Thursday, 16 July 2009

Preaching 1 Corinthians 8

I'm preaching through 1 Corinthians at the rate of a chapter a week on a Sunday morning. It's tough to say all that you want when you are charging through but I think the momentum keeps us going and I have enjoyed the experience and had good feedback.

I mainly chose it because I don't know it so well as some books and as Andy Gemmill pointed out at New Word Alive, it doesn't get preached much because it's a longer book. So before this I have preached on the cross being foolish and a stumbling block to those who don't believe (1:18-25), the chapter on love (13) and the evidence that Paul gives for the resurrection (15). The rest is pretty much a preaching blank, so this has been a good exercise for me. I love this part of my job, I get paid to read the Bible and study what it means.

Which is challenging. Not only because Sunday rolls around relentless but because it says some tough things to me. Reading through 1 Corinthians I am struck quite forcefully at how out of step it is with our culture. Or more accurately, of course, how out of step we are with the Bible. So we had to take a time-out (and an extra week) during chapter 6 to look at what the Bible says about homosexuality. And last week - in chapter 7 - we hit marriage, singleness, and divorce -affording us much light-hearted relief. I have flagged up a future time-out for divorce and remarriage, which I need to do some serious study on before I wade in. But one thing is for sure, people are talking after services about the Bible. That doesn't always happen and so I am very encouraged.

This week 1 Corinthians 8 and the easier topic of what to do about meat sacrificed to idols. Or is it easier?

While the stuff I get at Asda hasn't generally been offered up before foreign gods before it hits the shelves I have to look at the chapter and ask, "What are the principles for me, here?" Paul makes it pretty clear - that we may have great freedom in an issue but that we cannot use that freedom to destroy others. So while it may not be a problem to eat meat offered to idols (because idols are nothing and there is only one God) Paul does add that if tucking in will destroy someone with a weaker conscience then he'd rather go veggie.

A question that I have often wondered about on the back of this though is, "Does this mean I cannot do anything that another Christian objects to?" This is something I came across in the NIV Application Commentary by Craig Blomberg and helped my thinking:

“The key issue in applying verses 7-13 involves recognising those who truly have weak consciences. Nothing in the context justifies an association of “weaker brothers” with those who are merely offended by a particular practice... Even less justified is the application of these principles to the “professional weaker brother” – the Christian legalist eager to forbid morally neutral activities even though he or she would never personally indulge in those activities. Rather, the weaker brother or sister is the Christian who is likely to imitate a stronger believer in some morally neutral practice but feel guilty about doing so or, worse still, be led into that which is inherently sinful or destructive. The stronger believer’s freedom thus actually has damaging consequences for the spiritual growth and maturation of the weaker sibling... An adequate analogy to 1 Corinthians 8 must have three elements: (a) a threat to Christian freedom; (b) a potential stumbling block; and (c) a Christian brother or sister who might actually be led into sin.” (Blomberg, 165)

So I need the wisdom to discern, "Is this a serious problem for a weaker brother or sister who could be lead into sin? Or is this criticism from a person who simply wants their own way on a matter - again?" And I also need the humility to step back from my rights when that is required.

Perhaps the most important phrase in chapter 8 is "knowledge puffs up while love builds up." The goal isn't to know most but to love best; building others up and not tearing them down. Challenging stuff!

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