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1 Corinthians 8:1-4 by Robert Dean
Series:1st Corinthians (2002)
Duration:1 hr 0 mins 24 secs



In chapter eight we begin a new section in 1 Corinthians, an epistle that has been brought on by various problems in the church at Corinth. From the very beginning of this epistle there is a contrast between human viewpoint thinking and divine viewpoint thinking. As a result of human viewpoint thinking, which is always the result of sin nature control in the life of the believer, there is a manifestation of it in the various attitudes and actions in the congregation. The first that was set up was that there were divisions as they followed specific teachers. This is the result of arrogance. This is a major problem in this congregation that is reiterated not only at the end of chapter four but underlies the problems in chapters five and six. The first five chapters focus on the general problems of arrogance in the congregation, and part of this is a whole comprehension of this human viewpoint versus divine viewpoint. Chapter one human viewpoint he speaks of as wisdom, and then in chapter three it is contrasted with the knowledge of the things of the Spirit of God. There is a distinction made in chapter two between the different kinds of knowledge: "things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and {which} have not entered the heart of man, all that god has prepared for those who love him."

It is very common for people to misunderstand the first verse of chapter eight: "Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies." So there are people who come along and want to make this contrast between knowledge on the one hand and love on the other hand. But that completely misunderstands the whole structure of 1 Corinthians. He is not contrasting knowledge per se with love, he is contrasting a certain kind of knowledge and this is a knowledge that is based on human viewpoint and consequently it is going to produce arrogance. This is what is contrasted with love. He sets this up when he talks about the first kind of knowledge which is empirical knowledge. This is represented by eye and ear. In other words, sense data. Then rationalism. Then he says "the things which God has prepared for those who love Him: revelation. So Paul makes a clear distinction between empirical knowledge, knowledge that proceeds from just thought alone—rationalism, versus revelation. The knowledge that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 8:1 is GNOSIS [gnwsij] as opposed to EPIGNOSIS [e)pignwsij]. EPIGNOSIS refers to that full knowledge that we have in the soul that is the product of believing doctrine stored soul under the teaching ministry of God the Holy Spirit. So in this short opening he is going to drive us right back to the basic problem at Corinth which is that they are still operating on human viewpoint concepts of knowledge.

The Greeks had a word that we have brought over into English, and that is the word EPISTEMOS [e)pistemoj] which we know as "epistemology." Epistemology is considered a branch of philosophy that deals with thinking: How do we know what we know? How do we learn things? How does the human mind come to know certain things? How do we perceive truth? What is truth? In other words, how do you know anything? How do you know that God has spoken to you as opposed to the fact that you have just had some sort of impression, maybe just some sort of subjective emotion? Many people, especially in evangelical circles, adopt a very loose, imprecise way of talking. God spoke to me! Well, wait a minute. How did God speak to you? Did you hear a voice? Did somebody else hear the voice? Was their evidence that substantiated this speaking? In Scripture, whenever God spoke to someone there was always an accompanying validation. Well, is God still speaking today in the way He spoke in the Old Testament and in the early days of the church age? No, He does not. God no longer speaks in that way. He leads but He does not lead through the same type of verbal, auditory revelation. So there is a problem from the charismatic camp, and there is another problem from liberals where they say God cannot speak and does not speak to man at all and has not in all of human history, and even if He did speak we are so messed up by virtue of sin that we couldn't understand what He was saying anyway. Ultimately that involves the presupposition that God cannot speak clearly to man, that He cannot understand the basic problems of man clearly enough to be able to communicate to us. So there is a second epistemological problem which comes from liberals and that is that God has spoken to us and therefore the Bible is not God's Word to man but it is man's human record of spiritual experiences. Once you redefine the Bible in terms of a human record about God then all of a sudden the Bible is very fluid and you no longer know what the Bible says. What has happened here is that you've gone back and redirected your thoughts so that the ultimate authority is no longer the Word of God, but you are now judging the Word of God by either rationalism or empiricism. Instead of the authority being located in revelation the authority is now located in the human mind. So man sets himself up to be God.

