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I started this blog when I was following the Life Journal Bible reading plan on YouVersion. (I've since completed that plan.) At that time, YouVersion didn't provide any way for people to respond to my notes, other than to "like" them. So this blog is here to remedy that problem. You may comment on my notes here in the comment section.
I also have a general blog.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Balance between knowledge and love

10/11/11 Job 35-36; 1 Corinthians 7-8

S: 1 Corinthians 8
Now regarding your question about food that has been offered to idols. Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognises. So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God. There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many lords. But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we live for him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life. However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated. It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do. But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.

O: There is nothing intrinsically wrong with eating food offered to idols. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with many things, but depending on the context, some things we can do in our freedom in Christ can stumble others.

You often find churches making rules like "You must not eat food offered to idols" or "You must not go dancing" or "You must not drink alcohol" or "Women must not wear spaghetti straps." These rules have in their origin good intentions -- not to cause someone to stumble.

But contexts change, and if you rigidly follow those rules instead of understanding the spirit behind it, you end up with legalism.

On the other hand, if we abuse our freedom in Christ to do all sorts of things, and cause someone else to stumble as a result, that is also contrary to the way of Christ.

So, a balance must be held. The principle of being sensitive to avoid causing people to stumble v.s. legalism means that we have to do a lot more thinking in context and learn to apply God's principles to each situation, rather than having just memorising and regurgitating rules.

It means that we need to go higher in our spiritual education -- not just to remember what God said, but to also learn to understand, apply, analyse, and evaluate, to create Biblical solutions that fit the context that you find yourself in.

I have personally seen much harm come from people just following the rules laid down by their church legalistically instead of doing that. One example is a family which rejected Christ because one daughter took a rule, "You must not hold joss sticks" and blindly applied it to her father's Taoist funeral. Everyone thought she was being horribly unfilial, and came to the conclusion, "Christianity teaches children not to honour their parents," in direct contradiction to the Biblical commandment! So, by legalistically applying the rule her church came up with, it caused the opposite effect of the spirit behind that rule -- "Do not cause someone to stumble." It stumbled the entire family and to this day, the majority of that family continues to reject Christ.

A: The Bible calls us to balance between knowledge and love. Our knowledge of our freedom in Christ must be balanced by our position as ambassadors for Christ. When an ambassador goes to represent his country in another country, he must be cognisant of the cultural context of that country, while holding on to the principles of his country that he represents.

In a similar way, we are to be sensitive not to put additional stumbling blocks in front of people beyond the offense of the Gospel. We have to do the hard work of thinking about how God's principles apply to our current context, and not just be blindly legalistic.

P: Father, give us wisdom how to do that. In Jesus' name, amen.
Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

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