1 Corinthians 8
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
The discussions contained in this chapter relate to "things offered unto idols." Bear in mind that idolatry was not then simply a religious system, but a system immensely extended and covering a corresponding surface of political, social, and business interests. At all points it touched individuals and families, and was connected with feasts, entertainments, and etiquette. "Most public entertainments and many private meals were more or less remotely the accompaniments of sacrifice" (Stanley). How far might knowledge assert itself and put on independency? What was the true use of expediency? And what the offices of conscience? And to what extent must the strong be tender and considerate towards the weak? Two parties existed on this subject in Corinth: the one that rested on Christian liberty, and, believing that "an idol is nothing in the world," demonstrated its adhesion to this belief by buying and eating meats sacrificed to idols, and even went to the excess of attending the feasts "in the idol's temple;" the other party looked upon such conduct with abhorrence. If, now, Christianity had been a mere scheme of human thought, an elaborate philosophy, a poetic inspiration, it is obvious that no such earnest dispute could have arisen. If, again, St. Paul had contemplated the subject on the ground only of abstract and theoretical principles, following out the logic that "an idol is nothing," and claiming the full freedom guaranteed by the assumption, a very different chapter from this would have been written. But see how he approaches the matter. His first step is to check the liberalists, and he does it efficaciously, for he convicts them of pride and recklessness on the side of intellect. Intellect he does not condemn, but its wrong use. His condemnation is founded on the fact that the intellect arrogantly claims to be the mind, to be the equivalent of the man himself, and, consequently, shuts off the recognition of anything except knowledge. St. Paul's position at the outset is, "Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth." It is vigorously stated and is accompanied by evident impulse. The "knowledge" referred to is knowledge isolated from its rightful and essential associations, the knowledge of a truth, and yet without its checks and balances - an engine lacking safety valve and governor. No matter how valuable the knowledge may be in itself; call it insight, call it what you please; if it abuse itself in its use, it loses its worth. Selfishness vitiates its excellence, and makes it doubly harmful, pernicious to the possessor, and obstructive of benefit to him on whom it acts objectively. Men are prone to exaggerate knowledge as knowledge. They say, "Knowledge is power." So it is, but whether the power be for good or evil depends on the man behind the knowledge. Think of the intimate connection between the intellect and the body, and how much more it is affected thereby than other portions of the mind; think how tangled it often is in the nerves, and imprisoned in the cells of the brain, - and can you wonder at the distrust that wise men have of its functions, unless controlled, and that sternly, by principle and sentiment? What subtle poisons creep into the blood and thence into thought! A slight imprudence in eating, a bad dream last night, a household worry or a business vexation, disturbed breathing or accelerated heart action, and the intellect is warped and enfeebled. Do what we may to curtail the evils, infirmities cling to all its activities. Yet much may be done, and it is done in no other way than that suggested by the apostle. "Charity [love] edifieth [buildeth up]." By this he means that the heart must he under the influence of grace, and thus inspire the intellect so that it may be delivered from its selfishness and especially its self conceit. And so fully has Christianity indoctrinated all our best thinkers with this idea, that they have come to believe that wisdom is the conjoint product of right thought and true feeling. "If any man love God, the same is known of him," and the knowledge here predicated of God has a reflex agency on the man's knowledge. Instead of being "puffed up," instead of an inmoderate and unjustifiable use of his Christian freedom, instead of a vaunting display of his superiority to prejudice and ignorance, he is regardful of the scruples of others, and, while aware of the difference between them and himself, turns the difference to the account of humility and forbearance. The idol is nothing, but its nothingness is no reason for insensibility to the claims of weak brethren on his manly sympathies. For the great doctrine of "one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him," is so profoundly realized, that human brotherhood is its complement in his character and conduct. "One Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him," the Mediator of the natural universe, in whose sovereignty all laws and institutions and objects have their reason and end; the Mediator of the Spiritual universe, who has consummated the manifestation of humanity in the person and work of the Holy Ghost; - this Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ of God and Lord over all, has so embodied the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of humanity in his own incarnation and office, that henceforth the grandeur of the one is the strength and joy and glory of the other. St. Paul loses no opportunity to enforce this supreme truth. Does he argue in behalf of Christian liberty? Here is his basis. Does he plead for expediency? Here is his warrant. Does he harmonize them as coexisting and cooperating sentiments? They are mutually supporting because their possessor has the knowledge which comes from God in Christ. From this sublime height he is never long absent. Thitherward is he always tending, nor will he decide any question, whatever its bearings, with a judgment detached from the great truth Christ taught: "I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one." All, however, have not this knowledge. The insight of some is partial and confused, "whose Christian faith is not yet so emancipated from the religious convictions of their old heathen state, and who are still in the bonds of their former conscience, moulded by heathen ideas" (Dr. Kling). Having this "conscience of the idol," looking upon the idol as a reality, and forbidden by his conscience to eat the flesh offered to an idol, the "weak brother" is offended. The meat itself is a matter of indifference, nor are you the "better" or the "worse" for the mere act of eating. A grave question, however, lies at the back of the action. It concerns "this liberty of yours," and the spirit actuating your mind in doing this thing. "Take heed;" this liberty may degenerate into a haughty self valuation, may become a "stumbling block," and may induce the "weak brother" to imitate your example, and thus sacrifice his conscience under your influence. Though the conscience be weak, it is conscience; it is his; its authority over him is sacred; obey it he must. Worse than all, your conduct, taking effect upon him, may imperil the salvation of a man, "for whom Christ died." Enlighten his conscience all you can; hell) to make it truthful as well as sincere; hut, meantime, "take heed" lest sympathy and conventionality embolden him to err. "Weak" now, you will only weaken him the mere if your liberty mislead him. The only element in him out of which strength can grow is the conscience. Use your freedom so as to liberate, not to enslave, this highest authority in our nature. Use your knowledge to illuminate, not to darken, this divinest of all the organs personal to the soul, through which truth reaches the man. Use your Church relation to build up and not pull down your brother, that you may be a coworker with God and with his conscience in making him a "temple of the Holy Ghost." Then comes the utterance of great heartedness - the declaration that he will eat no such meat forever if it make his brother to offend. This was no sudden effervescence of sentimentality. It was genuine sentiment. It was organic to the man's nature. Impulse was strong because conscience was stronger. The current of feeling was no cataract leaping from a rocky bed into rocky depths, and dashing itself into foam, but a mighty river that could not become too full for its banks. - L.

In the Divine Being himself both knowledge and love are perfect; he is light; he is love. Man, made in God's image, is capable of both; but his knowledge is and must be very limited and partial, whilst he has vast capacities for love. Not only so; as the apostle here teaches, love is better than knowledge, for whilst this puffs up, that edifies. We recognize this superiority in several particulars.

I. IN ITS INFLUENCE UPON THE INDIVIDUAL'S OWN CHARACTER. Paul's observation convinced him that this was the case. There were at Corinth those who boasted of their knowledge, of their intellectual powers of discrimination, of their superiority to the ignorant vulgar. But these very persons, although Christians in name, were very far from displaying the character of Christ himself, evincing little of consideration and forbearance towards their fellow believers. In fact, they were "puffed up," their knowledge inflating them, but imparting to them no real stability or vigour of character. On the ether hand, such as were animated by the purifying and elevating principle of love were, by the action of that principle, delivered from selfishness and self seeking. They were "edified," i.e. built up, as a temple in stately proportions, upon a secure and ample foundation. This is a generalization, the justice of which is borne out by the experience of the Church of Christ. A show of knowledge is often unlovely when compared with the reality of love, which imparts a beauty and a radiance to the character beyond what human effort and culture can possibly bestow.

II. IN ITS INFLUENCE UPON HUMAN SOCIETY. It has been maintained in our own day (by Mr. Buckle) that moral beliefs have no influence in the development of society, which is due to the advance of scientific knowledge. But facts are in contradiction to this theory. Learning, science, art, are all good in themselves; but they give no guarantee that they shall be wisely and beneficially used, and they may be far from a blessing to society. But where compassion and benevolence are prevalent and ruling principles, there society feels the benefit of their operation. The Church is maintained in peace and harmony; the world around is profited by the self denying efforts made for the amelioration of its condition. We have only to compare the condition of ancient Rome with that of modern England to be assured of this.

