October 9th, 1955
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
10-9-55 10:50 a.m.
In our preaching through the Word, we have come to the eighth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, and if you will open it before you, you can look at the message writ large on the face of the Word of God – the first Corinthian letter. And last Sunday, we closed with the seventh chapter, and today, the message is the eighth chapter of the first Corinthian letter. Now, this is the reading from the Book:
Now as touching things offered unto idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.
And if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.
But if any man love God, the same is known of him.
As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing . . . that there is none other God but one.
For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many and lords many)
But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him.
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.
But meat commendeth not to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, neither if we eat not are we the worse.
But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols?
And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
[1 Corinthians 8:1-13]
That’s the reading of the Word.
Now, it is very difficult, most difficult, for us who live in the liberty of this Christian culture – the framework of which has been shaped by Christian ideals – it is very difficult for us to realize the close connection between ancient idolatry and ancient daily life. We’re so far removed from it until an idol, to us, is just a piece of wood, or it is an image, or it is a statue. It’s just a likeness of somebody’s idea, but it has nothing at all to us. It doesn’t enter at all into our daily lives.
It was the opposite back yonder in that ancient day. For example, today, when we divide our week into seven parts and the seventh part, why, you can do as you want to with it: you can go to the synagogue, or you can go to the church, or you can go fishing, or you can go out to the fair. But you divide your week into seven parts, and one part, we pray, could be given to God.
Now, you got that from the Jewish people. That’s the Hebrew week. That’s the shabbath; that’s the seventh. But in that day, back yonder in ancient times, they didn’t have any seven-day week and the life of the nation was filled with holidays, festival days. And all of those festival days were dedicated to gods, and when you shared in the festival – when you shared in the holiday – you shared in the worship of that god.
Now, today, we got one day out of seven to do what we want to with, but in that day, I say, that all of their national holidays were religious days; and when you shared in them, you shared in the religion of that god.
All right, another thing: Back there, society was organized into guilds, into craftsman’s groups. Were you a stonecutter? Then you belonged to that stonecutting guild. Were you a baker, were you a butcher, were you a candlestick maker? Whatever you did, you belonged to a certain guild. Now, those guilds were religious organizations. They had a patron god, and if you didn’t belong to the guild, chances are you’d starve to death; but to belong to the guild was to worship the god.
All right, another thing: when they had their great games, their games were all dedicated to gods. They’d have the famous Olympian Games. Well, all of those games were patronized and held in honor of the Olympian gods. And when you go out here to the Cotton Bowl, you attach no religious significance to that slaughter out there on the gridiron. It just never occurs to you that that’s dedicated to any deity. When they bring in the ambulance and they haul those boys away, why, you don’t have any connection about religion at all. You just wonder at the inanity of people who go out there and bust one another wide open just for the fun of it. Well, that’s a game to us, but in that day, in that day, it was a religious exercise, and the great Olympian Games, the Isthmian Games, all the Delphic, all the rest of it – it was a means of worship.
Now, in the first, could I liken a thing in our generation to that? Before the War – and now it’s coming back – for a man in Japan to be loyally Japanese was to be a Shintoist. But a Shintoist is a worshiper of a god, and he’s incarnate there in the emperor.
Or another: Today, right now, when you go to India, you will find those children that used to be taught English, they’re all being taught Hindustani. And the national religion of India is Hinduism; and if you are a nationalist, if you are a loyal Hindu, why you go to the Hindu temples and you worship. And all the women, I say, put a little dot in the center of their forehead. They put their finger there in that colored material and touch their foreheads there, and then a rich woman, of course, will have a magnificently contrived dot right there in the center of her forehead. And that means that family is national; they are loyal to India. The religion was identified with the nation and the daily lives of the people.
All right, one of the things that the people met everywhere in that religion – false heathen religion – was this thing of meat that had been sacrificed to idols. There were so many temples in Corinth, and there were so many gods, and the sacrifices were so profuse until the meat of the animal that was sacrificed there at the temple was sold in the marketplace. And when you went to buy meat, the meat that you bought had doubtless been sacrificed to some god; and they couldn’t consume it there at the temple, so they sold it in the shambles.
