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#16 On Matters of Conscience

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(A Series on I Corinthians)

Westgate Chapel 7/26/98 a.m.            I Corinthians 8:1-13

PROPOSITION:  On matters of conscience the true believer is called to love and not knowledge, appetite, or freedom.

I. introduction

-     WHEN you and I were born again, we were saved into His Church, as members together of that Church, expressed uniquely in every local fellowship.

-     WHEN you received Jesus as your Savior, you were not called by God into an isolated, private religious experience, where your personal rights, your personal freedom, your interpretation of the Bible was THE most important thing.

-     NO, when you come to God through Jesus Christ, you God AND to all of us.

      “ Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:5)

-     TOGETHER we are the body of Christ for this generation, and this locality.

-     THERE is something that God is doing here at Westgate Chapel that is called the Church...that is more important than individual rights, freedom, or interpretation of truth.

-     WE are in this journey TOGETHER.

-     GOD gave His only Son as a sacrifice, to purchase for Himself a bride, a holy nation, a royal priesthood from out of the world that would be to the praise of His glorious grace.

-     LISTEN for this priority in the Scriptures.

-     PETER the apostle writes,

      “As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him--(5) you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (I Peter 2:4-5)

-     VERSES 9&10 of the same chapter say,

      “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (10) Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

-     THE believers in Corinth had forgotten that this life in Christ was a TOGETHER thing that included EVERYBODY.

*     It wasn’t just those who followed Apollos, it was EVERYBODY.

*     It wasn’t just those who followed Paul, it was EVERYBODY.

*     It wasn’t just those with learning or wisdom, it was EVERYBODY.

*     It wasn’t just those on one side or another of a lawsuit between them, it was EVERYBODY.

-     IN fact, the only time that there was any kind of legitimate separation in the fellowship was when Paul instructed the leadership of the church to take disciplinary action against the immoral brother.

-     IN I Corinthians 8, Paul addresses division in the church at Corinth that was taking place over a matter of conscience.

-     THE matter of conscience was eating meat offered to idols.

-     THIS was the controversy of the day for the early church. You will find the issue addressed in Acts 15 and several of Paul’s epistles.

-     THERE were two sides to the argument.

-     FOR some this was no problem at all. They just knew that since idols were really nothing, eating the meat was OK.

-     BUT for others, possibly those who had come out of idol worship themselves...and for them eating meat offered to idols was unthinkable.

-     AND the meat eaters had appealed to Paul to side with them and settle the matter once and for all.

-     THERE were two opinions in the church about this matter of conscience.

-     AND it turns out, when you examine Paul’s response in I Corinthians 8, that BOTH sides are wrong.

-     THAT the issue is LOVE, not meat.

ii. love, not knowledge

-     FIRST of all, you need to know that buying any meat in Corinth that had not been connected in some way to idols was next to impossible.

-     THAT was how the meat markets in the city were supplied....from surplus from the local temples.

-     THE argument of the meat eaters, was that their  knowledge that idols were nothing at all...therefore eating meat offered to idols was not a problem to their conscience.

-     IN fact, the words “know”, “known”, or “knowledge”, are used ten times in thirteen verses.

-     THESE meat eaters were basing their actions on knowledge.

-     WOULDN’T you think that was a good thing?

-     TURN with me to I Corinthians 8:1 (page 1133),

      “Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. (2) The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. (3) But the man who loves God is known by God.” (I Corinthians 8:1-3)

-     THESE Corinthians were starting their argument about eating meat with what they KNEW about the subject...and that was the problem.

-     THEY were starting at the wrong place...with the intellect.

-     THESE people were prone to arrogance anyhow. We have seen that throughout the epistle.

-     AND here was another example.

-     PAUL says four things about knowledge.

1.   We all possess it in some degree or another. No one person is the sole proprietor.

2.   By itself knowledge tends to puff up with a pride that separates the haves from the have nots.

3.   When you think you know something, you usually have already missed the target (verse 2).

•     The phrase “thinks he knows” in verse 2 is imaginary knowledge.