III. IN ITS ACCEPTABLENESS TO GOD. We are not to understand that our Divine Ruler is indifferent to the progress of knowledge. "That the soul be without knowledge is not good." And there is a kind of knowledge which is near akin to love: to know God is life eternal. But mere intellectual activity, mere speculative acquaintance with truth, are vain and worthless in his sight to whom all things are known from the beginning. But love, as it is the highest expression of the Divine nature and character, is peculiarly congenial and acceptable to God. With the loveless soul God has no sympathy; but the soul that is on fire with love to God and man is preparing to dwell in the everlasting radiance which makes and. blesses heaven. - T.

I. THEY ARE BOTH EXCELLENT. This requires no proof. The apostle who sat at the feet of Gamaliel, would have been the last to speak slightingly of real knowledge. We are made capable of an ever increasing knowledge. How much knowledge has been the means of accomplishing in this world I Ignorance is but a "fool's paradise;" "Knowledge is power." And how excellent is love. How dull and sad this world would be without it! How much more prolific in crime and evil even than it now is! One's only regret about love is that there is so little of it. It is the world's great want. Herein heaven and earth contrast, seeing that there is much love there and little here. The triumphs of knowledge are great, but greater are the victories of love.

II. THEY ARE COMPLEMENTARY. One is not without the other.

1. Knowledge without love leads to

(1) pride;

(2) intolerance;

(3) selfishness;

(4) injury to others;

(5) many blunders in thought, feeling, and action.

Knowledge is not enough for a people. We may have abundance of knowledge, and yet be very unwise, very injurious, and very unlovable.

2. Love without knowledge leads to moral catastrophe. It is impossible to predict what conduct may result from mere affection. Knowledge is necessary to determine within what limits we may rightly act. Knowledge can decide for us what is "lawful." Love determines what, within the circle of the lawful, we should choose. Knowledge and love united lead to that more perfect, that penetrating, that true practical knowledge, the opposite of which Paul describes in ver. 2. True love controlling sound knowledge leads to a deeper insight - in other words, to a truer knowledge. For example, a man may know God as God; may have some conception of the Divine attributes, etc. But when he loves God his knowledge makes incalculable strides; he now knows God so much more fully and truly that his former knowledge hi little better really, and no better practically, than crass ignorance. Knowledge "puffeth up;" by itself it is sometimes worse than ignorance. Love, not acting without knowledge, but on the lines of knowledge, "buildeth up."

III. A SPECIAL CASE IN ILLUSTRATION. The Corinthians had written to the apostle respecting their liberty to eat meats which had been offered to idols. The portion of victims not consumed upon the idol altars belonged partly to the priests and partly to the offerers. Much of this meat found its way to the public markets, or was consumed in private houses, at social gatherings, or at feasts in the temples. Christians would be often tempted to partake of these idol meats.

1. The apostle shows that knowledge alone would be a very unsafe guide in such a matter. An enlightened mind would perceive that meats were in themselves the same, whether offered or not offered to idols; and knowing also that "meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse;" would consider the matter as purely indifferent, and to be determined solely by inclination. But here mere knowledge would lead to error. Love, which concerns itself about others, steps in and says, "Take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak." All do not realize the nothingness of the idol, or the fact that idol meats are unchanged by idol contact. Their immature and weak condition leads them to conclude that the idol is something, and to them the eating of idol meats is an act which identifies them with idol worship. Thus the partaking by the more enlightened may prove both a scandal and a temptation to the unenlightened. Knowledge says, "Do all that you have a right to do;" Love says, "Consider others, especially the weak." Knowledge alone leads to contempt of the weak and ignorant, and to indifference as to how they are affected: but Love champions the cause of those who specially need consideration and help. Knowledge does not take into account the weak brother, but Love yearns over his welfare, and forgets not that Christ died for him. Love kindled at the cross flames forth in Christ like self sacrifice. Love, directing its glance around, sees that the highest interests of those for whom Christ died may be imperilled if the claims of liberty be too rigidly enforced; and so she leads men to the choice of that "better part," self sacrifice for the welfare of others. This is the "shining way" once trodden by the feet of the Son of God. This is the path of the truest knowledge; for here we learn not only what we may do, but what in the highest sense we ought to do.

2. The apostle has here no occasion to show that love without knowledge would prove a faulty guide. But it evidently might. Love might lead the weak and ignorant to eat the idol meats, so as to please those more enlightened, and so as not to be a check upon their desires. We need, for safe guidance, the twin guides, knowledge and love. - H.

Another of those questions which troubled the Christian community at Corinth comes up here for consideration. To understand the difficulties connected with it we must bear in mind that the religious worship of the pagans entered largely into their social life. The victims offered in sacrifice to the gods were not entirely consumed on the altar. A portion went to the priests, and the remainder was either given to the poor or sent to the public market. Thus not only the feasts in the temples, but also private meals, were brought into close connection with idolatrous worship; and the Christians could never be sure that the meat they purchased had not formed part of a sacrifice. It is easy to see how this interweaving of religious with social life would occasion complications and perplexities as to practical duty. To the Jewish converts the eating of things sacrificed to idols would be an abomination. Among the Gentile converts two classes may be discerned.

1. There were those who had been completely emancipated from their old ideas regarding the heathen divinities. To their view these divinities were mere creatures of the imagination, having no real existence; and accordingly they felt themselves quite free to partake of the sacrificial flesh when set before them.

2. There were those who could not get rid of the idea that an idol was a reality, and that consequently everything connected with the system they had abandoned was polluted. Thus the question became an important one, and the decision of it had an interest, not only for the Church at Corinth, but also for other Churches where the same difficulties had arisen (comp. Romans 14). But it may be asked - Had this matter not been already settled by the council at Jerusalem (Acts 15.)? The apostle himself was present on that occasion, and we naturally ask why he does not simply refer to the Jerusalem decree, instead of proceeding to give a judgment of his own in some respects opposed to it. The answer is to be found in a right view of the grounds on which that decree proceeded, which were grounds of expediency. The Gentile converts were enjoined to abstain from things sacrificed to idols, out of regard to the feelings of the Jewish converts among whom they were located. But this reason did not hold good in a Gentile community like Corinth; and consequently the whole subject had to be considered on its merits and in view of the altered circumstances. The question in itself is no longer a living question for the Church, but there emerge in connection with it great abiding principles which never lose their value.

I. KNOWLEDGE AND LOVE. The apostle prefaces his treatment of the question "concerning things sacrificed to idols," by a statement regarding the relative value of knowledge and love.

1. Knowledge by itself puffeth up. Knowledge without love inflates the mind with conceit. Take the knowledge of God. You may read what is written on the pages of nature and of Holy Scripture, so as to know a good deal about him; but if there be no outgoing of heart towards him, you do not really know him. What you have learned of God will lead to a false exaltation, inasmuch as you rest in it as sufficient instead of advancing to a personal acquaintance with him. Or take the case in hand. The knowledge of the nullity of idols led many of the Corinthians to think themselves superior to their brethren, who could not shake themselves clear of the notion that an idol had a real existence. They were filled with conceit, which, being untempered by love to others, led them to please only themselves.

2. Love leads to true knowledge and true edification. The way to knowledge is through love. This is true of the knowledge of God. "If any man loveth God, the same is known of him" (ver. 3). "Every one that loveth is begotten of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love" (1 John 4:7, 8). Love gives itself away to the object beloved, opens out the nature to receive impressions, and puts all it has at the service of the loved one. Love to God brings us near to him, and gives us experience of his gracious dealing, while he in turn opens himself to us. It is only where mutual love exists that there is a mutual revelation of heart to heart; and this holds good, with necessary limitations, of our relation to God. We know him only in proportion as we love him, and even his knowledge of us turns upon love. "The Lord knoweth them that are his" (2 Timothy 2:19), in a way that be knows no others. Our knowledge of God is more correctly his knowledge of us; for all we can know of him here is but the alphabet of that more perfect knowledge which comes with perfect love (comp. 1 Corinthians 13:12). Now, the knowledge that comes through love is not an empty thing, puffing up the soul as a bubble, but a solid thing, imparting strength and stability. It builds up the spiritual temple within with the stones of truth. The lesson is - You can know God only by loving him, and the measure of your love will be the measure of your knowledge.

