Confident Christianity: “Sound Byte Jesus” – 1 Corinthians 8:1-9

social-mediaThis week, Jesus apparently spent much time on Social Media. He posted a tremendous amount. I took the time to read many of His thoughts on His pages. They were filled with Bible quotes, but seemed to lack clarity at times…

For a while, He appeared in favor of throwing open borders and swallowing the hurting of the Near East in the name of love and compassion. He seemed quite against any religious or loyalty test affiliations for immigrants; that idea apparently seemed thoroughly unloving and unkind. He also seemed to attempt to make some moral equivalent out of the Pilgrims that long ago settled the New World. Jesus used a number of catchy sayings and cartoons and made His point on thousands of posts. Important sources of Jesus’ thinking, like “The Huffington Post” and “Upworthy” shared His thoughts as He poured out important and pithy sayings that made clear what He thought compassion looked like when it applied to our post-Paris immigration scene in the US.

I kept reading… and then I noticed that Jesus didn’t seem to keep one track of thinking, but used other media outlets to swing in other directions on the same issue. I didn’t comment on any of His posts, because I wanted to see where He was going in the evolution of His thinking…

As the week progressed Jesus’ opinions waffled back and forth. Just as firmly stated as His early compassion statements, but supported by different verses than in Jesus’ earlier posts – Jesus started to come out in favor of careful state scrutiny of immigration when there was a significant risk to state security. He didn’t want any state to welcome people without significant assurances that immigrants did not come to bring terror or harm to the streets of that place. Jesus called His people to protect their children and His command to be inviting to strangers did not include people hiding among them who desired to bring violence to their homes.

Jesus was firm and sure on each side – but appeared conflicted. His voice became more muddled as the week went on. He was on both sides of this complex set of issues, and I felt less and less sure where He was going with His thinking. If I were a betting man, I would put money on the fact that many around the world still don’t know where He stands on the issue – even after His many posts.

Let’s be honest: Our newspapers are filled with complex issues. The Jesus of the church of the internet age often seems represented by opposite opinions from His own people – but all of them are quite sure they know what He is thinking based on selections from His Word – even though they don’t seem to agree. I notice that the opinions of Jesus’ people even seem often to be offensive to others among Jesus’ people! Doesn’t that frustrate you?

Wait, I am not trying to be cynical, I want to make an essential Biblical point. My point isn’t to present the definitive “Jesus position” on things like immigration issues of our day – not at all. My point is that followers of Jesus often can’t distinguish between His thoughts and their own perspectives on policy – and we ALL tend to speak as though our perspective is the whole of Jesus’ mind. We need to study Scripture not only to answer questions of morality and reason, but to temper behavior – especially toward one another.

You may ask: “Shouldn’t we disagree when we see it differently?” Truly we should, but we need to keep something in mind: Our testimony is most often best seen in HOW we present our differences – not the SUBSTANCE of those differences. That was true in the New Testament period on an issue – not immigration, but on meat offered to idols. THAT issue doesn’t get people roiled today – but it DID long ago. Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 8 was not so much on the answer to the problem as much as the behavior of God’s people toward one another.

One glaringly large caveat needs to be placed here: There are many things about which God’s truth is clear – but not everything is that clear, so we all should be humble when we navigate murky water. Some followers will lack clarity because they lack information from the Scriptures – they don’t know them well. Others will lack clarity because they have an emotional attachment to the problem, and see it through their feelings. All this should be expected as we work, live, laugh and love each other. Let’s humbly admit that most of settle our minds and then believe our opinion is His opinion – so we all need to be careful. All of us – left, right and center. Those on one side must be as careful as those on the other side – so that in our behavior Christ is not divided, even if our opinions are not all the same.

Key Principle: When we follow Jesus’ teachings, we follow consistent and complicated principles, not simple verse “sound bites”.

