Howard Carter is a Presbyterian minister and church planter in Auckland New Zealand. In this blog he reflects on God, life, the scriptures, family, Church and church planting, film and media and other stuff. Join him as he reflects on the Journey.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
Food, Idols, Knoweldge and the Ethic of Love (1 Coritnhians 8)...One:on the road to Unity in 1 Corinthians (Part 8)
actually spends a lot of time, chapters 9, 10 and 11 looking at the issue of
food sacrificed to idols. Maybe it’s hard for us to get our head round it being
that important, but in Corinth it permeated the whole of society. In the way
Paul deals with this issue, applying good theology, and basic Christian ethical
principles it helps us with a raft of issues we face as we along with the
church at Corinth work at coming together from diverse backgrounds and
viewpoints to be one, and live as the
new people of God.
In the car
park out here earlier in the year, I had a conversation which helped me to
understand the issue of food sacrificed to idols.I was talking with an Indian woman who shared
that she was a Christian and most of her family and community was Hindu. When
they got together for various community and family celebrations, she did not
eat the food because it had been dedicated to various deities. Now She knew her
culture well enough to make those decisions and she was able to use this
difference as a way of sharing her faith with her people. It made things rather
hard for her but now her family and community respected her Christian stance.
mentions food the key issue was meat. We are used to going to the butcher and
getting meat, maybe now we are starting to ask where they sourced that meat
from, is it free range is it from New Zealand, but in Paul’s time the pagan temples
were the main source of meat in the market place. The animals would be
sacrificed, part of it would be burnt as an offering, part of it would be
shared in a meal with those who had come to the temple and a portion would go
out and be sold. While the council of Jerusalem in acts 15 could ask gentile
believers to abstain from eating food sacrificed to idols, as not to offend
Jewish believers it wasn’t a simple matter.
You and I
may go out and have a special celebration at a restaurant, or go out to a meal
as part of our business. Maybe you’ll be aware of a statue of Buddha or some
other deity in the corner and wonder. But in Corinth the temples were the
restaurants, you’d go with your family or business guild to a temple and eat
there and the meal would be part of the religious ceremony. How were Christians
and in particular those who had just become Christians from a pagan background
going to live in that environment. Did it mean totally separation, which was
the Jewish approach… if there was enough of them living in a city they would
have their own kosher butcher, if not they would be vegetarian,or could the believers in good conscience
simply be part of it all. After all were they not free in Christ to do whatever
we wanted? Idols are only things food is just food. What would happen if they
went to a neighbour’s house and were served that meat? What if it meant that
their business or family relationships were adversely affected if they stayed
away? Throw in the fact that for the poor the temple celebrations may have been
their only reliable source of meat. What did it mean if you wanted to buy a
nice piece of meat for the Sunday roast? Was there room for different
approaches? Was it simply left up to the individual and what they were
As it’s such
a major issue for the Corinthians Paul starts as we’ll see today by addressing
it from a theological perspective and applying abasic principle of Christian ethics. Then as well
see next week in chapter 9 he discusses his own understanding of Christian
freedom and asserts his authority as an apostle, then in chapter 10 he gets
down to the nitty-gritty and deals with a misunderstanding of Christian
communion and practical do’s and don’t concerning food sacrificed to idols.
Paul starts by addressing the core issue behind what was happening, that some
in Corinth thought that they were spiritual and had made it and that this meant
that they were able to do whatever they wanted, even go to the temple and be
involved in the meals and rituals there. After all idols were nothing by stone
and metal and food was just food.It
didn’t matter what affect this had on other believers. It was their right.In verse 1 Paul quotes their own words to
them “we all possess knowledge”. They saw themselves as having become wise, but
Paul affirms here that the basis for Christian ethics is not knowledge by
itself but rather love. Knowledge is important but Knowledge by itself puffs
up, love, says Paul, builds up.For the
Christian how we use our knowledge needs to be worked out through love for
others. We can simply do what we want or what we think is our right to do, but
that can have detrimental affect on the community of faith, its not the loving
thing to do in Christ.
this ethical understanding to meat sacrificed to idols. Firstly he affirms the
knowledge. The Corinthians had rightly said that idols were simply bits of wood
or stone, he affirms the Corinthians belief in monotheism, that there is no God
but one. The Old Testament is full of scathing sarcasm for those who put their
trust in idols. In Isaiah 44 you get this withering attack on the rational for
the worship and trust in such things.A
person will cut down a tree use some it for a fire and then carve the rest into
a god and trust it to help them. Paul agrees that this is absurd, however as we
see when we come to look at chapter 11 he says that believers should not be involved in the
temple meals because the worship of such idols is a sphere of demonic activity.
Let’s leave that for now, Paul goes on to ask them to think about what it means
to believe in the one true God.