Now, with regard to that, there were people in the church in Corinth who were sophists. They were intellectuals. The Greek word for them are "Gnostics," and the system of their superior learning is called "Gnosticism." It’s a funny thing how universal that was back yonder, and yet people today never heard about it.
Well, many of these Gnostics – these intellectual superiors – many of them embraced the Christian faith there in Corinth, and they belonged to the Corinthian church. Now, they looked upon themselves as having been initiated into the mysteries of life and they were the "knowing ones," and all the rest of the people were illiterate, or ignorant, or they had a not been initiated into these higher mysteries of Gnosticism such as they had.
So when they embraced the Christian faith, why, they did it intellectually, without the heart and charity that Paul had in his soul for those weaker people who were still deluded and still caught in the meshes of idolatry. But these "superior ones," these Gnostics, why they boasted of their freedom in the Christian religion from all of these things that bound down other people. For example, there in the Corinthian church, these superior ones – these knowing ones, these intellectual ones, these Gnostics – for example, they spoke often in the assemblies and were gifted in speaking in tongues [1 Corinthians 14:1-33].
Another thing: their women threw off all restraint, and in their dressing, why, they were not bound down by habits and customs of Jewish people or Greek people or anybody else. And when they came to church, they came with their heads uncovered which was a thing unheard of in that day and that time [1 Corinthians 11:5-6]. But they were Gnostics. They were superior. They were liberated from all of the habits and customs by which other people were bound.
They had the doctrine of the immortality of the soul but not of the body, and that came in a funny, funny way as it was developed. They came to believe that the body was the seat of sin, but sin could not touch the soul. And so whatever the body did, well that was no matter at all. The soul and the spirit were untouched by what the body did, and that’s the reason the fifth chapter, when we were preaching through it, why when Paul mentions here this fellow in the church that was living with his father’s wife [1 Corinthians 5:1], the next verse says: "And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned" [1 Corinthians 5:2]. Well, isn’t that a funny thing to say? "And you are puffed up" about this guy living in incest. Well, the reason why they were puffed up was because they were intellectually superior to all of the judgments of God upon sin. That was a part of the body and it had nothing to do with the soul, and they believed in the immortality of the soul but not in the resurrection of the body. The body was nothing.
Then they had another thing, and that’s the one we come to this morning. They had another thing: They didn’t believe in gods, and they didn’t believe in idols, and they didn’t believe that meat sacrificed to idols was in any wise contaminated. So these intellectually superior ones ate there in the idol temples [1 Corinthians 8:10]. They bought meat at the shambles without asking questions about it. They sat down at a banquet and never thought anything about idols one way or the other, and they looked down upon all other people who so were bothered by those idols and by meat offered to idols.
Well, now when we get into this answer of Paul about that, you’re going to find him sympathizing with those people, but he also puts a hedge around it. Now, look at it as he starts: "Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know . . ." [1 Corinthians 8:1]. Now watch him as he uses that word "know" – gnōsis:
We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.
And if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.
But if any man love God, the same is known of Him.
[1 Corinthians 8:1-3]
See how many times – there are about seven times in those three verses he uses that word "know."
Now, he is drawing a distinction there between gnōsis and agape – between knowledge and love. "Knowledge," Paul says, without love," knowledge puffeth up" [1 Corinthians 8:1], and a thing "puffed up" is just inflated by wind, and the bigger it is, the hollower and the emptier it is. It’s a sad thing, but knowledge in itself almost always leads to unbearable and unacceptable conceit. Knowledge in itself does not edify. It is love that edifies. It is love that builds up, but knowledge in itself – Paul avows here – knowledge in itself does nothing else, for the most part, but to lead to an attitude of superiority. And the people who have knowledge and accomplishment without love always have a tendency to look with cruel disregard upon those around who are not thus intellectual. They are not thus full of attainments and achievements; they are not thus full of understanding as they themselves are.