3. Conceit of one's knowledge is a sure evidence of ignorance. The man who is proud of what he knows has no adequate view of the greatness of the object. The more we really know the more humble do we become. This is true of secular knowledge, but especially of Divine knowledge. The glimpses we get of God lay us in the dust. He who is puffed up because he has gathered a few pebbles on the shore has never looked out on the great ocean of truth.

II. THE LIBERTY THAT COMES THROUGH KNOWLEDGE. (Vers. 4-6.) Returning now to the question in hand, the apostle shows how the faith of the enlightened Christian suggests a ready answer.

1. The idols which the heathen, worship are mere nonentities. Their so called gods, with which they have filled the heaven and the earth, have no real existence. There is no Jupiter, no Mars, no Venus. They are simply creatures of the imagination, having nothing corresponding to them in the universe. This view of the pagan divinities finds frequent expression in the prophets, who ridicule them as mere vanities (comp. Isaiah 44:9; Jeremiah 10:3; Psalm 115:4). How melancholy a picture does this present of the condition of those who know not the true God! Men must worship, and so strong is this impulse that they first create the objects of worship and then bow down before them. It is the blind groping of the human mind after the Most High - a creature, with dreamy recollections of a lost glory, stretching out suppliant hands towards a silent heaven.

2. There is but one living and true God. This is the Christian's simple creed.

(1) Instead of "gods many," "to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him." This Supreme Being is the Creator and Primal Source of all things, our Father in heaven, for whose glory we exist. This is the fundamental doctrine on which all true religion rests, and which at once takes the ground from pagan polytheism. It also strikes against all modern idolatries which are practised in Christian lands: hero worship, mammon worship, etc.

(2) Instead of "lords many," there is "one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him." There is but one Governor of the universe, into whose hands all power has been committed, Jesus the Messiah, by whose agency all things were created, and in whom we are made new creatures. This is the second article of our holy faith. Instead of the endless series of gods and demigods, who were supposed to hold sway over different parts of the universe, "there is one God, one Mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5).

3. From this the inference is plain that eating or not eating of things offered to idols is a matter of indifference. If an idol has no real existence, it cannot defile that which is presented to the image in the temple. The flesh which formed part of a sacrifice is neither better nor worse on this account, and may be used without scruple. Thus the enlightened Christian is freed from the entanglement of such petty questions, which belong to the bondage of legalism rather than the liberty that is in Christ. How important is a full acquaintance with Divine truth! How good it is to be free from prejudice, and to receive the whole truth as to our standing in Jesus Christ! But such knowledge is dangerous if it stands alone.

III. LIMITATIONS TO LIBERTY ARISING FROM CHRISTIAN LOVE. (Vers. 7-13.) An enlightened view of the nature of heathen divinities delivers the Christian from questions as to the lawfulness of eating what had first done duty as a sacrifice; but all Christians are not thus enlightened. There were at Corinth believers, converts from heathenism, who could not get rid of the idea that the idols they had formerly worshipped had a real existence, and who consequently regarded the flesh used in sacrifice as polluted. A due regard to the case of these weaker brethren will modify the use of their Christian liberty by the stronger.

1. Consider their case. Their conscience was weak, inasmuch as it could net rise to the conviction that an idol is nothing, and was therefore troubled with scruples as to the lawfulness of partaking of a thing sacrificed to an idol. Hence such persons could not eat without defiling their conscience, i.e. without the feeling that they had done wrong. This carries with it principles that have an important bearing upon Christian ethics. It is wrong for a man to do what his conscience tells him is wrong, or what it does not clearly approve. The thing in itself may be good, but if you are in doubt about it you are thereby debarred from doing it. The dictates of conscience are always imperative, but with this there goes the duty of seeing that conscience is instructed. Comp. Romans 14:23, where Paul is treating of the same subject: "He that doubteth is condemned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith; and whatsoever is not of faith is sin." Apply this to some forms of amusement, doubtful practices in trade, extravagant living, etc. It is not enough to plead the example of others, if you are in doubt regarding their rightness. "Let each man be fully assured in his own mind." Do not disregard the faithful voice within your bosom, even when it speaks in whispers.

2. The eating of such things has no religious significance. Neither the use nor the abstinence from use commends us to God or affects our standing before him. To abstain from eating for the sake of weak brethren is not to surrender any spiritual benefit. It is a matter of indifference. "The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking" (Romans 14:17). Observe the class of matters to which alone the apostle's reasoning is meant to apply. They must be such as involve no religious principle - cases where accommodation to the weakness of others does not imply the sacrifice of truth or duty. In such cases we are free to consider the condition of our brethren, and to regulate our conduct by a regard to them.

3. The strong must not use their liberty so as to put a stumbling block in the path of the weak. If a weak brother, who had doubts about the eating of sacrificial flesh, should by the example of another be emboldened to eat also, in that case he would sin and his conscience be defiled. The more enlightened Christian would thus be the occasion of stumbling to his brother, bringing him into danger of perishing altogether, and would thereby sin against Christ who died for him. Rather than do anything that might lead to this result, the apostle declares, "If meat maketh my brother to stumble," etc. This is the principle of Christian expediency, of which Paul is the great exponent, and which enters so largely into the believer's practical life. It has its root in love, which leads us to "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). It is an outcome of that spirit of self denial which dwelt in him. "Now we that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each one of us please his neighbour for that which, is good, unto edifying. For Christ also pleased not himself" (Romans 15:1-3). In applying this principle, note:

(1) It applies only to things in themselves indifferent. Where true Christian liberty was in danger, Paul refused to yield (Galatians 2:3-5).

(2) It is not to be confounded with mere time serving or man pleasing.

(3) Each Christian must judge for himself how this principle requires him to act in special circumstances. Total abstinence from strong drink for the sake of others is a good example of its application. - B.

There is a great difference between being "puffed up" and being "built up." The one implies something pretentious and plausible, but hollow and unreal. It means show without substance, size without solidity, inflation without real enlargement. The other implies the gradual accumulation of substantial materials, on a firm basis, to some useful and enduring result. Now, the apostle would have the Corinthian Christians determine the question of personal duty concerning attendance at feasts in honour of idols, or eating of meat offered in sacrifice, on far other ground. than any supposed sagacity of their own. All, no doubt, had "knowledge." But there is a higher criterion of judgment than this. Love is a better guide in such matters than knowledge. In all these things let it be that delicate regard for the feelings and interests of others which love implies, rather than any abstract ideas about their own liberty, that determines their conduct. Hence the broad principle, "Knowledge puffeth up, love edifieth." Consider -

I. THE KNOWLEDGE THAT PUFFETH UP. The case contemplated is one in which the purely intellectual element in the determination of moral questions is divorced from right feeling. It is a knowledge ideal and speculative, not vital and spiritual The knowledge of the theologian, the logician, the casuist; not that of the man whose reason and conscience and heart are alike alive unto God. The characteristic of this knowledge is that it makes men vain, conceited, self asserting, "thinking more highly of themselves than they ought to think." A true knowledge of the things of God has no such tendency as this. "If a man thinketh that he knoweth anything," etc. (ver. 2). Real knowledge in the spiritual sphere is beyond the reach of one who is destitute of humility and love. Even in the realm of purely secular science, true knowledge does not make men vain. The lives of such men as Newton, Herschel, Faraday, etc., illustrate the truth of this. They were men of lowly, childlike spirit. They stood reverently, as with bared head and unsandalled feet, before the infinite mystery of the universe. It is the novice, the mere tyro in learning, the man of shallow thought and narrow view, who is proud of his attainments, dogmatic and self asserting. How much more will it be so in matters purely spiritual, belonging to a region into which our science cannot climb! Take St. Paul himself as an example. While he moved within the narrow circle of Jewish tradition and prejudice, he was probably the very type of personal vanity. His Pharisaic pride was not only that of legal blamelessness, but of theological culture. Had he not sat at the feet of Gamaliel? Who could teach him what he did not know? It is a portrait of himself that he paints in those half sarcastic words: "If thou bearest the name of a Jew, and restest upon the Law," etc. (Romans 2:17-20). But when the light from heaven shone upon him, how was the loftiness of his pride laid low! He "became a fool that he might be wise." Moreover, this mere theoretic knowledge is as profitless in its effect on others as it is to one's self. It becomes disputatious, "gendering strifes about words," etc. There is no "edifying" quality in it. It does not make men one whit the nobler, purer, more gracious in heart and life. It in no way promotes the reign of those Divine principles of "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost," in which the kingdom of God consists.

