Sermon preached on January 31, 2021 at Kerr Presbyterian Church by Rev. KJ Norris based on 1 Corinthians 8.
May the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Our New Testament Scripture for this morning is 1 Corinthians 8. This is the lectionary reading for today, and I have to tell you, six weeks ago when I read through the suggested Scriptures, I thought of skipping this one altogether. It’s a weird passage. Yes, the Bible is full of odd passages; if I’m honest, that’s one of the reasons I love the Bible so much. It is full of mysteries we are invited into this great story written long ago. We will spend our whole lives studying it, and the depths of wisdom and knowledge will only begin to reveal themselves as the Holy Spirit allows.
So, before we read this one, let’s make sure we remember the setting. Paul is writing this letter to a church in Corinth in the 1st Century CE. Corinth is a port city in what is now modern day Greece. In this time, it’s a very wealthy city under the Roman Empire. So, put yourself back in the days of the Romans. Think of the coliseums and the great Roman architecture, tall columns reaching up as far as the eye can see. Think of chariot races and gladiator duels. Think of the temples and statues to a large number of different gods. Imagine people walking around in those long flowing robes and lounging on couches. Remember the military might of the Roman guard. And remember the way that people of learning, wealthy men—and yes at that time they were basically all men with money because they were the only ones who went to school—think of them gathering in great halls to debate ideas. Learning how to argue about ideas was something they greatly valued. We still have some of early teaching materials from this time which talk about rhetoric—a field of study where people learn how best to make their point.
Paul had spent a good deal of time in Corinth—a couple of years. He established a church there which was flourishing and so he had moved on to another cities to start more churches. Paul keeps in touch with his congregants in Corinth by writing them letters, and they write to him as well. We have at least two of those letters in our Bible—1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians.
And if you read the whole letter 1 Corinthians, you will see that it is Paul responding to a letter he received, asking questions about their life together. The church in Corinth was having some problems—the members which were vastly diverse—people who had once been Jewish worshiping alongside those who had once been Pagan and people from every different economic class and men and women worshiping and learning together. These groups that simply didn’t associate in any other place in life. And while it was beautiful and the way it is supposed to be in God’s kingdom, they were having trouble getting along. And so they wrote to Paul hoping he would settle their disputes.
Sadly, their letter has been lost to history so we have to imagine what their letter said. But we can make pretty good educated guesses based on Paul’s response.
It seems that there were some—and probably these were a group of well-educated, wealthy elites–who were regularly going to parties thrown at Pagan temples. This would have been a normal part of life in Corinth. Life centered around these temples dedicated to a variety of gods. And people were expected to attend these events.
In fact, think of them as being like the office parties in Paul’s day. You would go to work, maybe you were teaching, for instance, and then after, all the teachers would gather at the end of the day at the local temple to share stories and let their hair down a little. Or businessmen would do this to. Imagine a group of day-traders: they go to work and then the hedge-fund managers get together at the local bar afterwards or the little traders gather on Reddit to debrief. In Paul’s day like-minded people would hang out at the temples after work. And at these parties there would be food sacrificed to idols.
So, the question came up: is it okay to eat food that has been sacrificed to idols? Some in the church thought that was really a terrible idea. They worshiped Jesus now so they shouldn’t be hanging out at the temple. But the people with learning understood that there is only one true God. Idols don’t really exist; they are just statues. So what harm could eating this meat do?
The church members disagree so they write Paul for an answer—and realize that the people writing the letter are of course the wealthy elite because they are the ones who can read and write so they send a letter, expecting that Paul will tell them they can go to these events and eat whatever they want because idols don’t exist anyway.
I know—that’s the longest introduction I’ve ever given you—but everyone understand what’s happening? Any questions before we read the passage?
Reading from 1 Cor 8. As I read, see if you can figure out how Paul answers the question he is asked about eating meat that was sacrificed to idols.
So, did you catch it? What’s Paul’s advice?
1—Paul agrees with them. There is only one God and that God came to earth as the person of Jesus Christ and all things were created through Jesus Christ.
2—Even though they are right, Paul says that being right is not the highest priority. Showing love to one another is more important—vs 1 & 2 the necessary knowledge is love!
3—If their actions are leading people astray—becoming a stumbling block, then they shouldn’t do those actions. In other words, those who considered themselves to be right and wanted Paul to take their side and say they are allowed to eat whatever they want don’t get the answer they had hoped for. Instead, Paul reminds them that whatever they do, their motive should be love.
