I would answer he is more like the willful child.  He chooses to act as if this were the case, but the reality is different.  The reality is that he does, in fact answer to his Creator, just as we do.  Can I prove to you that Satan is a created being?  Not directly, no, but I would say the record pretty clearly shows that he is not the chiefest authority.  Accepting the Scriptural record, it’s actually very clear that, for all his rebellion, he yet answers to God.  From the earliest writings, we have it established.  There, in the opening of Job, we find him not telling God what he’s going to do, but making a proposal, which can only be pursued with God’s permission, and within the bounds God establishes.  In this, the devil is no different than the ocean.  It, too, must operate within the bounds God has set upon it.

So, now, we might return to our consideration of Father and Christ, and we can go ahead and bring in the Spirit as well.  Are they, in fact, three gods?  No!  Scripture refuses it, and the very, most fundamental definition of god-ness renders it an impossibility.  Behold, o Church, your God, He is One.  That has not changed.  Paul has just told you this explicitly.  Yet, here is Jesus, and He is our one Lord.   Well, if He is our one Lord, He is our singular commander.  He is our singular Authority.  Where was that singular Authority again?  It’s in the Godhead.  But, it can’t be a different singular Authority than the Father from whom are all things.  Rather, what we discover in the pages of Scripture is that our One God working together in these three Persons, enjoying perfect fellowship and communion in Himself, lacking nothing.

It’s there in the very story of Creation.  God spoke as the Spirit hovered, and as John tells us, Jesus was calling the shots, as it were.  He was there in the beginning with God.  He was God.  He was God in the beginning (he didn’t attain to it later, during the incarnation somehow).  All that came into being (when God spoke), came into being by Him.  He was the agent of that creation which God spoke.  In Him was life, and He imparts life to all that lives.  There’s a heavily paraphrased rendition of John 1:1-4.  How can we look at John’s statement, and Paul’s many statements, and conclude that Jesus Christ is anything other than God?  How can we conclude that the three Persons of the Triune Godhead are anything but one God?  We see them together in creation.  We see them together at the baptism of Jesus.  We see them united in the primary commandment given to the Church, to go baptize in the Triune name of Father, Son, and Spirit.  And this MUST hold together with that great proclamation of old:  Behold, the LORD your God, He is One (Dt 6:4)!

The whole point that Paul makes here is:  God is One.  In this, we must hear Father, Son, and Spirit declared equal in nature.  It cannot be otherwise.  Their roles may differ, but their essence does not.  So, then, we have One Father, whom Clarke (and others) describes as ‘the fountain of our being’.  We have one Christ who governs all things.  What is the significance for us in this?  As Paul lays it out, and Clarke expounds, “We, as creatures, live in reference to him, God the Father, who is the fountain of our being: and, as Christians, we live by or through Him, Jesus Christ; by Whom we are bought, enlightened, pardoned, and saved.”  We have God, the Father, our fountain, or if you prefer, our foundation of all existence.  This explains our being, but how are we to be united with our God?  This is by the Son, our Lord, through whom, as Calvin suggests, God communicates to us the reality of existence.  Here, we can add the work of the Spirit Who brings us to Christ to hear this communication.

Looking once again at Paul’s description of this relationship we have to God, it is the small words that speak most, I think:  the prepositions.  From, for, through, and by; they’re all there, and all of them point us back to God.  We are from God – He created us.  We are for God – He is our purpose.  We are through God – that we live at all is His doing, that we live in the full meaning of the word is Christ.  We are by God – if, in fact we have attained to true Life, it is His doing.  He is our Life.  He gives it.  He maintains it.  He imbues it with meaning and purpose.  God, in sum, is the aim of all existence.  We are instructed that our primary purpose is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.  How shall we ever be able to do that?  You’ve just been handed the answer:  From Him, by Him, through Him, and to Him.  It is God alone, start to finish, and He, having begun this best of all works in us, will assuredly finish it (Php 1:6)!