I couldn’t imagine a more perfect illustration of that than the terrible turn of the culture of Germany. They so prided themselves upon their universities. They so prided themselves upon their advancements in theology, and in philosophy, and in higher criticism, and in science until they came to look upon themselves as super men: the Nazi German – the super man; and all around them were just to be walked on. All the other people were underneath their feet. They were the "knowing ones;" they were the Gnostics. They were born to be superior and to rule the world!
And all knowledge, without love, leads to that same self-conceit! At least that’s what Paul says [1 Corinthians 8:1]. Now, he says, "Love edifieth!" [1 Corinthians 8:1]. Now, he doesn’t mean that way – he doesn’t mean that love is antagonistic to true knowledge, but what Paul is saying here is that there is no way, there is no way to subvert that terrible self-conceit that arises with intellectual achievement other than that a man shall love God and love his brother.
All right, then he starts off answering that question: "Knowledge puffeth up; it is charity – it is love that edifieth [1 Corinthians 8:1]. Now concerning those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols . . ." [1 Corinthians 8:4]. "Those Gnostics are right," he says. "Those superior ones are right. We know that an idol is nothing, that there is none other God but one. Though there are lots of gods and Corinth is filled with their temples, to us there is but one God the Father, and to us there’s but one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him [1 Corinthians 8:4-6].
"That’s right," says Paul. "These superior intellectuals are right. There’s not a thing in the world to an idol and there’s nothing at all to eating meat that is offered to idols" [1 Corinthians 8:4]. For, he says, "Meat commendeth not to God; for neither if we eat are we the better; neither if we eat not are we the worse" [1 Corinthians 8:8]. It doesn’t make any difference. "The intellectual is right," he says. "There’s not a thing in the world to this idol business and nothing to this sacrifice of meat to them. Go ahead and eat it. That’s right."
But Paul says – now listen to him – "But," he says, "there is not in every man that gnōsis." This is the seventh verse: "There is not in every man that gnōsis" [1 Corinthians 8:7] – that superior ability, those intellectual achievements. They haven’t got that far. "There is not in every man that gnōsis. For," says Paul, "there are some with conscience of the idol unto this very hour and when they eat it, to them, it is offered unto an idol." And that weak man says, "’When you eat meat sacrificed to an idol, you are worshiping that idol’" [1 Corinthians 8:7]. That’s what he thinks. And this weak man, when he is led to share in that, his conscience is hurt. Last part of the seventh verse: "His conscience is defiled." His conscience is contaminated. We have led him to do something that is against his conscience and in doing that we have hurt him.
Now, he continues. Listen to him: "Take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak. If any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple . . ." [1 Corinthians 8:9-10].
Now, over here in the [tenth] chapter, he mentions that again:
If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and you are disposed to go, why whatsoever is sat before you eat, asking no questions for conscience’ sake.
But if any man say unto thee
– while you’re sitting at dinner there –
"This is offered in sacrifice unto idols,"
– it was bought at a marketplace, but it had been sacrificed unto idols –
eat not for his sake that showed it, and for conscience’ sake.
[1 Corinthians 10:27-28]
All right, the same thing now:
If any man see thee which has knowledge
– this superior gnōsis –
sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols?
And through thy gnōsis
– through thy superiority –
shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
When you so sin against a brother, and wound his weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
[1 Corinthians 8:10-12]
Then he has one of the great, noble pronouncements of the Christian faith and attitude. "Wherefore, if by my eating meat" – sacrificed to an idol – "I hurt my brother" – if I cause him to stumble – "I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to stumble" [1 Corinthians 8:13].
Well, all of that was a long time ago, and when I speak of the difficulty, to us, you can almost smile at it. Think of that: because an animal – a fine, prize heifer – had been slain at the idol’s temple and had been dedicated to the goddess and now we have baked it for our roast and we’re eating it, therefore we are worshiping the idol – all of that is passed away. In our country and in our land and in our culture, we’ve never even seen an idol like that nor a temple like that. And that difficulty that so perturbed the soul of these who lived in that day, all of it is passed away.
