James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.1 Corinthians 8:1-10:33
CHRISTIAN LIBERTY AND ITS ABUSE
The Christian church was composed largely of Gentiles, who, when they were pagans, worshipped idols, with animal sacrifices and feasts in the idols’ temples. Having become Christians, their practices were discontinued, though pagan neighbors might occasionally invite them, in a social way, to join in such feasts. The question had arisen as to their Christian liberty to accept such invitations. A “liberal” party in the church not only favored it, but indeed regarded the acceptance of such invitations as necessary to testify their freedom in Christ. There is no such thing as an idol, said they, and hence Christians are as much at liberty to eat meat offered in sacrifice to idols as any other meat, and in an idols’ temple as well as any other place.
In reply, Paul admits the fact and the inference arising from it (1 Corinthians 8:4-6). They were at liberty to eat this meat and in an idol’s temple, provided they had only themselves to consider. But there was their weak Christian brother, the man not gifted with as much spiritual knowledge as they, and who, though trusting Christ for salvation, still had a lingering idea that “an idol was something in the world.” If the “strong” brother, he who was spiritually enlightened, ate this meat in the idol’s temple, the weak brother might do likewise, but what the one might do with impunity the other could not do without sin. Hence the liberty of the one became the stumbling-block of the other (1 Corinthians 8:7-10). This made it serious for the strong brother to press his “knowledge,” or his “liberty” to that point (1 Corinthians 8:11-12). Personally, Paul’s example was different from this (1 Corinthians 8:13).
Continuing the reference to his own example in 1 Corinthians 9:1-23, the apostle reminds them of the grounds on which he might claim all the liberty they had, or more. He was an apostle, he had seen Jesus Christ (Acts 9), they, the Corinthians, were the fruit of his ministry (1 Corinthians 9:1-2). He was at liberty to eat and drink as he pleased, to marry, and have a wife accompany him on his itineraries as others did (1 Corinthians 9:3-6). He had a right to claim pecuniary support from the churches in his labors on their behalf (1 Corinthians 9:7-14). But he had foregone all these privileges for the gospel’s sake (1 Corinthians 9:15-18). For the same reason had he accommodated himself to Jewish prejudices (1 Corinthians 9:19-20), and to Gentile peculiarities (1 Corinthians 9:21-23).
THE CHRISTIAN RACE
He shows that there is a practical motive for Christians acting on this principle (1 Corinthians 9:24 to 1 Corinthians 10:15), by employing an illustration from the Olympian games. Christian believers were like men running a race, but it was one thing to run and another thing to win the prize. Here again comes in the distinction between salvation and the rewards of faithfulness (see chap. 3). The athlete knew the need of curtailing his liberty in certain directions in order to gain the race, and Paul appreciated the principle in spiritual things.
Did he not deny himself he would be unfit for service, and lack of service meant, in the end, loss of reward (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). “Castaway” here does not mean loss of salvation, but loss of the opportunity to serve as one who is saved. The thought is continued in chapter 10, where a leaf is taken from the history of Israel. All the Hebrews originally were partakers of the same privileges the guiding cloud, the passage through the Red Sea, the manna, the smitten rock, type of our salvation through the smitten Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). But many of them failed of the ultimate goal and never entered Canaan, because of their after conduct in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:5-11). A warning follows (1 Corinthians 10:12) with accompanying encouragement (1 Corinthians 10:13), and then an exhortation (1 Corinthians 10:14-15).
The practical motive however, is more than the thought of reward for fidelity, it is that of positive danger in the face of the opposite (1 Corinthians 10:16-23). This is suggested already in the story of Israel, but more than suggested in what follows. The idolatrous feasts are in contrast with the Lord’s supper, the one the worship of demons, the other the true God, between which there can be no fellowship. One or the other must be renounced. To tamper with demons is to challenge Divine wrath, with which we are unable successfully to contend. While the exercise of the fullest Christian liberty in these matters may be lawful for me, says the apostle, nevertheless it is not expedient, it will not be found to edify or build me up in Christ, for which reason it will not be acted upon.
The conclusion of the matter is: (1) do not seek your own advantage but another’s (1 Corinthians 10:24); (2) if the sacrificial meat is offered for sale in the public market, you may buy and eat it without compunction (1 Corinthians 10:25-26); (3) if a pagan neighbor asks you for a meal at his private house you are at liberty to partake of it (1 Corinthians 10:27); (4) but if in the course of the meal it is referred to as of a religious character, desist from eating, not for your own sake so much as that of the other (1 Corinthians 10:28-30). In other words, (5) act on the principle of verses 31-32, and (6) follow my (Paul) example (10:33, 11:1).
1. State in your own words the occasion Paul had for writing these chapters.
2. What is the main argument Paul presses against the abuse of Christian liberty?
3. In what respects did his example agree with his precept?
4. What motive governed him?
5. What is the significance of “castaway” in this case?
6. What further motive does Paul refer to?
7. How does he conclude, or sum up, the case?