You Have HOW MANY Gods?
Please read 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 in your Bible.
Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020
According to fifteen year old data I found cited from adherents.com, 54.22% of the world believes there is just one God. (This figure is found by adding Christianity, Judaism, and Islam together.) The rest of the world believes in no gods at all (22% if you combine atheists and Buddhists), or have several gods (23.78% combining everyone else). The record-holder is said to be Hinduism, where there are millions of gods.
Of course, this pie chart is an over-simplification of the variety of religious beliefs and practices around the world. For example, in our own faith, we believe there is just one God, but He is manifest in three distinct persons. We believe the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are all God, but are distinct persons at the same time.
One of the implications of this teaching is that God is “in community.” God’s existence is three persons in perfect communion. This knowledge gives us a principle around which we organize each local church: we desire to become so close to one another that our relationships follow the example of communion we find in the Trinity.
CONTEXT: For the first time in this letter, Paul addresses a subject that will come up repeatedly in these two letters to the Corinthians; FOOD SACRIFICED TO IDOLS.
We believe in one God, existing as a unity of three persons: the Trinity.
1. An observation of human nature: love is better than knowledge. (1-3)
Paul starts his treatment of the issue by revealing one of its root causes: pride. Paul’s phrase WE KNOW THAT WE ALL POSSESS KNOWLEDGE (1) has two meanings. One, it is a true statement of human nature: we do all of us, know something. Two, it is a bit of irony: because we all deal with pride, we all THINK we know something. Pride causes problems when we get stubborn about what we think we know and don’t want to be confused by facts and when we inflict our opinions on others.
KNOWLEDGE PUFFS UP (1) exposes the sin of pride. To be “puffed up” is to act like a blowfish; inflate one’s self to look more impressive. There is no direct correlation between one’s age and one’s maturity. Neither is there a direct correlation between the amount of knowledge one has and one’s maturity. Knowledge can contribute to pride as readily as it can to humility. A person must choose to be humble rather than give in to the temptation to be a know-it-all.
Verse two lets the air out of the “puffed up person.” The prideful person thinks they really are something when they really aren’t anything special. The prideful person goes on and on about what they know. They’re easily angered or hurt when others don’t agree with them.
The humble person recognizes limits to their knowledge and additional limits to the sharing of their knowledge. They aren’t easily hurt or angered because they’ve reached a point of maturity through humility that allows them to disagree without being disagreeable. Love is preferable to knowledge because true love is never based on pride or any other form of self-centeredness.
Opposing pride, LOVE BUILDS UP (1). Because true love is others-centered, not self-centered, it BUILDS UP others, not self. To “build up” sounds a lot more permanent, more reliable, and more mature that to “puff up” doesn’t it? Verse three offers the best reward for exercising true love: being KNOWN BY GOD.
2. An observation of divine nature: there are many idols but only one God. (4-6)
You couldn’t ask for a more plain declaration of the truth than what we find in verse four: WE KNOW THAT AN IDOL IS NOTHING AT ALL IN THE WORLD. And, THERE IS NO GOD BUT ONE.
In verses five and six Paul concedes there are evil supernatural forces at work in the world. While most idols are based on very natural things like superstition, conceit and deceit, some idols have supernatural power behind them. Paul referred to them as SO-CALLED GODS, GODS, and LORDS.
The supernatural power behind some idols does NOT mean they are of God. Just the opposite; supernatural idols are the trickery of demons, the minions of Satan. In contrast to the falsehood of all idols, God alone is true. God alone is the source of life. There is only ONE GOD, THE FATHER, FROM WHOM ALL THINGS CAME AND FOR WHOM WE LIVE. Likewise, there is only ONE LORD JESUS CHRIST, THROUGH WHOM ALL THINGS CAME AND THROUGH WHOM WE LIVE.
3. An observation on idolatry: don’t worry a weaker spiritual sibling over it. (7-13)
It is true that EVERYONE HAS KNOWLEDGE of something, but NOT EVERYONE KNOWS what Paul revealed in verse seven, certainly NOT EVERYONE in the world. Worldly-minded people (whether they profess to believe in Jesus or not) are reluctant to let go of their idols or the mind-set that perpetuates them. Pride and ignorance are Paul’s two-pronged explanation of why the subject of meat offered to idols is a source of division in the Corinthian church.
