Bible Study with Jairus – 1 Corinthians 8
Knowing and Experiencing God’s Love
1 Corinthians 8 is about eating the foods offered to idols (vs. 4), but it also discusses the concept of worshiping One God (vs. 6). Some people knew that “idols have no real existence and there is only one God,” and they did not have a problem with eating food sacrificed to idols. But others still lived as if idols were real. They refused to sacrifice to them. People who ate food sacrificed to idols were causing these weaker believers to stumble. Paul called on the believers who possessed this knowledge to be considerate of the believers who didn’t have this knowledge, so as not to make them stumble. Paul said, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (ESV, 1 Corinthians 8:1).
This passage sets a precedent for Christians today as we seek to show more of God’s mercy and love, while also keeping ourselves spiritually clean. We Christians must live in freedom. We must not just know facts about God, but personally know and experience knowing his love.
Clean and unclean
An important concept in the Bible is the distinction between clean and unclean. In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites laws about what foods and practices were clean and unclean:
- clean and unclean foods (Leviticus 11)
- touching dead bodies (Numbers 6)
- childbirth (Leviticus 12)
- leprosy (Leviticus 13-14)
- nocturnal emission (Leviticus 15)
- and so on.
These principles helped the Israelites, especially the Levites who served God, to stay ceremonially clean. Over time, the Israelites continued to add human traditions to God’s law. By the time the Lord Jesus came, they had added many cleansing rituals, including the ritual of washing one’s hands before eating. This law is not recorded in the Old Testament; it is based on human tradition.
On many occasions, Jesus was involved in arguments about what was clean and what was unclean.
- One time, a Pharisee was surprised to see that Jesus didn’t wash his hands before eating. The Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” (Luke 11: 39)
- On another occasion, the Pharisees were puzzled that the Lord ate with the unclean people such as the tax collectors and prostitutes (Mark 2:16). But the Lord Jesus rebuked them, saying, “The tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” (Matthew 21:31).
- On yet another occasion, Jesus was eating with a Pharisee when a woman came in and anointed His feet with perfume. The Pharisee thought, “If Jesus was a prophet, He should know that this woman is a sinner.” But the Lord Jesus said, “Whoever has been forgiven much, loves much.” Jesus forgave the women’s sins and praised her for her faith (Luke 7:36-50).
- Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. In this story, both the Levite and the priest were afraid of being made unclean by the man who was wounded by the robbers, so they did not rescue him. But the Good Samaritan helped him (Luke 10:25-37).
- There are many more such stories that illustrate the same point of conflict.
On the surface, it appears that Jesus violated the laws of clean and unclean. He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, touched the leper, didn’t wash his hands before eating, helped the wounded and unclean, and healed the sick and cast out demons on the Sabbath. But in reality, Jesus was demonstrating His merciful and loving character in these situations. In other words, keeping oneself clean is important, but failing to love others in order to keep oneself clean goes completely against God’s merciful character.
The same thing happens to many Christians today. Some believers don’t dare come in contact with sinners for fear of getting themselves dirty; others boldly advocate coming into contact with sinners, or even committing sin with them. These believers claim that they are doing this to “become all things to all people,” just like Paul did. Controversies like this are also common in the church.
This conflict can be seen in the way homosexuality is treated in the church. Conservative believers say that homosexuality is a sin, and homosexuality cannot be tolerated in the church. Liberals say that since God is love and we are called to love everyone, therefore the church must accept homosexuals and allow them to become pastors. On the surface, the argument is about whether homosexuality should be condoned, but deeper down, people are wondering how to keep themselves clean while also showing God’s love.
The other extreme in the Corinthian church
But there is another extreme in the Corinthian church. Some people not only ate food offered to idols, but also ate in the temples of idols (1 Corinthians 8:10). Their behavior made weak brothers stumble. Paul called this behavior “sinning against Christ” (1 Corinthians 8:12).