II. THE LOVE THAT BUILDETH UP. Take love here in the highest and broadest sense, as including love to God and love to man. These are but two sides and aspects of the same affection. It is an essentially religious affection. There are tender sensibilities and generous sentiments which give a natural grace to human character quite apart from all religious thought and feeling. They may prepare the way for the awakening of this Divine affection, but are not to be confounded with it. Only by personal fellowship with Christ can we rise into the atmosphere of a pure, unselfish, all embracing love like his. Love builds up the temple of God. The separate personality of every Christian, and the complex, many membered personality of the whole redeemed Church, are the dwelling place of God, prepared by gradual enlargement and adornment to be the fitting shrine of his glory; and it is the office of love to promote this process. It is the effective power in the development and perfecting of personal Christian character and social Christian life. In confirmation of this, think of it:

1. As the essential spirit of all other graces. It gives them their highest, richest quality. It is the life, the beauty, the strength, the very soul, of them all. Consider the position love occupies in the circle of the Divine attributes. Truth, justice, purity, goodness, etc., are attributes of the Divine character; but "God is love." A similar position does love occupy in the ideal character of his true children. We are such poor, fragmentary, distorted reflections of the Divine beauty that even in the best of us this truth is too often obscured. Personal Christianity assumes many forms - the gentle and the severe, the reserved and the demonstrative, the meditative and the practical, the punctilious and the free; but this is the essential spirit of all its forms. It is true to the Divine ideal only so far as this spirit breathes through all its moods.

2. As the bond of Christian unity. Keenness of spiritual insight, zeal for truth, fidelity to conscience, may of themselves have a separating effect; but love draws and cements men together in a real fellowship of life. Differences in opinion, modes of thought, ecclesiastical usage, etc., become of comparatively small account, "so love at heart prevail."

3. As an incentive to all real Christian activity. It is the distinction of Christianity as a Divine method of moral culture that it bases practical and social virtue on this foundation, casts it freely on the prompting and sustaining power of love. "Love is the end of the commandment, the fulfilling of the Law." Get your soul filled with love, and you will never want for an effectual motive to all noble living. As the materials of the building arrange themselves and rise into their finished form in obedience to the thought and will of the architect; as the notes fall, as if by an instinct of their own, into their due place according to the inspiration of the musician; as the words flow in rhythmic cadence in answer to the mood of the poet's genius; as the grass and the flowers and the corn grow by the spontaneous energy of the creative and formative mind that animates them all; - so will you rear for yourself the structure of a beautiful and useful Christian life, if your heart is filled with love.

4. As the mightiest of all instruments of blessing to others. By the sweet constraint of his love Christ wins the hearts of those for whom he died. By the almightiness of his love he will ultimately conquer the world and build up that glorious temple to his praise - a redeemed humanity, a creation ransomed from the curse. Let his love be the inspiration of our life, and we wield a moral force akin to his; we share his work, his triumph, and his joy. - W.

Revised Version, "Knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth;" Greek, "buildeth up." This remark is made at the outset of the consideration of a new topic, it embodies a principle upon which Christians may safely act in any of the practical difficulties that may arise. The precise matter which engaged the apostle's attention only concerns us historically. It hardly represents any kind of difficulty that is likely to arise in modern society. "In Corinth and other cities meat was offered for sale which had been used for sacrificial purposes in the heathen temples, having been sold to the dealers by the priests, who received a large share of the sacrifices for themselves, or by the individuals who offered them, and had more remaining of their own share than they could use themselves. Thus a Christian might unconsciously eat of meat, either at the house of a friend or by purchasing it himself in the public shambles, which had been previously brought in contact by sacrificial use with an idol." Exactly how to treat such a matter it was not easy to say. Some had no compunctions in partaking of such food. Others had very troublesome scruples; and only too readily contentions might arise over such a small and insignificant question. Some would say strongly, "We know that an idol is nothing, and so he cannot defile the meat." Such persons would be likely to laugh to scorn the feebleness and superstitions (as they would call them) of the weaker brethren. Their knowledge would "puff them up," and make them positive and inconsiderate; whereas the "charity" which "endureth all things, and thinketh no evil," would make them gentle and considerate, ready to put their own ideas aside if pressing them unduly seemed to offend the weaker brethren. This is the point to which our attention is directed.

I. KNOWLEDGE TENDS TO PUFF UP. This is a fact, attested by the experience of all ages, and well within our own observation at the present time. There is often a positiveness, a dogmatism, and a contempt of others about persons who have a little knowledge, which may properly call for an apostle's reproof. We must, however, remember that fulness of knowledge is almost always attended with humility, considerateness, and cheerful readiness to serve. It is a little knowledge that has the injurious influence. A man may pride himself on the limited pond in his own grounds, but he must feel humbled when he stands before the boundless ocean, and knows that powers are too small and life too short for him to exhaust the infinite stores. But the point which St. Paul helps us to impress is that knowledge puffs up because it keeps a man thinking about himself. It is always what I have read, what I know; and the egotistic sphere is the most dangerous for any of us to dwell in. "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others."

II. LOVE TENDS TO BUILD UP. This may be applied both to the man and to the Church. Self seeking and self worship so engross a man's attentions that the interest of others cannot be served, little things are easily magnified into difficulties, and dissension and dispute are fostered. But "love," "charity," cares more for others than for self; concerns itself about the general well being; asks about everything - what influence it will have for good or for evil; and puts strong restraints upon personal feelings and preferences, if pressing them against the opinions of others would cause contention. Love is set upon "edifying," upon "culturing," upon "up building,' upon preserving that "peace" in which alone souls can thrive and grow. So St. Paul earnestly urges that love ought to rule and decide in all our Church relations and practical difficulties. - R.T.

As the passage treats of man's knowledge professed, supposed, and real, we should expect in this verse to find a statement regarding man's knowledge of God. And by some the second clause of this verse has been interpreted in this sense. If this somewhat strains the language, and if it is necessary to understand that we have here an assertion that the lover of God is known by God, all the same the apostle must be acknowledged here to affirm a spiritual intimacy between the human spirit and the Father of spirits..


1. It is a condition which could scarcely occur to man apart from revelation. Men fear God, reverence God, worship God, seek to avert the wrath of God; but to love God is not an exercise of mind which seems congruous to the relation between the Creator and his creatures.

2. It is a condition which Christianity renders possible and natural. By revealing God as love, by bringing that love home to the heart in the incarnation and the sacrifice of the Son of God, Christianity makes a claim upon human love. The manifestation of affectionate interest and benevolence in a way so remarkable, so unique, is sufficient to account for a new relationship, and for new emotions corresponding therewith.

3. It is a condition capable of universal fulfilment. "If any man love God." There are many whose natural powers of body and of mind are very limited. But there is none who has not the capacity for love. There may be a moral unpreparedness, but this may be overcome. The Gentile as well as the Jew, the illiterate as well as the learned, are capable of loving the Author of salvation.

II. THE CHARACTER OF THIS INTIMACY. Love is represented as leading to, as involving, knowledge.

1. On the side of God himself. This is the explicit statement of the text: "The same," i.e. the man who loves, "is known by him," i.e. by God. Knowledge is, in Scripture, according to a Hebrew idiom, often used as equivalent to favour; even as we say we know a person intimately, meaning in the knowledge of friendship. Of course, the Omniscient knows all his creatures; but he has a friendly, fatherly, affectionate, intimate knowledge of those who love him. He reads the language of their hearts. "The Lord knoweth them that are his." He knows them to watch over and keep, to guide and govern, to strengthen and to save them.

