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Love Builds Up

August 25, 2019, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev Enoch Keong (1 Corinthians 8:1-13) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 1 Corinthians
Preached at a Mandarin (Sunday) service

Tags: 1 Corinthians 哥林多前书

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Title: Love builds Up
Date:25 Aug and 1 Sep 2019
Preacher: Rev Enoch Keong

I.
We read in today’s text about parties – the strong and the weak – speaking and even ranting at different frequencies and wavelengths. A situation where there was no real communication or understanding.

Paul tells us how this was the case in 1 Cor 8, which is part 1 or his 3-part response to the question on whether Christians should eat food associated with pagan worship. Paul responded to this question at length, it runs from chapter 8 till the beginning of the chapter 11 of the letter.

The groups that Paul responded to carried the labels ‘the strong’ and ‘the weak’. Although we can’t be certain who Paul was referring to, the strong were probably the rich ones in the church. It was a luxury to eat meat in the first century. Hence, it was probably the rich Christians and their rich friends and business associates who could afford more of it. The weak are then likely to be the poorer members of the church.

And what do we mean that the 2 groups were conversing, yet not communicating? Let’s take a peep into what’s was probably on their minds to answer the question. We begin with the strong: These guys had the cash. The best meat was sold at the temple butchery. So, why be rich yet eat poorly? Then, when those meats were served either over a meal at home or with friends and business associates, it was eating, not worshipping of pagan Gods. Next, should they appear to be defensive or inhibited before their friend and business associates in this matter? The answer is ‘no’ What did make things a little tricky was that pagan temples were also the restaurants and function halls in those days. Much eating of the best quality meat therefore happened in temples, which made the weak felt uncomfortable when seeing the rich sitting there eating. To the strong, such discomfort was something laughable. Their robust theology says that idols ain’t gods, they ain’t even real in the first place, and such knowledge in turn warranted eating with clear conscience in any pagan temple.

And what were the weak likely to have been thinking? Now, both the weak as well as the strong were recent converts. They were people that had been worshipping idols their entire life till they came to Christ. But unlike the strong, the group labelled as weak tends to see the idols as real deities. For them, to eat in pagan temples would tantamount to having backslided. It was this understanding of theirs that had caused them discomfort in seeing the rich eating in the temples. Then, the strong were probably the better educated and were more articulate. The weak had their reasoning, but found it so hard to refute the strong who spoke with great confidence. Unable to outtalk the strong, the weak probably ended up passing judgment on their opponents out of frustration. They chose to see the strong as adulterating their faith and were all out for benefits. There’s one more challenge faced by this group, they have given up so much to be Christian in a world where trades and health and what have you, were tied to pagan worship. They gave up so much for their faith, and yet the richer guys were sitting there in the temples enjoying the best portions. Some would have begun asking themselves, should they stand firm in what they are doing and continue to be at the losing end? Or should they begin to compromise?

Enough is sad to see why the matter had to be escalated to Pastor Paul for mediation. Different social economic status; different in term of concerns and thinking. Both sides were saying things, but no real dialogue.

II.
Pastor Paul in responding to their question uses a few key words to summarize and clarify the situation, and to at the same time point out the way forward.

The first word is knowledge. The strong was all about their knowledge. They declared with full confidence that, "an idol has no real existence," and that "there is no God but one" (v.4). These assertions are theologically sound and correct, and Paul couldn’t agree more. But there’s a problem. This group insisted also that “all of us possess knowledge. (v.1)" Question, who do we think that “all” refers to in this assertion? All churches that Paul had planted? All the members from the church of Corinth? No, “all” only referred to the ‘strong’ themselves. And we know that’s what they mean since Paul in verse 7 says, that “not all possess this knowledge.” So, the situation is as Paul says, the strong got so puffed up because of their knowledge, till there’s a disregard of the others, the weak.

The second word that Paul uses to clarify the situation is conscience. A better translation of the word would be “self-awareness”. The weak was so very aware of themselves and the struggles that they were facing: that they were poor economically, that they won’t be able to win the theological debate against their eloquent opponents, that they may backslide if they try what the other group was doing and that they were more righteous then them by not eating food associated with idol worship! It is of course a good thing to stand firm in one’s believes in, and it is good to know one’s abilities in limits. But in this case, the group was way too high when it comes to self-awareness, till there’s a disregard of the others, the strong.

We mentioned earlier that the difference in terms of SES was a problem among the Corinthian Christians. But the bigger problem was that the 2 groups were both inward looking. It’s a problem of the heart’s attitude, a readiness to disregard whoever that is not part of me, mine or my group.

