Ever been called a big, bad meanie for sharing Truth publicly?
Ever been called disruptive, divisive, unkind or unloving for taking a clear, public stand on a culturally controversial issue that’s addressed in detail within the pages of Scripture?
Have you ever been pressured to be silent after speaking up in such a manner?
Have you ever been persecuted for your continued public expression of biblical truth?
Have you ever been pressured or persecuted for making these sorts of public professions by fellow members or even the leadership of a professing Christian church? Perhaps even in your own church?
If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, you’re obviously not alone. Not by a long shot.
Sadly, though, if you’ve answered yes to all of these questions, including the one about being persecuted from within your own church, you’re not anywhere close to alone either.
Far from it.
You are instead a part of a large and growing group of Christians in America who are more and more routinely becoming the targets of pressure, ridicule, and persecution in the name of “love”, “peace”, and “unity”.
Publicly standing for unpopular biblical positions is getting more and more challenging, even (and sometimes especially) in “church” settings.
Falling out of (Biblical) Love
“If Jesus had preached the same message that ministers preach today, He would never have been crucified.” ~ Leonard Ravenhill
“That very church which the world likes best is sure to be that which God abhors.” ~ Charles Haddon Spurgeon
As many churches increasingly follow the secular culture’s lead toward a self-referential, emotion-driven way of life, those who seek to faithfully proclaim and apply the whole, undiluted Gospel in accordance with the Great Commission are finding themselves more frequently and more vigorously persecuted from within the self-identified “body of Christ”.
Of course, the term “persecution” covers a wide spectrum, and while in this context we’re not talking about the most serious forms of persecution imaginable, this is still a serious matter. Obedient Christians being nudged, shoved, or bullied into silence by fellow members in professing Christian churches is something we are seeing more and more as the culture accelerates its slide into darkness, and we’d be well served to note that this is not coincidental.
Those who wish to suppress the public discussion of hard biblical truths are more and more successful in realizing those desires through the use of their feelings as the basis for making such silence the unofficial policy of increasingly Orwellian churches.
The feelings of some are elevated to the ultimate protected status, while the feelings of those who faithfully proclaim the Word are often not even noted, much less afforded the same lofty status. The speech of some is protected while the speech of others is squelched. The positions of some are exalted to near-official church policy, while the positions of others – usually those based on direct, detailed appeal to relevant Scripture in context – are openly persecuted and muzzled into silence.
And if the muzzling doesn’t work, the “troublesome” folks who dare continue to stand clearly on the Word, maintaining their public profession, well…those people are run out of town. Or at least run out of church.
We see this again and again and again, with increasing frequency in the American professing church.
People with secular agendas, philosophies, and idols are more and more freely operating within and dictating the practices of many a professing Christian church in America. They want to see the church of Jesus Christ defined only by a weak, watery, vague, and malleable pseudo-gospel that simply does not directly interact with their most adored secular philosophical constructs and idols. Naturally then, their primary targets within the church are those who most clearly proclaim and apply the truths of Scripture that most grate against those cherished secular philosophies and idols.
We see anti-Christian cause after cause routinely advance within the professing church using the same simple formula: Silence the proclamation of clear biblical truth by appealing to feelings, love, kindness, and unity. Of course, without going to Scripture to define any of these things, they are left carrying any secular definition one might wish to apply, and, almost always, those definitions will be aimed at preventing or “protecting” the feelings of some from the “unloving” truth of Scripture.
This approach strips the Gospel and Great Commission of any meaningful definition and application, since sin cannot be defined or addressed with clarity in public for fear of offending the feelings and secular sensibilities of those who might be convicted by the faithful proclamation and application of the whole, undiluted Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Obviously, this is a tragedy. Just as obviously, it is also quite purposeful and presents God’s faithful with great opportunity to stand for and strive to apply the whole Gospel publicly, by God’s grace and for His glory (see: Romans 8:28).
Lovingly Sharpening our Sword for Good and Proper Use
“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him” ~ John Piper
The hope and goal of this post is to encourage those who have suffered at the hands of those who would shift churches away from Christ’s whole, supernatural Gospel and Great Commission, and more toward some combination of Stuart Smalley and George Orwell.
