“True Strength” 1 CORINTHIANS 8:1-13

— In a world that worships the ability to dominate, what is Paul Getting at that is the strength of a Christian? The discipline of Self–Sacrifice.
Here we are on Super bowl Sunday. Are you excited? You know some pastors out there dislike the Super bowl. Some will talk bad about professional football in general. I guess they don’t like how much attention the pro-teams and the superstars get. I think some of them wish that Church as an event was as popular as a pro football game. Some of them probably wish that Jesus Christ had as many followers as Tom Brady’s Facebook page. I can understand the jealousy some pastors have for all people to care more about Jesus than they do about their favorite football team. After all, God is jealous for our worship, we read that in Exodus chapter 14.
But I can’t bring myself to hate on the Super Bowl. How can a once a year event even compare to worship, something that we do almost every week? How can a game compare to a whole life, lived believing in Jesus? The answer is, it can’t. They are not even in the same league. So there is absolutely no threat to God in the Super bowl. I like Super bowl Sunday because of the opportunity to engage people by preaching something related to football. Also, the game is in the evening, so I don’t have to worry about people running home (or staying home) to watch the game!
Instead, the game provides a great opportunity to talk about an attribute that is held in high regard by humanity, and displayed during every football game I have ever seen, Strength.
What is strength? Is it Physical ability, perseverance, resolve? Physical strength is what I think of first. We all know about physical strength. It goes without saying that to be physically strong is to be able to lift heavy things, to perform difficult operations. But this does not seem to be what Paul is talking about in our scripture today.
February 1, 2015
Reverend Aaron Gordon
As a matter of fact, Paul doesn’t use the word strength at all in this passage. He talks about those that are weak. But, Paul’s message is directed to those who have “knowledge.”
The best definition I found for strength is this: Strength is the inherent capacity to manifest energy, to endure, and to resist. Strength includes the physical ability to push things, to break things, and to hold things. Strength also includes the mental ability to hold things together, to not waiver, and to be knowledgeable about how to be effective and productive. A person with a strong conscience, or sense of right and wrong will feel free to live and to act.
A strong Christian knows that, for example idols and false gods do not exist. A strong Christian knows that Christians are free from the law, and that many things like wearing garments of blended fabrics that were outlawed in the Law of Moses are not against the rules for Christians. We are justified by our faith in Jesus, not by our ability to adhere to the letter of the law. We know this, and we are strong.
Strength has always been valued by humanity. It is the ability to get things done. The stronger your body is, the more work you can do. Around the time that Paul was preaching about Jesus, and starting congregations, the culture of the Roman / Greek world highly valued strength. Dominant worldviews or philosophies in that time were Cynicism and Stoicism. Both of these philosophies valued strength, human self-sufficiency, and ability to conquer human emotions which made people weak, and suffer.
So what is Paul getting at? Paul’s language can be hard to understand, so let’s take the scripture apart piece by piece to find out.
In the first verse, Paul introduces the topic he is addressing, “food sacrificed to idols.” Apparently there was some debate about this topic in the congregation at Corinth that Paul heard about, and felt he needed to address. Paul makes mention that their knowledge, as the Corinthians must have previously said they had, is not perfect, because they are not God. Therefore, love is better, because it builds people up, and can get us known by God.
Next, Paul tells the Corinthians, “hey, we all know that idols are fake, and there is only one God. But not everyone knows that.” Paul is talking about those in Corinth who have a hard time letting go of the meat that comes from sacrifices to Idols. He says that they have “weak” consciences that can be defiled. In other words, they really believe that eating idol meat is a sin. They don’t have the mental fortitude, or “knowledge” as Paul says to not be bothered by eating idol meat.
You might be wondering why the Corinthians can’t just get other meat, that hasn’t been devoted to idols. Back in that time, eating meat was more of a big deal than it is today. All we have to do is read the Hebrew Bible to see how animals were used for ritual sacrifice. The people brought cows, goats, and sheep to the priests, the priests burned some of it up, and then they ate some of the meat. The same things happened
for the Greek and Roman gods in Corinth, except that any extra meat left over found its way to the local meat markets. To make matters worse, prominent citizens would often throw elaborate dinner parties in the temples of local gods. Almost as if they rented the social hall for a function. Often, left over idol meat was served at these occasions. So it may have been almost impossible to know where the meat came from, unless it was your animal you were eating.
