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The Great Divorce—Separating “Truth From Love” (1 Cor. 8:1-13)

Introduction

Years ago, there was a television program which gave contestants the chance to identify an object. The hitch was that these objects were not seen from a normal perspective, but from a microscopic or very close up view. It could be a sponge or a flower or something else, but because it was so close up, it was very difficult to identify. I had great difficulty “seeing” our text for the same reason: I was looking at it too closely. To understand 1 Corinthians 8, we need to back off and seek to understand Paul’s teaching here from a broader perspective. Several observations, made from a distance, should contribute greatly to our understanding of this text:

(1) Meat offered to idols is specifically prohibited for Gentile saints, which must certainly include the saints at Corinth.

28 “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell” (Acts 15:28-29).

20 And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; 21 and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. 22 “What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 “Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses in order that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. 25 “But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication” (Acts 21:20-25).

Some Jews wanted to impose many rules and regulations on the Gentile converts, but the Jerusalem council determined that only four requirements would be made. One of these was a prohibition against eating meat offered to idols.94 Eating meat offered to idols is not a Christian liberty.

(2) While Paul initially appears to grant the premise that eating meat offered to idols is a matter of liberty in chapter 8, this same permissiveness is not found at the end of Paul’s argument on the subject.

14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say. 16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? 19 What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we? (1 Corinthians 10:14-22).

(3) Paul’s approach to correcting error in 1 Corinthians is to grant his opponents some slack at the beginning of his argument, only to show they are wrong by the time he concludes. This is a most significant point and is the key to understanding much of this epistle. In chapter 7, verse 1, Paul appears to agree with the ascetics, who think that sex is wrong: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” The ascetics seem to have taken this as a global principle, so that Christians were abstaining from sex in marriage, were seeking to abandon their existing marriages, and were instructing those who were single that they could not marry (see 1 Timothy 4:3). As Paul’s argument in chapter 7 develops, he commands married partners not to cease sexual relationships for any extended period of time, he instructs married couples not to leave their marriage partners, and he makes it clear that eligible singles are not sinning if they choose to marry.

In 1 Corinthians 11-14, Paul deals with spirituality, spiritual gifts, and the roles of men and women in the church. Some leap on the fact that Paul mentions women praying and prophesying as a possibility, as though this proves that he condones such practice. What they ignore is that this reference to women praying or prophesying with an uncovered head is found at the beginning of Paul’s argument, and not at the conclusion. By the time Paul reaches the end of chapter 14, we know those who possess certain gifts, or who are prominent in their public participation in the meeting of the church, may not be so spiritual. We find that the most verbal and visible gifts are not of the greatest value, but the unseen gifts. Women are not given permission to lead and to assume visible and verbal ministries in the church meeting, but are to remain silent.

What Paul allows to stand initially in his argument, he may eventually prove to be wrong. This is the case in 1 Corinthians 8-10. In chapter 8, he allows those Corinthians who view themselves as being more spiritual than others to retain this false notion momentarily. But by the end of chapter 10, those who think they have the liberty to eat meat offered to idols are shown up for what they are. The “weaker brethren” of chapter 8 seem to be the “stronger brethren” in chapter 10. Those supposedly “weaker brethren” who refrained from eating meat offered to idols were not only in compliance with the decree of the Jerusalem Council, but with the teaching of Paul.

The background of our text may be summarized in this way. The question of eating meat offered to idols is not new, but a question which was raised shortly after Gentiles began to come to faith in Christ. The apostles and early church leaders at Jerusalem considered the matter and concluded that Gentile Christians should not eat meat offered to idols, along with avoiding blood, things strangled, and fornication. A group of Corinthian Christians, thinking themselves to be wiser than the apostles, developed a reasoned argument that meats offered to idols could be eaten. They even went so far as to look down on those who refrained from eating idol-meat. These meat-eaters seem to have taken pride in their superior knowledge and spirituality. Paul has some things to say to these stronger brethren. Using their own premises, Paul will show that they have fallen short of true spirituality.

It is this broader perspective of chapter 8 which resolves some of the apparent problems in its interpretation and application, and which makes sense of Paul’s teaching. This text may seriously reverse or revise some of our “convictions” and cause us to look at our liberties in a different light.

The Relationship Between Love and Knowledge
(8:1-3)

1 Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. 2 If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; 3 but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.

Paul sets the stage for his teaching on meats offered to idols in verses 1-3. In these three verses, addressed to those who prided themselves for their higher knowledge and who indulged themselves in the name of liberty, Paul lays down four foundational truths which they need to grasp. If these truths were understood and applied, the error of these libertines would be recognized as such and abandoned.

(1) Christian knowledge is common knowledge, available to all. There was an ancient heresy known as gnosticism which plagued the early church. Gnostics prided themselves in possessing knowledge not known by all. This secret knowledge was not found in Scripture, but outside of biblical revelation, and it was handed down orally to those “in the know.” Paul denies that there is any such knowledge outside of the Scriptures and known by the spiritually elite. He writes, “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge” (1 Corinthians 8:1a). Knowledge is not restricted to the few but is available to all.