One way in which Brothers and Sisters in these situations might be encouraged is to be better equipped, so what we’re going to try to do both here and at the Fire Breathing Christian blog is tackle, in detail, some of the most frequently used “biblical arguments” against those who are actively persecuted for being “disruptive”, “divisive”, “unkind” or “unloving” when they take a clear, public stand for the truth of Scripture.
In this installment, we will focus on 1 Corinthians 8.
This chapter is regularly deployed to make the case that position x is something that a person should be willing to set aside for the sake of unity and love.
Position x tends to be subjected to this standard arbitrarily and inconsistently. The same standard of “setting aside a position for the sake of love and unity” tends not to be applied to the views held by those making the demand of silence from others for unity’s sake. Their positions are beyond that.
Frequently, those making this demand for silence in the name of unity are no longer even able to recognize their positions as positions. Their positions simply are reality. They are truth.
This blind devotion to positions no longer even seen as positions makes it very easy for these folks to rationalize and justify almost anything in pursuit of snuffing out the opposing views of others.
This sort of blindness then inspires an “ends justify the means”, LEGO-style, build-what-you-want approach to Scripture. Verses are yanked out of context and used to prop up the favored position of some while at the same time whole passages of detailed, relevant Scripture cited by others are dismissed out of hand, with frequent appeals to the Trump Cards of emotion and personal experience sprinkled along the way.
This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 8, which in this context is well worth covering in its entirety. That’ll make this a little bit longer than the usual post here, but I trust that those interested will persevere and that maybe even, by God’s grace, we will all learn or be reminded of some important and beautiful truths as we take the time to understand what this chapter actually says – and what it does not say – on the subjects of truth, faithfulness, liberty, love and unity.
Also, for those who do persevere, I think you will find an interesting – and surprising – nugget for contemplation near the end of this post.
That said, no skipping ahead!
A Few Pre-Game Points of Clarification:
These thoughts and observations are offered here in the context of addressing certain specific and significant misconceptions relating to the meaning and application of 1 Corinthians 8.
This is not a general commentary on 1 Corinthians 8. The thoughts presented here are not intended to address the chapter in a comprehensive manner. Rather, the goal here is to address the eighth chapter of 1 Corinthians in context with specific aim taken at the commonly used tactic of molding “love” into a weapon to be used in the persecution of faithful believers, often accompanied by reference to this particular portion of Scripture.
Generally, the process of warping biblical love into a weapon of unbiblical persecution goes something like this:
1. A Christian makes a clear, public stand, taking a position on an issue that is both A) addressed in detail in Scripture, and B) hated by the world in general and our culture in particular.
2. The Christian in question is then told that they are unloving for making this stand clearly and publicly. Any appeals to study and weigh the relevant Scriptural basis for their public proclamation(s) are dismissed out of hand. The Christian is then pressured more and more pointedly to abandon the issue and stop speaking publicly on the matter, or suffer the consequences. This persecution of the Christian in question is done in the name of love, peace, and unity.
3. The Christian in question then, compelled by the Spirit and clarity of the Word to remain true in spite of this pressure, is increasingly persecuted. Often, they are required to “recant” of their “unloving” public stand and “convert” to the very position against which they have publicly spoken.
4. If they fail to recant or convert to the position of their persecutors, they are then pressured to leave the church entirely.
This sort of scenario is but one of many ways in which both confused believers and lost unbelievers have been encouraged by our (purposefully) biblically illiterate culture to use and abuse Scripture to serve their own self-centered, emotion-driven desires.
Having recently witnessed this particular formula in action up close and personal myself, I thought it good and right to offer some encouragement and support to Brothers and Sisters who have or will soon experience this sort of persecution from within the professing church.
These observations are all offered in a Spirit of love, first for the Lord, and then for all of those who have been on either side of these sorts of situations. These views are offered respectfully and, as always, with an open invitation to biblical critique and correction.
I pray that this will be helpful to each readers’ pursuit of Christ in every detail as He has lovingly and clearly revealed Himself in His perfect Word, so that we might, by His grace, be increasingly conformed to His matchless, beautiful nature.