Let’s go back to the question about homosexuality in American Christianity. An American evangelist criticized some conservative believers who were opposed to homosexuality, saying that many of them lived in legalism and religiosity. Perhaps homosexuality was the only sin they had not personally committed; thus they found it easy to attack homosexuality while condoning their own sin. This evangelist did not believe the church should accept homosexuality, but he wanted to remind the church to show love for sinners. He noticed a phenomenon. When many Christians oppose a certain sin, it gives the impression that they do not love the sinner either. If this evangelist is right, many believers are committing the same mistake the Pharisees did. They neglect to love sinners because they are too focused on keeping the church clean.
On the contrary, other extremely liberal Christians make the same mistake that some of the Corinthians did. They allow homosexuals to be members of their church or even become pastors. Perhaps they intend to love all sinners, including homosexuals. But their actions will tempt weaker believers to assume that the church accepts homosexuality. They will misunderstand God’s rules and begin to accept sinful things.
Knowledge of “One God”
Although many people who support the church’s acceptance of homosexuality may be unsaved false believers, many of them are true Christians. There are a lot of real, liberal Christians who genuinely believe that all people should be accepted. But I think the teachings they propagate are teachings of the demons, rather than the true knowledge of God. We need to have a true knowledge of God. This knowledge enables us to know God’s character, revealed in his law.
The purpose of laws is to provide us with boundaries and prevent us from overstepping them. For example, the outward law teaches us that if we kill someone, we are breaking his law. In addition to outward law, God also utilized prophets in the Old Testament to provide specific leading for specific situations. Today, God provides inner leading to guide us in specific circumstances. In the New Testament, God’s law is internalized as the law of the Spirit of our life (Romans 8:2). It guides us from the inside.
We are no longer merely bound by the outward law. Instead, the Holy Spirit leads us internally, helps us obey the law of the Spirit of life that abides in us, and gives us specific and circumstantial guidance in each unique situation. 1 John 2:27 says, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.”
The function of the law is like the yellow line on the side of the highway in the United States. If you cross this yellow line, you will feel a bump. If you are not careful, you may drive off the road or even fall into a ditch. I heard about a couple who were driving at night, got sleepy, drove over the yellow line, and unfortunately died. This story reminds us that it is very important not to cross the line when driving.
Likewise, keeping God’s law is very important for Christians. On the other hand, imagine that your car broke down on the highway. You pulled over to the shoulder and started flagging down other cars, asking for help. How would you feel if a driver shouted, “I can’t drive over the yellow line!” and just drove away? You would feel dumbfounded.
Many Christians use the same logic when interacting with struggling fellow believers. The Pharisees condemned the Lord Jesus for eating with tax collectors and prostitutes. Jesus replied, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17). Today, many churches are so separated from the world that they have become “ivory towers.” They teach believers not to participate in politics so as not to cause divisions. They don’t realize that the mission of the church is to be active in worldly affairs and be light and salt in this chaotic world, rather than worrying about whether they are “divided” or “tainted with political filth.” Teaching believers not to get involved in politics is the teaching of the devil, not the true knowledge of God. If God wanted His chosen people not to participate in politics, He would not have appointed David as king of Israel. He would have let Saul keep ruling as the king, or allowed God’s enemies to continue suppressing the Israelites. Yet David not only served as the king of Israel, but also fought many battles. The enemy has distorted the Lord Jesus’ teaching about “rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Luke 20:25) in order to drive Christians out of the political arena. Many Christians have accepted and propagated these demonic teachings.
We must recognize what is and what is not true about God. Paul said, “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (1 Corinthians 8:6). There is only one God. Idols have no real existence (1 Corinthians 8:4).