2. On the side of man. This is the implicit statement of the text; for he who in the sense affirmed is known by God also knows God. How true it is that he who loves God knows him too! There are many respects in which we cannot know our earthly, human associates, unless we are drawn to them by the cords of love. Love opens the doors of knowledge. It creates that sympathy which gives intensity to the intuitive gaze of the soul. Thus it is that, whilst many learned and philosophic minds are ignorant of the Deity, there are to be found, among the lowly, the ignorant, and the feeble, those who, with hearts quickened and softened with grateful love, live in a hallowed intimacy with him who is the Father of their spirits and the God of their salvation. - T.

The construction of this sentence is peculiar. We expect the apostle to say that the man who loves God is alone the man who can be said to know God. There is, however, in his words the under thought of the identity between knowing God and being known of him. Olshausen says, "The knowledge of God presupposes the being known of him: the soul will not vivify with life from above until God has drawn nigh." It may be noticed that St. Paul, in "dealing with inquisitive and argumentative people like the Corinthians and Galatians, takes care to invert the phrase, so as to exclude all glorifying on the part of man." The statements of the Apostle John, in 1 John 4:7, 8, should be compared with this. Fixing attention on the two terms, "knowing God;" "being known of God," observe -

I. HOW THESE ARE RELATED. Are they two parallel things, or does the one follow after and result from the other? If we take this latter view, which of the two comes first? Show that the knowledge of God is an impossibility for unaided man. This impossibility is shown

(1) from the facts of man's depraved and distorted nature;

(2) from the statements of Holy Scripture, "No man, by searching, can find out God," etc.; and

(3) from the actual experiences of men, as individuals or as nations. Four thousand years of experiment left God still virtually the "unknown God." God must graciously come near to us, reveal himself to us, manifestly concern himself for us, and show that he knows us, or we can never get to apprehend him. And this he has done in the manifestation of his Son. And this he does still in a gracious individual response to the open and trusting soul. If we are known of God, taken into his special regard, and favour; if he "lifts upon us the light of his countenance," - then we can be said to know him. But the knowledge comes always by Divine condescension to us, not by the unaided efforts of our intellect. Our Lord put this truth under another figure when he said, "No man can come unto me except the Father which hath sent me draw him." Those whom God knows, in the sense of "approves," "reveals himself to," are those alone who, in any high, proper, spiritual sense, can be said to "know God."

II. WHEREON BOTH THESE ARE BASED. "If any man love God." Our best knowledge comes by love, not by intellect. The mutual knowledge of husband and wife, of mother and child, come not by mental study of each other, but by the relations and revealings of love. And so alone can we know our heavenly Father. Let him come near to us in gracious communions, and our hearts will surely find out how precious he is. "We shall see him as he is." Bodily vision will not be needed, for souls can see. Intellect may stand back, for love can see and feel and know. It will be observed that the love of which St. Paul here speaks is seen, not on its sentimental but on its practical side. It is the charity which takes due account of the frailties of others, and acts with the desire to help them. Charity is the varied expression of the love cherished in the heart; somewhat as obedience is the expression of faith. Faith is seen in good works, and love is seen in charity. John Tauler, the mystic, suggestively says, "Rightly is God called the 'Master of love,' for he rewards love; he rewards with love; and he rewards out of love." See the Revised Version on Luke 2:14, "On earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased," or "men of good will" - of love, or charity. Impress how earnestly we should seek that disposition and character which will bring God near to us, and so give to us the saving apprehension of him. "We love him because he first loved us." And we can judge of our love to God by our if cling concerning our brother; for "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar;," "And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also." - R.T.

The Apostle Paul had been trained in the monotheism which had from the first been the belief of the Hebrew race, and from which they had not for centuries previous to his time ever swerved. But as a preacher of Christianity, a religion which aspired to world wide empire, he was constantly brought, especially as the apostle of the Gentiles, into contact with the worshippers of idols, both philosophic and popular. And he was often called to be the counsellor of those who, although called out of heathenism, still lived in a heathen atmosphere and were entangled in consequence in not a few practical difficulties. In discussing for the benefit of these Corinthian questions of conduct arising out of their necessary association with those who practised heathen customs, Paul took his stand boldly and uncompromisingly upon the great religious doctrine of the unity of God.


1. The deities of the heathen are called gods. They are called, but they are not; it is a delusion. "An idol is nothing in the world." The grand denunciation of the Hebrew psalm occurs to the mind: "Eves have they, but they see not," etc.

2. These deities are deemed "gods" and "lords." They were and still are, in heathen lands, deemed superhuman, supernatural, and are invested by the imagination with some claims to the homage, reverence, and service of intelligent men.

3. They are in number many, every river and grove having its deity. It is well known that the heathen had. even their household gods, e.g. the Romans their lares et penates.

4. They have their several localities and ranks and. realms of dominion. They are "in heaven," as the superior Olympian deities; or "on earth," as those inferior numina which haunt this lower world, nymphs and fauns and, dryads, etc. Such was the system which Christianity found, with which Christianity came into conflict.


1. In himself he is "the one God, the Father." In itself this was a glorious revelation; and in Jesus Christ provision was made for its wide promulgation and acceptance.

2. He is the Creator and Upholder of all; "Of whom are all things."

3. And especially he is the great Object of our faith, love, and devotion. We are "for, ... unto him." It is at this point that the great revelation of the new theology becomes the great motive of the new religion. Polytheism distracted the minds of the worshippers, and made it impossible that faith in God should become the inspiration of a new and better life; for it was a question - What measure of reverence and of service shall be offered to this deity, and what to that? But Christianity revealed one God, in whom are all perfections, and who is not only the Creator but the moral Governor and Saviour of mankind. They who live to serve this God have an elevating, purifying, powerful aim in the conduct of their life.


1. The one God is made known by the one Lord Jesus Christ. It is a misunderstanding of the Scripture doctrine to conceive of this view of the Redeemer as conflicting with the monotheism which is the glory of the Bible revelation. The one Lord reveals the one God, as the Word. reveals the Utterer, as the Son reveals the Father.

2. Christ is the universal Mediator, "by whom are all things." This is the doctrine of John as well as of Paul. And we may well understand the moral as well as the physical creation to be included. For all the Blessings which the Father destines for humanity he has resolved to confer by Jesus Christ.

3. We as Christians are what we are "through him." As in the former clause we recognized the great aim, so here we recognize the great means and motive of the new, the distinctively Christian life. The Divine nature and mediation of Immanuel, so far from obscuring our belief in the unity of God, is the best and strongest and most effectual support of that doctrine. Even as Jesus himself said, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father;" and "No man cometh unto the Father but by me." - T.

Two primary and foundation truths of religion were committed to the keeping of the Jews as a nation. They were revealed to, and fully apprehended by, Abraham, and were the reason for his separation from his polytheistic surroundings in the country of the Chaldees, and for the subsequent remarkable isolation of his descendants in the small, compact, yet central country of Palestine. Those two truths were - the unity and the spirituality of God. "God is one;" "God is a Spirit." It is the first of these truths which St. Paul here reaffirms, in view of the pagan conception of many deities and divinities; and there can be no doubt concerning the clear cut testimony which Christianity makes to the truth of the Divine unity. There is only one God, whose favour and reconciliation we have to seek, and whose claim to obedience and service we must meet. It is true that Mohammedanism also affirms the unity of God, but it adds the questionable statement, "and Mahomet is his prophet." Christianity does indeed declare that there are "three persons in one God;" and that "Jesus Christ is the Son of God;" but both these truths are to be held, and can be held, consistently with our faith in the Divine unity. We have to avoid the perils of tritheism, and of conceptions of the divinity of Christ which fall short of his essential Deity; for "the Word was God;" "God manifest in the flesh." In the verses before us we have -

I. THE COMMON NOTION OF GODS AND LORDS. "As there be gods many, and lords many." Paganism peopled earth and sea and sky with different orders of divinities, and imagined gods presiding over mountains, streams, and flowers; over flood and. pestilence and fire; over virtue and over vice; over families and nations. Illustrate by the impressions made upon St. Paul when he first entered Athens. The place seemed to him crowded with idols, "given over to idolatry." There was a regular hierarchy; and probably a dim notion of one supreme god. to whom the rest were subordinate, but as these lesser gods and lords stood in direct and close relations with men, it was inevitable that they should get all the worship. Illustrate from what is observed in heathen lands now; especially where heathenism is associated with learning and civilization, as in India. Show what complicated social questions arise in that country out of the conflicting claims of the multitudinous gods and lords; and the painful uncertainty which men in idolatrous countries must feel as to whether they have propitiated the right god, or left an offended one still to execute his vengeance. In contrast with elaborate heathenism, the worship and service of the one God is simple and satisfying. Fear God, and there is no one else to fear.