Okay, so probably most Pastors skipped this passage today. If you go an listen to some other sermon podcasts this week, I imagine you’ll have a hard time finding a lesson on 1 Cor 8 even though it is one of the passages we pastors throughout the world are encouraged to study today.
You might be thinking: Pastor KJ—we live in the USA. It’s really hard to find meat sacrificed to idols here. So what does this have to do with us?
Well, in my mind, this is an extremely important passage for today. We live in a time when, just like in Paul’s day people like to be right. I don’t know about you, but I like to be right! I like Paul and like the people in Corinth like a good healthy debate. I debate with friends about just about everything: universal health care, the minimum wage, what Bible passage should we preach on today? I remember a friend in college being asked: do you have an opinion about everything? And he responded: well how long does it take to form an opinion?
I agree with my friend. We can form opinions on just about anything with only a small number of facts. And sometimes once we have formed those opinions, even if we are given new information that could change our minds, we cling to what we previously thought just because we like to win the argument.
I know that I am guilty of this, and it seems to me that in our day and age, I’m not the only one. In Paul’s day the concern was about meat sacrificed to idols, but in our day it’s about a lot of other contemporary issues. Regardless of the topic, Paul’s advice is good advice.
What is our priority? Is our priority to be right? Paul warns that knowledge can “puff up.” Knowledge can make us think that we are better than other people. That we know what is best. And therefore we stop listening to the concerns of others. We stop hearing their thoughts. And worst of all, we stop loving one another. We choose being right over having relationships. I see this all the time on Facebook; people continuously “unfriend” one another because they refuse to see another view-point.
I have to confess that I do this too. Sometimes I get so lost in my own ideas that I forget to listen. I forget that my call is one of humility. I forget that the highest knowledge is the knowledge of love. If I have ever not shown you love for the sake of an argument, I want to apologize. We pastors are not perfect people. You know that and I know that. I am deeply sorry if I have hurt you through my words. I need to be reminded; all of us need to be reminded that love matters more than the argument at hand.
So, Pastor KJ, maybe you are thinking, does the truth not matter than? Is nothing worth debating? Is there no wrong and right?
These are really good questions. This is a complicated passage and we have to take it within its context. First, yes! The truth matters! Jesus says in the Gospel of John that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Truth matters deeply. So deeply that we are reminded Jesus is Truth. Furthermore, Scripture tells us that Satan in the Father of Lies. If we want to understand how powers work against God, the primary way is to look for lies. Lies are the foundation of what stands against God’s truth.
So, yes, the truth matters. But the question for us is how do we live into that truth? Do we tell the truth in love?
I have many examples I would like to discuss with you today about this, but for the sake of time I will just give one example and maybe in your mind you can think of more.
Many of us here have struggled with addiction or know people who struggle with addiction. If you have come through addiction or walked with others who have come through it, you know that the first step must be admitting the addiction is a problem. If we cannot tell the truth about our addiction, we cannot get help.
This is difficult. Sometimes it means telling the truth to people who don’t want to hear it. But we need to. Pretending there is no problem is not a form of love. In fact, it is the opposite. The longer we pretend it is not happening, the longer it will take ourselves or others to be set free from the power of addiction. So, yes, the truth matters. And our motivation should always be love of another person. Our hope is to get the help we need or for them to get the help they need. Our motivation is not our own pride, but the wellness of others.
So, yes, the truth absolutely matters. And what Paul is saying to us today is that we need to consider how we tell that truth. Do we say it in love? And even moreover, we need to consider our actions. Is this choice I am making one which will show love? When I go to this place or do this thing, does it convey love to others? Does it set a good example for others?
Paul reminds us that there are things we could do which may not harm us when we do them, but if our actions lead others astray, we should refrain from them. Showing love to another is more important than satisfying our own desires.
Let us close today with our Psalm of the day. Our Psalm is an alphabet Psalm—in other words, it goes through the Hebrew Alphabet and every line of the poem starts with the next letter of the alphabet—alef, bet, gimel—A, B, C.
And each letter is a great reminder of why we might give up things we love for the sake of others. It reminds us, letter by letter, that God is good. That God’s plans are good. That God’s ways are good. And if we choose to follow God’s way—not because we have to do so—but because we are invited to do so, we are choosing a life worth living.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.