This is a relationship now between two key subjects that are going to be developed in the next few chapters, and that is not only the problem of authority and revelation but the problem of knowledge and idolatry. Part of this is the concept of love. Love edifies.

The first six chapters of 1 Corinthians deal with the basic problems in Corinth. Starting in chapter seven with the use of the Greek phrase PERI DE [peri de], "Now concerning this," Paul begins to address various subjects. When we come to chapter eight we have a PERI DE and that seems to set up one subject that is restricted to idolatry. But if we look carefully at the Scriptures we notice there is not another phrase PERI DE until chapter twelve, and then there is not another one until we get to chapter sixteen. So this entire section, chapters 8-11, which leads into 12-14, is all part of a basic subject matter, and this subject matter is going to address not only the problem of knowledge and idolatry but the real issue that underlies this entire section, i.e. understanding what love is in terms of not putting self first, it is putting others first. The one unifying principle that goes through all of these chapters is the problem of arrogance versus love.

In chapter eight Paul is going to introduce the subject of putting the other person first, being more concerned about the weaker brother and hurting the conscience thereby creating a spiritual stumbling b;lock for the weaker brother. That is a manifestation of love. You are not concerned about your freedom and your rights but you are concerned more about how this might affect some other believer, and because it might have a negative effect on a specific believer then you decide that rather than exercise your right you will give it up for their benefit.

Then in chapter nine he is going to give a personal example. He starts off: "Am I not free? Am I not an apostle?" In 0other words, the issue underlying chapter eight is yes, the believer is free in certain areas. There are decisions that we make in life, categories of life that do not involve a decision of sin versus non-sin or morality versus immorality, but it calls upon an interplay of wisdom and an application of the principle related to impersonal love for other believers. So Paul is going to make the case that as an apostle he clearly has the right to be supported by a local congregation. However, because this has created a false issue for some people Paul has chosen to give up that right and to work instead and be self-supporting. But he is going to emphasize the principle of support for the pastoral ministry and the fact that a congregation should financially support the pastor.

In chapter ten he is going to come back and tie this together with idolatry again. He is going to go back to the Old testament, bring in the example that Israel has set in the Old Testament, the problems that came to Israel because of idolatry, and he emphasizes these principles in terms of impersonal love. Then in 10:14 he is going to tie this right back to idolatry and bring in the general principle of doing all things to the glory of God, which is going to be related to loving one another as Christ loved the church.

Then in chapter eleven he seems to make this shift again and he starts talking about head coverings for men and for women. Then he is going to go to the Lord's table. But the problems they were having in the church because the breakdowns in role relationships with men and women was because they didn't understand love, they didn't understand that love still does not negate the role distinctions. And it all creates a problem when they would come together as a body of believers. Rather than serving one another they are more concerned about their own personal pleasure and they are all coming to the Lord's table as if it is an orgy. Once again the basic problem is that they don't have a clue as to what it means to love one another as Christ loved the church. 

Then there is another PERI DE in chapter twelve, verse one. But sandwiched in between chapters twelve and fourteen is probably the most positive statement in all of Scripture on what love is in chapter thirteen, vv. 1-8. There he is going to make key statements as to what love is, and he describes it through various characteristics. Love is a notoriously difficult word to define. (You can describe something but it is much more difficult to define it)