Application Today (10/20/17)

I find the timing of these studies interesting on many occasions.  This is certainly proving to be one of them.  I have been reading, of late, an effort by some dear lady, whose motives are, I’m sure very nice, to discredit Christmas, Easter, the calendar, and, it would seem, a fair amount of Christian history and tradition.  It’s all very nicely footnoted, particularly where the points are secondary.  But, then come the bald assertions in support of her premise, a premise built primarily upon night vapors.  Forgive me.  She prefers to think she’s had – apparently – four ‘epiphanous’ revelations direct from Christ.  I suppose I cannot discount that out of hand, or perhaps I really should.  But, much of the framework for her arguments seems to be built upon some painful misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

We have, for instance, 1Co 5:8 marched out as proof that the early church maintained the Jewish cycle of annual feasts.  Why?  Well, it mentions Passover – albeit by way of identifying the Christian doctrine that Jesus Christ is our Passover, our Paschal Lamb.  And, He has been sacrificed.  That Paul would borrow heavily from Passover imagery is no surprise, since he, being Jewish, was raised and trained in that cycle of feasts, and still marked time by them.  We might note, however, that he is in Ephesus, expecting to remain through Pentecost, and was pretty clearly there for Passover, as well.  If he was still observing the Jewish feasts, he was not doing so in good, Jewish fashion, which still required being in Jerusalem at the Temple, which was still standing at the time.  Seems to me there’s a bit of a problem there.

What has more direct bearing on our current passage, is this matter of eidoluthuton – things offered to idols.   Of particular concern to this author are the two passages relaying the Jewish directive for Gentile converts to Christianity.  Not surprisingly, those passages come before us here, as they speak to the matter of eidoluthuton, and the fairly consistent message that Christians are to abstain from them.  The original statement, in Acts 15:20 instructs us to abstain from ‘pollutions of idols', which is a different term:  alisgeematoon.  This, as I read it, gets clarified in Acts 15:29, to mean eidoluthuton, things offered to idols.  Well, ok.  But, it’s things, right?  It could be anything.

In Acts 21:25 we find this message from the Jerusalem Church repeated.  What is our context?  Paul is returning to Jerusalem, and come to speak with James and the other elders, having been warned by Agabus of what he could expect.  The discussion turns to reaction when the Jewish believers hear Paul is in town.  If I’m reading this right, it’s not the Jews generally, but ‘many thousands … who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law’ (Ac 21:20).  They’ve been hearing tales about Paul’s antinomian message; that he has been telling other Jewish believers to forsake Mosaic law, and skip circumcision.  James (or whoever is acting as spokesman) notes that they had not sought to compel such obedience amongst the Gentiles, reiterating the message first delivered to them.  Again, it is eidoluthuton that is used rather than the original alisgeematoon.

It’s a pretty specific issue, it seems to me.  Paul’s treatment on it hear would seem to make the specific matter very clear.  Because, while he still speaks of eidoluthuton, he is very clearly addressing them as something eaten.  Barnes actually suppose that we are handed the specific detail that this was a matter of meats coming from the sacrifice.  He’s right, in that Paul gets directly to the matter of something being eaten, which would be meat.  But, none of the probable terms for meat are going to be found here. 

The issue goes very far back, certainly, and it seems that it always came down to food in some fashion.  Numbers 25:2, for example, describes the problem for Israel.  They were in amidst a pagan populace, and that pagan populace kept inviting them to their feasts, their sacrifices.  The Jews accepted the invitation, went and ate, and – here’s the real problem – bowed down to their gods.  Psalm 106:28 describes a similar failure.  The people of God joined themselves to Baal-peor, and ate sacrifices offered to the dead.  Which is the real issue?  Is it eating, or is it worshiping?  Should we conclude that eating is worshiping?  I don’t believe we can go that step.

