The Corinthian church was comprised primarily of Gentiles who had been brought out of pagan darkness and into the light of GOD’s grace. In this they are like those in Antioch of whom we read, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48) These Gentiles were by their customs and practice, worshippers of many god’s even like those Greeks which Paul confronted at Mars Hill, in Athens.
Yet the grace of GOD was shed abroad upon them, in Corinth, even as the LORD told Paul to declare HIS word among them. “Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” (Act 18:9-11) Thus the LORD delivered them from Pagan bondage, causing them to believe in the LORD JESUS CHRIST.
While there was great evidence of their deliverance from idolatry, yet their past considerations (and ingrained habits) were still very fresh in their minds and many of the weaker brethren still maintained some regard to these Pagan deities, even though it was mixed with doubt of them (i.e.; the deities, which were in fact no deities at all).
Thus Paul exhorts the stronger brethren (those who entertained no weak conscience towards the legitimacy of these “gods”) to abstain from eating meat which was offered to these idols, (in the Pagan ceremonies) not because they did not have liberty to do so or because it was somehow not clean, but because doing so might embolden the weaker brethren to have some continuing level of regard for these false gods. This could lead (as Paul says,) to them being turned back to some reverence for these idols if they misinterpreted the eating of this meat (by the stronger and esteemed brethren) to be a sanction for participating in these heathenish practices.
Thus the whole context of Paul’s description of their “liberty” to eat this meat, is framed around their proper consideration of the benefit of their brethren in their decision to partake of that which could not bring themselves into any condemnation (either internal or external) but might serve to bring internal condemnation to those with a weak conscience as they gave some regard to those “deities” to whom this meat was offered.
Paul said he would rather never eat meat again than to offend one of these little children of GOD who entertained many doubts, superstitions, and fears about such matters. He clearly said that “all things” were lawful for the sons of GOD, and none of them could bring them into condemnation of any kind, yet all things are not “expedient” or “proper”, if it puts a stumbling block in the mind of those brethren who we are to esteem more highly than ourselves. This is an outworking of self-denial by the SPIRIT of GOD in those who have regard unto the way of CHRIST, who, HIMSELF, disregarded HIS own benefit for that of HIS brethren.
The natural tendency of the flesh is to place a great deal of emphasis on knowledge. It is this very predisposition which caused Eve to give ear to the old Deceiver; and Adam to embrace that which he thought would satisfy his curiosity. “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:5)
Our flesh delights in knowledge and we put upon a pedestal those who are great “learned men” and “experts” in the eyes of the world. No one wants to be labeled as “ignorant”, thus we place great emphasis on education. Now lest some should think that I am, here, speaking against education and learning, let me say that such has its proper place and indeed man obtains many benefits thereby, both naturally as he is apprised of those principles of the world and spiritually. as the awakened man is “taught” by the SPIRIT.
One of the main principles which the SPIRIT of GOD would “teach” the sons of GOD, is that they have a very “incomplete” knowledge and that they must never use “knowledge as an occasion to glory in the flesh. Thus Paul reminds the Corinthians, that they know nothing as they “ought to know”. It is this latter point, if taken to heart, that would enable brethren to avoid many disagreements and divisions over various doctrinal points which usually involve differences of perspective rather than actual substance.
Yet I have known of many who insist on splitting hairs over the “correct” way to describe this or that, even to the point of breaking fellowship with one another over “minutiae”. In reality what do any of us truly “know”, when it comes to those things which can only be received by “faith”. Paul confessed that even in matters of great doctrinal importance that we prophesy only “in part.” “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1Cor 13:12)
Many express the notion that great doctrinal understanding is the basis upon which the standing of a man, in the faith, can be determined. Yet the scripture sets forth a completely different basis than the flesh is ready to admit to. “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34-35) “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” (1John 3:14)
Thus Paul exhorts these Corinthian believers not to be “puffed up” with knowledge, regardless of its level. All of GOD’s people are taught by the SPIRIT to the degree which HE is pleased to impart that knowledge to them. (see Rom. 12:3) Yet the very greatest among those who are taught by HIM must acknowledge that he (or she) is but a servant of the body, if he “knows” what he knows. “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Mat 23:11) While this is primarily speaking of CHRIST, we are nonetheless, exhorted to “follow HIS steps.” (I Pet.2:21)
It is possible to be unbending and unbent in a pursuit of the truth which is found in the scriptures, and to stand firmly upon principles and doctrines which are discovered in its pages, without being enamored by one’s understanding to the point that all who might disagree with us are cast away as unbelievers and heretics.
If we know anything at all which is absolutely true, it must be taught to us by the SPIRIT, and if we are taught such things we must absolutely declare such things. Yet to do so in the spirit of pride is to demonstrate how little we actually know about those things which the SPIRIT imparts to those HE is pleased to conform to the image of CHRIST.
Thus Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians is not for them to boast in their superior knowledge of their freedom in CHRIST to eat meat or ingest any substance, but rather to consider how their use of these things might impact their brethren whom they are taught to love even above their own selves. To love and serve the saints of GOD is to demonstrate that we know what we know, and to insist on our right to do as we please is to demonstrate our ignorance of the teaching of the SPIRIT regardless of how much of the letter of truth we might declare. “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Php 2:3) What is it that you know?mam