III.
Friends, how many of us have heard that Jubilee is inward looking? How many of us have never heard such a thing? I have heard it, and I have said it as well. When we say that Jubilee is inward looking, we do not mean that people here don’t care about one another. We have many cell groups and ministries where members are closely knitted, helping to bear one another’s burdens. And neither do we mean that we are not concerned as a church about mission and evangelism. A team has just returned from Palembang, Indonesia, having served in the worship service and conducted training for the members there. And, locally, our age based ministries and zone cell groups are also trying what they can in the area of evangelism.

So what do we mean by Jubilee being inward looking? Correct me if I am wrong. First, it seems outreach only takes up a minor portion of the time for many of our ministries and care groups. Second, there seem to be only pockets of people doing it.

And as to caring for members of our community, friends, do we come every Sunday ready to be opened up to each other, ready to receive a lesser known member of our church as a friend should they open themselves up to us? Maybe yes, maybe not.

I can’t help but to again mention that we are people influenced by the postmodern mindset. We like set up our own worlds, stay in them, and keep them the way we like them to be. And being in our worlds, we conveniently disregard those who are not part of that world. How does this play out in church life? After worship service, we will always eat lunch with certain people at a certain corner talking about certain topics, where others may find hard to join in. Then, we like to share and we pray, but only with certain people. We also cherish the collaboration with certain members in doing ministry. That’s a good thing, but we might be unwilling to expand the team.

What are we to do if we share the ugly side of the Corinthian church, as in being inward looking?

IV.
When we read Paul’s response to the Corinthian Christian, we get the feeling that he is pushing for 2 things at a go: firstly, to encourage the strong and the weak to act in love as a group toward the other. And secondly, from how he talks about one person’s action might stumble another person, I see him as trying to encourage every individual Christians therein to stop being inward looking and to become a brothers’ or sisters’ keeper. The well-known phrase in verse 1, “This "knowledge" puffs up, but love builds up” is for the church as a whole and for individual member of the church. Friends in Jubilee, do we see ourselves as our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers? And not just the ones whom we like, or those who share with us similar views in things, or those who worship in this service, but all who walk or drive and take the buggy up the slope down there each Sunday?

There’s one other indication to show that Paul is hoping that everyone would be a brothers’ or sisters’ keeper. Let’s take a look at verses 2 to 3, which says, “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” We realize that the logic of the 2 verses doesn’t flow, don’t we? Verse 2 is about someone actively knowing something, so verse 3 should expand or conclude the thought. But it doesn’t. Verse 3 is instead about someone being known. Paul is code switching here, and his point is that to be known by God far outweighs the importance of knowing anything, even if it is the correct understanding of who God is and that he is the one and only God. To be known by God is to be shown grace, to be blessed by God, to be accepted by him in Christ. But that’s only half of the story isn’t it? Being known by God is also a calling to walk in his will, his demands and to reflect him.

Jesus is the one who reflected God perfectly. I don’t think anyone on earth can beat him when it comes to knowing who God is, and that the Father is the one and only God. Jesus, also knows what is in man, all the lovable and the ugly aspects. Still, he chooses not to treat us with disregard, but to be our keeper, and we are called to do likewise.

Friends, what is it that make Paul says what he says, and for Jesus to do what he did? To borrow the phrase that Ps Chang’an used a few times at this pulpit, I believe it’s because they “think theologically and not logically”. The phrase may sounds a little extreme and absolute, but we know it means. We are again called to do likewise, to “think theologically and not logically”.

Friends, has anyone ever told us that we are all theologians, you and I. Let us throw away the idea that theologians are those who sit and meditate in their armchairs, and thereafter write book for people who need help with insomnia. Theology is primarily not about technical and carefully crafted statements about God. Theology is basically the interaction between God and man; God and the life to be lived. Whenever we think about the world with God in the picture, we are theologians doing theology. Whenever we think about our role in the world, how lives should be lived, how others should be treated, how are we to response and react, and doing so with God in the picture, we are theologians doing theology.

To the strong in the church of Corinth, Paul says, do theology, and not just with theological axiom but put God – the God who so loved the world - in the picture. And when they can do that, they might just go about loving the other. To the weak, Paul says, do theology, do not just focus on oneself, focus also on God, put God – the God who holds tomorrow – in the picture. And when they can do that, I believe they would also reflect the God of hope.

May we acquire a new habit this morning as we walk out from here this morning, that is to see every bit of our lives and all things as “from him, through him and to him’. And since God is love, then one who has acquired such a habit would eventually go and build others up in love.

1 Corinthians 8 (Listen)

8:1 Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

(ESV)