Can't Build the Church on a Soapbox

My sermons reflect a great deal what I am struggling with...

1 Corinthians 8:1 Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that "all of us possess knowledge." Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3 but anyone who loves God is known by him. 4 Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "no idol in the world really exists," and that "there is no God but one." 5 Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth-- as in fact there are many gods and many lords-- 6 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. 7 It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 "Food will not bring us close to God." We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11 So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12 But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

When you ask your pastor a straightforward answer, it’s always helpful to get a straightforward answer? Right?

The church in Corinth is asking a pretty cut and dry question: “Hey Paul you’re our pastor so tell us, can we eat the meat used in pagan sacrifice or not? Yes or no.

I’m not sure why the Corinthians are asking the question at all, they already know the answer.
There was a decree by the apostolic council in Jerusalem, think really important group of people who were in charge of making up the rules. They said, absolutely not. They even compare it having sex before you are married, which back then was something you could be killed for!
The whole “eating the meat used in pagan sacrifice” is a pretty controversial thing. I’m going to put a guess out there that it is pretty comparable to our current controversies over homosexuality and abortion.

The church wants an answer. They want Paul to make it clear whether this is something that is OK to do or not. Instead, Paul launches in to this long argument (and I only read part of it to you, it goes on into chapter 9, 10 and 11) some scholars even say Paul contradicts himself!
How do we take the different parts of this argument and put it all together?

The bigger question for us this morning, how do we find God in the questions, controversies, arguments, and possible answers that seem to be floating out there?

Paul makes it complicated and impossible for me to “boil down” into a nice little sermon that ya’ll will walk away from here this morning going “Oh, I get it now.”

In fact, that is what Paul starts off his letter warning about.

He writes…“We know that “all of us posses knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up…”


When Paul was talking about knowledge, it had a very Greek philosophy perspective. Reason was big. We rely on what makes sense, that everything has an explanation derived from our brain power.

Are you thinking, “Well yeah, how else do you define knowledge?” Even asking that question shows us how much Greek philosophy influences us even today.

One challenge in our 21st century media and technology saturated world is who is the ultimate keeper of the knowledge? Who decides who has the “right” answers?

Does the “right” answer come from a well educated pastor or professor? How about a Bible- thumping Christian who can quote chapter and verse? Or someone with first hand experience about a particular controversial issue because they are… for our purposes of providing a context: they are gay, has gay friends or children?

The church in Corinth went to Paul, because they trusted him as the gatekeeper of the knowledge.

If you have questions about something, you might come to me… but not after you heard the news reporter offer their answer, checked a book written by an author you trust, looked in the bible yourself, or “googled” it on the internet…

There have been monumental changes in how we come to an understanding of “knowledge” and what constitutes the “right” answers to our questions or controversial arguments and debates.
When we do get to that answer, we believe is “right” for us we stand on it pretty firmly. That is what Paul is talking about, how knowledge “puffs up.”

We get up on our soap box and argue relentlessly how we have the “right” answer. We let it divide us as communities. It tears apart relationships, friends, churches, and even families.
“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

This would have been absolutely shocking to the Christians in Corinth. Rather than taking sides in the argument, getting on his soap box, and handing out some “right” answer that would settle it once and for all (or so they thought) Paul seizes the opportunity to present their actions on the basis of very different standards.


Love builds up.

Love is more important that knowledge. Love is more important than being “right” or having the “right” answer.

When we let our knowledge “puff us up” when we get on our soap box, stand more firm on what is “right” or “wrong” than on the foundation of love, we hurt people. Paul even goes so far to say that that we hurt Christ himself because we cause pain in his body, the church. To hurt those for whom Christ died is to commit sin.

We are called to show reconciling love in the church.

Love builds the church, it builds the body of Christ, it builds our relationships to each other, and it builds our relationship with God.

Paul lays a hefty load on those poor Corinthians when he says that “anyone who loves God is known by God...” He’s supposed to say that “anyone who knows God really loves God.”
The subtle reversal of the subject and object, doesn’t answer the questions raised by the church in Corinth nor does it answer ours, but it does point to where God is in our questions, controversies, arguments and possible answers…

God knows us, comes to us, and is present to us because God loves us.

God loves us because God knows us.

Being “right” doesn’t bring us closer to God.

Standing on our soap box doesn’t bring us closer to God.

Being a “bible thumper” doesn’t bring us closer to God.

Paul says that food doesn’t bring us closer to God (I know, this was a difficult one for me too).
God’s love for us brings us closer to God.

With this point made, Paul comes back around to chew on the meat of the issue. (OK that was a bad metaphor, bad, but funny!)

The whole controversy of the Corinthians eating the meat sacrificed to pagan gods is complicated depending on the context.

Some Corinthian Christians were attending feasts held in pagan temples, and they were eating the meat that was served to everyone present. Those Christians argued that because they believed in the One God, there was no such thing as pagan idols. They are nothing more than statues. So the food itself was meaningless. And there was a sense of obligation felt by these Christians, who happened to be the wealthier, upper class members of the church. Being invited to and eating these meals was a regular part of their public and professional duties. To refuse to eat the meat would have offended the host.

At the same time, in the social circles of Corinthian Christians who were not so wealthy, this kind of meat eating would not have been such a common thing. They would have known the wealthy and powerful were eating meat frequently and doing it with a certain amount of spiritual indifference. Christians of lower economic circumstance, who certainly would have also been less educated, might have considered all this meat eating to be laced with all sorts of supernatural connotations.

Paul’s way to address this divide in context is interesting.

He doesn’t claim to have the “right” answer, or stand on a soap box built out of education, theology, or money. Paul says that if his personal actions are going to keep another person from experiencing God’s love in their life, he just won’t do it.

Paul believes that food (eating it or not) doesn’t bring us closer to God.

Paul believes that God’s love for us brings us closer to God.

At the same time he embraces the reality that we are bound in community to one another and our actions. He doesn’t tell the church in Corinth what to do, what choice to make regarding this very contentious issue.

Simply, he won’t justify his behaviors on the basis of theological arguments and knowledge, even if he does agree with one side or another.

He himself will, if necessary, become a vegetarian for the rest of his life rather than harm those who would be hurt by his eating meat sacrificed to pagan gods.

Paul recognizes that the less educated, those of lower economic situation are weaker and socially vulnerable, and he has a commitment to standing in solidarity with them. This shouldn’t be a foreign concept to followers of Jesus…

Grounded in God’s love for him, God’s love for all people, Paul (being also privileged and from an upper class background) will show his faithfulness to Christ and his body by aligning himself with the marginalized. Paul warns the Corinthians that insisting on their “authority” of what is “right” because they think they are more knowledgeable undercuts the community’s existence.

When the “strong” and self proclaimed “knowledgeable” insist that what they know is the only “right” way to know, it doesn’t make the community stronger, it tears it down.

As we live in relationships, in community, in our church, in this world with all of its complexities, arguments and controversy searching for God in the mist of it all, God doesn’t love us because we are First Presbyterian Church of the “right answers,” or even the same answers…

God knows us because we love God. Our love for God, our love for each other will bring us closer to each other and to God.


  1. Melissa,
    Excellent post!! Makes one think twice about what is right vs. wrong or better yet us vs. them.



Post a Comment

Popular Posts