Paul was well aware of this when he wrote to the church at Corinth. He next urges them to consider this: “we strong believers know that this idol meat does absolutely nothing in our spiritual relationship with God, because food doesn’t bring us close to God. But it can drive a wedge between “weak” Christians and their faith in God. If a “weak” believer has a serious problem with eating idol meat, and they see other brothers and sisters from their own congregation eating it, they might loose focus on Christ, they might fall away because they might think “I guess Jesus isn’t all that important after all.” They might do something that they really believe is a sin against God, due to peer pressure. Then, since they violated their own belief’s it’s as if they really did sin against God, because they did something they really believed to be wrong on purpose. Paul takes this problem very seriously.
Paul uses strong language to urge the Corinthians to not let their own strength in knowledge cause them to use their own freedom when they know it is a problem for others. Paul says it might destroy weak believers. That is pretty serious talk.
But here is the main point of Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians. Eating idol meat is not a necessity for life. It is not something that is required by God for us to do either. So it’s our choice. But, if our choice is made, knowing that some others have a problem with it, and it causes them to stumble, they we are guilty of sin ourselves.
So then if our strong faith allows us to eat idol meat, but eating it in front of weak believers causes them to sin, it’s not true strength then, is it. Even back in the first verse, Paul writes, “those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.” So there is a greater strength that is wrapped up in loving our brothers and sisters in Christ than in knowing our rights.
Paul is talking about true strength, the strength of self-sacrifice. Something that on the surface, may seem like weakness because you are letting the weakness of others keep you from doing what you can. But not everything we can do is something we should do. Like it or not, as Christians, we are all on a team.
Paul even goes as far as to say that we are all members of one body in Romans Ch. 12. As such, we are no different than any other team in that we are only as good as our weakest player. In our interdependent state as the members of the body of Christ, true strength is self-sacrifice For the benefit of the weak.
Number one example of this: Jesus Christ, allowed Himself to be sacrificed for all of us. That is the best kind of strength. Paul knows that, and that is what he is communicating to the congregation at Corinth.
But how does this message impact us? Last time I looked in Giant Eagle, I did not see any section near the butcher for “idol meat.” It didn’t even see any “100% idol free” sections. That’s because almost nobody sacrifices meat to idols anymore.
But Paul’s larger principle is still at work for us. I can think of two great examples. First is a classic issue in the modern church: drinking. Those of us who are mature in our faith know that drunkenness is to be avoided by Christians as we read in Ephesians Ch. 5. But we also know that the scriptures tell us to: Drink our wine with a merry heart in Ecclesiastes Ch. 9. So what is going in here?
I think this is the same situation as Paul is speaking about with regard to idol meat. If we exercise our freedom to drink around those people that for one reason or another cannot drink without causing themselves to stumble that is sinful behavior. For a recovering alcoholic for example, causing them to stumble with alcohol may destroy their witness to the power of Jesus Christ. So it is probably not a good idea. I’m not saying that no Christian should ever drink. I’m not even suggesting that we should pass a law against drinking. We tried that once and it didn’t go so well for our country. I’m saying we should exercise wisdom in deciding when, where, and with whom to drink alcohol.
The second example I thought of is that we can self-sacrifice for our weaker brothers and sisters by coming to church regularly. Those of us who have been given the gift of developing a rock-solid faith in Jesus know that we do not need to attend worship every single Sunday, to be strong Christians. God does not require this of us. Now, under the law of Moses as we read in Leviticus chapter 23, people were required to attend the “holy assembly” on the Sabbath day. We read in Hebrews chapter 10 that we should not forsake our assemblies, but to strongly encourage each other to go.
Those Christians with a weak faith, or in a vulnerable position in regards to their belief in God might need to come to worship every single Sunday (or even more often than that if possible.) They may need the continual time in prayer and corporate worship to reassure and build up their faith. I am especially thinking of young single men here, who are all but absent from our churches today. If and when they come to worship, what does it say to them when they see very few family men in worship? They might think it’s not important to come to worship, when they really are the most vulnerable to falling away from God when they don’t come regularly.
I understand that we can make exceptions when we are reasonable problems, such as illness, or when necessity dictate. But staying home on a Sunday to clean out the garage, is probably not a good enough excuse. I know I am preaching to the choir here, because you are present in worship today, but this is a bigger problem with my own generation than it has ever been before.
In conclusion, Paul is clear to the Corinthian church: you must sacrifice your own strength of conscience for weaker believers. This is for the good of the whole body of Christ. This may seem like a burden to some strong believers in Jesus, but it is good news for those who are struggling with their faith. Jesus wants us to offer a hand up to those who are weak in belief, even if we must sacrifice our “rights” or better said, our freedoms in Christ.
Making sacrifices for the sake of the weak among us is a good thing. It increases the strength of the whole body of Christ. The NFL recognizes how strong it is to look after the weakest teams. After all, the league is only as good as its worst team. Why else would the team with the worst record get the first draft pick?