Posted by: Moses | April 29, 2010

Christian Unity and Liberty: Part 4 of 4

Unity Despite Varied Engagement with Culture and False-Religions

1 Cor 8-10 provides many of the same principles for determining between two good things as Rom 14. Loving the brothers trumps in spades. However, in this circumstance, interpretations of the practice of the Law are not in view but participation with surrounding culture. Paul instructs the Corinthians church regarding meat-offered-to-idols,“sacrificial meat, part of which was burned on the altar as the deities’ . . . part was eaten at a solemn meal in the temple, and part was sold in the market . . . for home use. Within the Mosaic tradition it was unclean and therefore forbidden” (BDAG). Again, Paul is clear that “food will not commend us to God” one way or the other (1 Cor 8:8). Food itself is not the issue but love among the brothers. From the context, one faction seems to have lorded their “knowledge” that idolatry was an illusion over another less bold faction (1 Cor 8:1-3). Interestingly, Paul contrasts such knowledge that “puffs up” against love for God and God’s knowledge of us (1 Cor 8:1-3). Paul communicates that our knowledge means nothing for our standing before God; rather, God’s knowledge of us means everything (1 Cor 8:3). Again in this section, Paul begins with an ultimate ground in God’s final accounting, arguing that though many are called “gods” there is only one Lord to whom we answer in the end, for whom everything was designed (1 Cor 8:4-6). However, Paul continues to explain that not everyone understands this. In the terminology of Romans 14, not everyone has the faith to participate in everything blamelessly. Again Paul stresses that to throw a stumbling block in front of a weaker brother is not only unkind and unloving, but specifically a sin against Christ (1 Cor 8:12).

Throughout chapter 9, Paul provides examples of his own surrender of his rights. This is the same way he argued back in chapters 1-4 with the example of himself and Apollos. He establishes that he considers nothing his right and that everything is malleable if the gospel can go forth from him unobstructed (1 Cor 9:12-23). Paul makes no accident in concluding his litany of deference with becoming “weak, that I might win the weak…that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:22). If the passage ended here, one might conclude that a Christian could theoretically participate in any aspect of a false religion as long as he was not endangering a weaker brother. After all, no other God exists and the believer could participate in that knowledge. However, Paul does not conclude this and instead launches into a discussion of how the OT’s example is useful. Indicatively he chose an example of God’s judgment on Israel’s idolatry, assures his hearers that God will preserve them through temptation, but commands them to “flee from idolatry” (1 Cor 10:1-14).

Though he has previously argued that the meat itself is nothing, Paul draws the line at actual participation in worship. In chapter 8 Paul references the market-sale of meat and eating in an idol’s temple like a restaurant. These two usages for the meat seem to be permissible within the bounds of love and care for the weak. However, in chapter 10 Paul expressly forbids the Corinthians from eating meat within the actual worship of an idol, on the ground that this is participation with demons parallel to our participation with Christ in the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 10:14-22). Thus, once unity or freedom goes beyond the breadth of the foundation in the gospel of Christ, such action is no longer justifiable. When the actions themselves are indifferent and thus justified by the heart’s motivation, then deference and love can cover over a multitude of “sins” (1 Pet 4:8). However, when one steps out of that realm into syncretistic worship of some sort, participating in pagan worship as a believer, suddenly there is no way that one’s heart can get to that end of obvious sin from a faith-filled heart. Hodge comments in the Romans parallel passage that “it is impossible that a man should have right motives for doing a wrong action.” Deference is not unilateral, nor is to be served above the gospel. The gospel is the ground by which it is enjoyed.

Though I have gone far enough at this point to prove the thesis I initially set out with, (that sometimes God values unity over secondary issues of truth), I think it could be helpful to continue on to some applications of these principles to our modern day. Therefore, tomorrow I think I will post a “Practical Conclusions” finalé to my Christian Liberty and Unity marathon.

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