The Danger of Stumbling Blocks – 1 Corinthians 8:4-13
The sixteenth message in the 1 Corinthians Study.
(Find the other messages from this series here)
We all know the experience of tripping, falling, or at the least stumbling. At the worst we are hurt- break a bone. At best we are embarrassed. People say things like, walk much?
We try to remove anything that would cause someone to fall. When a floor is slippery we try to dry it up, or at least give people warning. When the new foyer entrance was built there was a slight lip where the concrete stuck up from the asphalt. We knew that would have to be fixed, it was just going to be a place where people constantly tripped, so we placed some cones out and called the asphalt company to come and smooth out the transition.
In this passage, Paul calls the Corinthians to smooth out a place that is causing people in their church to trip.
It’s not a threshold or sidewalk at the entrance of their building- they didn’t have one. It wasn’t a physical stumblingblock, rather it was a figurative one that was causing new believers to trip in their walk with Jesus and causing unbelievers to misunderstand the nature of the gospel.
My hope this morning is that upon studying this passage we’ll consider how we live our lives and the impact it has on unbelievers and new believers.
I can think of no better example of how bias influences perspective than sports. If you watch a ballgame with people who are cheering for different teams, it’s amazing that they can both be thoroughly convinced that the referees are crooked or favoring the other team.
Instant replay has made it possible for us to see the play from multiple different angles in slow motion, but yet even when there is a review of a call, there is room for interpretation. We have more capability to determine the reality of a play than ever before and yet we have more controversy about the call of ballgames than ever before.
When Paul tackles the next issue on his list, he deals not only in reality but also in perspectives. Paul knew what was true and real, but he also appreciated what other people saw, experienced, and wrestled with.
In verse 4 we believe Paul quotes another of the Corinthians’ statement back to them-
We know that “an idol is nothing in the world”
and that “there is none other God but one.”
Paul agrees with this statement, it’s an important theological concept.
- Idols have no substance or power in reality.
Christians do not believe that we worship the most powerful God, we believe that we worship the one and only God. There are no creatures, sprits, beings, on the same playing field as God. To call any other being or spiritual presence a god is in appropriate. We do believe there are angels and demons, we believe that there is a personification of evil in the devil, but none of them are gods.
God has no contemporaries.
God has no colleagues.
There is none like Him.
There is no other name by which we can be saved.
Now it’s important to notice, that Paul had absolutely no difficulty in saying there is only one God but then makes reference to the Father and the Son in the very next sentence.
Look at verse
6But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
Paul also makes reference to the Spirit in the previous chapter. We believe in one God who is a Trinity. He is one God, but He is also God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
This is what we believe but that doesn’t mean that we understand it. In the same way that we believe in God yet still wrestle with the idea of God being one and yet in 3 persons, Paul points out that there are those who do not have the knowledge that we have.
While idols have existence in reality, they have a significant presence in the minds of many unbelievers and new believers.
- Idols have a significant presence in the minds of some unbelievers and new believers.
Paul says in verse 7:
7Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
“For some with the conscience of the idol” – the idea of this phrase is that their thinking is still affected by and shaped by their past dedication to idols. Paul is saying, to some of you believers in the church, the idol is just a silly statue. You look at it and just shake your head. You look at it and say, wow, how silly. How could anyone believe in that!? So to you, because the idol is just a silly statue with no meaning, to you it is no big deal to eat the meat of animals offered to this non-existent God.
However, not everyone has the knowledge that you do. Some, even some of those that have come to the gospel, they do not see the idol as a statue- they see it as a powerful part of their past. Even some who now recognize that there is only one God, some of them were dedicated followers of the many false gods and idols that were worshipped in the Corinth. Some of the people that gathered with the church in Corinth had been participating in the religious practices at those temples. They had attended there, made sacrifices to those idols. They had tried to appease those idols and walked out never knowing if they had done enough.
Some had participated in the prostitution that was promoted in those temples. They were told that the sex act would draw them closer to divinity and further into the spirit world and they had left feeling dirty, cheap, and guilty. They had given so much of themselves to those places and they were so thankful and grateful to find that true God loved them in spite of all that- they were grateful to find a God that gave them peace, that didn’t leave them feeling cheap and guilty but rather they felt valued, loved, and forgiven.
But now, as they struggled in their early Christian life, they were being invited back to those temples to eat meat with their Christian brothers and sisters because the meat was cheap… You see, after they would offer animals up for sacrifice, the temples would make more money off of selling the animals, or cooking them up and serving them to anyone willing to buy. Because it had been donated as a sacrifice, they had no cost in it so they could sell it cheaper than someone running a restaurant or butcher shop could.
