Idolatry and Demonism; 1 Corinthians 8:4
What are doubtful things? Doubtful things relate to decisions that we have to make in life: whether or not to participate in certain things, whether or not to enjoy certain things that do not involve a specifically moral, immoral or sinful choice. There are many things in life that are good; other things are better. Many times as we mature in the Christian we will discover that the decision we have to make may not necessarily involve a choice between that which is sinful or immoral and that which is good. Unfortunately there is a tendency of the sin nature in some people and some personalities to always want to cast everything within the framework of that which is good and that which is evil. Therefore they want to assign every decision, everything that we participate in in life to either the category of sin or the category of good. But the Bible clearly recognizes that there are many things in life, many decisions that we make in life, that don't necessarily involve a choice between that which is sinful and that which is not. We have cultures that have created various cultural taboos. There are religious taboos but there are also cultural taboos that prohibit certain practices, or certain practices are looked down upon, and they may or may no have anything to do with religious things.
We have to recognize that there are certain practices that we all are involved in that are in one sense morally neutral. Yet, there are times when we have to decide whether or not we are going to be involved in these things. The principle we are going to see right at the beginning is the principle of the law of love. In 1 Corinthians 8:1 NASB "Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies." Here Paul lays the groundwork as to the basic problem in Corinth which was that you always have the young believer or the arrogant believer who knows that something is okay, and that there is no problem associated with it. he has a certain academic knowledge but he in his arrogance is just going to go ahead and assert his right to that as opposed to recognizing that there are some times when we exercise our freedom that may have a negative impact on those around us. So that brings in the overriding principle of the law of love.
What is the law of love? The law of love is a spiritual law based on consideration for others. We can take that and expand it in a number of different directions. That is a principle that under girds the whole concept of etiquette. Etiquette is something that is more of an establishment principle, that it is for believer and unbeliever, and the reason there are rules of etiquette is that it is a recognition that people are basically sinful, selfish, self-absorbed. Rules of etiquette have been devised in all cultures in order that people who are basically selfish and self-absorbed can get along with one another in a civil manner. In the Christian realm we have the law of love that we are to consider others, especially immature believers, in that which might be harmful to the immature believer. It is an application of the principle of John 13:33, 34 that the believer is to love one another, i.e. other believers, just as Christ loved us. So that becomes the standard. There were times when the Lord modified what he did in light of certain people who were around Him, usually those who were growing and positive to His teaching, and at others times He just sort of rubbed somebody's nose in something, and that was when He was dealing with legalists like Pharisees. So one of the things we will see is that there is a distinction at times—and you have to have maturity to understand the distinctions—when you go ahead and assert your freedom in the face of legalistic opposition, and at other times when you are willing to adapt and willing to limit your freedom because of a positive impact on other believers.
So what we are dealing with here is a realm of flexibility, and unfortunately there are some people who are just too rigid in their thinking and they can't understand that in one particular instance it may be okay to do something and six hours later it is not okay to do it, and that you have to evaluate your surroundings, evaluate the people around you, and make a decision based on certain other manifestations, primarily the law of love.
So Paul introduces the law of love and he contrasts it with knowledge. The knowledge contrasted to here is not EPIGNOSIS but GNOSIS. As believers we know truth because God has revealed it to us. The question as to how we know truth is so important. How we answer it really underlies every issue in life. How do you know what is right and what is wrong? What is the right thing to do and what is the wrong thing to do? In human viewpoint there have been three solutions developed as to how you know truth. The first is known technically as rationalism. In rationalism the emphasis is on human thought and reason, and that ultimately we start with our own thinking, and it is developed through rigorous use of reason and logic. The second system is known as empiricism. Empiricism emphasises experience: that we learn through sense knowledge. It is what we see, what we taste, what we touch, what we feel, what we learn as the scientific method, how we observe certain things and draw conclusions from them, and that too functions on the basic method, the modus operandi of reason and logic. The third human viewpoint system is mysticism which is a reaction to rationalism and empiricism. Mysticism is always a reaction in history to the bankruptcy of human reason and human experience, both of which can only get us so far. All of these systems operate on faith, but the object of faith is human ability to accurately interpret the data, whether it is the data of thought or the data supplied by empiricism, or data derived from mysticism. Mysticism is based on intuition, sort of "I know it's true, it's just common sense." You just "know' it is true, you haven't thought it through, it is not necessarily something you could go out and prove empirically, it is just "I know it is true." This is true in many religious contexts where people just have some emotional experience and they think it is God. They just jump to that conclusion. It seems so real, so obvious that that is what it was.
As Christians we think that the foundation of knowledge is in revelation, God speaking to man. Revelation is the key. God speaks, and He speaks in such a way that we can clearly understand what He has communication; He speaks to be understood. The authority comes from God the Holy Spirit who authenticates the Word as it is being taught and as it was revealed, and revelation is understood through reason and logic but that reason and logic is built on the presupposition of revelation, whereas reason and logic and rationalism and empiricism operate in an independent way from God's revelation. So God reveals so that man can know truth.
Truth comes in two forms, as it were, and this is indicate by the Greek words GNOSIS [gnwsij] and EPIGNOSIS [e)pignwsij]. GNOSIS has a range of meanings, but in a context where you are drawing some contrasts it has to do with just raw information and knowledge, academic truth; it doesn't have to do with a full knowledge, an experiential understanding of knowledge which is emphasized by the word EPIGNOSIS.
