In yesterday’s post we began listening to Paul’s admonitions concerning Christian liberty, from 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, and his primary operative principle: love is better than liberty. Two of eight reasons were considered. Today, let’s think about two more reasons.
REASON 3: Because love for the brethren is proof of love for God (v. 3) – “But if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.” Why did Paul put that statement here? He was attempting to convince his readers that if they really loved God then they would love others. He was showing that a test of our love for God is how much we are willing to surrender personal liberty for the sake of others.
John, the beloved disciple, could also be called the “apostle of brotherly love” because of the content of his writings. For example, he recorded the words of Jesus saying, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Later, in his first epistle, he penned these words: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death….But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:14, 17, 18), and “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (1 John 4:20).
John taught the same thing as Paul, i.e. that you cannot separate love for God from love for other believers. You cannot say you love God and not love other Christians. The believer who loves God “is known by Him.” This is an interesting phrase. There is good evidence that points to a better translation: “he knows.” This seems to fit the context well and serves as a contrast between the “knowledge” the Corinthians were so proud of and genuine knowledge that is never separated from love. That is, those who flaunt their liberty over love suppose they are the ones who possess real knowledge. Not so, says Paul. He who chooses love over knowledge is he who really knows.
REASON 4: Because we exist for God (vv. 4-6) – Paul writes to them “concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols.” He now gets back to the specific subject at hand. He repeats another of their points to him—“we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one.” Paul agrees, “even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God.” He knows there is only one true God, but fully understands that not all people believe that. Acts 19:26 testifies to this, “you see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all.” Paul knew the Old Testament and, therefore, was familiar with Psalm 115.
“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but they cannot feel; they have feet, but they cannot walk; they cannot make a sound with their throat. Those who make them will become like them, everyone who trusts in them” (Psalm 115:4-8).
Paul acknowledged there were so-called gods, “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” When I first saw this verse I wondered why it was included here, but now see that Paul sought to remind his readers that Christians exist through Christ for God. Do you understand that? Do you believe that? You were created for God and you were recreated for God. That is why you exist.
Paul used this same reasoning when teaching on issues of Christian liberty to the church at Rome. “For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:7-8).” Believers exist for God. In my judgment this is one of the strongest arguments for choosing love above liberty. We exist for God not for ourselves. The “strong” in Corinth needed to understand this and, consequently, to act in love toward their “weaker” brethren.
In the next post we will take a look at two more reasons love is to be preferred above the exercise of liberty.