But, we do arrive at a question:  What does this life as a temple of the Living God require of us?  What does the love which is to shape our knowledge instruct us we should do?  In short, how are we to apply the lessons of Corinth and elsewhere to our own situation?  It’s not an easy matter to address.  Do we become literalists, and insist that the admonition about idol offerings is solely to do with foodstuffs?  No.  That’s probably taking too narrow a view of Scripture.  Do we widen the application so far as to exclude those days the Church as traditionally viewed as holy?  I don’t believe the overall message of even Paul’s writings would permit of that.  His understanding, which we have more than sufficient cause to perceive as the Holy Spirit’s instruction, says otherwise.  If you account certain days as particularly significant (which I think must include the moons and feasts of Israel and can just as readily apply to the calendar as understood by the Church), then treat them as holy unto the Lord.  If the provenance of your food concerns you, abide by those concerns.  By the same token, if the says are a matter of no concern to you, don’t be concerned.  If you can eat without pangs of conscience, don’t sweat it.  Notice the later instruction:  “Eat whatever is sold in the market.  Don’t ask questions for conscience’ sake;  for the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains.  If your invited to an unbeliever’s house and choose to go, go.  Eat what they give you.  Don’t ask questions for conscience’ sake.  Only, if they inform you that the meat was sacrificed to idols, then abstain not only for the sake of your conscience, but also for the sake of the one who told you” (1Co 10:25-28).  Let’s take it one step further.  “I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s.  For why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience.  If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks” (1Co 10:29-30)?  And this, I should think, puts quit to the matter.  “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense either to Jews or Greeks or to the church of God” (1Co 10:31-32).

Does that put us in the place of simply doing as we please without regard for others?  Clearly not.  That’s the love part of our  present passage.  Love must temper knowledge.  Concern for others must shape the course of our liberty.  Where is this going to be most problematic?  I should think the answer is clear.  The biggest problem we shall have is with those things that are most pleasurable to us.  For Corinth, it seems food and sex were the big issues.  I’m not sure that’s changed for us.  We might add toys and entertainment, but food and sex remain right up there on the temptation scale.

What is a temptation, after all, than that which may draw us away from pursuing God wholeheartedly?  So, where do we go with this?  Certainly, if you feel that a celebration of the Incarnation of Christ, or of His Resurrection and Ascension draws you away from pursuing God with all you are, then I guess you should abstain from such activities.  I am inclined to think, however, that the issue is not with what is being celebrated.  It may be an issue with what the pagan world around us seeks to make of them.  Do they seek to twist holy reverence into crass commercialism?  Of course!  They do it with church, as well.  Shall we then abandon the church?  I think not.  Is their perversion sufficient cause to abandon any and all observance of these things?  How do these things not fall under the category of, “Do all to the glory of God”?  If you can’t do it in that fashion, than fine, abstain.  But, don’t think to berate those who can because you’re too distracted by the hype to perceive the holy.

But, that’s still only half the equation isn’t it?  What of us who feel we can continue to observe the church calendar with a proper sense of holiness, who find these things to be fully suited to whole-hearted pursuit of God and His purpose?  Do we simply laugh off those who see it otherwise?  Do we insist they snap out of it?  That also would seem to run afoul of Scripture, and this present passage in particular.  “Knowledge puffs up.  Love edifies.”  Love, it should be noted, doesn’t attack, even though it finds the erroneous view reprehensible and destructive.  It is not the holder of that view, after all, who is at issue.  It’s the originator, the father of lies.  He is the one we need to stand firm against, and against whom our righteous indignation ought rightly to burn.  But, we must needs take care lest our indignation become one more thing that draws us away from pursuing God rightly.

When we hit upon stuff like this, and it seems to happen more and more often in this Internet age, we need to ask not how we can correct that one who promotes these unhelpful views.  We need to ask instead how we can love that one.  How can we build up their faith instead of knocking them down?  Consider that whichever side of the debate you may be on you have the exact same set of choices.   You can pursue your course in a fashion to build up others, or in a fashion to tear them down.  You can seek to convince, to edify.  But, you won’t do that by hammering away.  In many cases, sad truth be told, you won’t do that by the carefully structured logic of your argument.  A lot of this stuff arises from something far different than logic to begin with, and trying to counter it with logic will be fruitless.  Quite frankly, attempting to address these matters in any way is going to prove fruitless unless the Holy Spirit chooses to both provide the words of Truth and open the ears to understand the Truth.  The problem with us is that our passionate positions tend to serve as very thick earmuffs when it comes to hearing the other perspective.  The problem is also that, unlike what we see Paul doing here, our inclination is to attack every premise of the opposition, even when it’s a solid premise, because we wrongly surmise that if the conclusion is wrong then everything leading to that conclusion must be tainted as well.

Look again.  Paul accepts pretty much every premise that is given in support of the practices these Corinthians wish to continue.  He admits of knowledge.  He admits of the vanity of idols and the impotency of meats to pollute the spirit of man.  All of that is perfectly valid.  The only problem is that these valid points do not support the conclusion that it is therefore fine and dandy to go eat at the idolatrous temple and thumb your nose at anyone who gets offended. 

