Faithlife Sermons

Limited Liberties for Limitless Love

1 Corinthians Series  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  53:04
0 ratings


Today, we are going to begin a several week long topic on the subject of Christian liberty. It’s a subject that certainly has been the debate in many a church throughout the centuries. Let me start by defining what Christian liberty looks like in the Bible
Several concepts emerge. First, liberty for the Christian can mean that he or she has been freed from the penalty of sin by faith in Jesus Christ (John 8:31-36; Romans 6:23). Also, Christian liberty can refer to being freed from the power of sin in one’s life by daily faith in Jesus Christ as Lord of one’s character and conduct (Romans 6:5-6, 14). In addition, Christian liberty can mean that Christians are freed from the Jewish Law of Moses in that the Law only "exposes" sin in one’s life but cannot "forgive" sin (Romans 3:20-22).
Finally, Christian liberty can mean that Christians are freed in respect to such activity that is not expressly forbidden in the Bible. This is the one most hotly debated, and certainly comes with the most tension. Let me illustrate this last one for you...
In July of 2005, ESPN reporter, Andrea Kremer, interviewed the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, who at the time was the youngest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl. One of her questions concerned his decision to ride his motorcycle without a helmet. Please understand, that the law in Pennsylvania does not require the wearing of a helmet, but Andrea Kremer wanted to know, “Why didn’t he wear a helmet?” Roethlisberger simply replied, “Because you don’t have to. It’s not the law. If it was the law, I’d definitely have one on every time I rode. But it’s not the law and I know I don’t have to. You’re just more free when you’re out there with no helmet on.” Unfortunately, less than a year later, in June of 2006, Roethlisberger was involved in a serious motorcycle accident. A motorist failed to yield the right-of-way at a Pittsburgh intersection, and Roethlisberger was thrown into the windshield of the Chrysler Town and Country van. His bike was totaled, and emergency surgeons spent over seven hours repairing a broken jaw, a fractured skull, missing teeth, and several other facial injuries. After being released from the hospital, Roethlisberger apologized to the fans, his family, and his team for risking his health (and life) unnecessarily. In another interview, he was no longer focused on taking advantage of his individual freedom. He told the reporter, “In the past few days, I’ve gained a new perspective on life. By the grace of God, I’m fortunate to be alive.” He also added that, if he ever does ride a motorcycle again, “It will certainly be with a helmet.”
We can certainly relate in alot of ways with this particular story. For us as Christians, our Christian liberties means engaging in activities that aren’t expressly forbidden in the Bible. These are the “grey” areas. Lot of these are social things, Do’s and don’ts if you will, like whether or not to wear a certain kind of clothing, make-up, jewelry, tattoos, or piercings. Or could be active participating in smoking, social drinking, recreational gambling even just card playing, dancing, entertainment choices like movie ratings, going to theatres, styles of music, and Sunday sports, even vaccines now could probably be added to that list.
1 Corinthians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Chapter 20: The Limits of Christian Liberty (8:1–13)

It is not that those and many similar issues may not be important. But we cannot speak as authoritatively about them as we can such things as stealing, murder, slander, adultery, or covetousness—which Scripture plainly forbids as sinful.

