Epiphany 4b

Preached: February 1, 2015

Love Builds Up
1 Corinthians 8:1-13

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus is 1 Corinthians 8.

Concerning meat sacrificed to idols: We know that all of us have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone thinks that he knows something, he has not yet come to know it as he ought to know it. But if anyone loves God, that person is known by him.

So then, concerning the eating of meat sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol in the world is nothing and that there is no god except One. In fact, even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, just as there are many gods and many lords; nevertheless, for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we for him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and we through him.

But this knowledge is not in everyone. Due to the custom up until now concerning idols, some eat it as meat sacrificed to idols, and their conscience is defiled because it's weak. Now food does not present us to God. If we do not eat, we don't come up short; if we do eat, we don't overflow. Watch yourselves so that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block for the weak. For if anyone sees you who has knowledge dining at the idol's temple, will not his conscience, although weak, be bolstered to eat it as meat sacrificed to idols? For the weak person is destroyed by your knowledge, a brother for whom Christ died. In this way by sinning against your brothers and wounding their weakened conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food fatally entraps my brother, I will never again eat meat, in order that my brother may not be entrapped. ( 1 Corinthians 8:1-13)

This is the Word of the Lord

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Someone reading the Bible without much thought could pass by this chapter. We don't have food sacrificed to idols, at least not in our community. So does this chapter have anything to say to us?

But here, dear friends, is one of the marvels of the Holy Spirit. As he gives the Apostle Paul the words to address this specific problem, he reveals timeless truths, truths that we do well to take to heart and put into practice. For you see, the root problem was not about food sacrificed to idols. The root problem was misusing the knowledge that God's truth brings. They were using this knowledge without giving love it's proper place. Their misused knowledge puffed themselves up rather than in love building others up.

What a temptation for us as members of a Bible-based, conservative church! We have knowledge. We have God's truths preached in our pulpits and proclaimed in our publications. We take our stand against false teachings. And that's all right and good. But how tempting to become puffed up, thinking, “We have the right teaching and others don't. We're better than they are.” That's not love. We need to listen to what Paul says here.

Or how tempting to use the Bible truths we know to try and justify our personal actions. We make good arguments about the rightness of what we're doing, but fail to see what affect our choices have on our fellow Christians. We fail to exercise our knowledge in the sphere of love. We need to listen to what Paul says here.

This is all the more a challenge living in our present world where so-called love is used as an excuse to legitimize just about anything. How tempting to take our stand on the knowledge we've learned from the Bible and disregard love since that word is so often misused! But to disregard love is to disregard the Bible. We need to listen to what Paul says here.

Love builds up. Let's remember that as the theme today. Biblical knowledge is good, important, valuable, and beneficial, but without love it will be misused. Love builds up. But be clear on what love is. Love knows the true God. Love places others before our own rights. Love sees others as Christ sees them. That's the love that builds up.

A. Love knows the true God.

Now some of the Christians in Corinth reasoned like this: “There is only one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All these idols are nothing. So if I eat meat sacrificed to them, I'm not worshiping them. They don't even exist. Eating is eating, and I can do it giving thanks to the one true God.”

Notice Paul does not say that they've misunderstood what they've learned. Their knowledge is correct, but they are using it to puff themselves up rather than acting in love to build others up. You see, even more important than how much we know is for us to be known by God, to be known by him like a shepherd knows his sheep, like a father knows his child. How important for God to know you as his chosen child, reborn into his family, shepherded by his Son, Jesus Christ! When God knows us like that, why would we not love him? “Whoever loves God is known by God” (1 Corinthians 8:3 NIV11). Our love for others comes from our love for God, who first loved us.

Love knows the true God. That's why all the world's ideas of love sooner or later fail. The world does not know God and does not love him.