So how, then, do we go through the process of learning the Word? We call this the grace learning spiral. As the Word talks about the mentality of the soul it uses the Greek word NOUS [nouj] which means the mind, the thinking part of the soul. Inside the mind there is an area called the KARDIA [kardia] or the heart. This is not used in a metaphor that is related to the biological pump inside the chest but it has to do with the way we use the word "heart" all the time. We talk about the heart of the matter, etc. It refers to that which is at the core, the centre of something. So the KARDIA has to do with that thinking part of the soul where your core beliefs, core value systems, the core norms and standards of the soul are stored. In learning Bible doctrine the pastor-teacher is going to communicate spiritual truth. As we have seen in 1 Corinthians chapter two the natural, unsaved man cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God. So they are going to be learned through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells every single believer, He makes doctrine understandable. But we have to exercise our volition in order to understand that doctrine, the Holy Spirit doesn't understand it for us. We have to think about it, what the Old Testament calls meditation. It is a matter of reflecting on the things we are taught, looking at the Scriptures. We exercise our volition to think about it and understand it, and that is when it becomes GNOSIS. We have to understand something before we can know it or before we can believe it. Once it becomes GNOSIS then we have a decision as to whether or not we are going to believe it or not: we are going to trust it, this is God's Word, He has spoken it, this is reality, and at that point we believe it, God the Holy Spirit transfers it into our KARDIA as EPIGNOSIS. This is usable doctrine. You have a choice then as to whether you are going to use it in one way or whether you are going to sit on the couch, watch TV and use it in another way. That is where volition comes in again in terms of application. Just because you have EPIGNOSIS doctrine in the soul doesn't mean you are going to apply it. Application comes only under the Holy Spirit and, once again, you have to exercise your volition in order to apply it. That involves principles such as the law of love.
So knowledge isn't abstract knowledge in the Greek sense.
The emphasis in the first three verses of chapter eight is that as we come to know God then God knows us, and that reminds us that this is Paul's way of talking about that reciprocal relationship that we have with God. So these three verses set up the context of love and EPIGNOSIS versus just academic knowledge. Then he is going to start tackling the question of doubtful things in Corinth.
We need to understand some things about the background in Corinth.
1) First of all, it is a culture that is steeped in idolatry. This was true of all the ancient world, and the whole broader context of both the Old and New Testament is that the believers operated in a culture that was steeped in other religious systems.
2) Nearly everyone you dealt with in business or socially thought in ways influenced by Greek philosophy and Greek religion. It was inescapable. Everywhere you went you were operating in the context of a false religious system as a believer. Just as it was true then it is true today. Whether we are watching television, whether we are reading a magazine, art, films that we see, Christians are bombarded left and right with paganism. Art, whether it is a physical art, a performance art, whatever it is, is an expression of the thinking of the artist. Whatever it is it is going to reflect the thinking of whoever it is that is producing it. It is going to say something, especially if that artist is a thinking person. It is going to say something about their views and thinking about reality. Therefore whenever we are going to be inevitably hit with ideas that are just plain human viewpoint. You can't escape that. And it wasn't any different in the time of Christ. So the big question is: How do you handle this? Basically there are three responses that have come down through history. The first is isolation and separation, where Christians want to isolate themselves completely and separate themselves completely from any influence whatsoever from the world. It is based on a fear of infection. That is a completely unrealistic view of reality. Unless an idea derives from the Scripture or is based in the Scripture it is human viewpoint. Human viewpoint is not that which is compatible with Scripture. Divine viewpoint is that which comes from Scripture, therefore human viewpoint is that which does not come from Scripture and you can't support it directly from the Scripture. So we can't escape the world, we are in the world. The second approach to solving this problem is total acceptance, the permissive extreme. This situation is typical of many Christians today. What they have done is so compartmentalized their relationship with God. This is one of the things that has happened in modernism and postmodernism. Religion has become something which is personal and subjective, and therefore it is what you have in your own little private life with God on Sunday morning but it really doesn't affect other things in life. This is true of the way most people think today. Their relationship with God is separated from everything else in life so that they never try to relate what they learned from the Bible on Sunday morning to what they do during the rest of their life. For example, the Scripture says a tremendous amount about how you handle money, yet it is amazing how many Christians are operating in debt. The Scriptures make it clear that only a fool borrows money, that it is not wise to borrow money, that when you get over extended on debt that reflects paganism and materialism, the idea that money and the things money can buy can provide happiness and status in life. Then there is the area of politics. It is amazing how many Christians never think about what they learn on Sunday morning in relating the Bible to what they vote for when they go to the polls. All of these are key ingredients that we have to think about in terms of evaluating the world around us. The third way in which people try to solve this problem is in the arena of flexibility, which we will call for the lack of a better term, grace application. This is the biblical position. The believer lives in a pagan culture and he can live in a pagan culture and not be influenced by that pagan culture. This is the concept of Romans 12:2, that we are not going to be conformed to the world, the pagan system that surrounds us, but we are going to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We are going to live in the world but not of the world. This means that the believer can enjoy and appreciate the products of the secular pagan culture around him because he realises that every human being is created in the image of God and part of that imageness of God includes imitating God in creativity. Even an unbeliever can imitate God by being creative in producing art, in science, in technology, in theatre, and even though these may reflect pagan ideas it is still an operation of their imageness of God. So we can appreciate these things without being sucked into the pagan viewpoint that it represents, even though they are suppressing the truth of God in their own soul in negative volition. We can enjoy the creative products of a pagan culture because it reflects the use of their creativity as a creature created in God's image without buying into the worldview that it espouses. That is really what is going on in 1 Corinthians chapter eight. It is because these people are afraid that if you go out to eat with somebody at their house and they offer you meat, and that meat was just sacrificed to an idol that morning at the temple, and that if they eat this meat they are affirming everything that goes along with the fertility religion. Paul's basic thought is that that is ridiculous, but that you have to realize that there are some Christians out there who can't handle that kind of freedom, and that they are going to react.