In the Book of Proverbs, error and deceptive knowledge is personified by “Madam Folly.” This woman is symbolized by the prostitute, who appeals not to the head but to the hormones; she appeals to fleshly pride and sensual desires. Her appeal is secret and sneaky. She lurks in the dark alleys, and she whispers her offer of illicit knowledge (Proverbs 7:6-27). Truth and wisdom is personified in Proverbs by a gracious and intelligent woman, Dame Wisdom. She publicly proclaims truth to all who will hear and learn, speaking openly in broad daylight and in the most public place (see Proverbs 8:1-21). True knowledge is offered to all, while false wisdom is secretly and seductively presented to the naive.

(2) Even true knowledge, which is wrongly interpreted or applied, can puff up the pride of the knower, while genuine love places others ahead of self and seeks to build them up.95 The “knowledge” which these “stronger” Corinthian brethren possessed was producing the wrong effect. True love is not puffed up with pride, and it does not serve self-interest (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). Knowledge is not opposed to love, but is to be closely associated with it, as we can see in the Scriptures:

And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2).

But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also (2 Corinthians 8:7).

And to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God (Ephesians 3:19).

But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ (Ephesians 4:15).

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment (Philippians 1:9).

That their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself (Colossians 2:2).

But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).

But you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance (2 Timothy 3:10).

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart (1 Peter 1:22).

The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth (2 John 1:1).

Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love (2 John 1:3).

(3) Those who suppose themselves to fully know only reveal their true ignorance (verse 2). Our knowledge in this life is partial, and even that which has been revealed by God is never perfectly grasped (see 1 Corinthians 13:8-13). Those who speak arrogantly of what they know are ignorant and self-deceived, often deceiving others as well (Romans 1:28-32; 2:17-23; Galatians 1:8; Colossians 2:18; 1 Timothy 1:7; 2 Peter 2:17-19). In 1 Corinthians, Paul does not hesitate to tell us when he is speaking the command of the Lord (7:10; 14:37), and neither does he fail to tell us when he is speaking his personal opinions or convictions (7:6, 25, 40). Over-confidence is often an indication of ignorance, while humility is the outgrowth of knowledge.

(4) Christians are not to boast in knowing, but to rejoice in being known by God, and this is the result of loving God (verse 3). When Jesus sent His disciples out to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God, they returned, rejoicing over the mighty works God had accomplished through them. Jesus gently corrected them saying, “… do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Here, Paul tells Christians that they should not rejoice in knowing, but in being known by God. Salvation surpasses any sheepskin (diploma) we will ever obtain. Moreover, the way that we are known by God is not because of our knowledge, but because of the love which God has produced within us for Himself. Once again, love takes priority over knowledge. What a humbling truth Paul has put before these all-knowing, stronger saints. If knowledge was the most important thing of all, and if they knew more than others, than they were the spiritual elite. But they have sought to excel in a category which is subordinate to love.

Transforming Truth into Error
(8:4-6)

4 Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 6 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.

It comes as no surprise to hear that false teaching leads to various kinds of evil. But it is also possible to pervert the truth:

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2).

For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 1:4).

Even Satan sought to use the truth in such a way as to tempt our Lord to do what was evil (Matthew 4:1-11).

In verses 4-6, Paul supplies us with the doctrine—true doctrine—which the “stronger” Corinthians twisted in order to justify eating meat offered to idols. The doctrine which all Christians “know” is that there is but one God. This is one of the foundation stones of the Christian faith. It is emphatically laid down in the early chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy:

6 “‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 7 ‘You shall have no other gods before Me. 8 ‘You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 9 ‘You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 10 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments’” (Deuteronomy 5:6-10).

4 “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! 5 “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 “And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; 7 and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 “And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 “And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

There is but one God. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. He is the One from whom all things come, and for whom all things exist (1 Corinthians 8:6). While there is but one God, He exists in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Here, Paul speaks only of Father and Son as the one true God, but it is clear that while he distinguishes Father and Son, he also considers them as One. The Father is the One from whom all things have come; the Son is the One through whom all things are, and through whom we exist (verse 6). Contrary to the objections of the Jewish religious leaders of our Lord’s day, the deity of our Lord was not a contradiction to the existence and worship of God as the only God.

From this foundational truth concerning God, a truth universally accepted by all Christians, the Corinthians sought to build an argument which rationalized the eating of meats offered to idols, even though this was forbidden by the Jerusalem Council. Heaping inference upon inference, these “wise” and “spiritual” saints justify their self-indulgence. Paul traces their reasoning from the truth of God’s exclusive existence as God to the error of eating meats offered to idols.