Go back with me to the first century. Strip away Islam, immigration, 9/11 and Paris’ terrorism issues and go back in time. The problem was as much a “hot button” issue as these, but needs explanation to help you “feel the heat” lost over two thousand years… The text of 1 Corinthians 8 opened with a simple line that was to evoke deep feelings of certainty and division from the early church…

8:1 Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge.

Paul wrote something that was true at the time, but not true now. THEY all had knowledge – but we don’t. We need help with the issue so we can understand the premise of his argument…

As most Bible students know, Jews had specific regulations placed on them by God in both their Constitutional Code of Law (how Jews were instructed to build a unique homeland) in Deuteronomy 14, as well as Criminal Code of Law (how Jews were to deal with the sin breaches of life before a Holy God in Atonement Law) in Leviticus 11, and only a passing comment in Civil Code of Law (Exodus 23 and 34) since they wouldn’t really have all the food choices in the Sinai to Nebo trip.

In any case, Jews were restricted as a sign of their special covenant relationship with God. As the first century rolled on, more and more Gentiles came to Christ. For a time there was tension by Jews who wanted to get the new followers of Jesus from the Gentile born community, and push them to conform to Jewish dietary and Atonement Laws – in part to get them subject to the Temple (a political reason) and perhaps also in part because they felt it would fully bind them to the God of Israel (a theological reason). Paul spent much of his ministry making clear to both Messianic Jews and former Gentiles now in Christ that Atonement (the covering of sin by animal blood) and the Temple system that supported it were no longer relevant to the wrath of God and salvation. He continued to attend special times at the Temple, because he saw great value in the unique identity he had as a Jew – even as a follower of Jesus. Yet, he made clear that Jesus’ death paid for all sin of any who called upon Him for salvation – regardless of their birth identity.

That message was loved by most, misunderstood by some and rejected by others. The early church needed to settle the crisis being created by differing views that confused the very essence of the Gospel itself. The Jerusalem Council was called, and scholars hotly debated. Coming out of the council, a letter was drafted and Paul carried the message back (along with a first-hand account and explanations) to those born Gentile and now committed to following Jesus. The letter had the following stipulations (found in Acts 15):

Acts 15:23 …“The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings. 24 “Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, 25 it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 “Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28 “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.

Gentile born believers didn’t need to become Jews, and Jewish believers could remain faithfully kosher (since the regulations said nothing about them at all). That’s where the problem started. Several issues began:

• We can easily surmise that not everyone knew where the meat their local butcher sold them came from – and some felt they needed to do “investigative reporting” to let believers know if the meat came out of the bargain market of post offering meat outlets.

• Many Christians came from the lower rungs of society, and the meat at Temple outlets seemed to be consistently cheaper. To serve more expensive meat wasn’t’ simply a luxury; it may have cut into their daily meals by a good bit.

• Most were “a part” of a temple for years, a place for celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, holding monthly guild meetings and getting contracted for labor projects in their field. If they were forced to discontinue attendance at pagan sacrifices, and could no longer participate in the rituals that were so familiar, did the really have to leave the public house, the poppinae (ancient pubs) associated with their former temple? Did they really have to stop getting a glass of conditum (mixed wine drinks) and some meat with their buddies and co-workers because it normally served meat that came from within the nearby temple?

These were first century problems, and Paul addressed some questions about them in 1 Corinthians 8-10. We will be here for a few lessons, because though the issues are different, the principles for the solutions are identical. The point is this: Not every believer was willing to fit into the rules, and not all of them understood what they were and how to apply them. In the vacuum of understanding, disagreements evolved quickly. Like all Christian discussions, people have a tendency to take their strong feeling and equate it with the truth – even if they would readily admit they don’t really know the Word very well. Imagine how much harder it was when much of the New Testament hadn’t even been written and distributed yet!

1 Corinthians 8 can be broken into two parts.

The first part contains the general principles I need to consider in framing my view of a doubtful issue – they are found in 8:1-9 and are a part of this lesson. The second part contains the applications found after verse 10.