Before we were born, we were immersed in water. We were in the water, and the water was in our lungs. Now, we are immersed in air, and the air is inside us. Similarly, we are in Christ, and Christ is in us. Everything in this world was created in and through Christ; without Christ, we have no life (1 John 5:12). Many people live in Christ’s created world, but they are not spiritually in Christ, much less have Christ inside of them. They do not have the true knowledge of God. Those who have true knowledge of God must live in Christ and let Christ live in them. When we lack such knowledge, we will mistakenly treat the teachings of demons as the knowledge of God. Even true Christians may be deceived by the teachings of demons if their knowledge and experience of abiding in Christ are shallow. We must abide in the Lord and allow Him and His words to abide in us (1 John 3:24, John 15:7).
Everything we do must be in Christ. We must be guided by Christ and by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. This is the true meaning of knowing God.
The elevation of knowledge to love
Paul not only taught believers to know about God, but also to know God’s love personally and experientially. Paul said, “Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. (1 Corinthians 8:1-3).”
In Jesus’ parable in Luke 15, the elder son thought he knew God. He knew all of God’s rules and requirements and strictly obeyed them. But after the prodigal son returned home, the elder son got angry. This showed that the elder son didn’t truly know and live out God’s love.
Let’s look at another example. Imagine a couple that has two sons. From an early age, the parents taught their sons not to play in the street, or they might get killed by a car. The elder son strictly obeyed his parents’ rules and never went into the street to play. One day, the younger son broke the rules and played in the street. Seeing a car coming, the parents risked their lives to grab their son and pull him out of the way. The elder son became angry. “You are hypocrites!” he shouted. “You don’t obey your own rules! Why did you run into the street?”
The older son had only head knowledge. He did not truly understand his parents’ loving motives for their rules. He did not care whether his brother survived or not.
This unlikely story reminds us of situations that happen all the time in church history. Many times, we don’t care whether others spiritually live or not. We only care about having our ego stroked. We care more about being respected and promoting our own ideas and fleshly desires than about saving others’ lives.
Rather than just knowing about God, we must know and experience his love. He wants to know us, as well. “If anyone loves God, he is known by God.” (1 Corinthians 8:3). And if we love God, we will surely love our brother, because “whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” (1 John 2:9).
Christians should grow spiritually and be free from legalistic religion
Today’s church is facing two dangers. One is the spirit of rebellion, which comes from the outside world. When we rebel, we refuse to know anything about God at all.
The other danger is the spirit of legalism and empty religiosity. This spirit claims to know God but distorts his true character. We must not only know about God, but also know and experience his love personally. We must elevate our knowledge of God to a personal knowledge of his love.
I completed my doctoral program with the Randy Clark Scholars program, a joint program by Randy Clark and the United Theological Seminary. Randy Clark took part in the Toronto Blessing, so I had the opportunity to read a lot about this event. One of the accomplishments of the Toronto Blessing was to promote the teaching about the “Father’s Love.”
Jack Frost is one proponent of this teaching. He used to be a fishing captain and later became a pastor. He was strict with his children and always focused on winning. Since he had never experienced a father’s love since childhood, he didn’t know how to demonstrate fatherly love to his children. During the Toronto Blessing, he experienced the Father’s love. He asked his children for forgiveness and began to care for them with a father’s love. He often testified and shared his experiences in the meetings.
Many who attended the Toronto Blessing meetings were pastors. Because of their lack of knowledge of God’s love, they were all living like the elder son in the parable. Since they always worked for God instead of resting in His love, they were burned out. At the meeting, these pastors were revived through their experience of God’s love. They spread this revival to all parts of the world. After Heidi Baker and her husband were revived, they planted more than 10,000 churches in Mozambique, Africa.
What is God’s love? How do we know God’s love? The world does not know God’s love because they do not know and accept Jesus Christ. People in the church don’t know enough about God’s love because they don’t allow His life to grow and expand within them. The Lord Jesus said, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:27).
1 Corinthians 8:6 says, “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” The Word of God gives us knowledge about God, but it is the Spirit of God who makes God’s word real in our lives. Christ is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17) within us, leading us all the way.