Who is the true God? Paul reminds us, “There is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (1 Corinthians 8:6 NIV11). Love knows the true God as our Creator. He made us and all that we have. He's not only the source of all that's good but he is also our goal and purpose. We live for him. Why? Because of God the Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Through him we know God. While we were still God-haters, Christ died for us. He reconciled us to God. Through Jesus Christ we know God. Through him we love God. Love knows the true God, our Lord.

This love builds others up. It builds them up as it places them before our own rights.

B. Love places others before our own rights

Let's go back to Corinth. When knowledge puffed them up, they failed to see the harm eating meat sacrificed to idols did to their fellow Christians. Maybe some of them were so fully convinced that idols were nothing that they had no pangs of conscience about eating that meat. It did not harm their faith. But many who knew the true God and believed in Jesus still felt that eating such meat was honoring the idol. It was a well-established custom that a portion of an animal would be brought to the idol's altar and the rest of the meat would be part of a public meal or sold in the marketplace. From little on up they had been taught that this was to honor the idol. Do you see why even after coming to faith in Jesus, their conscience would trouble them about eating such meat?

But if they saw their fellow Christians doing it, they might think, “Although my conscience is telling me I'm worshiping an idol by eating this, since my fellow Christian is doing it, maybe I should to.”

How dangerous to go against conscience, even deadly! So Paul wants the Christian, whose knowledge lets him eat that meat since he knows an idol is nothings--he wants that Christian to weigh the outcomes. On one hand is eating some meat, which won't bring you any closer to God, and on the other hand driving a fellow Christian away from God by leading them to go against conscience. So even if knowledge says it's your right to eat that meat, should you? Love says no. Love says with Paul, “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:13 NIV11). Love places others before our own rights.

Do you think about this before you make your choices in life? You see, this isn't just about eating meat sacrificed to idols. Do you make your choices based on your rights, or based on what will be beneficial for the faith of your fellow Christians? We live in a society that champions individual rights above all else, and when we deal with the world, to a certain extent we need to protect our rights. But when dealing with our fellow Christians, love builds up, even if that means giving up my rights. Knowledge can prove it's your right, but love places others before our own rights. Love builds up.

For example, God does not give us rules about how often to come to church, how much to give, how often to celebrate communion, how much to study God's word, how often to pray, what kind of entertainment to enjoy, and so on. But as we choose to do or not to do those things, do we think about how it affects our fellow Christians? Does your example lead others closer to Jesus, or give them an excuse to drift away until they stumble in their faith and Satan's trap snaps shut on them?

An honest examination of our choices and the motives behind them reveals how cold our love is. How often you and I have done what is not necessarily wrong in and of itself but was harmful to someone's faith. That's sin. Listen to the Apostle: “When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ” (1 Corinthians 8:12 NIV11). What hope do we have, since we are guilty of harming the faith of others?

C. Love sees others as Christ sees them

Remember how Jesus sees you, dear sinner. Remember how Jesus sees you and not only you, but every other person as well. Yes, he know our sins, but he sees you and me as someone for whom he died. He died for you, dear friend. He died to pay for your lack of love. He died for your choices that ended up leading others away. He died for you and all your sins. That's how great his love for you is. Think of it. The greatest examples of love in this world are laying down your life for those near and dear to you. But Jesus died for you and me while we were still his enemies. He takes away your sin and brings you into his family.

See your fellow Christians through Christ's eyes. He died for them, sinners though they are, just as he died for you. Why would I insist on my right if it would harm my brother or sister for whom Christ died? For we are family. We were reborn into God's family through baptism. Why would I endanger or destroy the faith of my brother or sister? We're family. Love sees them through Christ's eyes. Love willingly and gladly sacrifices our right for the spiritual benefit of our brother or sister in Christ. Think of the movie Frozen we talked about in the children's devotion. Anna was willing to sacrifice herself to save her sister. That's love. In the same way love your brothers and sisters in Christ. See them through Christ's eyes. Place them before your own rights. For you know the true God. You know his love for you. Imitate his love, the love that builds up. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313