So here, these new believers who had been freed from the spiritual bondage of the temples were now having to turn down invitation to go back there or watching their Christian brothers and sisters buy this meat and carry it home to serve.
Paul says, this is no big deal to some of us, but to others it’s major. The Corinthians were debating this issue, but it wasn’t just a matter of logic. It wasn’t just a matter of understanding.
It was an emotional issue.
It’s hard to be rational and emotional at the same time. The Corinthians who didn’t see it as a major issue couldn’t understand why it was such an emotional issue, because to them it was no big deal so they were attempting to appeal logically to their fellow Christians, however the new believers, those saved out of that lifestyle couldn’t view it in those terms.
Emotion doesn’t change reality, but it should alter our reaction.
Paul wasn’t trying to convince the Corinthians that idol did hold some magical powers or that the meat had been tainted or blessed- That wasn’t the issue. Their actions toward their brothers and sisters in Christ and the unbelievers of their city was the issue.
All of this was creating what Paul called a stumbling block. In other words it was an issue that was going to make it difficult for others to come to Christ or walk with Christ. They were going to trip over this, they might fall into sin because this issue was something they were tripping over. Now at the beginning of the book in Chapter 1 Paul said we preach Christ crucified which is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to the greeks.
Paul wasn’t saying that they should remove anything that was difficult to understand or accept because he preached a message that was a stumbling block itself, what Paul is saying is that the gospel is an offense of itself, but we shouldn’t be throwing up other unnecessary stumbling blocks and creating offense over non-essentials.
The gospel of Jesus dying on the cross is necessary.
Getting meat from the temple of a false God is not.
The stumbling block of the gospel leads to life.
The stumbling block of the meat offered to idols was leading to destruction.
In February of 1996 three people drove around the area of Tampa pulling pranks. One of the pranks was pulling up road signs, including a stop sign. The next day 3 teenagers were headed home after bowling and they happened on an intersection with no stop sign. They assumed that the opposing traffic had to stop and sailed through the intersection. They were crushed by a semi truck and they all lost their lives. The removal of the stop sign seemed like no big deal to the 3 that were pulling pranks to them it was silliness. The removal of the stop sign put 3 teenagers in harms way. The 3 that pulled the pranks were convicted of manslaughter.
Today we don’t have idols and temples dedicated to prostitution. But we have many other false gods that lead people to ruin and destruction. Here at Faith we ask members to take a hard line stance against alcohol because we know that it is path of destruction for many. We conduct our lives in a way that will lead new believers and unbelievers toward life.
Back in the 90s Clay Shiver was top rated lineman for the Florida State Seminoles. Shiver received word that Playboy magazine had chosen to list him on their all american team. It was an honor that most player would have loved. Any notoriety that a college player can get increases his changes at a professional career and endorsement deals. However, Shiver said no thanks. When asked why he said I’m a Christian. They said, it’s not like playboy ask you to pose nude. You weren’t doing anything wrong. He said, I wouldn’t want any of my buddies to pick up a copy of that magazine to see the article about me.
Now I want to close with this challenge.
Look at verses 10-12 again.
Paul says, listen if you participate in this you are going to wreck the walk of another Christian.
AND a sin against them is a sin against Christ.
Read that again in verse 12.
12But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
You not only have an obligation to Christ,
You also have an obligation to your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Let me put the rubber to road here. For some of you, you could miss a week of church here and there and I wouldn’t worry that you were fading from your relationship with Christ. But there are some here that are walking a fine line in their faith and they need more time with believers, not less. There are some that if they miss a Sunday, I’m very concerned about….
In a culture where it’s no big deal to forsake the gathering of the believers, we do damage to the young Christian. They are influenced by your example. Think about the example that you are setting for them… Now many of you are just returning from or about to leave for vacation, I don’t begrudge you at all for taking a time away with your family. I plan to do the same thing in September. However, we are coming to a place in our culture where dedicated Christians miss on a regular basis because they schedule multiple trips per year on weekends, etc.
If committed and dedicated Christians are only at church 2-3 Sundays per month, the people who are new in their faith aren’t going to be more faithful than that…
It’s been awkward when people that you’ve invited to church show up and you’re not here cause “you’ve had a lot going on this week.”
Now attendance is just one example-but what I hope is that…
When it comes to your Christian conduct, consider what will honor Christ and help your fellow believer.
Paul makes it clear that our consideration should not only be what honors Christ- that’s where we should start but we should also consider what will help our fellow believer live for Christ.That is the reason that Paul started this chapter with a talk about love being greater than knowledge and pride.
Paul is basically saying, this isn’t about you.