Jan 6, 2011

Weak Brethren X

"What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils." (10: 19-21)

Though Paul does not use the term "weak ones," in these words, he nevertheless still has them in mind. In these words Paul extends his remarks made earlier in chapter eight, analyzed in previous chapters. In chapter eight, in talking about "idols," Paul said - "we know that the idol is nothing." Idols were only imaginary beings. Here he repeats his stance, affirming that the idol is nothing. He only adds this thought, however: there are "demons" (devils) intimately connected with the idols, with the images (icons) of the "gods." The idol (statue) was no living being, but only material or physical substance. However, behind the image was the demon.

It is "Gentiles," those who are not Christian, who "sacrifice" things "to demons." Those Christians who would do such a thing manifest that they have not been converted, that they do not have conviction about the Christian creed that Paul gave in I Cor. 8: 4-6.

Sacrificing to the heathen gods and demons involved a participation of the idolater in the essence of the demon gods. The idea of "joint participation" is included in the meaning of the word "fellowship" ("koinōnos"). A Christian is one who has come to have "that knowledge" which affirms only "one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ," and to see that the idols were but false imaginary gods, and that the demons were the inspirers of them in men's minds. It is absurd to think of "weak brothers" as being Christians, seeing they are said to regularly do what Paul says the "Gentiles" do. In chapter eight, in describing these "weak ones," Paul said "some with conscience of the idol eat food sacrificed to idols unto this day," indicating that it was the regular practice of the weak, just as now he says it is the regular practice of "Gentiles" do so.

"Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils."

Who is designated by the pronoun "ye" (you)? Is it not Christians who know that there is only one God, and that the gods of the heathen are false? Who know that it is expressly forbidden by God for them to involve themselves in idolatry?

What is the nature of this "cannot"? Does it denote an absolute impossibility? That it is never the case that one who has truly drunk the "cup of the Lord," and become a "partaker of the Lord's table," a real born again, converted, Christian, has at the same time, also drunk the "cup of demons" or been a "partaker of the table of demons"? Or, to put it another way, has a true convert to Christianity, from heathenism, ever relapsed into his heathen beliefs and practices? If Paul speaks in an absolute sense, then he would be affirming the impossibility of a true convert to Christ, who is drinking the cup of the Lord, and feasting at his table, ever participating in worship to other gods.

It could be that Paul is only speaking of a moral "cannot," saying to the Christians that they could not consistently, given their Christian faith and vows, involve themselves in heathen beliefs and practices. Paul's words are similar to Jesus' words - "you cannot serve God and mammon." (Matt. 6: 24) You cannot be both a servant of God and servant of mammon at the same time. If one is a servant of God, he is not a servant of mammon. If one is a servant of mammon, he is not a servant of God. If one gives religious service to idols and demons then he is not a Christian. But, the "weak ones" give religious service and devotion to the idols, and do it "with conscience of the idol."

When a pagan polytheist realizes the truth of the Christian creed, given by Paul, that there is "one God, the Father," and "one Lord, Jesus Christ," and that the idols and gods of his previous devotions are false, does he realize it suddenly, by a divine revelation and conviction, or does he slowly see the error of his heathenism and gradually accept Christian monotheism? Does he begin with a minor conviction of Christian truth that slowly and gradually overcomes his heathen beliefs and practices? Can the person who is only fractionally convinced of the Christian creed, as are the "weak brothers," real born again Christians? A man can be a Christian who still retains a partial belief in polytheism? When Paul wrote the Thessalonian Christians, he said;

"For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." (I Thess. 1: 9)

Notice that Paul did not say "you are turning from idols," which would be the way to express it if the church included many "weak brothers" who were not yet fully turned away from idols. Rather it is "you turned," at one moment of time, when you embraced the creed of Christians.

"Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: For the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof. If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. But if any man say unto you, this is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof: Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience? For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved." (10: 25-33)

Paul tells the Corinthian Christians that they may, in good conscience, eat food bought in the marketplace that had been supplied by priests of the idol temples, with one exception. If eating such sacrificial foods harms the conscience of another, of one who is "weak," then such eating is forbidden.

There are clearly two different classes of people referred to by Paul in the above words. It is the same two classes already alluded to in chapter eight, the class of the "weak" and the class of the "strong." Further, in this citation, Paul clearly identifies the one with "weak conscience." He says - "If any of them that believe not," who is not a Christian, who is yet a pagan. It is the "conscience" of the "unbeliever" that is of concern to Paul here, which is one and the same with the "conscience" of the "weak." Those commentators who take the view that the weak conscience is the conscience of a Christian cannot do so in this context, however, because Paul calls them "unbelievers" ('them that believe not'), and no unbeliever is a Christian. This is absolute proof that the "weak ones" are the "unbelievers," or pagan religious people.

When Paul refers to unbelievers, he does not mean to imply that such unbelievers don't believe anything religiously, for they are idolaters and believe in polytheism, that there are "gods many" and "lords many." He is an unbeliever as it respects the Christian creed of I Cor. 8: 4-6, is not a Christian.

Paul then alludes to the practice of pagans inviting Christians to participate in the religious feasts of the pagan temples. Paul does not forbid Christians attending such feasts, but says if you be "disposed to go." He leaves it up to the conscience and choice of individual Christians to decide whether to visit an idol's temple. Paul would like, however, for the Christian to visit the idol's temple for good ends.