Paul if these gods and lords exist, be they the traditional gods or the
imperial ones; that is emperors wanting to worshipped as divine, that for the
believers there was one God, the Father, and one LordJesus Christ, through whom we come to know
God.It’s not enough to simply know
idols are not real the real question is how do we affirm and believe and live
out the reality of who God is.NT Wright
puts it like this 9click for quote… “Paul wants them to think through the
issues themselves, and that means thinking about just who the true God is, and
what it means to love and serve him. That remains as urgent a task today as it
was in the first century.”
think they can go and worship at the pagan temple or be involved in other
religious activity because after all behind it all there is just one true God, which
has become quite a popular philosophy amongst new age folk, but says Paul, that
is not the case. Yes there is one God but the only way that we can come to him
and worship him is through Jesus Christ.
think they are free to do what they want but if they are to worship this one
true god they need to do that by reflecting the nature of that God as well and
that is that God loves us and calls us to love one another.
So Paul asks
the believers in Corinth to realise that not everyone has the knowledge that they.
That for many who come to faith in Jesus Christ, idols and idol worship was
still a very real thing. They saw so called stronger Christians participating
in what happened in the pagan temples; instead of being encouraged it may draw
them back into that life style.
introduces what is called the stumbling block principle, that we don’t want our
knowledge or the way we express our Christian freedom to harm a fellow believer
and draw them away from Christ. That love of others needs to be our motivation.
If how we act draws people away from Christ then should we do it?
Now in the
past this principle has been misunderstood, in some older translations it said
that we shouldn’t offend weaker brothers and sisters and that has led to the
person with the strictest moral code ruling the roost.We don’t do that because we may offend
Brother Jo who thinks it’s wrong. The weaker brother here however is not the
narrow minded legalist who wants people to keep their strict code rather it is
the one for whom our actionswill lead
them to do something they consider wrong or lead them away from Christ.
tend to fly in the face of our western understanding of personal rights and
freedoms.But Paul calls us to think
communally and to think of each other as
people for whom Christ has die, so we don’t want to hurt them and lead them
astray. Jesus had given some very stern warning about those who would lead his
little ones away. And Paul here brings that to bear by saying that to sin
against a sister or brother like that is to sin against Christ himself. It is
an outworking of Jesus parable of the sheep and the goats that what we do for
the least we do for Christ.
Paul, using the Corinthians own logic, in the end it is just food, we are not missing out on anything of real
value by giving up. He says he would rather give up eating meat than seeing a
brother or sister fall into sin. The challenge for us is how this plays out in
our world, in our time… here is an example which I hope helps us think this
remember David Stewart, who was the principle at the Bible College of New
Zealand when I was there, talking about how this passage impacted on him. He
was a missionary in China and one of the cultural differences amongst
missionaries from different country’s was their attitude to alcohol. The
European missionaries drank the American ones didn’t. It was a cultural
understanding, David Stewart watched two of the Chinese people who became
followers, follow the European missionaries’ example and drink and sadly they
became alcoholics, David Stewart’s response was that he would no longer drink
alcohol because as a Christian leader he didn’t want anyone to follow a bad
example like that.
has warnings against drunkenness but it does not ban Christians from drinking.
Christians down through the ages have had different understanding about
alcohol, the monks were the brewers and wine makers of Europe. Reformers in the
18th century encouraged beer drinking as an alternative to hard
liquor (you didn't get as drunk as you did swilling gin and there was at least some nutritional value in it), conservative evangelicals have been tee total , because of the damage
they see alcohol doing to society (Kate Shepherd who in New Zealand lead the call for the emancipation of women was the head of the Baptist Temperance Movement and saw women having the vote as a way to bring abolition to New Zealand). There are others who preach and teach that
we lead by our example…moderation.
interesting to note that there were also other clashes over moral issues
amongst the missionaries as well. The American women missionaries wore makeup
and some of the European missionaries thought this was decadent and vain
behaviour. The different nationalities had a different understanding about
smoking as well.I remember a friend of
mine talking about peoples different approaches to media as well. He went to a
conference where one well known international speaker had encouraged the young
people not to simply go to the latest greatest movie, as they may have their
thinking and worldview tainted by the movies, the next speaker used film clips
and made references to various pop culture movies. There are lots of issues
that this principle helps us to deal with, both small and big issues. Even things
that in the end are the grey areas or amoral… Now Paul will make some hard and
fast ruling s about food sacrificed to idols in chapter 10, But the key factors
for us is that we mediate our behaviour by asking How am I worshipping God in
this and am I doing no harm to my brothers and sisters whom Christ died for. We
will need to be prepared to curb our freedom for the sake of love. For some areas
that will mean we do have different approaches, different understandings. And
in that we will need to remember these words which I have heard attributed to
various Christian leaders from Augustine to count Zinzindorf
Howard Carter is a Presbyterian Minister in his early fifties. He is the minister at St Peter's Presbyterian Church Ellerslie Mt Wellington. A congregaion that is wanting to face the challange of being Christ's body in a twenty first century, multi-cultural, multi-generational, suburban environment. "it's challanging", says Howard, "I feel totally inadiquate, but rely on Jesus, who is able to be strong in my weakness".
Yes he's married to Kris and has four children. So he'sboth blessed and busy.
Howard posts the messages he preaches on Sundays (the long posts with heaps of images), the occasional reflection, prayers he writes for services (when he's in a liturgical mood) and movie review.