II. THE CHRISTIAN NOTION OF "GOD" AND "LORD." The two words may be taken to include the Divine Being as an Object of worship, and as our practical Ruler. Our God is at once the highest Being we can conceive, who rightly claims our reverence; and the very centre of all authority, to whose will we must wholly bow. But the two terms may be used to indicate the oneness, yet distinction, of the Father and the Son. The term "lord" suggests the immediacy of Christ's relations to us. So the word "God" may stand for the essential being; and the word "Lord" for the mediatorial being.

1. The essential being - God. Four points are here noticed by St. Paul.

(1) God is one.

(2) He is the Father - that relation being the most suitable for representing him, because it includes the personal interest of his love for each one of his creatures, which such words as "King," "Ruler," "Judge," "Moral Governor," do not.

(3) All things are of him. He is the one and only Creator of things and of men. And

(4) we are witnesses for him, who are bound to hold firmly, and show forth fully, this first truth of the one Father God.

2. His mediatorial being. Under this term we apprehend the one God as the Lord Jesus Christ, and we are to see that he is practically

(1) our present Lord and Ruler;

(2) our only Mediator in his manifestation of himself in our flesh and upon our earth; and

(3) our Christian standing and Christian hope are only in him and by him. Fully embracing this truth of the Divine unity, we shall be wholly delivered from the fear of offending the "gods many or lords many," whether they be fellow men or imagined divinities. - R.T.

I. THE ONE GOD. The oneness of Deity is here emphasized. It is insisted upon throughout the Scriptures. The true Israel, ancient and modern, has been monotheistic. The conflict, contradiction, confusion, and absurdity, conspicuous enough in the polytheistic systems, find no place in Judaism or Christianity. The oneness of Deity is confirmed by

(1) nature,

(2) providence,

(3) the moral sense. The one God is:

1. The Source of all things. "Of whom are all things." He is the great Originator; all things sprang from his creative touch. We know not how - the manner is not revealed to us, the fact is. God may have left much to man's scientific instinct to discover; he may have intended not a little to remain enshrouded in mystery. We may travel reverently along the lines of true knowledge until they cease for us; then the great truth remains still for our enlightenment and comfort. The march backward of science is towards unity; revelation began with it.

2. The End of all things. "We unto [not 'in'] him." What is here asserted of some of God's works ("we") applies to all (see Colossians 1:16). All things were created "unto" God; the object of their existence terminates in God, they show forth his glory, they subserve his purposes. The whole universe looks God wards. So far as intelligent creatures do not find the end of their existence in God, so far as they do not seek the Divine glory, so far they fall out of harmony with the rest of creation and bring failure into their lives. We are not created for ourselves, but for God; we should therefore "glorify God. in our Bodies, and in our spirits, which are his" and for him.

II. THE ONE LORD. This is Jesus Christ - the "Son of man" and the "Son of God." We are here taught that the Head of the Christian Church was the active Power in creation. Of the Deity, as such, were all things; through the one Lord, the second person in the Deity, were all things. Some have been led by this verse to question the divinity of Christ: it appears to teach it in a very impressive and convincing manner. The administrative, mediating position occupied by Christ is indeed recognized, but the assertion that "through him all things were seems scarcely susceptible of a fair interpretation if his divinity be excluded. Moreover, this very expression, through him," is applied elsewhere to God as such (see Romans 11:36; Hebrews 2:10). And the expression which we have here applied to God, "unto him," is in Colossians 1:16 applied to Christ. The apostle is speaking to the Corinthians about idols as "gods and lords." These were all regarded as deities. In carrying over the same terms to the realm of Christianity, there is nothing in the statements made which should lead us to regard "Lord" as less Divine than "God."


1. Believers are "through" Jesus Christ. As creatures, they are amongst the "all things" which are said to be "through" him. But the additional statement, "we through him," indicates a very special relationship. Believers are such through Christ; they believe on him. Through Christ they are separated from the "all things" and made a "peculiar people." All that distinguishes them from others in condition and prospect is "through" him. He is their "Alpha and Omega." He created all things, and they are his new creation - a creation of a higher order and with sublimer ends. Apart from Christ believers are nothing; through him they become "heirs of God." As through Christ in the realm of nature the chaos became order and beauty, so through Christ men pass from the disorders of a lost state into the excellences and glories of a redeemed and consecrated existence.

2. Believers are "unto" God. All things are, but believers are in a very special sense. This is "through" Jesus Christ. As all the creation under the administration of Jesus Christ is "unto God," so in a peculiar and lofty sense are believers. They show forth the Divine glories as none other of the human race can. They reflect the Divine love manifested in the transcendent work of redemption. They are presented to God as the fruits of the Divine grace. Their "life is hid with Christ in God." They are "not their own." Their lives are devoted to the Divine service. They are "servants of God." Once rebellious, they are now obedient; once defiled, now purified; once lost, now saved "unto God." Here is pre-eminently the believer's condition; he is emphatically "unto God." Is this so with us? If we are saved by Christ, for what, to what, are we saved? Some seem to be saved for nothing in particular! Many are satisfied with being "saved," and never ask," Saved for what?"

3. God is the Father to believers. In a certain restricted sense he is the Father of all. We are all his offspring. But in a spiritual sense God is not the Father of all Of certain unbelievers Christ said, "Ye are of your father the devil." God cannot be our Father unless we are his children. There must be the double relationship or none. Some are willing enough for God to be their Father, but not willing at all to be his children! But the true believer has received the adoption and cries, "Abba, Father." High privilege indeed! How it speaks of care, and support, and protection, and guidance, and teaching, and love! How near to God we are brought when he becomes our Father! Our origination is in the mysterious Deity; we are fashioned by the hands of Christ; amid the infinities of creation receiving existence for the Divine glory, we seek our own, and become blots on the universe otherwise so fair; "through" Jesus Christ we become changed, redeemed; by him we are led back to God, and see as life's supreme object the glory of God, now brought so much nearer to our grasp; and as we reach the dread presence of the Eternal, whence all things come, we lift up our eyes and behold "our Father." This also is "through Christ." God is the Father of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ has become our Brother. If Christ be our Brother, his Father is our Father. - H.

No doubt Paul was regarded as the great champion of liberty. The apostles at Jerusalem were more under the influence of the old Judaism; Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles, gained a larger spirit of tolerance through his association with men of various races and habits. The Spirit of God set him free from restraints by which many good men were fettered. To him the party of knowledge, of emancipation, of liberalism, would naturally look for countenance and encouragement, when scruples about trifling matters of outward observance perplexed the conscience and threatened to divide the Church. And, so far as his views of religion were concerned, Paul was with this party; yet, as this passage reminds us, in his view, religion had one side turned towards God, and another side turned towards men, and he would not have this second side overlooked.


1. The general doctrine. It is not what we eat or abstain from eating that God regards, that God will judge us by. The reasons for this doctrine are obvious.

(1) The nature of God, who is a Spirit, and in whose view what is spiritual is of overmastering and supreme interest. Priests in their pettiness may think matters all important which in God's sight are trifles light as air.

(2) The nature of man, who is a reasonable and spiritual being, and whose highest welfare cannot consist in what food enters into his body and what food he refrains from partaking.

(3) The nature of Christianity, which is a spiritual religion, and seeks to take possession of human nature and so to influence human life. It is not a religion of feasts and fasts, but a religion of faith, hope, and love.

2. The special application of the doctrine. The query propounded by the Corinthians is fairly answered. It is as though Paul had said, "So far as God is concerned it makes no difference at all whether you belong to the scrupulous party, and refrain from eating meat which may possibly have been offered in idol sacrifice and worship, or to the liberal party, and, despising such distinctions, eat whatever is purchased in the market or placed upon the table. These habits of yours cannot make you either better or worse, cannot commend you to God or involve you in his displeasure; he looks at something very different from such things." So with parallel cases; matters may have importance as regards the Church, as regards human society, which are utterly unimportant as regards our relation to God.