It’s not that these things are unimportant; they’re just not as black and white.
Christians who tend to vigorously promote such liberties can sometimes fall into a loose lifestyle of undisciplined living, while, on the other hand, Christians who tend to vigorously limit such liberties can sometimes fall into a legalistic lifestyle of being defined by what they are "against." They live by rules rather than by the Spirit.Law controlled rather than Spirit controlled which can cause them to miss opportunities to minister.
We are going to get into all of that today and the next couple of weeks but let’s first start out with prayer and then give a short background review.
Go over the slides on the screen...
Bringing us to our topic today. Paul is going to address another question that has been posed to him in the letter from the Corinthian church. We don’t have this letter, but we assume that a letter was written at some point to which Paul responds to them, which is what you have before you, the book of 1 Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 7:1 ESV
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”
Marriage was the topic of the first question… much confusion surrounded this time. This was a quote on quote “new” way of life. This wasn’t an established religion so there were many questions to be asked about how to live. Obviously, not only was there just lack of knowledge but their was a vast amount of pressure to succomb to the way of the pagan Corinthian (and as we recall, this was not a good place to live). So from that understanding, it makes sense to why they would have problems in living godly marriages or even have marriages at all. We have marriage conflicts in our society and even in our churches and we have the fully completed scriptures to instruct us. So if we have problems, it’s easy to see why they would have as well.
After giving attention to the question of marriage and marriage status, Paul then address the question of singleness. Singleness is a gift from God for the edification of the church and the glory of the Lord. It’s not to be looked down upon, it’s not to think of those unmarried as any less than the married, it’s not the next step towards spiritual maturity, in fact quite the opposite. I was just talking to another Pastor in Ohio, who reaffirmed this truth. He stated that we in the church do a huge disservice when we tease and jest with those who are unmarried as if to imply that well they are not quite whole unless they do get married. God has called and gifted people to be single so they can build up the church more effectively and fervently. How dare we push people into marriages when perhaps that may not be God’s desire for them.
Which now brings us to the third question Paul will address. We find it by the distinguishing words, “Now concerning...” as if to say, let’s look at your next question. So let’s read the passage together and dive into it.
1 Corinthians 8:1–13 ESV
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. 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? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
Paul is starting a rather lengthy response to the question of idol food consumption. There were many Christians in the church of Corinth that didn’t know how to respond to eating food offered to idols. This isn’t a new question to the church at this time. It was a question that churches in Galatia, Rome, Antioch, and even the church in Jerusalem struggled with. Remember again, God was opening the minds of His followers to His plan. This meant breaking from Jewish traditions, and also extending the gospel to the Gentiles. But with that came all sorts of questions. So when Paul picks up his pen to respond to the question of eating food sacrificed to idols, he rather than just deal with that specific case, talks in a larger sense about Christians and their liberties. As we move forward in the coming weeks, we’ll be covering this rather important topic. It will probably be weeks till we fully wrap it up as this topic extends into the first verse of chapter 11.
Before Paul gets into addressing the topic of food offered to idols, Paul writes some Presuppositional Truths about Liberties (specifically the liberty of eating food offered to idols)- when I say Presuppositional Truths, I mean to say things to believe or suppose in advance, truths required to know beforehand. I order to understand this topic of eating food offered to idols and christian liberties in general, we must understand these truths.

I. Presuppositional Truths about Liberties (v.1-3)

1 Corinthians 8:1–3 ESV
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.

(I)A. Possession of Knowledge

What is this knowledge Paul is speaking of? Who is he addressing? In verses 4-7, we find a description, “and we know that an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one”. Who can know this with certainty? Only the believer can.
John 17:3 ESV
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 30: 1, 2 Corinthians (Chapter Eight: Let Love Control Knowledge)
These believers may have had in the past a pagan background with idolatry, but now through faith they have strong belief and even assurance that there was but one God and that He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ therefore they did not view these gods to which people sacrificed animals as having any reality. These idols were now just pieces of wood or stone or metal. While they might not accept an invitation to dine at the false god’s temple, they saw absolutely nothing wrong with eating meat that had been offered to one of the idols in the home of a friend or in their own homes.
Because they were saved by grace through faith, God gave them a new life, a new heart, and a new mind. Earlier in this same book, Paul shares that the believer can now distinguish spiritual realities.
1 Corinthians 2:12 ESV
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.
1 Corinthians 2:16 ESV
“For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
Formerly, men of the flesh, of this world. Unsaved cannot comprehend these realities. It’s foolishness to them as we well know. They have a reprobate mind. Making up all sorts of things. So this knowledge is the knowledge which the Spirit of God provides. This knowledge is the fact that food offered to idols really does mean anything.
They are mature enough in faith to know scriptures like
Psalm 115:4–7 ESV
Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat.
That’s why Paul states that in verse 8
1 Corinthians 8:8 ESV
Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.
The thing is the animals were all made by God, and belong to God and He has opened up the door for them to freely eat of the animals that he has given them.
So this knowledge is a right and true knowledge, but their is a problem with this knowledge. This knowledge puffed them up. Some versions say “this knowledge made them arrogant.” They had a clear conscience (how do they know if they are in sin? whatever is not of faith is sin) but then took that clear conscience too far by trampling over those that disagreed. It gave them a spirit of condescension toward the other church members who didn’t agree with them.
And that’s the major problem. Knowledge is a good thing, a thing commanded by the Lord...
2 Peter 3:18 ESV
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
But knowledge just not just stop there. It’s not simply an act of gaining facts and data.