An Initial Warning

Paul essentially opened: “Concerning things we feel strongly about but aren’t all in agreement concerning the ‘right and wrong’ of…

Before Paul offered ANSWERS concerning the issue that was perhaps hotly contested, he “fired a warning shot” (verbally) in the air. Look closely:

8:1 Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. 2 If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; 3 but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.

Essentially, there were six immediate truths imparted in the warning of these verses:

First, we all have opinions and most of us feel they are fairly well informed (8:1b) – “We know that we all have knowledge”.

A careful investigation of the ministry of Paul at Corinth will lead any student to recognize Paul was disrespected by some and even openly challenged by others. They, no doubt, would say, “Well that is HIS opinion!” We hear it all the time when believers are challenged to think in new ways. The truth is that many people have made up their minds long before they opened their Bibles. Let’s be honest: There are times when each of us has a rebellion issue within that may be “informing” our opinion.

Second, we all tend to care more about what we think than how our expression of it hurts our brother to whom we don’t listen well (8:1b). Paul said: “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies”.

Don’t misunderstand him; as a teacher he didn’t enshrine ignorance – rather he balanced opinion with compassion. There are things God has said in His Word and we know they are true. The things Paul prepared to address in this passage concerned issues about which believers disagreed. Paul’s point was simple: Without a view to the needs of our brother (speaking and acting in love) our knowledge would easily serve ourselves, making us feel better about ourselves even when we are hurting others– and that would be a tragedy. If we must offend another, it should (as much as possible) be for the sake of eternal truth, not advancement of some personal opinion.

Ted Sutherland made an observation worth sharing here: “People who live for self, die. People who live for others, live! In Yorkshire, England, during the early 1800s, two sons were born to a family named Taylor. The older one set out to make a name for himself by entering Parliament and gaining public prestige. But the younger son chose to give his life to Christ. He later recalled, “Well do I remember, as in unreserved consecration I put myself, my life, my friends, my all, upon the altar. I felt I was in the presence of God, entering into covenant with the Almighty.” With that commitment, Hudson Taylor turned his face toward China and obscurity. As a result, he is known and honored on every continent as a faithful missionary and the founder of the China Inland Mission (now known as Overseas Missionary Fellowship). For the other son, however, there is no lasting monument. When you look in the encyclopedia to see what the other son has done, you find these words, “the brother of Hudson Taylor.”

Third, Biblically speaking, we must be humble enough to admit that our opinions may not be the absolute truth on the matter (8:2) – “he has not known as he ought to know”.

I know you didn’t come here to learn about your human teacher, but about your Perfect Savior. May I make a very personal observation? This is a constant temptation to any serious Bible teacher or avid Bible student. This truth chastises me all the time. There are times when I think I see something clearly because of my study – but in truth it is probably “clearer to me than to God Himself.” I don’t want you to lack trust in our lessons together; that isn’t the point. I need you to see that when the Word is taught, perfection is poured through an imperfect vessel. Try as I may, I must honestly admit the clear, crisp water of the Word can be tainted at times as it passes through a flawed vessel into the cup of your heart. I need you to pray constantly for me concerning this. Yet, I freely admit it, and 1 Corinthians 8:2 teaches it. We don’t know as much as we think we do. None of us.

Education helps you think and grow, but it doesn’t solve all the issues! It isn’t even close! A lot of really educated people in our society think very proudly that we came from apes, but that doesn’t make it so.

In fact, I think they didn’t hear this little poem…
Three monkeys sat on a coconut tree, Discussing things as they are said to be,
Said one monkey to the other :
“Now listen you two, there’s a certain rumor which can’t be true,
that man has descended from our noble race; why, the very idea is an utter disgrace,
No monkey has ever deserted his wife, starved her baby and ruined her life,
and you have never known a mother monk, who will leave her babies with others to bunk,
and passing them off from one to the other; till those poor babies hardly know which one was their mother,
and another thing a monk won’t do, is to go out at night and get on a stew, and use a club, a gun, or a knife, to take some other monkey’s life,
……yes, man descended the noble cuss, but hey brother monkey, HE DIDN’T DESCEND FROM US!” (By Adlai Naidoo).