Love guides knowledge.  Love must be guided by knowledge.  If the two are not walking hand in hand, then neither is a safe guide.  The one will lead you off after whatever feels nice.  The other will leave you an arrogant, overbearing tyrant.  Neither, alone, will guide you on the course of Righteousness and Truth.

As to this matter of church traditions, whether it pertains to the shift from Saturday to Sunday, or the institution of Easter and Christmas, or what precise elements we use for communion, or what instruments are permitted as part of worship; there is assuredly a reason to be careful.  God defines His worship, not us.  But, that cuts both ways, I’m afraid.  The standard pronouncement that God does not change, does not, cannot support the idea that His dealings with His people don’t change.  That gets trotted out as a reason to insist that every spiritual gift and every office of the church remains active.  But, then, why not the human high priest?  Why do we no longer offer sacrifices on the altar?  When’s the last time you had to slay a sheep, and prepare it?  Quite frankly, to hold that position, you have to suppose that Jesus was a mistake of some sort, because He very clearly changes everything.

Look.  We need to be careful of our worship, and we need to be lovingly concerned for those with different viewpoints, particularly where those viewpoints strike us as misguided or defective.  We need to bring one another along in loving wisdom, by wise loving.  We all have our cultural baggage.  For some, it’s a tendency toward laissez-faire worship.  For others, it’s a tendency toward wanting a rigidly followed rulebook.  For some, many I should think, distraction is going to come from pursuit of entertainment.  For others, it’s going to come from an overblown interest in Jewish custom.  For some, it’s going to be an overdeveloped Calvinism, or Arminianism, or what have you.  For some, it’s going to be an overwrought reaction to the very fact that there are isms to worry about.

None of this is inherently better or worse.  It’s all distraction.  It’s all going to turn your eyes away from Jesus.  It’s all adding to the Gospel, seeking to define some set of work that, if they will not directly earn us merit in Christ’s sight, will at least demonstrate our spiritual superiority.  Don’t be fooled, even by yourself!  Every one of these things falls into that same category of trying to prove our spirituality.  In doing so, the only course open is comparison to others.  But, if we wish to have the real gage of our progress, we do well to return to Paul’s earlier comment:  You have not yet known as you ought.  All of these things, whatever form they take, are works – and dead works at that.  They are works that have been made into little gods in their own right.  They are just the same as those stupid, worthless statues that were sold in Ephesus; just the same as the myriad temples erected to the mythological pantheons of Rome, Greece, Egypt, or any other place you may choose.  They are just the same, dear one, as that ridiculous block of stone being worshiped in Mecca.  They are worse than vanity and wind.  They are the work of demons.  How do we know?  Because they preach to us a different Gospel.  They vaunt self, and neglect the clearest truth of all Scripture:  I am nothing.  God is all.

Beware, o child of God!  Beware, o seeker of sanctification.  As you work out your sanctification, do not become overly enrapt with your progress.  Don’t stop to pat yourself on the back.  Rather, remember your instruction:  Walk humbly with God (Mic 6:8).  He is willing and working in you (Php 2:13).  If you love Him – and child of God, you do! – you will keep His commandments (Jn 14:15).  Why?  Because it is no longer you who lives, but Christ in you (Gal 2:20), and He has already said, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30).  Your Passover Lamb has already been sacrificed.   You need no other.  Your sins, past, present, and future, are already atoned for in His once-for-all work of Atonement.  You are already accepted and loved by your Father in heaven, loved perfectly.  You cannot hope to improve His perfect love for you.  “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness” (Jer 31:3).  “I have redeemed you.  I have called you by name.  You are Mine” (Isa 43:1)!

What is it, then, that you would do to improve on that?  What do you have to offer besides your baggage?  What do you have to contribute besides that trust which God has caused to rise up in you?  And all He asks of you is that you love one another.  Care for the careworn.  Love righteousness.  Walk humbly.

Lord, help us.  We have been with You so long, and it seems we can barely crawl.  Help us to love You as we ought.  Help us to love one another as You do.  Help us to cast off all the crud and simply trust in You.