With these things understood, on to our examination of…
1 Corinthians 8
“The preacher is not a chef; he’s a waiter. God doesn’t want you to make the meal; He just wants you to deliver it to the table without messing it up. That’s all.” ~ John MacArthur
Verse 1: Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.
Here Paul addresses a specific concern: the treatment of food offered to idols.
He also warns that knowledge (Romans 15:14) we might rightly claim in word, when separated from love, can easily be perverted into a self-serving foundation from which we might act in a manner detrimental to fellow believers. He makes plain that a person’s point of knowledge regarding the spiritual insignificance of eating food sacrificed to idols, when separated from a deeper knowledge rooted in love as reveled by Christ through His Word, will “puff up” that person. (“Love” in this context, it should be noted, is not the vague, fluffy, warm, emotion-driven thing that we tend to think of when we hear the term these days. Love, when it is true, focuses on and is defined by the person of Christ in every detail on every subject as revealed in His perfect Word. It is anything but vague.)
Verses 2 and 3: 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.
Here Paul clarifies that when one is separated from the love of Christ (meaning that they have not yet been transformed by His grace from a Christ-hating rebel into a Christ-loving believer), they are then left with only the appearance of knowledge. This is so because, in their natural born state of hating Christ, they actually, in practice, hate any and all true knowledge, since Christ is the essential, personal foundation of all truth in all subjects at all times and in all places. It is only by His grace and for His purposes that they are given even partial knowledge of anything at all while they persist in their rebellion.
So it is that in these verses Paul reaffirms and reminds us that Christ is the true beginning and source of all knowledge (Proverbs 1:7; Colossians 2:2-3; Psalm 111:10). We must know Him in order to know anything accurately, and our demonstration of any accurate knowledge at all demonstrates that we know enough about Him to be without excuse for rejecting His lordship (see: Romans 1). Even the limited/flawed knowledge of the unbeliever on any subject, insofar as it is accurate knowledge, is completely reliant upon the personal nature of Christ as its foundation.
If it is the height of disrespect to ignore or dismiss a king’s proclamation, how much more so the King of kings? Thus, every dismissal of the centrality of Christ to a subject – any subject – is an expression of personal disdain for and rebellion against His lordship. (This is what makes the dismissal of Christ as the clear, essential core of all knowledge such a serious and destructive offense.)
Paul notes here that any who truly love God have first been known by God in the salvific sense.
Many claim knowledge of Him, and many who claim such understanding also claim to love Him. Yet their lack of desire in practice to adore and strive to learn/keep His commandments (John 14:15) reveals that they do not actually love Him at all. This is because He has never known them in the salvific sense. This is true no matter how loudly they may proclaim otherwise or how many tears of emotion they shed in the process of that proclamation (see: Matthew 7).
Verse 4-6: Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—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.
Here we are drawn back to the specific example of eating food that was offered to idols, and again our focus is brought to a defining attribute of the behavior in question: That “we know” the eating of this food has no “real” power or spiritual impact. In and of itself, the eating of food sacrificed to idols has no actual spiritual significance or consequence.
This detail is vital.
While Paul’s teachings here certainly apply to subjects and situations beyond merely the eating of food sacrificed to idols, the distinctive attribute made plain here must also be present in any subject or situation upon which we would seek to make full application of this passage.
As repeatedly singled out and clarified by Paul, the key attribute of the root or instigating issue here (the eating food sacrificed to idols) is that, in and of itself, mature believers know such behavior to be of no real spiritual consequence, while some less mature believers believe it to be of significant spiritual consequence.
This association is neither accidental nor trivial.
Until and unless Paul clarifies to the contrary, the defining attribute presented here must guide our understanding as to what is being taught. Only by honoring the purposeful context presented by our Lord in this passage can we rightly understand when and where its admonitions apply. The vigorous pursuit of such an understanding is essential, lest we apply standards intended for a certain type of situation inappropriately to subjects or contexts in which the specified criteria has not been met. Such misapplication will grieve the Spirit and cause damage to the body.
The purposeful (and repeated) specificity in this passage with regard to the actual spiritual insignificance of the behavior in question must preclude us from assuming that the passage therefore applies to all things that a believer might say or do in the presence of a less mature believer. This text is clearly focused on addressing approaches to behavior that we know to be of no spiritual significance.