SOME PEOPLE ARE STILL SO ACCUSTOMED TO IDOLS (7) they’re unwilling to let go the notion they can bring moral or spiritual “uncleanness” to a person or thing. Part of spiritual maturity is unlearning the things that are worldly and untrue but stick with us anyway. Another part of spiritual maturity is taking our affections off material things and putting them on heavenly things.
Humility is a willingness to really listen to others and heed them and occasionally admit we’re wrong! It’s a terrible responsibility to be a know-it-all, so take it easy on yourself and give it up!
Paul identified a conscience afflicted over the matter of food offered to idols as WEAK. Their guilt is false, based on the false assumption that an idol actually amounts to something. Because an idol is NOTHING (4), food offered to idols is no different from any other food. Paul’s answer is both practical and theological.
Paul clarified the moral role of FOOD in v. 8: FOOD DOES NOT BRING US NEAR TO GOD. Some of the people in the Corinthian church were getting all bent out of shape over something that amounts to nothing! (Aren’t you glad that kind of thing never happens in our church?!!)
Food has no moral status. It’s what we do to get food or what we do with food that becomes a moral issue, but the food itself is not a matter of morality. (Good news for those with eating disorders.)
There are occasions, however, when food becomes involved in a moral issue. The example Paul gives in vs. 9-13 is when one believer’s FREEDOM to eat what they want offends a spiritual sibling’s WEAK CONSCIENCE.
What makes one believer stronger than the other? The stronger one has matured in the way we’ve already set forth. They know that IDOLS are not gods at all; they have no authority to condemn, no strength to do any real harm. They also know the difference between “Law,” “Principle,” and “Freedom” types of truth. Their conscience is eased in cases where the issue at hand is a “Freedom” type issue. They are cleansed false and worldly thinking from their minds; they are not influenced by the culture nor are they stuck on false assumptions. They have learned humility, being willing to re-think their positions as new data comes available. Strong believers never force their opinions on others.
What makes one believer weaker than the other? They continue to thinks there’s something to IDOLS; that some kind of moral or spiritual “contamination” happens because IDOLS have some spiritual potency. They know only “Law.” They mistakenly see “Principle” and “Freedom” issues as “Law.” Immature, false, and worldly thinking continues to keep them in slavery to their own point of view. They are egotistical, having little or no practice of humility. For this reason they are perpetually angry, holding a grudge, addicted to drama.
As Paul wrote in Romans 14:1, the STRONG have a responsibility to the WEAK, to bear with them. The greater maturity, knowledge, and humility of the STRONG is not a license to treat the WEAK unlovingly. Just the opposite: the STRONG have a greater responsibility.
Here are the specifics of that responsibility, acc. to this passage.
- Do not allow your FREEDOM to BECOME A STUMBLING BLOCK (9).
- Do not set a bad example or do things that lead the weaker sibling into what they would call “sin” (10).
- Do not allow your KNOWLEDGE to become something that destroys the faith of your weaker sibling (11).
- Remember that wounding your weaker sibling is serious business; it is a SIN AGAINST CHRIST (12).
- Take upon yourself Paul’s resolution to never allow your Freedom to cause your weaker sibling to FALL INTO SIN (13).
We believe in one God, existing as a unity of three persons: the Trinity.
The immediate issue, the one that Paul wrote about, was a controversy over food offered to idols. Spiritual siblings with a WEAK CONSCIENCE believed it was a sin by association. They thought the food was tainted by its association with idol worship prior to being sold in the market. Paul wrote that there was no “taint” involved because idols are nothing. They have no power to taint anything, as they’re just statues. Only God is real. So pay idols no heed, but instead, give glory to God. Worship and serve Him.
A part of Paul’s teaching is to affirm the Trinity, the three-in-one nature of God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He did this in verse six, where he made an OT-sounding affirmation of faith: THERE IS NO GOD BUT ONE. We believe in one God, made known to us in three persons.
Paul reinforced this in verse six, where he wrote that, in contrast to idol-worshipers who have many gods, 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 TRHOUGH WHOM WE HAVE LIFE. It is true God the Holy Spirit is not mentioned directly here but he is elsewhere. It is through the accumulation of these Scriptures that we have support for the doctrine of the Trinity.
We set aside one Sunday each year to celebrate God’s three-in-one nature as a reminder of this central doctrine. Every time we worship or pray, we need to remember this foundational fact about God. This fact clearly guided the writers of the Bible; Trinitarian teaching is implied everywhere in the Bible.