Some Corinthian believers assumed that knowledge was the true sign of spirituality. They did not understand that knowledge without love indicates a lack of knowledge.

(I)B. Priority to Love

“But love builds up” “if anyone love God, he is known by God”
To know God, means to love others. And the more we know God the greater we will love others.
1 John 4:7 ESV
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
1 Thessalonians 4:9 ESV
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another,
Saturated with this concept...
Love is essential to God’s kingdom plan. Relationships, sacrifice, putting others first, serving, caring.... these are all the realities that Christians must keep at the forefront of our minds if we are to understand this topic of Christian liberties correctly. It is the most critic principle. And speaking of principles, let’s look at our second point Principles Concering Liberties.

II. Principles concerning Liberties

Now that we have gone over the Presuppositions that Paul wanted to address before going into this particular subject, let’s now dive into the case at hand.

(II)A. Current Case concerning Liberties

What are they dealing with. Certainly not the covid vaccine or mask wearing, but they were dealing with food offered to idols. What did this meal, and why did it matter. It certainly was causing an uproar and lots of different opinions much like our issues today.

Things sacrificed to idols is one word in Greek and can be translated simply as “idol sacrifices.” The sacrifices were food offerings, symbolically presented in worship to the god in whose temple they were given. The particular issue was that of eating food that had been offered in those sacrifices.

The Greeks and Romans were polytheistic, worshiping many gods. They had a god, or a group of gods, for every circumstance, every need, and every activity of any consequence. They had a god of war, a goddess of love, a god of travel, a goddess of justice, and on and on. They were also polydemonistic, believing in many evil spirits. They believed the air was filled with evil spirits of all sorts.

Giving food sacrifices, which were usually meat, was of great importance in regard to both of those beliefs. It was believed that the evil spirits were constantly trying to invade human beings and that the easiest way to do that was to attach themselves to food before it was eaten. The only way the spirits could be removed from food was through its being sacrificed to a god. The sacrifice therefore served two purposes; it gained the favor of the god and cleansed the meat from demonic contamination.

Idol offerings were divided into three parts. One part was burned on an altar as the sacrifice proper. The second part was given as payment to the priests who served at the temple, and the remaining part was kept by the offerer. Because of the large number of offerings, the priests were not able to eat all of their portion, and they sold in the marketplace what they did not need. That meat was highly valued because it was cleansed of evil spirits, and was thus the meat served at feasts and to guests.

The eating of meat offered to idols therefore had the same two associations for Christians, especially for those who had grown up in that religious atmosphere. The meat was associated with pagan gods and goddesses, having been part of an offering to them, and it was associated with the superstition that it had once been contaminated by evil spirits.

It was almost impossible for a believer who had any personal contact with Gentiles to avoid facing the question of eating idol sacrifices. Most social occasions, including weddings, involved pagan worship of some sort, and a great many of the festivities were held in temples. Idol food was always served. If a relative was getting married, or a long-time friend was giving a banquet, a Christian either had to make excuses for not attending—which he could not do indefinitely—or he had to eat food that he knew had been part of an idol offering.

Some sensitive Gentile believers refused to buy such meat because it brought back memories of their previous pagan lives or because those who saw them buy it might think they had reverted to paganism. Also many believers, both Gentile and Jewish, were reluctant to eat at the homes of pagan Gentiles—and even of some Christian Gentiles—because they were afraid of being served that meat. Such food could only be doubly unclean according to Jewish dietary law—from which many Jewish Christians found it hard to separate themselves.

On the other hand, some Christians were not bothered. To them, meat was meat. They knew pagan deities did not really exist and that evil spirits did not contaminate food. They were mature, well-grounded in God’s truth, and their consciences were clear in the matter.

This problem stemmed all the way back to the beginning of the church in Acts when Gentiles were being saved. Acts 15:19-29… Paul again emphasizes that there is no problem, no sin in the act itself. verse 8, either side is ok to do what they wish, however there are conditions to the Liberties.