•     If you have ever been around a world class expert in some field, more often than not the sense you get from them is how little they know.

•     True knowledge never boasts.

4.   The only knowing that is really important is God knowing us.

-     IN any case, in matters of conscience, the real issue is LOVE and not what you know about the subject.

-     AND love in the family of God is more concerned about the welfare of another than about what you know.


iii. love, not APPETITE

-     LET’S move on to verse 4,

      “So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols.”

-     WE are back to the issue at hand.

-     THIS was the matter of conscience that was dividing the strong from the weak, the knowers from the novices.

-     BUT as I studied this chapter this week, I asked myself what the issues are today...matters of conscience that divide us?

-     I AM sure that with your help I could come up with a longer list, but these are the ones I thought of...

*     Doctrinal issues not related to salvation.

•     Water Baptism.

•     Baptism in the Holy Spirit and gifts.

•     Calvinism.

•     Divorce.

•     Interpretation of end times prophecy.

*     Matters of practice.

•     Translation of the Bible.

•     Choruses verses hymns.

•     Use of certain instruments in worship.

*     Personal convictions.

•     Hair.

•     Clothing.

•     Music.

•     Movies.

•     Alcohol.

-     PAUL addresses the elements involved in the dispute as he continues in verse 4,

      “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. (5) For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), (6) yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.”

- that is the Biblical foundation for the subject of idols.

-     AND the Corinthians were using this very argument to support satisfying their appetites for meat.

-     THE argument sounded so right.

-     THE Corinthians were on solid ground here for eating meat.

-     VERSE 7,

      “But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.”

-     THERE is something that it more important than knowledge and more important than you or I getting our appetites satisfied...and it is the brother or sister with a weaker conscience.

-     THIS is the brother or sister who is brand new in the faith....and just out of a sinful, idolatrous lifestyle.

-     THEY had just come out of the cultic practices of the Greek gods and goddesses.

-     THEY are fragile in their faith.

-     AND since we are all one, and not our own, Paul says here that there is something more important than the stronger ones satisfying our appetites.

-     NOTE: that is the weaker brother, about to stumble in their faith, not the chronic fault-finder who loves to spy on and dictate another’s lifestyle.

-     PAUL adds that the issue is not the food. Verse 8,

      “But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.”  (I Corinthians 8:4-7)

-     WE are no worse off if we do not eat. In other words, it would be no big deal for us to abstain.

-     AND we are no better off if we do. In other words, if we do eat it is no big deal.

-     SO, from verses is not knowledge, but love for the weaker brother or sister.

-     FROM verses is not satisfying your appetite, but love for the weaker brother or sister.


iv. love, not freedom

-     NOW, lastly, it is not your freedom that counts, but love for the weaker brother or sister.

-     VERSE 9.

      “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. (10) For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols?

-     YOU may ask, what is the big deal if he does eat?

-     WELL, in Romans 14:23, addressing the same subject, Paul writes about the weaker brother who sees you eat and goes ahead,

      “... the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

-     LET’S go back to our passage in I Corinthians 8:11,

      “So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. (12) When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. (13) Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.” ( I Corinthians 8:11-13)

-     SO lastly, it is not your freedom, but love that must rule our actions in matters of conscience.

v. conclusion

-     DOES all of this mean that you must order your life to the conscience of all of those around you?

-     NO!

-     THERE is a freedom in Christ that is real.

-     BUT it is a freedom that you must weigh against the value of the weaker brothers and sisters that you have influence over.

-     IT is LOVE....not your knowledge that counts.

-     IT is LOVE....not your appetite that counts.

-     IT is LOVE....not your freedom that counts.

-     YOU are not your are bought with a price and belong to God and each other.

-     WE are in this race together.

-     YOUR rights, your opinions, your interpretations, your appetites are not the most important thing here.

-     YOU have others to consider who are following your tracks.

-     IT is up to you to see to it that those around you in this race cross the finish line.

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