Dream word – BALANCE
1 Corinthians 8:13
“Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” NKJV
Meat is murder! And other mad hyperbole
An hyperbole, is a statement which is exaggerated, a statement used to evoke strong feelings and also to make strong impressions. As a figure of speech, it is not necessarily to be taken literally but rather, the outrageous extremity of the statement is there to suddenly halt us in our tracks and make us consider the underlying point, further, deeper and in a much more personal way, than the point could ever make without introduction of the hyperbole. I am of the opinion that our text for tonight, this single verse summary of 1 Corinthians chapter 8, is in fact a Pauline statement of hyperbolic proportions!
My daughter is presently a vegan. Cooking for her, going out with her to eat, does have its challenges. She is not a nasty vegan but conscientious, deliberate and determined. I am an omnivore and will kill to eat if necessary. Despite Morrissey’s declarations, death for food is not death for no reason and it is not murder. Though I would admit, that the death of animals on such a now vast and industrialised scale, is indeed, death without honour, death without respect and subsequently, death without thankfulness. Yet still, it is not murder. When Christians choose to be vegetarian and even vegan, it has been my experience that it has not been done out of a weak conscience but out of resolute and informed decision. Indeed, it was a decision that demanded such committed change of lifestyle and frankly is a decision that exhibits a strength and determination way above my own omnivorous tendencies. Respect! You see, there is a great difference between the strength of informed decision and a weak conscience. 1 Corinthians chapter 8 is not primarily about strength but rather about “weak consciences” residing in weak brethren.
Now you see, taking chapter 8 and verse 13 in particular out of the context of the whole tenor of Scripture is very dangerous and has led to lots of problems. After all, Acts 15:20 gives a clear command from the council of Jerusalem to abstain from meat offered to idols, while Romans 14:1-3, seems to highlight once again the seeming weaker faith of the vegetarian! However, if we allowed these particular texts to be judged by the rest of Scripture, then we would see that a seeming contradiction would not necessarily be so. So, in the same way, we need the whole Scripture to understand this particular verse in 1 Corinthians 8:13.
It would appear that at Corinth, there were those “in the know,” as it were, whose conscience allowed them not only to eat meat, but eat meat offered to idols and not only that, but eat meat offered to idols in the local Heathen temple restaurant to boot! Even if it was on a Sunday, with roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings thrown in for good measure! Other Christians, and this passage relates only to other Christians and their conscience, other Christians who were not in the know, seeing those liberated Christians machinating on the meat, free of a condemning conscience, participating in this abomination as they saw it, were severely offended, nay, so sufficiently aghast were they, that they wrote letters to Paul and signed them, “Yours faithfully, ‘Outraged’ of Tunbridge Wells!”
Now if this “church trouble” was not bad enough, some of those with these weak consciences had tried to follow in the footsteps of those libertarian temple meat eaters and in the so doing, had stumbled! “Such weak conscience stumbling” says Paul, “leads to perishing (physical harm or even death) and the perpetrators of such perishing stumbling, (scandalous entrapment of conscience) are doing nothing short of sinning! So stop it!”
Now here is something for the weak conscience to remember, “Doing those things engaged in by stronger conscience brethren, will not strengthen you, but rather, will lead to stumbling and perishing! In other words, action against conscience does not strengthen conscience but rather diminishes it to stumbling and eventual perishing!” Brethren, the only thing that strengthens conscience is instruction and that particular instruction, which brings revelation into full and personal illumination. It is light that strengthens conscience, not action which runs contrary to conscience’s dictates.
Now, here are five things for the strong conscience folk to remember when erring into the stumbling perishing of others. Yes, there are five things you heathen, idol temple restaurant meat eating Christians must do in the face of all the mail from outraged of Tunbridge Wells! First, you can simply not go to the temple restaurant to eat meat. Secondly, you can go there when the weaker conscience folk are not there! Thirdly, you could set up in business yourself and open your own fully Kosher Kingdom meat restaurant, with additional options for vegetarians, vegans, and fruitarians. Fourthly, and most importantly, in meekness and humility, you could instruct the weak conscience Christians from the Scriptures, that they too might be illuminated and released. Lastly, you could and must, simply love the weak, and may I say that in loving the weak conscience Christians, you will in fact do any of the first three options! However, you must engage in the fourth action of illuminated instruction. This is vital for the health of the whole body.
If we fail in this “instruction of illumination,” then the mad mandate of Paul’s hyperbole will lead to a multitude of silly injunctions. Good grief, if we had to, without illuminated instruction never eat meat again, we would be doing a whole lot less of a whole lot of other things. For in satisfying the weak and uninstructed conscience of other Christians, I might never drink wine again, never wear leather again, never have a TV again, never go to the movies again, never listen to rock music, never read certain books, never wear jeans, never have a beard, never wear makeup, never go out to eat on a Sunday, never go to Halloween parties, never tell jokes, never read anything but the King James version, never pray in tongues, never go to the beach, never swim in public places, never bare my arms, never wear a skirt above my knees, never prophecy, never exercise certain gifts, never… and oh my goodness, the list goes on and on! Indeed, I am sure the mere suggestion of some of those ‘nevers’ will have evoked strong affirmation and repugnance in many of you even! Yes, all right “reigning in” of Scriptural liberty, without the giving of illuminated instruction, will result in wanton wackiness of every kind! You can feel it. Remember that.
Finally may I say, unless it is regarding hypocrisy, the world does not give two hoots what we the church get up to. 1 Corinthians 8 refers to other Christians. Nevertheless, let us remember that liberty is not stupidity and strength will quickly turn to weakness, should we begin to justify such liberty for dabbling in the works of darkness and that list my friends, would be a very long one indeed!
Listen: “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfiled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” Galatians 5:13-15 NKJV.
Pray: Lord, teach me to wisely love. Give me also the wisdom to in my liberty, eschew all works of darkness. Help me always to rescue the perishing and not allow my liberty turn to stupidity and downfall. In Jesus name I pray, amen.
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