II. THE DANGER OF CARRYING CHRISTIAN LIBERTY SO FAR AS TO INJURE OUR FELLOW MEN. A Christian in these early days might be himself quite superior to the small scruples by which his neighbours were influenced. But, at the same time, he might be justly called upon to consider his weak brethren, and not to put an occasion of offence in the path of any. The best things may be abused, and it is often so with liberty. Paul cared not a whit for idol feasts and sacrifices, and, had he considered only himself, he would have eaten meat that had been presented in an idol temple; but he cared for his brethren, and he cared for them all the more if their knowledge was slight, their faith feeble, their apprehensions of spiritual realities obscure. He would not break the bruised reed; he would rather abstain than injure a brother's conscience. It was a grand view of Christian duty this which Paul took; a noble resolution this which Paul formed. A lesson to the whole Church of God in all the various phases of experience and trial through which it is called to pass. Let Christians think first, indeed, of their own position in the sight of the heart searching God. But let them not omit to think of their relation to their brethren in Christ, and let them so act that none may be troubled in conscience or caused to fall by reason of any want of consideration and sympathy, by reason of any disposition to push liberty to too great an extreme. God is our Lord; yet his people, however feeble, are our brethren. Their interests are dear to our hearts, and our intercourse with them is to be guided not only by wisdom but by charity. - T.

Our liberty may become a stumbling block to others, and against this we must be constantly on our guard. There will always be around us some "weak brethren."

1. They may be intellectually weak, really unable to grasp more than the simplicities of the truth, and readily thinking that what they can neither understand nor appreciate must be error. There is also such a thing as mental bias, which prevents men from appreciating or receiving more than some particular side of truth. And this mental bias is often the affliction of men who are otherwise intelligent; and it becomes the occasion of much religious bigotry.

2. They may be weak in conscience. Instead of firmly attesting what is right and what is wrong, their conscience may only present scruples and questions and doubts. It is the same thing to say that they have little power of decision; and feel restless and uncertain, and weakly full of fears, when a decision is made.

3. They may be weak through the relics of old habits. A man cannot immediately separate himself from all his surroundings; and it was very difficult for Gentile Christians to shake off their heathen notions. Missionaries now, in heathen lands, are gravely perplexed by the lingering sentiments and habits of their converts. And in Corinth many could not get out of the idea that meat offered to an idol must be defiled and unfit for their eating Christians. So it may be shown that there are "weak brethren" with us still; some who are offended with higher truths, which they are intellectually unable to reach; others who have scruples about what is permissible to Christians in social life, and yet others who fix narrow limits to the observance of the sabbath, and other details of Christian conduct. Now, St. Paul lays down some of the principles on which we should deal with these "weak brethren."

I. THE PRINCIPLE OF FIRMNESS. More especially if our brother's weakness in any way imperils the truth. Concessions to our weaker brethren may go to the fullest length so long as they concern only our personal relations with them. But we may concede nothing if our brother's weakness puts in peril vital truth. Then we must be firm and stand our ground, and claim our full liberty to receive whatever truth God may be pleased to give us. And it is even found, in practical life, that our brother's weakness in matters of detail is best met by a firm and intelligent resistance. We need to be especially careful that our dealings with our brethren shall in no way foster and encourage their weakness. Modes of keeping sabbath, or relations of Christians to public amusements, will furnish necessary illustrations.

II. THE PRINCIPLE OF HELPFULNESS; wherever we stand in such relations to the "weak brethren" as may give us a power of influence upon them. If we condescend to them, it can only be that we may lift them out of their weakness into strength. Such helpful influence we may exert

(1) by direct teachings;

(2) by our own personal example. Others may see that what they call "our liberty" in no way injures our spiritual life, and seeing that may best help them to correct their mistakes.

III. THE PRINCIPLE OF SELF SACRIFICING CHARITY. Actually depriving ourselves of pleasures, and what we think to be both permissible and good things, in order that we may be no hindrance or injury to others. Illustrate in the case with which St. Paul is dealing here; and show how many good Christians nowadays abstain from such things as balls and theatres because they are anxious not to set a stumbling block in the way of others. Our practical difficulties in life apply to things indifferent; and in such matters it is proper that we should regulate our conduct by the effects which it may have on others. The true Christian spirit would lead us to say, "Rather let me suffer by abstaining from what I should enjoy, and could do without any personal injury, than let my brother suffer, either by the judgment which he would form of my doings, or by his imitating my example to his own serious hurt." - R.T.

It seems as though Paul treated of this case of conscience at inordinate length. Perhaps this would be so were it not that, in disposing of this difficulty, the apostle was really disposing of many other difficulties which should emerge in the course of the centuries. Principles are laid down in this "casuistical" portion of the Epistle which are applicable to Christian conduct in varying states of society and throughout all time.

I. THE DANGER TO CHRISTIAN BRETHREN OF THE UNRESTRAINED INDULGENCE OF LIBERTY. Let a Christian man consider only what will commend him to God, what is in accordance with his right and liberty; and what will be the result? This passage makes this very evident, showing that for an enlightened Christian to partake of food offered to idols may prove prejudicial to weak brethren, who take such conduct as a sanction of idol worship and of idolatrous practices generally. No doubt this is a misconception, but it is a misconception which is likely, which is certain, to happen. Thus the man of weak conscience, of little enlightenment, has his nature defiled and hardened, and, according to the very strong expression of this verse, is in danger of perishing. An awful, unforeseen, consequence to follow upon the indulgence in Christian liberty. The possibility of such a consequence is in itself sufficient to make a liberal Christian pause lest he should carry his liberty too far.

II. THE GREAT CHRISTIAN MOTIVE WHICH RESTRAINS THE EXERCISE OF LIBERTY. The apostle calls upon the enlightened Corinthians to consider who he is whose welfare and salvation are endangered by the course supposed.

1. He is a brother. Who will say, "Am I my brother's keeper?" On the contrary, the spiritual bond that unites the people of Christ one to another is so close and precious that anything that threatens its permanence should be regarded with suspicion and dread.

2. Not only so; he is one for whom Christ died. Observe the contrast which is so powerfully presented in this language. The Lord of glory died to ransom and to save each disciple and friend of his; submitted for his sake, not to inconvenience and restraint, but to sufferings, to the cross, to the grave. And shall any follower of the Lord Jesus treat with contempt even the weakness and prejudice of one whom the Lord of glory so pitied that he gave up his own life to save? Who are we that we should act in a manner so contrary to the action of our Divine Lord and Leader? Let him be our Example, as in other things, so in this; let his self sacrifice be our model and motive, that with a sympathizing and affectionate disposition we hold dear the security and well being of every Christian brother, however ignorant and however feeble. So far from assisting in the ruin, be it ours to promote the salvation of every member of the spiritual family, every sheep, every weak and helpless lamb, of the vast flock of that good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. - T.

It is a proof of the personal and intimate character of the relation between Christ and his people, as that relation was conceived in the primitive Churches, that it should be the very climax of reproach against any professed Christians because of any course of action they followed, to charge them with sin against Christ, It is surely obvious that language like this could not be used of any merely human teacher or leader. One who was on the one hand so closely united to the Divine Father and on the other hand so truly a Son of man, as Jesus, Immanuel, could alone be spoken of thus. It was not possible to go further in expostulation than by the use of such language as this, addressed to those who considered too little the conscience of a weak brother, "Ye sin against Christ." To act without due sympathy, consideration, and charity towards a brother Christian is to sin against Christ, because it is -

I. TO OFFEND AGAINST CHRIST'S COMMANDMENT. Our Lord's great commandment, his new commandment, his oft repeated commandment, was a commandment to his disciples to love one another. He even went so far as to make obedience to this law of charity a test and note of discipleship: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." A disregard for the feelings, the conscience, the spiritual health, of a Christian brother was an evident cud flagrant violation of the Lord's great precept, and was therefore "sin against Christ."

