The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, 31 January 2021
A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 by Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
1 Corinthians 8:1-13 English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles
Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. 4 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.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed 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 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. 8 Food will not commend us 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 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.
THE WORD OF GOD: OVERRULES
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Twenty-six years ago, Daniel Goleman published the book, “Emotional Intelligence,” which popularized psychological research on the power of emotions in relationships. Having a high “EQ” could actually lead to greater success in one’s work life than merely having a high “IQ.” This led to the picture of the genius being managed by someone with a lower IQ but a higher EQ. The point was made that self-awareness of the power of emotions in relationships can be highly important in the workplace, yes, but especially in the home and in interpersonal relationships.
Today, Paul makes the point that spiritual intelligence, or what we might call “SQ,” is far greater than IQ or EQ. More simply put, knowing who and Whose you are changes not only how you think and how you handle yourself emotionally but how you be and do in this mortal life.
So, as we have noted previously, Corinth was perhaps the most diverse city ever in that it was a major crossroad for international business, a major seaport with all the vices that attach to such places, and the home of numerous temples to numerous gods with often perverse kinds of worship that could include temple prostitution. The stock Corinthian character in Greek plays was an obviously drunken man sort of like Otis, the town drunk, in the classic Andy Griffith show.
Apparently, after meat had been sacrificed to idols in a Corinthian temple, the public could gather in an adjacent dining hall and enjoy the leftovers at a good price. Wilmingtonians might think of the all-you-can-eat price at Casey’s Buffet or Carolina BBQ. So, if you were an affluent Christian, it was possible to eat meat at a great price at the local pagan shrine. Any penny-pinching Lutheran would doubtless think, “What could be wrong with that? When can we go?”
Paul tells us that a popular Corinthian slogan was “we all have knowledge.” So, then, the Christian might reason that since idols aren’t real, it was a no big deal to eat meat at the pagan temple down the street. But that kind of knowledge is a kind of militant ignorance when one insists that knowing that idols are manmade gives you license to do whatever you feel like doing.
When Paul writes in v. 9 “…take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak,” the word translated “right” is, in Greek, “exousia,” which is normally translated as “authority.” The point is being made that your self-satisfied IQ, when it comes to what you know, can be a trap not only for a weaker Christian sibling but for yourself.
Paul is urging something much greater than EQ. In other words, it’s not just being aware of your more recent Christian convert’s feelings when it comes to eating meat previously offered to idols in pagan temples. The mature Christian has that kind of SQ (spiritual intelligence) that knows who he or she is in the sight of God and that he or she lives in the sight of the one true God who knows us better than we know ourselves. There is no plausible deniability before God.
So, then, if you live without regard for your Christian sibling, who is new to the faith and even recently worshiped in pagan temples, you may by your so-called knowledge, which is a type of militant ignorance, actually contribute to your neighbor’s loss of faith. In other words, spiritually weaker Christians may walk away from the one true God because of your practice of the Christian faith. In which case, your licentious behavior becomes the very trap in which you are caught in the sight of God. Your knowledge has, in fact, become the road to hell for you.
Therefore, your SQ, your spiritual intelligence, will lead to repentance and amendment of life.
In this first letter to the Corinthians, Paul goes back and forth between the images of Christ’s Church as His Bride and as His Body. No matter which image Paul may presently be working with, his point is clear. Through Holy Baptism, you are intimately connected not only to Christ but to His Bride and His Body. There is no expiration date on the promise God makes to us by our Baptism into the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection, and there is no expiration date on the vows we make to Him when we confess, “I believe in God the Father… and in Jesus Christ, His Son… and in the Holy Spirit….”
Today, in Psalm 111, the psalmist says what the wisdom writers elsewhere concur: “There fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (111:10; Proverbs 1:7, 9:10). If you have SQ and not merely IQ or EQ, you understand you are a finite being who lives in the sight of the one, true, eternal God, who is Himself a community of persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, we now have a share in God’s eternal life and love. Receiving the Lord Jesus’ true Body and most precious Blood at His altar, we are continuously re-membered, reconnected to the Source and Ground of Being. Think again of John 15, where our Lord Jesus Christ says, “I am the Vine. You are the branches.” God’s Son came that we may have eternal Life with all the other branches of the True Vine. In Him is Life. Apart from Him is eternal death, a fate more horrible than we might even dare to imagine.
The love of God is binding, which is Good News that flows from the cross of God’s beloved Son, who lived the obedient life none of us can live and died the innocent death none of us can die that we may be His own. Such knowledge is SQ, spiritual intelligence. It is so much more than being able to recite Martin Luther’s Small Catechism from memory, which is no insignificant thing to be despised. SQ is that agape love: that choice of Christ’s own will at work in us by the Holy Spirit in God’s Word and Sacraments. SQ is, in fact, best articulated by the prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” That binding love at work on and in us leads us to the awe-filled knowledge that we live and we die by God’s grace and mercy.