But this doesn’t pass away: the divine and inspired wisdom by which Paul solved that difficulty two thousand years ago. And that holy and inspired wisdom is this: that for the sake of my weaker brother, I will gladly abridge my Christian liberties. For their sakes, I will gladly do it. "If eating meat makes my brother to offend, I will eat no meat while the world standeth" [1 Corinthians 8:13]. If it hurts his soul and hurts his life, I’ll not share in it. I will abridge what otherwise I am at liberty to do. I will abridge it for his sake. I will refrain from it for his sake.
Now, for a moment, may I apply it? You say to me, "Preacher, I can take it or I can leave it." And you’re right. That’s what Paul said about these Gnostics – these "knowing ones," these "superior ones." "That’s right; you’re right: I can take it, or I can leave it. Therefore, I will not abridge my liberties. I can do it and get by with it, and it doesn’t hurt me, and it doesn’t hurt anything I’m doing, and I’m going to live in all of the liberty of my Christian religion and my Christian faith. I don’t believe I’ll be damned in hell for that, and I don’t believe I’ll be judged by God for doing that. And I don’t believe salvation is a matter of that. I can take it, or I can leave it."
And Paul would say, "You’re right. That’s right, but there is also another principle that comes out of the Christian faith and the Christian religion. You may be able to, but what about a weaker fellow that by your example and by your liberty, he is mortally hurt and eternally perishes? What about that?" Paul says. "What about him?"
At a legislature, they were having a hearing on a liquor bill, and the bishop appeared before the legislative committee; and he spoke eloquently, and he spoke learnedly, and he spoke conclusively. And when the prelate had done his address before the assembly gathered there, before the legislative committee on this liquor bill, what he had done, he had spoken so splendidly and so conclusively that when the bishop sat down, there was silence. The bishop, as you would know, was speaking in favor of moderation – indulgence but not too much. And he’s right. Why certainly, he’s right! He can take it, or he can leave it. He can share with his parishioners, and he’s right. That is liberty. And when he sat down, he had spoken so learnedly and so conclusively that there was silence.
A humble man arose and addressed the moderator, the chairman of the committee, and he said to him, "Sir, could I be not saved a word?"
And the humble man began to say:
There was a boy who was caught in the terrible throes of an evil habit and finally became alcoholic. Through the prayers of his mother and through the love of his father, the boy was won back to health and won back to life. He was doing fine again. He was successful. He was going up. He was in the finest social group. He was one of the up and coming young businessmen of the city.
And upon a day, he was in a social gathering and liquor was served. And while they were there in that gathering and the liquor being served, they came to that boy, and he refused. "I can’t take it," he said. But they came again. And the boy looked around at that group, and he saw a prelate standing there with a glass of liquor in his hand. And looking at the prelate, he said, "That’s God’s man. That’s the leading God’s man. I will, therefore, at least be able to do what he does."
He took the glass of liquor, that boy, and he drank it. It was the first time he’d tasted that fire since the days when he was won back, and it set in those terrible chains. And he drank again. And that night, he drank again. And that night he drank again. And the boy went down, back like he was before, and that boy died in delirium.
And the old man paused and added, saying, "That boy was my boy, and the prelate with whom he was drinking that night is the right reverend bishop who has just now addressed you."
"Wherefore, if meat maketh my brother to offend, I will eat no meat while the world standeth" [1 Corinthians 8:13]. The number of people in this church who share in that are legion; the number of businessmen in this town who share in that are legion, and the number of ministers of the gospel who share in that are legion! And in their superiority, they look down upon us and they say, "We – we can take it or we can leave it, and we shall enjoy our Christian liberties!"
That’s right. That’s right, but there’s something else that is righter and that is this: if what I do makes my brother to offend – my weak brother perishes for whom Christ died – and if that’s the fruit of my example, I’ll not take to my lips any cup of death so long as I live lest I make my brother to stumble [1 Corinthians 8:10-13]. Oh, I wish I could apply that principle endlessly, endlessly!
"Preacher, is there anything wrong with a roulette wheel?"
"Why certainly not."
"In Monte Carlo, in Las Vegas, in old Mexico, I’ve seen them gather around that roulette wheel. Anything wrong in that?"
"No, not at all."
