Good Understanding (8:1-3)
If there is something we know about Paul, we know that Paul was not anti-knowledge. If Paul were anti-knowledge he would not have written so many letters with such penetrating insight. If Paul were anti-knowledge he would not have repeatedly said, “I do not want you to be uninformed brothers (I Cor 12:1 and I Thes 4:13). So as we seek to make application of these verses, we can safely conclude that Paul was not arguing for a simplified faith.
Paul was writing to a very gifted and proud church at Corinth. He is countering their tendency to believe that sound doctrine (well-reasoned and clearly articulated) could supersede brotherly love. Paul agreed with those who were willing to eat meat sacrificed to idols. There was nothing about the meat that would violate any moral or spiritual principle. Yet, Paul disagreed with how individualistically the Corinthians thought about their faith. Paul urges them not to allow their “rights” or “freedoms” to blind them or be an excuse to hamper the walk of their fellow Christians. Paul followed his advice at significant personal sacrifice (I Cor 9:9-12).
Reflection: How often do you think of the possible influence on other Christians when you are weighing out a difficult moral decision? When you do think of others do you resent that they may “inconvenience” your decision? If you do, repent to God for this self-centered mindset and ask God to give you a heart that recognizes that you live as part of the Body of Christ.
Application: Place a picture of your church (building, Sunday School class, church directory) in the locations where you make decisions (dinner table or quiet time location). Having a visual reminder of your church and knowing why you placed it there will help you develop a “corporate conscience.”
Weak Defiled Conscience (8:7)
This passage begs the awkward question, “Can you sin without sinning?” It gives the even more awkward answer, “Yes.” To see why Paul says this, let us begin with defining a weak conscience. A weak conscience is one that feels guilt for something that is not a violation of God’s Word or character. Our modern tendency would be to call this a “strong conscience.” But Paul cautions us against that label. It would insinuate that our new standard is better (strong usually being an adjective with positive connotation) than God’s standard.
Paul has already said eating food sacrificed to idols is morally acceptable. His overall stance seems to infer that it was preferable (it was cheaper since it must be sold quickly in the market to prevent spoiling, hence making it good financial stewardship). Yet to eat without a clear conscience would be sin (Paul make the same point on the same subject in Romans 14:23). The sin is not in the eating, but in the willingness to compromise on what you believe is God’s will. In that light, you can sin (willingly compromise) without sinning (violating a moral principle in the particular action).
Application: When giving advice to a friend or younger Christian, you must not only consider what the Bible says, but also where their conscience is. It is not “faith” to violate one’s conscience. The appropriate order of advice is to abstain from the activity until one’s conscience is free to engage in what God declares permissible. God is patient with us in our humanity and “dim mirror” thinking (I Cor 13:12). We show and model God’s grace to one another when we give advice with and submit to that same patience (see previous heading).
Me to We (Marriage & Church)
When you marry, you make a covenant that changes (or at least should change) your personal identity. This change is frequently captured in the phrase, “You move from being a me to being a we.” You begin thinking as a unit rather than an individual. You become a ya’ll.
In I Corinthian 8 Paul is demonstrating that the same thing happens when you become a Christian. You make a covenant that changes (or at least should change) your personal identity. You move from being a body to being part of the Body of Christ. You are no longer your own (I Cor 6:19-20) and the One who bought you calls you to live as member of His people with a corporate identity.
Before reading any of the application points below, pause and put into words why this concept makes you uncomfortable. What are the possible implications that cause you fear?
Consider the following points that demonstrate having a corporate identity.
- At least 10% of my income goes to support my church (Matt 23:23).
- My moral decisions are impacted by the effect on fellow believers (I Cor 8).
- I confess my sins to fellow believers (James5:16).
- My prayers devote significant time to other believers (Heb 13:18).
- I am willing to devote myself to the hardship of others (Gal 6:2).
- My love for fellow believers should be part of my reputation (John 13:35).
- My fellow believers should regularly be in my home (I Pet 4:9).
Having a corporate identity is not just for certain types of Christians (spiritual gift or personality) any more than communication and honesty is for certain types of spouses. If you have lived as if this was optional, repent and pray for God to give you what He intended for all His children.
Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.