Verse 7: However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.
Here we are lovingly warned that the knowledge that we might have about the actual inconsequential nature of such things as eating food sacrificed to idols can cause us to be arrogant and destructive. When we are aware that a brother holds to a belief, tradition, or superstition that we know to be of a spiritually inconsequential nature, we are not to agitate or provoke them by indulging our “liberty” to do the spiritually insignificant thing that we know they view, inappropriately, to be spiritually significant.
By placing our personal knowledge and liberty in a proper perspective, and refusing to selfishly “flex our freedom” to pursue a particular spiritually insignificant activity, we properly demonstrate self-sacrificial love, patience, and grace. In allowing spiritually insignificant pursuits that we might normally enjoy to be set aside for the sake of another, we demonstrate the very Christ-centered love that “helps to build up” the less mature believer.
That is a beautiful thing!
Verse 8: Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.
Here again, Paul focuses on a specific attribute of the example to which he is attaching his exhortation. This is and has been done with such repetitive specificity up to and including this point that it must be regarded as an essential attribute of this example. Thus, in order for any act or behavior to properly qualify for full subjugation to the specific pronouncements of this passage, it must be a practice that is of no true, objective spiritual consequence. It must be a practice that “We are no worse if we do not” and “no better off if we do.”
To stretch the admonitions of the surrounding verses to apply fully to any behavior that does not meet that purposefully specified (and repeated) criteria is to misappropriate and misapply Scripture.
Verse 9: But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
Again, “take care that this right of yours,” says Paul, in reference with purposeful specificity to a particular right: That which allows us to pursue activities which, in and of themselves, are of no spiritual consequence. This admonition cannot be coherently applied in fullness to all pursuits equally, particularly to those of spiritual consequence.
Verse 10: For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?
“Those of you who have knowledge” of what?
In context, the answer is clear: Knowledge that the activity in question is of no spiritual consequence in and of itself.
By acting in a manner that we know will be wrongly viewed as spiritually consequential in a negative way by weaker believers, we might pressure them to do something that they believe to be wrong (by “following our lead”, so to speak). This might cause the weaker believer to violate their conscience. This means that we could be leading a fellow believer to sin.
Paul is warning here that a self-centered approach in conjunction with a false notion of liberty can inspire us to transform a spiritually insignificant practice into a spiritually destructive one by virtue of our making an inconsequential, insignificant matter more important than the conscience and growth of a weaker believer.
It is important to remember that the revealed nature of the items under consideration here is not accidental or trivial. The behavior at the root of it all, in and of itself, is of no spiritual consequence.
Yet the weaker believer wrongly believes that the behavior is of spiritual consequence.
In these instances, we need to remember that for God’s perfect purposes, a wrong belief has, for the moment, shaped a weaker believer’s conscience. Stronger believers, because they know better where the behavior in question is concerned, ought to show grace and patience to the point of abstaining from that behavior, because it (the behavior) is of no spiritual significance (and therefore poses no objective spiritual danger). This will demonstrate love and grace toward the weaker believer, encouraging them to grow, and that is of paramount spiritual significance.
Positions, practices, and behaviors that are of spiritual consequence do not make it through the qualifying filter that God through Paul has so persistently presented to us here. This is important to keep in mind as we strive to accurately absorb, adore, and faithfully apply the beautiful truth and important lessons of this passage.
Verses 11 and 12: And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
Here the severity of elevating spiritually inconsequential behavior over and above the growth of a weaker believer is powerfully elaborated upon. When Paul uses phrases like “this weak person is destroyed”, “sinning against your brothers”, and “the brother for whom Christ died”, the gravity of elevating spiritually insignificant behavior above the needs of a fellow growing believer should cause us all to prayerfully ponder and strive to more accurately understand and properly apply what is being taught here.
Verse 13: Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
Paul closes with the same specific example on which he began and declares that he will never again eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols – or pursue any similarly spiritually insignificant act – as long as his doing so might cause a brother or sister to stumble. He leads by example in this refusal to elevate any spiritually insignificant pursuit above the well being of a fellow believer. From beginning to end, Paul maintains a focus on several key points, some of which I have no doubt highlighted, underlined, and bold printed to such an extent that you are growing quite fatigued. I appreciate your patience and I trust that you will understand at least the perceived necessity for this.
