Nov 27 2008

32- THE First EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS part 4

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SHORT NOTES ON THE BIBLE

(Part 4)

6- On eating what was sacrificed to the idols (chapters 8 – 10)

+ Offering sacrifices to the idols was one of the daily customs in Roman cities in the first century of Christianity.  Part of the sacrifice was burned in the idol temple, and the rest of the sacrifice was divided among the priests of the temple and the person presenting it, who will make a feast with it and invite his loved ones.  The believers in Corinth found themselves in the midst of this problem.  Do they participate in such feasts and eat from the sacrifice meat?  Or abstain from eating?  Or do not deal completely with non-believers?  Moreover, there were sacrifices offered by the State, part of it was burnt, and the rest was distributed to the priests and state officials, who would sell their leftovers to the merchants.  In this way, there was the possibility that some of the meat sold in the market would have been sacrificed to the idols, which further complicated the problem.

Although we do not deal with such a problem at present, however, what St. Paul wrote concerning this issue can be applied to similar problems.

+ St. Paul starts with the following principle, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (8:1).  Knowledge alone, without love and submission to God, leads to being puffed up, although human knowledge is limited, “if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know” (8:2).  He mentions this principle to caution anyone who wants to make a statement or say his opinion in Church matters or to decide how to deal with the issue that St. Paul is discussing here.

+ St. Paul begins his discussion saying, “We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one” (8:4).  There may be many idols or lords in this world but “for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live” (8:6).

+ But not everyone has the same degree of knowledge.  Hence, some see that what they eat is truly sacrificed to the idols and consequently, their weak consciences become offended, and feel that they are defiled, though “food does not commend us to God, for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse” (8:8).  However, if you do not mind eating what was sacrificed to the idols, considering that the idol is just a superstition, St. Paul alerts you that this behavior can offend those who have a weak conscience and make them eat, and afterwards they feel they have slipped to sin and have a tormented conscience “you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience” (8:12), and when you do that, you sin also against Christ.  Therefore, the believer, no matter how convinced he is, should not do anything that can offend his brother, because this is against love and hence “if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (8:13).

+ St. Paul continues, saying how he did apply this principle to himself.   Though he is an apostle, and despite his freedom, his encounter with Christ, his right to enjoy eating and drinking, to have a wife like the rest of the apostles, and to reap from the fruits of his ministry and not to work by his hands (see Acts 18:3 & 20:34) since the soldier is not responsible for his expenses, and also, according to the Lord’s command “those who preach the gospel, live from the gospel (9:1-14); however, he never used this authority, but he endured every­thing in order not to hinder the gospel of Christ and so that nothing will diminish the object of his boasting, and the excellence of being a missionary for Christ, not expecting any rewards from those whom he ministers, but giving them the gospel of Christ without any charge.  Moreover, while he was free, he enslaved himself to them to win all.  For this reason, he related to the Jews as a Jew, to those under the law as one under the law “though I am not without law, but under the law of Christ”.  Also, he shared the weak their weakness and became to all everything so that by all means he may save some (9:15-22).

+ Success in living with God is not an easy thing.  We are like those racing in the playing field, but only one wins the race.  Let us struggle to control ourselves, subdue our desires of the flesh, and control it (yielding its leadership to the Lord, rather than our will) to overcome and receive at the end, not a perishable crown, as those who race in Corinth, but an eternal crown that does not perish (9:24-27).

+ Examples of those who have failed because they have leaned to their lusts are in front of us in the fathers’ history; those who passed through (being baptized in) the red sea with a mighty arm, and God was with them in a column of cloud, the manna they ate was a symbol of the body of the Lord.  Moreover, they drank one spiritual drink “from a spiritual rock that followed them and the rock was Christ” (10:1-4).  However, after all of this, they fell in idolatry and the serpents killed them.  Likewise, they fell into adultery, “and twenty three thousands perished in one day.”   These things happened as an example for us … and were written to alert us, we who are coming to the end of ages…. Therefore, whoever is standing should watch not to fall (10:5-12).  We can be fooled and fall into temptations “but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able (to withstand), but with the temptation will also make the way to escape, that you may be able to bear it” (10:13).

+ St. Paul comes back to the essence of the topic he is talking about.  He addresses them that as believers, who have communion in the body and blood of Christ, it is improper for them to approach the idols, as there is a close relation between the idol and what was offered to him.

And by the way, he confirms the true nature of the sacrament of Communion saying, “The cup of blessing, which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (10:16-19).  That is what unites us in one body.

On the other hand, “the things which the gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice it to the demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons” (10:21,22).  Therefore, those who belong to Christ should not get close to those things that belong to the demons.

+ As an application of the principle that St. Paul stated earlier concerning his freedom and his responsibilities toward others, he adds that “All thing are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; … not all things edify” (10:23).  Based on this, and not to offend the other, we could eat anything that is sold in the meat market without further inquisition “because all the earth and its fullness belong to the Lord”.  But if you are told that the meat sold in the market place or on the table has been sacrificed to the idol, do not eat from it so as not to offend the conscience of the one who told you.  “If you eat or drink or do anything, do everything for God’s glory” (10:31). One more time, he advises “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the Church of God” (10:32), presenting himself as a role model to all, not asking what pleases himself, but what pleases others also, so that they can be saved; the same as he is imitating Christ (10:33, 11:1).

Yes, freedom is a great value, but I am ready to give up my rights, if this will offend by brother whom I love, and for whom Christ died.

(To be continued)

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