II. TO CONTRADICT CHRIST'S EXAMPLE. Our Lord did not enjoin a spirit or conduct which he did not exemplify in his own life. Whoever reads the record of that life must observe that his spirit in dealing with his disciples was one of forbearance, consideration, pity, and benevolence. He washed his disciples' feet; he bore with their infirmities and their slowness to understand him; he pitied and instructed their ignorance; he overlooked and forgave their cowardice and desertion; in a word, he laid himself out in every way for their spiritual good. How then could any Corinthian, how can any other professing Christian, be a follower of the blessed Lord, if he display an inconsiderate, contemptuous, unforgiving spirit towards a brother in Christ? In so doing he sins against the Master.

III. TO INJURE CHRIST IN THE PERSON OF ONE OF HIS LITTLE ONES. Jesus laid down this principle with great clearness when he identified himself with his own, assuring us that what was done - good or ill - to his little ones he should, in the judgment, regard as done unto himself. The Head is insulted when the member is injured; the King is aggrieved when his subject is attacked; the Shepherd is smitten when his sheep are scattered. Whosoever is indifferent to the welfare of the Lord's servant sins against that Lord himself, and shall not be held guiltless. Christ expects all his people to act as if he were present in the person of every one whom he loves and for whom he died. - T.


1. That from which we are enjoined to abstain is asserted to he dangerous to ourselves, since we may be led to indulge to excess. Or:

2. Is injurious to ourselves, physically, morally, or spiritually. Or:

3. Is pure waste, bringing with it no real benefit. Or:

4. Is intrinsically wrong.


1. The fourth will have no application to the large class of things indifferent in themselves, and it is generally in respect of such that the war is waged.

2. The second and third will generally be open to question. The difficulty of proof is great. Facts, apparently conflicting, will be adduced, and where knowledge is limited and imperfect, the contest is likely to continue, the advantage now seemingly being on one side and then on the other.

3. The first seldom carries conviction, since every man deems it an impossibility for him to fall. Every one else may be weak, but we are certainly strong. The argument against often acts as a temptation, for when human nature is warned of peril it often delights to show how brave and steadfast it can be.


1. The apostle enlarges the view so that others are included as well as ourselves. Abstinence is not for ourselves alone, sometimes not for ourselves at all, but for our fellows. "Look not every man on his own things, but also on the things of others." Whether we realize it or not, we always decide for more than one. We are units, but united units. We cannot legislate merely for that little area which we ourselves occupy.

2. The apostle recognizes the influence of example. Mentally, we instantly assent to this; practically, we generally deny it. Our words are a spider's web; our acts are a cable, Men do what we show them, not what we tell them. And we cannot persuade men that we are strong and that they are weak; they will believe the opposite with very little persuasion. Men are like sheep: though the shepherd calls and the dog barks, if one sheep leads the way the others will follow, though it be over a precipice.

3. The apostle asserts the obligation of self sacrifice for the welfare of others. That which is "indifferent" becomes anything rather than indifferent if our indulgence in it is likely to cause injury to our fellows. We are not only to think of others, but to deny ourselves for others. Our sacrifice will often seem very small indeed compared with their possible loss. Here is an argument which will stand where many others fall. It has special force for Christians.

(1) They have a great example of self sacrifice in their Master. They are to imitate him. "He saved others; himself he cannot save." He "gave himself for us." The apostle seems to suggest a comparison of Christ's sacrifice with the sacrifice which he desired the Corinthians to make. Christ died to save men: you are called upon to sacrifice what that men may not fall away from salvation: how little compared with how much! And to those not making the required sacrifice: Christ died to save the weak brother; you, to gratify your appetite, are causing him to perish.

(2) They have a more impressive view of the issues involved in the fall of a fellow creature.

(3) Their non abstinence may be a sin against a fellow Christian (ver. 11). The fall may be, not of an unbeliever, but of a brother, associated in Christian fellowship and service. And thus be

(4) a sin against the brethren (ver. 12); against the Church, bringing scandal and disgrace through a brother's fall. And also

(5) a sin against Christ (ver. 12). For Christ and Christians are one - he the Head and they the members.

(6) They have in their ears certain suggestive utterances of their Master's; such as, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matthew 25:40); and, "Whoso shall offend ['cause to stumble,' as in text] one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:6). - H.

No more perplexing questions are presented to the Christian than those which deal with the limitations of his Christian liberty. Were the Christian man alone in the world, or were he assured that his actions would in no way influence those around him, there are many personal enjoyments in which he could freely indulge, and he would have little call to self restraint. He would at least be a "law unto himself," and need make no laws for himself upon consideration of others. But none of us can live under such conditions. We are not only a "spectacle unto men and angels," but every act of ours bears influence on some one, affecting others either for good or for evil. And this fact we must take into solemn account. The relationships of life are main sources of our pleasure, but they bring us all our responsibilities, and, though our conduct in all essential things is to be determined only by what is right, in all matters that are left to our decision we are bound to consider how others will regard our conduct; and we should even take into account how they may misunderstand and misrepresent, and so make mischief out of our actions. It is true that "the fear of man bringeth a snare," but it is also true that the love of man, and sincere desire for the blessing of others, wilt always help us to form good judgments concerning what is prudent and advisable. Sincere hearts are full of anxiety lest, by any personal indulgences or needless displays of superior moral strength, they should "sin against the weaker brethren." It should be observed that upon things doubtful God lays down no direct rules. The Christian man is expected to make his own wise laws of self restraint. If he be sincere and earnest he will make for himself two supreme laws.

I. THE LAW OF CHARITY TOWARDS OUR BROTHER. That is, in every disputable or doubtful case he will give the advantage to his brother, and act taking into account even his weaknesses. It should be clearly understood:

1. That when, in a spirit of charity, a Christian man puts himself under strong restraints, he does not alter his views of the weakness of his brother's difficulty or of the possibility of his own acting or enjoying without personal injury. The very point of his Christian virtue is that, while recognizing the rightness of the thing for himself, he refrains for the sake of others. There would be no virtue in his self restraint if he changed his opinion as to the rightness of the act. He holds his own opinion, but in Christian love he yields to the opinion of another.

2. We may also see that, when the Christian puts himself under restraint for the sake of a weak brother, it is that he may gain influence upon him that shall lift him up out of his weakness. It can be no part of Christian duty to condescend to a brother's weakness, and leave him weak. If St. Paul refrained from eating the meat that had been offered to idols, it was in the hope of presently getting the weak brethren to see that, since an idol is "nothing at all," he cannot defile any meat. Our charity does not concern the particular case, but the entire well being of our weaker brother.

3. It may further be shown that the restraints under which the Christian man puts himself, by the persuasions of his brotherly love, may be severe and trying at first, but become easier after a while, and will often turn into blessing for himself at the last. This may be efficiently illustrated in the case of a man giving up all alcoholic drink for the sake of helping a brother who is in peril from the enticements of the drink demon. If he be of a social disposition, it may cost him a great deal to give up long settled habits, but he may prove, in both health and means, that the self restraint of Christian charity can become a blessing to him who manifests it, as well as to him for whose sake the sacrifices have been made. God ever graciously secures to us the rewards of right doing, and makes "charity twice blessed."

II. THE LAW OF LOYALTY TO CHRIST. Our one supreme purpose must be to serve him, and he has told us that what is done unto "the least of the brethren" is "done unto him." We think that, in the greatness of our loyalty, we would do anything for Christ, and put ourselves under any kind of restraints, were he really here with us in the flesh. But he puts our loyalty under a severe test when he says, "Do to your weak brother, do for your weak brother's sake, just what you would have done for me." We think we could go without meat, or put away drink, at once and forever, if Jesus wished. It is Christ's wish that is expressed to us when we are led to see that our "liberty" is injuring a brother; and our Lord counts it loyalty to him when we restrain ourselves for a brother's sake. St. Paul makes this plain. To offend against a weak brother, to refuse proper limitations of our own liberty when such limitations would help a brother, is to sin against Christ, even against Christ who - at the uttermost self sacrifice - even died that he might save and sanctify the weak brother. Conclude by showing that the appeal may be made to us, in relation to this matter, which is made by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews in a more general way, "Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin." In how few of us the self restraints of Christian charity can be said yet to have reached the sublime heights of self sacrifice! - R.T.

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