Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned lie a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.
Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as in fact 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.
It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
I am so deeply appreciative to the apostle Paul for writing of such daily matters as eating food sacrificed to idols.
Now, I realize these aren’t occurrences in our day to day, but to me that matter’s little, for every time and place is contextual. What matters more than a command or directive about doing or not doing something – is understanding the intention behind the command.
It matters more that we hold to the spirit of the law, than to individual, contextually-bounds rules and regulations found in the law. Jesus often criticized the religious of his day for precisely this – getting all the rules & regulations but missing the entire point of it all. The law is made for us and not us for the law. The law is made to protect and preserve life, and not to squelch or stifle it.
The ancient city of Corinth had chosen Aphrodite and Poseidon as their gods. It was likely baked into the DNA of city life, much as Christianity historically has been in America. Thus you can imagine much social life centering around idol worship and rituals. Animals would be slaughtered in dedication to the deity, much as animals were sacrificed to God in Jewish culture. And like in Jewish culture the priests and people ate of the meat offered to God, so here in Corinth, the dedication would result in a feast and food for the community.
The question then becomes, can followers of Christ partake in the meal?
Those with deeper theological understanding saw no sin in the eating of food offered to idols, simply because they believed idols to be mere fancies of the imagination, mere works of fiction. On the contrary, those without such theological understanding saw partaking in such food and festivities to be wrong and would abstain.
Paul sees no problem in the response of either group – feasting or fasting, partaking or abstaining. What Paul however is very concerned about is that folks act within the bounds of their own conscience. One’s own conscious will vary from one’s neighbors, and that is okay. However, what isn’t okay is violating our conscious. That is sin.
That implies a willingness to disobey what we perceive God to instruct us to do or not do.
That is rebellion.
That is the root of the fall – to do what one believes God has instructed that one NOT to do…
And Paul wishes that none should be lost – spiraling down pathways of self-destruction, believing themselves to have broken God’s law and thus perceiving more and more distance between themselves and our most Holy God.
It is not belief but action that establishes our character.
For it is not belief but action that sets our course.
Usually, in fact, our minds and beliefs follow our actions or inactions…
And so Paul is pleading with those of greater understanding, that they set aside their freedoms for the sake of the weak.
This is most curious, for I would have rather preferred instruction to educate and strengthen the weak… But perhaps Paul wisely knew that the weak shall always be with us (and sometimes will be us). And it is the way of Christ, to lay down oneself for one’s friends.
It is the way of Christ to lay down oneself for one’s friends.
As our churches, our communities, our nation, and our world have become – or perhaps have always been – deeply fractured – we too are given ample opportunity to lay down ourselves, our preferences, our freedoms, our rights, that others might live.
How might God be calling you to do so?
For what these readings from 1 Corinthians teach us is that knowledge matters little in the scheme of things. What truly matters is love – how we behave with one another.
“Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
Knowledge, prophesy, and speaking in tongues all come to an end. All serve a purpose for such a time as this. They guide us for a little while – until we gain greater knowledge, hear a fresh Word of God, or are lifted by the Spirit into the prayers of tomorrow. All these, while good, have their end; they are like instructions left by a teacher, only useful while away from the teacher, but irrelevant once the teacher returns.
Christ is our Teacher, and when we finally come face to face, we may finally be at a loss for words – everything needful already being said.
Knowledge is passing. We build on it, from age to age.
Prophecies come and go, each for their own time.
What lasts – truly lasts – is love.
And love is not an ascent.
Love is not a belief or doctrine.
Love cannot be mandated by rule.
Love does not live with coercion.
Love does not live on the page of a letter
Or the lyrics of sweet songs.
LOVE is an action.
If the greatest of all these attributes is love,
What might WE need to lay down, for Love’s sake?
Is there something Love compels us to abstain from doing?
Is there something Love is compelling us TO do?
In the words of St. Teresa of Avila,
“The important thing is
not to think much
but to love much;
do that which best stirs you