(II)B. Conditions to our Liberties (v.9-13)

1. If it brings stumbling to our brothers (v.9)

1 Corinthians 8:9 ESV
But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

The Corinthians who considered themselves more spiritual assumed that they had the right to do whatever they wanted without considering the effects of their actions upon other believers (see v. 12).

How can you exercising your right, your freedom, your liberty become a stumbling block to the weak. Firstly, let’s recognize that weak brother doesn’t mean lesser or even necessarily in sin. It may mean simply a brother of less maturity. A young believer. Or it could mean a brother who is shaky in that area. A man who has been saved all his life and has grown in his faith but still struggles with temptation in a certain area doesn’t necessarily mean he’s less mature, just weaker in that area.
So back to our question at hand, how can our exercising of our liberties cause us to be a stumbling block to the weaker brother. v.10-11 has the answer.
1 Corinthians 8:10–11 ESV
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? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died.
For some of these weaker lesser mature believers perhaps even new to the faith, they would still struggle with the fact that an idol is not real, and therefore believe that eating would involve them in pagan worship.
Well, some of us more “intelligent” christians might say, I’m doing them a favor. I’m showing my faith through my works. I’m showing that I’ve been free and teaching them a lesson about freedom in Christ. Thing is, you can’t push them into it by your actions. If you get nothing else out of this message remember this verse.
Romans 14:14 ESV
I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.
Romans 14:23 ESV
But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
A very similiar passage with a very similiar problem. Eating meat offered to idols. Paul’s comments to the church in Rome was don’t do an act if you have doubt. If you do an act with doubt you sin! You don’t sin if you have faith. Where does faith come from. Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing from the word of God. In other words, if you haven’t thoroughly study scriptures and come to an absolute clear conscience that what you’re about to do isn’t sin DON’T DO IT! So pushing another brother into an act or encouraging them to do something before they have thoroughly study scriptures themselves is a big no no. They may never come to the same conclusion as you, so don’t push them into it.
In addition to that, some other weaker believers saw their mature brethren eating meat “in an idol’s temple” v.10 and it caused them to return to idolastrous practices. Now whether or not the mature Christian was actually in the temple or part of a festival or ceremony near the temple is not necessarily pointed out. Many weddings, ceremonies, festivals took place near the temple so we don’t necessarily know that for a fact. Nonetheless, Paul never reprimands the mature Christian for doing so, but does for causing his brother to stubble.

2. If it brings sin to ourselves (v.12, Romans 14:23)

We already mentioned this briefly, but we too need to avoid liberties that would lead us into sin.
1 Peter 2:16 NIV
Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.
James 1:14–15 ESV
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
So Pauls conclusion to the topic of Liberties is this...
1 Corinthians 8:13 ESV
Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
The purpose of this commandment is love. Let’s read this rather lengthy section of scriptures hear as we close.
Romans 14:13–20 NASB95
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.
Not one of us should say of another believer, “I don’t really care about what he thinks, I’m gonna do it anyway.” Looking at this passage, is this proper? Is this right?
Not one Christian in the body of Christ should so loosely care about the thoughts and opinions of his fellow brother or sister.
We are put here for in this body to edify, build up, encourage, and motivate. But when we bring an attitude of selfishness and lack of concern for others, the Bible says that your attitude is a destroyer of the work Christ is trying to do in the church. Destroying God’s best for the sake of a meaningless freedom. Is it worth it? Absolutely not.
And can I just for a second remind you of our great savior who...
Hebrews 12:2 ESV
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Who is that joy set before Him. I believe that was us. He literally set aside His heaven and all it’s glory, God become man… theologians call the Kenosis, Jesus “emptied himself” Laid aside His priviledge- voluntarily (he didn’t forfeit them or loss them or become any less God) but he laid them aside to feel the full weight of becoming a man, 100% God 100%man. Sickness, tired, hunger, all the limits we have as mortal man so that He could hang on a cross in shame so that you and I might have eternal life.
That’s what God has called us to. A life of self-sacrifice and the continual betterment of our brethren. Enjoy your freedoms in Christ always, but never NEVER EVER at the expense of sin or of the ruining of the body of Christ. Let’s put limitations on our liberties so that we can limitlessly love our brothers.
Philippians 2:3–4 ESV
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Related Media
Related Sermons