1 Corinthians 8:7-13
However, there is not in every man that knowledge…
Of the flesh of beasts slain by the heathen priests in the service of their gods only a portion being required for the religious rites, the remainder was consumed as food by the priests or exposed for sale in the public markets. Entertainments were sometimes given in localities more or less closely associated with the idolatrous worship, and these meats were offered to the guests. Was it right to partake of such food? There may be at least four different methods of treating a question of that sort. It may be determined merely upon considerations of personal inclination and enjoyment. "Those are the only considerations," some might say. "If the meat is good, and I want it, why refuse it?" With others the case would be at once submitted to the judgment of society: "What is the custom? How do my associates dispose of the problem?" A third and manifestly higher method asks, "What is right? What does an enlightened conscience approve?" Here are three entirely distinct methods of dealing with a question of practical morality. But neither of these schemes suit Paul. There is a larger question of charity: "How might my habit affect others, and especially my religious associates?"
I. In this golden sentence is seen THE SENSITIVENESS OF CHRISTIANITY WITH REGARD TO THE WEAK AND THE OBSCURE. Such a sentiment was practically new. "Christianity for the first time made charity a rudimentary virtue," says Lecky, the historian of European morals. How strange was this method is apparent also from the early criticisms of Christianity — that of Celsus, for example. "Why," said he, "woollen-manufacturers, shoemakers, and curriers, the most uneducated and boorish of men, are zealous advocates of this religion!" By the apostle, however, the opprobrium was turned into a sort of boast: "Ye see your calling, brethren... . God hath chosen the weak things to confound the mighty." These "weak things" Paul never made the mistake of despising. We, too, shall deal most successfully with similar cases of conscience when we are nearest to Paul's Master and ours, having most of his life in us, his mind of love. Many a boy proudly drops his bat and ball to run and serve his mother or his sister. Such surrenders love counts among its privileges and joys. And if the earthly affection can easily do this, is it likely that a mightier passion will fail?
II. WE ARE TAUGHT, FURTHER, THAT THE INDIVIDUAL IS OF LESS CONSEQUENCE THAN SOCIETY. That seems too plain to need reiteration. But practically it is not always acknowledged. Writers like Mill put the stress upon personal liberty. They are slow to justify legal measures or social laws which in any degree abridge the privileges of the individual. Such invasion of rights they would condemn, except under the greatest necessity. They seem to estimate a man too high, and mankind too low. But Providence does not make such estimates. What we call the laws of nature constantly subordinate us to the general good. The progress of history is achieved through suffering and martyrdom. Father and mother must deny themselves for the family. Sons and brothers die that the republic may live. Science and invention go forward through unrequited sacrifices. In the fact that men have so often tried to reverse God's computations, and make the one to be worth more than the many, lies the secret of much of the misery of the human race. Along the lines of this vicious calculation rivers of blood have flowed. Think of the kings and princes who from thrones of gold have looked down upon the millions of their subjects only as the small dust of the balance.
III. It is also to be remembered THAT IN THE COMPARISON OF THESS OPPOSITE METHODS, AND IN DETERMINING THE ISSUES WHICH THEY INVOLVE, IS TO BE FOUND AN IMPORTANT ELEMENT OF EDUCATION. The settlement of moral questions to which we are daily summoned is designed for our discipline, a means both of testing and increasing our love for the Master and for His people. With a child we are best satisfied not when he promptly obeys an express command, but when, left to choose for himself, he deliberately prefers another's pleasure to his own. That shows, and at the same time develops, the kindness of his heart. It is often objected, however, that the requirements of such a charity may become unreasonable, and oppressive — that there are narrow-minded and captious persons who, upon any pretext, will seek to obstruct our freedom and spoil our innocent pleasures. Where, then, shall the line be drawn? The only answer must be that a line cannot be definitely drawn. We are left to the impulses of our natural or gracious hearts. They will put their own constructions upon every principle laid down for guidance. The problem is not, "Who is technically right?" nor, "Who has the better head and the more enlightened conscience?" nor, "Who is more prominent in the world's work? "This is not a matter of pride, but of self-forgetting charity. The stress and point lie in the question, "What will save this brother whom my liberty might offend.?" The more unreasonable the prejudice, likewise, to which we yield, the weaker the opinion to which we make our offering of peace and goodwill, the more tenderly will" God be sure to regard it. We may be thankful if instead of being among those who ask for concessions, we have reached the high place of those who are delighted to grant them.
IV. THE SUPERIORITY OF "LOVE AS A LAW" IS MANIFEST, THEREFORE. Such a force is not only disciplinary, but it is in the highest degree disciplinary; it secures the best advantage and growth. "This law is not arbitrary. It is no law of fanaticism or enthusiasm or self-torture." In preferring it we only surrender a lower, because we seek a manifestly higher, good. "To work from fear is slavery; to work under the compulsion of animal want is a hardship, and if not a positive yet a relative curse; to work for personal ends, as for pride or ambition or the accumulation of property, either for its own sake or our own sake, is compatible with freedom, but has in it nothing either purifying or ennobling; it finds and leaves the soul dry and hard. But activity from love is the perfection of freedom and of joy." We are never so high and great as when for love we can easily make sacrifices to advance the unity and power of Christ's Church or the welfare of those for whom He died.
V. HOW VARIOUS ARE THE PROBLEMS OF OUR MODERN LIFE WHICH THIS LESSON TOUCHES WE MAY READILY DISCOVER. Shall I drink wine? What shall be my attitude toward the theatre and the opera? How shall I deal with the question as to promiscuous dancing? Shall I on Sunday patronise the street-railway? What games shall I approve? How far may I indulge a taste for personal adornment, particularly in places of public worship? What principles and limitations of expenditure are to be preferred in building, beautifying, and administering a home? These and a thousand like inquiries are to be treated in the spirit with which Paul approached the Corinthian problem about meat. They are not merely ethical, but Christian, problems.
(H. A. Edson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.