Abstinence for the Sake of Others
1 Corinthians 8:7-13
However, there is not in every man that knowledge…

Not a few of the church members in Corinth reserved the right to purchase and partake of these meats. Where is the flaw in their argument? The apostle meets and controverts it with great clearness.

I. HE ALLEGES THAT CHARITY IS BETTER THAN KNOWLEDGE. "We all," says he, "have knowledge." We are all able to make a showing of reasonableness for our foibles and prejudices. The poorest cause may be bolstered by an argument. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth, literally buildeth up. Self-vindication makes us conceited and dogmatic; but charity helps both us and others. The charity here referred to is the largest of the Christian graces. It is the Greek ἀγάπη, the Vulgate charitas; it is love in its broadest and deepest sense. It includes love towards God as well as towards men. It is like the constant commerce which is going on between the waters of the heavens and the earth; the rills trickle into the brooks, the brooks murmur towards the rivers, the rivers roll onward to the sea, and the seas are exhaled into the clouds above to distil again in grateful showers and morning dews. So love is the constant means and communion between God and His children. "We know our franchise," said the Christian banqueters of Corinth; "we have knowledge as to the true character of idols and idol-worship, and are therefore in no danger of being led astray." "Knowledge! knowledge!" replies the apostle, "but what about love? If any man love God the same is known unto Him, and that is the knowledge worth having." All the wisdom of the schools is not to be valued with the assurance that we love God; and "the same may be known unto us."

II. THE APOSTLE TURNS, SECONDLY, TO A CONSIDERATION OF INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM. For these Corinthian Christians were disposed to stand upon their rights. They said in effect, "There is no specific injunction as to these idol-meats in Scripture. The question is left to the individual conscience. Our consciences are clear; the meats do not injure us. We therefore propose to do as we please about them." "Granted," says Paul, "I do not dispute your rights in these premises; but there are some important facts which you are in danger of losing sight of." He then reminds them —

1. That the mere matter of eating or abstaining is in itself of slight consequence; "for meat commendeth us not to God; neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we eat not are we the worse." So small a matter therefore as a dish upon one's table should not be permitted to jeopardise the spiritual interests of any.

2. There are some weaker brethren who have less knowledge. These weaker brethren must not be left out of the reckoning. We are in a measure responsible for them. Am I, then, my brother's keeper? Aye, and if he fall over a stumbling-block of my making, I shall be held responsible for it.

3. Rights are relative. Some of them must bow down to others, as did the lesser stars to the greater in the patriarch's dream. A man's lowest right is to please himself; his highest is to deny himself for others. Rights may conflict, but duties never; and duty always has the highest and uttermost claim.

4. As to individual freedom there is no such thing. If there were only one man in the universe he might be absolutely free to serve his own pleasure, but the moment you introduce another man there is a mutual restriction. Each is now free only so far as his freedom does not infringe upon the other. It is a mistake to think of freedom as license. There is, in fact, nothing in the world more circumscribed than true freedom. It is not lawlessness nor deliverance from restraint. Its best definition is, "Perfect obedience to perfect law." True, "we are no longer children of the bond-woman, but of the free." He who comes forth from the bondage of the law into the liberty of the gospel bows down, at the very threshold of his new life, and gives himself as a slave to serve the interests of his fellow men.

III. THIS LEADS US, THIRDLY, TO CONSIDER WITH THE APOSTLE THE EXAMPLE OF CHRIST HIMSELF. "Through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish for whom Christ died?" For whom Christ died! Is it true, then, that Jesus stooped to the infirmity of the least of His little ones? Aye, and here are we, followers of His, haggling about meats and drinks! God forgive us, that we fall so far short of the mind that was in Christ Jesus our Lord. In Philippians 2:7 occurs a word about which there is much controversy. The word is kenosis; it means an "utter emptying," and is applied to Christ's humiliation. When He crossed the threshold of heaven to undertake His redemptive work He laid aside crown, royal robes, heavenly retinue, everything, that He might restore the race of fallen men. He was free to remain where He was; but He put away His freedom and took upon Himself the form of a servant for our sake. Oh, by the love and devotion of our Lord, let us cease our clamouring for rights, and begin to ask, "How may we empty ourselves as He did for the uplifting of the children of men?" The point at which humanity comes nearest to Deity is self-denial. Its best illustration is at Calvary, where God stoops down to embrace His penitent children. The summit of human character is reached when a man gives himself for others. Christ did it. We also, for Christ's sake, must do it.

(D. J. Burrell, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.

WEB: However, that knowledge isn't in all men. But some, with consciousness of the idol until now, eat as of a thing sacrificed to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.

A Weak Conscience, I.E
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