I love that! It reminds me that being educated doesn’t mean being right. A little humility about life is called for by God.

Fourth, whatever position we take on any opinion, it should be rooted in our love of God and our identity as His child (8:3) – “he is known of Him”.

Be humble, but don’t wallow in self-loathing. You can know many things, and you and I will become, if we follow God, something significant for His Kingdom.

Remember this observation: The caterpillar, when checked for DNA by a scientist, is in every way already a butterfly. The fact that it LOOKS like a butterfly has nothing to do with what it is becoming. It IS what it IS inside. It eventually will become on the outside what God has already made it to be. Honestly, if we will follow the Master, we will be like that. He Who began a good work in you is still working. If you are open to that work, it is progressing miraculously forward…

Fifth, the judgment must not be made solely on the intrinsic argument of the right or wrong of the act itself (8:4-6).

Paul wrote these words:

1 Corinthians 8:4 Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.

Paul began with what mature believers should KNOW. There is ONLY one God. Every other “so-called god” is not real. It doesn’t matter if that is commonly felt among non-believers (8:5), for the believer (he wrote “for us” in 8:6) the belief of others about their god has no relevance.

Paul continued with how that knowledge informs our PURPOSE. In 8:6 he made plain that BECAUSE there is only ONE true God, we aren’t moved to follow the concerns of other gods, the purposes or ideas of other gods. We exist for the God we know is there. We know He is a Father with a Son. We serve God as Father and Son – eternal, perfect, united as One in Essence. We recognize He holds everything together, and nothing competes with Him in the end. Evil is not His equal. It is a temporary foe. He is the Bringer of our life, the Companion of our journey and the Smile at our destination.

The issue cannot and will not be decided on the basis of whether or not meat was placed before anything that was OF ITSELF real, powerful or dangerous. The idol represented a god that was NOT – and some believers, no doubt thought that was the whole point… but it wasn’t. Just because there is only one God, doesn’t mean that there is no spiritual influence and emotional attachment that should not be considered when one is making a decision about an issue that isn’t initially clear.

I may not be right for doing something that technically won’t hurt me and isn’t necessarily wrong in and of itself. That isn’t the only standard by which I make decisions about my participation in something, or make my opinion about it. There are other factors.

Let me say here that clearly if the issue under consideration can be found to violate a clear principle of Scripture, we have our answer in the passage that addressed it. Yet, if it ISN’T clearly out of bounds, and we struggle with what God truly wants, we must begin with this:

Am I prepared to place this choice under the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Do I recognize His right to rule my life? Do I know I was made for Him, and therefore am to please Him in every respect? That helps me understand Paul’s comments about God and His purposes. Even when I may be allowed to do something, it may not be what God wants me to do – and that matters more.

Sixth, my opinion, as informed as it may be, must take into account a brother that is not as mature! (8:7-9).

Paul warned them:

1 Corinthians 8:7 However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.

Some experienced SPIRITUALLY DARK POWER in their pagan past. Some don’t really know what to think and the issue under discussion may push them back to a sinful practice, like acting out of hatred or fear. Some may be swayed by our opinion to go back into some part of an unsaved past that doesn’t honor God.

The fact is that my opinion about participation in something is never as important as reflecting Jesus well in front of people.

My opinion cannot override my love and care for my brother (8:8-9). Paul said it this way:

1 Corinthians 8:8 But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. 9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

So what of immigration then?

I know, you will feel ripped off if I don’t answer the question I posed in the beginning about this issue. My end point will probably please no one – yet I believe it to be that which will please the Lord.