As I mentioned at the outset, this is in no way intended to be viewed as anything approaching a comprehensive presentation on the eighth chapter of 1 Corinthians. The goal here is to clarify the passage so that certain specific abuses are less effective when employed by those who are trying to justify their persecution of obedient believers in the name of Christian love and unity.
In closing, I’d like to respectfully submit for your consideration the following “takeaway” points:
1. The admonitions contained in this passage, considered as written in detail and in context, cannot be applied to behaviors that are of actual, objective spiritual significance.
The ability of believers to openly communicate often challenging, hard, and hated truths is certainly “of spiritual significance”. Moreover, such expressions are the obligation of the believer. As Martin Luther rightly noted, “You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.”
While the manner in which we communicate is very important, contorting this passage to suppress all clear, detailed, public discussion of unpopular issues addressed in detail in Scripture is, as has been noted, a clear misrepresentation and misapplication of the chapter. As such, for as long as such application of this passage is allowed (or encouraged) to persist, it is a clear and present threat to true body of Christ within the professing church.
Different believers are purposefully gifted in different ways. They are also given different sensibilities, personalities, and dispositions, all perfectly by the Lord so that they might each uniquely fulfill His purposes in and through them. We cannot exalt the personal sensibilities, dispositions, emotions, feelings, and experiences of some as the standard by which others are tested.
2. The clear, detailed testimony of 1 Corinthians 8 and the whole of Scripture in context seems to preclude the “don’t speak clearly in public about certain biblical truths that some find offensive” interpretation of this passage from coherent incorporation into a biblical worldview.
The interpretation that I’m aiming to respectfully convey here, as best I can tell, seems to fit seamlessly with everything else that we see in Scripture. The interpretation advocated by those who are doing the persecuting as described herein does not seem to fit well at all within the “whole counsel of Scripture” in many ways and on many levels, many of which are quite significant and have the potential for bringing great pain and negative impact to faithful believers.
I hope that this has been helpful and I thank you for taking the time to read through and consider these things.
One final note: While the homosexual agenda is probably the “secular perspective” most commonly and openly advanced in recent years using the technique critiqued above, it is not the issue that I most had in mind when I felt compelled to make this post.
There’s no doubt that homosexuality is indeed being advanced across the country in church after church using the “feelings and personal experience over Scripture” approach chronicled here.
Even so, that position and cause of the enemy was not the primary motivation for composing these thoughts and sharing them with fellow Christians.
The biblical position for which I have personally witnessed and experienced the most persecution from within the professing church is not a belief in or defense of the God-ordained, God-defined institutions of marriage and family…it is a belief in and defense of the clear biblical command that Christ be explicitly at the core of children’s education.
That position is so often reviled and has been belittled or dismissed for so long in the professing church that most of us in American evangelicalism don’t even notice. It’s normal for us this way…which is precisely why the enemy is eating up and converting somewhere between 75% and 92% of the young that we voluntarily feed into the system year in and year out with barely a peep out of most pastors in most pulpits.
Actually, most pastors in most pulpits are much more likely to defend the viability of Christ-dismissing, State-controlled children’s “education”…in between sermons bemoaning the obviously cataclysmic consequences of our rebellion against the Lord in this vital area, of course.
Sharing and applying biblical truth clearly and publicly on this subject will frequently inspire the wrath and vengeance of a professing church very much in love with the State-controlled, State-empowering, anti-Christian system to which it feeds its children day after day, month after month, and year after year (an approach to “education” most appreciated and capitalized upon by gay activists, by the way).
It is my hope that this gives us all something to think and pray about…and that those prayerful thoughts will lead to biblical action, by God’s grace and for His glory.
If you’d like to read more along these lines, please head on over to the Fire Breathing Christian site, where everything from theology and education to movies and pop-culture is tackled head on from a Christ-centered and Gospel-fueled perspective.
Thank you for your time and interest in these things!
Soli Deo Gloria,