So, then, having been crucified with Christ in Holy Baptism and raised with Him to new life, we have no autonomous authority that we might attempt to claim before God or before others. Now, the Word of God rules over His own. Paul makes this clear that he will never eat meat sacrificed to idols if that will cause his brother or sister in Christ to lose his or her faith and return to the old way of sin, death, and the devil. And that has so many implications for how Christ’s Bride and how Christ’s Body lives together and before a world of lost and condemned sinners, who have not yet been baptized into Christ and not yet been drawn from death to life in Him.
Politicians who claim to be Christian and yet, nevertheless, support the murder of the unborn and cause fellow Christians unwillingly to support the murder of the unborn with tax dollars are standing on the edge of the abyss. Any pastor or priest, bishop or archbishop, cardinal or pope who knowingly communes one who furthers the legal murder of the unborn sin against Christ by causing that puffed up sinner to believe he or she has forgiveness without repentance and amendment of life speaks a Word that God has not commanded him to speak. We Christians must admonish each other that there is something far worse than to be reviled and rejected by an unbelieving world living under the authority of sin, death, and the devil. Demons must be exorcised.
The binding love we have through our Baptism into Christ builds up the new child of God in each of us and builds up Christ’s Bride and Christ’s Body in the world. When we grow in SQ, spiritual intelligence, we show both our newly believing siblings and our unbelieving neighbors what Paul will later call, “a still more perfect way,” the way of faith, hope, and binding love that will not let us go, that will not leave us be, and that changes how we be and do in this mortal life.
Let us be clear. Idolatry has not been left behind as the detritus of a puffed up world that lives with the illusion of progress. Yes, the so-called progressives are like Sisyphus eternally attempting in Hades to roll the stone of socialism up the hill. Were they only here as a source of smug amusement it would be bad enough. But the murder of the unborn, the loss of livelihoods, the temporal damnation of generations to live in poverty, and the pretense of altruism while plundering the present for the narcissistic self and leaving three generations the check is monstrous evil. And it is a sin not only against the neighbor, it is a sin against Christ. Lord, have mercy, indeed!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
The Word of God: Overrules
Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities and in all our dangers and necessities stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty to help and defend us; through thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen” (Service Book and Hymnal, 81).
1 Corinthians 8:1 “This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.”
St. John Chrysostom [Late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Turkey]: “Paul rebukes those who think they are wiser than the rest by saying that everybody possesses knowledge – the self-appointed wise people are nothing special in this respect. If anyone has knowledge but lacks love, not only will he gain nothing more, but also he will be cast down from what he already has” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: 1 Corinthians, 75).
1 Corinthians 8:3 “But if anyone loves God, he is known by God”
St. John Chrysostom: We do not know God, but he knows us. This is why Christ said: ‘You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you’ (Jn 15:16). This is the fruit of love and the death of pride” (75).
1 Corinthians 8:4 “as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence.’”
Origen [Late 2nd – early 3rd century biblical scholar in Alexandria, Egypt]: “‘An idol is nothing,’ says the apostle. One who makes an idol makes what is not. But what is that which is not? A form which the eye does not see but which the mind imagines for itself” (75).
1 Corinthians 8:6a “…there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist”
St. Augustine [Late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo Regius, Algeria]: “‘From him’ means from the Father. ‘Through him’ means through the Son. ‘In him’ means in the Holy Spirit. It is self-evident that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God” (76).
1 Corinthians 8:6b “…one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”
St. Ambrose [4th century Bishop of Milan, Italy]: “‘Go baptize the nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’ ‘In the name,’ he said, not ‘in the names.’ So there is not one name for the Father, another name for the Son, and another name for the Holy Spirit, because there is one God, not several names, because there are not two gods, not three gods” (76).
- Do I act as if I can treasure and trade in idolatry while pretending that it has neither any effect on me or on the weaker Christian neighbor who looks to me for encouragement?
- Do I act as if I am in charge of my connection with God and, therefore, can act childishly while trying to fool myself and others into believing that I am a mature Christian?
THE LORD’S PRAYER (from Luther’s Small Catechism)
As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.
The Seventh Petition
But deliver us from evil.
What does this mean?
We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from evey evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.
- Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.
- Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
- Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend the fervent cry of this petition. Practice saying the Lord’s Prayer one petition at a time with free prayer. So, then, after praying the 7th petition, you could say, “Father, you know how the father of lies always attacks us where we are vulnerable. Send your holy warrior angels to guard and protect me and mine that we may rejoice in the deliverance you have given through your Son Jesus’ precious blood.”
- Consult Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 180, for the daily lessons appointed for the week of 4 Epiphany (Year One) and read them daily before offering your prayers on behalf of your family, the world, our nation, our state, and our local communities.
- Reflect on the speed and manner in which you typically pray the Lord’s Prayer. Now, slow it down to carefully say each petition thoughtfully. Meditate daily on this week’s introduction.”
- Start 2021 off right by attending adult Sunday School and/or Crossways Bible Study.
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”