"Anything wrong in the horse races?"
"No, not at all."
"Anything wrong in those dice games?"
"Not at all."
"Anything wrong in those gambling cards?"
"Not at all, not at all."
"Well, Preacher, why don’t you have them over there in the recreational building? Why don’t you have dice tables there? Why don’t you have roulette wheels there? Why don’t you have gambling cards there? Why don’t you? Aren’t you superior to all that? Do you think those things are instruments of damnation in themselves?"
"No, not at all. I would enjoy playing a game at a roulette wheel if I had time to waste. I would enjoy a dice game. I would enjoy those gambling cards games. They’re interesting."
"Well, why don’t you have them in your rec building over here?"
"For one simple reason only: they are associated, they are associated with Monte Carlo and Las Vegas and the Tivoli; and when people see us do it, that same thing that may be in itself nothing at all enters the mind and the conscience of another fellow that seeing it here and doing it here may be tempted to share in the same thing out there. And to him it is associated with gambling and with sin and with iniquity. And for their sakes, we don’t do it. We don’t do it. Just for them, for their sakes."
I have to quit. The things we do on a Sunday, so innocent, but our example may pull away somebody from God’s house and God’s church and God’s people. You wouldn’t find me out there at that State Fair on the Lord’s Day unless you bound me, and tied me, and carried me out there.
"Well, you think it’s a sin to go to a fair on the Lord’s Day?"
"Well, not like that. Every day is a holy day for the Christian, and we’re not bound by any law. Not at all! We do what we want to. We’re not judged by the law of Christ [Romans 8:1]. He’s the law for us, and we are free! [Romans 10:4]; We have liberty in Him!" [Galatians 5:1].
"Why aren’t you out there on the Lord’s Day at the fair? Why aren’t you?"
"Because there’s a whole lot of people – and among them lots of children – that we’re trying to get down here in Training Union and trying to teach them to give one day to God, and trying to get them to come to the church on Sunday, and trying to have them share in the evening preaching hour. And we’re trying to lead them this way, and when I go out there on the Lord’s Day, it may not hurt me at all – though I think it would – and I may have liberty to do it, but for their sakes, for their sakes, you won’t find me out there: never, never, never!"
And there are ten thousand things that you can share in, and that you can do, and that you can justify, and you can say "it’s all right;" and you are right in saying it. But there is a greater and a higher principle that comes out of the heart of the Christian faith and the Christian message. If I do it, what of the influence on somebody else? What of them? What of them? And that by my influence, they might be led away from God, and away from Christ, and away from His church.
Our influence: it belongs to God, and what you do affects somebody else. You come down this aisle, take this preacher by the hand, somebody’ll see it. Somebody will be encouraged. Somebody may be making a decision. Somebody may be just wavering between the Lord and against the Lord, and when you take your stand and you’re here and you stand by our sides, he is encouraged to come.
A man came down the aisle and took me by the hand; down this other aisle came a boy. While I was talking to this man here, he looked around and saw that boy: "Son, what’re you doing here? What’re you doing here?"
And the little fellow replied, "Dad, I saw you come down there to the front. I saw you come down there to the front, and I wanted to be with you. I wanted to come too."
You can’t help that. That’s the way God put us together. If we were isolated and lived on some sphere apart, what we’d do would [be] just between us and God. But He put us here together, and what we do affects everybody and everything.
Give it to God – your life, your heart, your soul, your influence – give it to God. Give it to God while we sing our song, while we make this appeal. In the balcony, from side to side, somebody you, somebody you, while we make the appeal, while we sing the song, down here into the fellowship of this church: "Pastor, here I am, and here I come. As the Lord shall help me and as God shall be with me, I’m dedicating my life, and all that I have I’m giving it to Thee."
Come and take me by the hand: "Preacher, today I’m giving my life in trust to the Lord Jesus, and here I am and here I come. Here’s my boy. This day he’s trusting the Lord as his Savior," or "Here’s my whole family. Here’s my whole family. Here we come, and we’re putting our lives here in the church." While we make appeal, while we stand and sing, come and make it now, while we stand and while we sing.