Paul says to the Christians in Corinth who choose to accept the invitation to visit and dine in the idol's temple, "whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake." Here Paul is concerned about the conscience of the Christians. A Christian's conscience has "that knowledge" which acknowledges "one God, the Father, from whom are all things," and "one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things," and is "strong" because of this knowledge; and rather than having, as the heathen, a "conscience knowledge of the idol," have a "conscience knowledge" of Father and Son.

A Christian is not a "double minded" (James 1: 8) person as it respects monotheism versus polytheism. He is not divided in his faith and devotions, giving some to the Christian God and some to the idols. By definition, then, a "weak brother" is one who is "double minded" in his conscience, faith, and knowledge. Yet, if the "weak brothers" are represented as being Christians, then obviously such double mindedness is no hindrance to becoming Christian. A person who lacks full knowledge and faith in one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, may be called "Christian"? One may be a "half-hearted" believer in monotheism and in the gospel and be Christian?

Paul is speaking to all the members of the Corinthian church, in these words. He speaks of them all in terms of being of the class of the "strong," and not in the class of the "weak." They are all addressed as possessing "that knowledge," as having renounced paganism, as having knowledge that God has placed no restrictions on diet, nor offered diet as a means of being reconciled to him. They are all viewed as having consciences strong in the knowledge of Christ.

Twice Paul says "for the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof," in support of the Christian "right" or "liberty" to eat all kinds of food, without restriction, a proposition stated elsewhere in Paul's epistles. It may have been a common saying among the Corinthian Christians. This "liberty" concerned freedom from specified restrictions. The Christian knows that God has not required diet restrictions as a means of obtaining his favor and fellowship. Paul says to the Christians who choose to "sit at meat in the idol's temple," who accept the invitations of heathen to attend religious ceremonies and banquets, that they should partake of whatever is set before them on the table, and to eat it in good conscience, unless the server, an unbeliever, a pagan, announces to you that the food has been sacrificed and dedicated to an idol, in which case, you will "eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake...Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other."

Here Paul sets up a dichotomy of consciences. There is, on one hand, the conscience of the Corinthian Christians, the "believers," and on the other hand, the conscience of the one who "believes not," the heathen temple worshipper. One is "weak" and the other is "strong." One possesses "that knowledge" essential to being Christian, but the other lacks it. Thus, Paul is constrasting the conscience, not of weak Christians versus strong Christians, but of Christian versus pagan. This is also further revealed by the use of "but" and "other." "But" denotes a contrast of opposites and "other" is "heteros" which does not mean "other of the same kind" (homos or allos) but "other of a different kind." According to Strong, "heteros," when referring "to quality," means "another: i.e. one not of the same nature, form, class, kind, different." The dichotomy is between Christians (believers) and non-Christians (unbelievers), and not between two kinds of Christians.

There can be little doubt that the "conscience" that is of concern to Paul, in the above scenario of a Christian being offered things sacrificed to idols, is that of the "unbeliever." Yet, though commentators admit that the case here is one of unbeliever versus believer, or pagan versus Christian, they will not admit it being the same case in I Corinthians 8. It seems clear that Paul is not, however, setting up a new dichotomy in these words, but extending his remarks on the same one introduced in chapter eight. It seems clear also that Paul views the "conscience" of this idol worshipper, or unbeliever, as being the same conscience as those designated as "weak" in chapters eight and nine.

Paul asks - "why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience?" And, "why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?"

Why should the liberty and rights of Christians not be always asserted and insisted upon? Because of a love and concern for the salvation of one's neighbors and brothers, for his coming to see the errors of his pagan beliefs, and to see the truth of the gospel, and "turn to God from idols to serve the living God." Because he is concerned about his "conscience," which is impotent, defiled, deceived.

Sometimes Christians are "damned if they do, and damned if they don't" The rule for Paul is love and concern for winning the weak and lost. How does it look to them? How will they interpret it? Will it hinder or help them? Will it serve as a means in "gaining" them or in losing them? Will it harden them against Christ, or attract them to him? Will it "wound" and "offend" his weak conscience, or heal and purge it? Will it please and glorify God or give cause for God to be "evil spoken of"?

Paul advises: "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."

"If you eat," that is, "if you eat meat sacrificed to idol," either in or out of the idol's temple, when no mention is made of it being so by the unbeliever, then eat it "to the glory (praise, thanks) of God," do all with an focused eye on "gaining the weak" (I Cor. 9: 22).

Paul says:

"Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God..."

When Paul says "give no offence," he means no unjustified offence. Paul certainly knew that most men will judge the "preaching of the cross" as "offensive." That kind of offence the Christian cannot hinder. It is inevitable due to the depravity of man, as Jesus said - "it must needs be that offences come" (Matt. 18: 7). The kind of "offending" Paul condemns is the kind he has been speaking about in the preceding chapters, in the context of stumblingblocks.

It is interesting how Paul refers to three groups he does not want offended by his conduct. They are "the Jews," and "the Gentiles" (nations), and "the church of God." Paul has already identified "the weak" with pagan Gentiles, and here he puts them into a separate category from "the church." It is similar to his words in 9: 19-22.

Paul then says - "Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved."

Notice that Paul labors that all lost souls, of whatever category, including those of "the weak," may be "profited," or in order that "they may be saved."

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