The Word offers instruction on BOTH individual compassion and national caution. Any policy rooted in Biblical thinking should attempt to address both. We must use the Scripture properly and remember there is a significant difference with what God calls a nation to do, and verses that tell individuals how to reflect Jesus.

Maybe you believe it is naïve to think we can “vet” people from the Near East without any real mechanisms to “check” stories. Maybe you believe we as a nation are at war with a group that is motivated, at least in part, by a religious strand of Islam. Does that mean we as individual believers are relieved of any responsibility to get involved, informed and then engaged in reflecting Jesus in this problem? It does not. We must seek ways to offer practical and loving help – and positive ways we can address the deep needs and suffering of people. You may applaud the policies of governors to block the refugees – but let me ask you: “What are you willing to do to help people who are honestly and truly being CRUSHED by the situation?”

For those who feel rejecting the refugees is like keeping Jesus out in the cold, I have an equal challenge. I don’t agree with those who think Jesus is on one side of the issue – because He never saw people only as ISSUES or POLITICAL PROBLEMS, and we cannot see them that way and properly represent Him.

If you are going to represent a Biblical position on a complex issue like immigration of Syrian refugees – then use ALL the principles of His Word – not just a few sound bite passages. For example, did God say His people should have compassion on the strangers they encountered – yes! Did He also call those strangers to come under the complete laws of the God of Israel – yes. In other words, Israelites were under no compassionate obligation to take in a wandering family of Amalekites from the desert unless the new comers agreed to become part of Israel’s legal framework and fabric. They weren’t to be settled in some “Amalek-Israelite” subcultural corner of the camp, and be allowed to stand culturally apart while they built a resistance movement to Moses and Yahwist teaching. They had an obligation to become ONE with Israel and pledge loyalty to the nation. Is that parallel simple, direct and with no complexity – of course not! The point is that if you cite the “compassion statutes” without the “responsibility statutes” attached to them – are you truly reflecting the whole picture of what God said? I think not. The proper use of the Scripture in debate over complex issues requires careful application of as many of the principles that relate to the situation as can be found – not by taking the moral high ground on any side with one-sided sound bites.

When we follow Jesus’ teachings, we follow consistent and complicated principles, not simple verse “sound bites”.

Sound bite Jesus is easy. You don’t need to know anything about His Word but the clip you are using to prove your point. The problem is, that isn’t the real Jesus. For His views, there are 1189 chapters of Scripture – and few voices that seem to know what He said in the other places.

Does that mute Jesus’ voice today? Not at all! The Bible HAS spoken out clearly on many direct moral issues of our day. Yet, the sanctity of life and definition of marriage – both of which are crystal clear to anyone reading the Scripture without bending it to unduly suit their need CANNOT be presented with the same clarity as a specific position of God on “single-payer health care” or “Pacific rim economic agreements”. The issue of life is addressed head on in the Bible. Economic policies are often a blend of Bible and a social education framework that is very culturally laden. We have to choose to speak with authority in places God addressed most clearly, and use the principles of Scripture carefully to argue the complexity of other issues of our day. Christians need to reflect God’s Word in the broader way. Complex modern problems are not unaddressed by the Bible – but sound bites won’t get us to the heart of what God truly said.

If you are on the “left” in immigration, and believe that love demands we settle people in your state – you are welcome here. If you think the vetting cannot be thorough in a place that has a destroyed government and you distrust the intentions of some of those who desire to come into our country – you are welcome here. Let the world be divided by left and right, red and blue, donkey and elephant. Let Christians unite in our love for Jesus, and our desire to express that as best we can to a broken world. We will agree on some things, disagree on others. None of us gets to claim that we have all knowledge is something this complex and serious. We will stand together as a team, even when we don’t agree on every aspect of what we should do. We will do it because God’s Word taught us an attitude toward one another in 1 Corinthians 8.

Brethren, we need to grow up and lovingly reflect Jesus in how we disagree about difficult things that still seem unclear even when the sound bites are placed in their context.