1 Corinthians 8:1 NASB "1 Cor 8:1 "Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge [gnosis]. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies." GNOSIS is simply academic knowledge, and it can relate to knowledge of any subject. It is not the kind of knowledge that has been converted to EPIGNOSIS. The sanctimonious slogan in Corinth was, "We know that we have all knowledge." They were emphasizing this because of what they had been told, but Paul comes in and he just punctures their little balloon of arrogance with the statement: "Knowledge puffs up," or "makes arrogant." The were saying:  "We have all GNOSIS, we don't need to be taught; we are spiritually self-sufficient now." Paul says: "But love edifies." He uses the word PHUSIOI [fusioi] here, that knowledge makes arrogant, and he contrasts that with love, love that edifies, from the Greek verb OIKODOMEO [o)ikodomew] which means to build up, to construct something of strength, something solid. When the believer is built up or edified his soul is strengthened so that he can encounter various circumstances and situations in life and he is able to apply doctrine and handle those situations on the basis of the promises and procedures outlined in the Word of God. So love edifies. But remember, he doesn't specifically relate this to God's love at this point, he is saying that love edifies, and he is talking within the context of human relationships. Knowledge makes arrogant, and what happens when you start getting arrogant people together is that it create divisions. In contrast, when there is EPIGNOSIS in the soul what is built is the character of Jesus Christ as defined and described in Galatians 5:22-23: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." The first fruit of the Spirit is love, and that is what is being developed in the soul. So that character is being developed in the soul as part of that edification through EPIGNOSIS, and then it is worked out in terms of application. Love that is the result of EPIGNOSIS edifies, it builds up other believers. Once again we get into this situation where there is a ministry of one believer to another believer. This is not talking about simply learning doctrine but the mutual encouragement that comes from one believer to another as they function in what is true biblical fellowship. True biblical fellowship is the interaction of one believer with another believer.

1 Corinthians 8:2 NASB "If [1st class condition] anyone supposes[thinks] that he knows anything…" Here he uses the Greek verb DOIKEO [doikew] for thinking, and this is not the function of NOEO [noew], which is NOUS [nouj], related to the noun for mind, it has to do with seen to be, or what appears to be. They have come to this assumption that they have knowledge. They don't really, it is just an appearance, a façade of academic information, not real knowledge. "…he has not yet known as he ought to know." Just academic knowledge alone isn't indicative of anything spiritual.

1 Corinthians 8:3 NASB "but if anyone loves God, he [this one] is known by Him." The contrast is between then person who thinks he knows something and the person who loves God.

1 John 2:3 NASB "By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. [4] The one who says, 'I have come to know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;" They do not have a relationship with truth. That is, in this context that truth would be EPIGNOSIS doctrine. If you claim to have knowledge of God and to have a relationship with Him and you are not applying then you are lying and do not have a relationship with the truth, i.e. in terms of EPIGNOSIS knowledge. [5] "but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of [for] God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him." We grow and mature in our love for God, and love for God is the motivation for impersonal love for other believers. So we have to start by learning doctrine because we can't keep His Word unless we first know His Word. So that is why doctrinal orientation precedes personal love for God. As we learn His Word and then apply His Word then the personal love for God is brought to completion. That motivates us, and by that we can see that we are in Him, we are in fellowship and abiding in Christ.

Paul makes the point slightly differently and says: "If anyone loves God." What we learn from 1 John is that to love God we have to know God, and that is exemplified by keeping His commandments. So when Paul says, "If anyone loves God," these means somebody who has reached a point where he has doctrinal orientation, is applying that doctrine in their life, is keeping His commandments, and that is how you know you love God. You don't know you love God simply because you have certain feelings for Him. Loving God is exemplified in a very objective manner; it is not subjective. The second phrase, "this one is known by Him," is HUPO [u(po] plus AUTOU [a)utou] which emphasizes the source of that knowledge.  

Relationship with God is a two-way road that strengthens and deepens, and that is the process of growth. That is the process Paul is referring to here. In contrast to the person who is just operating on an academic information kick, instead they are applying doctrine so that the person who loves God is known by Him. God hates arrogance, so He is not going to be strengthening His relationship with an arrogant believer. In contrast to this Paul is going to take this principle that he has outlined in verses 1-3, the principle of love versus arrogance, the principle of academic knowledge versus EPIGNOSIS knowledge,  and he is going to apply this to a particular problem that was facing the church in Corinth. That is the problem of eating meat offered to idols.

1 Corinthians 8:4 NASB "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." Paul is going to apply the principle of love for God versus just utilizing an academic principle. As an academic principle as a believer you know that there is nothing significant about an idol, it is not a real god, it is just wood or clay or stone. But yet, Paul is going to bring out the principle that there are others issues at stake here related to the spiritual life of other believers. You may know certain things and yet that knowledge needs to be tempered with an understanding of the weaknesses of other believers.