If there is but one God (and all Christians know this to be true), then there are no other “gods.” Idols are symbols or representations of these “no-gods.” These “no-gods” exist only in the minds of their heathen worshippers, and not in reality. Thus, since there are no other gods than God, idols really have no meaning or significance—they represent nothing. Idols are something like confederate money—they have nothing to back them up, so they are worthless. If idols are nothing, then the foods offered to them are of no significance either. Meats offered to gods which don’t exist are thereby assumed to have no negative or profane contamination by their use in false worship. If this is so, as some of the Corinthians have reasoned, then meats offered to idols are certainly free of moral contamination, and thus can be eaten without moral qualms. Those who fail to think on this high level are obviously weaker Christians, whose scruples are not to be taken into account. And if these “weaker Christians” follow the example of their “stronger brethren,” then they are so much the better for having done so, even though their consciences are pricked by eating this meat.

Jeremiah said it well: “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9). Through twisted logic and compounded inferences, some Corinthians have turned the truth of God into a lie. They have made orthodox doctrine the basis for their sin. In verses 7-13, Paul will show these “stronger” brethren that they have become puffed up with knowledge, but they have failed to show love for their brothers.

Before we move on to these verses, let us pause for one moment to look back on the truth on which these Corinthians based their practice of eating idol-meat. The truth that there is but one God is emphatically taught in Deuteronomy 6 and 8. But God never intended that men should perform the “great divorce” … separating truth from love. The Corinthians error was based upon a lack of knowledge, not an abundance of knowledge. The Corinthians lacked love, but this love was linked to knowledge and doctrinal teaching. Look once more at what God commanded the Israelites:

4 “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! 5 “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 “And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; 7 and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 “And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 “And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

The truth that God is One, that He is God alone, was taught to the Israelites. It was truth which they desperately needed to know and to practice by shunning every form of idolatrous worship and practice. The truths which God taught the Israelites through Moses were to be on their hearts. In the Bible, the “heart” is not just the seat of the emotions (the “bowels” are more closely identified with emotions), it includes the mind and the will of the individual. The Israelites were not only to know of God’s exclusive existence, they were to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). In their love for God, they were to teach their children to do likewise (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Love and knowledge were not to be divorced; they were to be interwoven. No one knew and taught this more than the Apostle Paul: “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). The “great divorce” which these Corinthians had brought about by their teaching and practice was the separation of love and knowledge. Paul has shown how their “knowledge” has been twisted to excuse and even encourage sin; now he will show them how their “love” is lacking as well.

Lacking in Love
(8:7-13)

7 However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. 8 But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. 9 But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12 And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:7-13).

If the “knowledge” of some Corinthians was defective, so was their love. Having dealt with their “knowledge” in verses 4-6, Paul moves on to show the deficiency of their love in verses 7-13. It may be that these Corinthians prided themselves on their love, as well as their knowledge. Somehow, they were puffed up with pride over the fact that they continued to embrace and support a member who was living in an incestual relationship (chapter 5). Paul will show that their love no more meets God’s standards than does their knowledge.

The Corinthians were using their (defective) knowledge to the detriment of one who appeared to be a weaker brother. Paul will show them that one who loved his brother would surrender any right which would be detrimental to the weaker brother. For the time being, Paul allows some false assumptions to stand unchallenged. He allows the idol-meat eater to think he is more spiritual, and that the one who has scruples over eating such meat is the “weaker brother.” Paul argues, using the theology and assumptions of the allegedly “stronger brother.”

While some saints with superior knowledge seem to have the right to eat idol-meat, there are others who have not come to this same knowledge. How, then, does the one with “knowledge” respond to the one without it? Specifically, what does a man do about eating idol-meat when a “weaker brother” believes it is wrong to eat such meat? This weaker brother cannot so easily disassociate the idol-meat from the idol, or from the heathen worship associated with it, due to his past involvement in such worship. If this brother with his “weaker conscience” were to eat such meat, he would do so without faith, and thus he would sin.

Paul now makes a very important point in verse 8. Meat is really a matter of indifference. Contrary to the thinking of the “stronger brother,” eating such meat doesn’t make him more spiritual. Conversely, if one were not to eat such idol-meat, it would not in any way diminish his standing before God. It is a sort of “Heads, I win; tails, you lose” proposition. I don’t gain anything by eating idol-meat, nor do I lose anything by refusing it. Anyone who makes a big deal of idol-meat has failed to grasp this fact. The writer to the Hebrews has something similar to say on this matter: “Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were thus occupied were not benefited” (Hebrews 13:9).

While neither eating meat nor abstaining from it changes my spiritual status, what I do with this meat can have a great impact on my brother. If something is a true liberty, I can partake of it in good conscience, just as I can abstain from it in good conscience, for I am not doing what I believe to be wrong. But a truly weaker brother does not have the same liberty. He does not see eating this meat as a liberty, but as a sin. If he views me as the stronger brother, then what I do is an example for him to follow. If I am more spiritual by eating idol-meat, then my weaker brother assumes he will be more spiritual for following my example. But since his conscience is not clear with respect to idol-meat, eating of it will be a sin for him.

When I insist on exercising my liberty, in spite of the fact that others do not have this liberty, I am encouraging my “weaker brother” to sin. In verse 10, Paul employs a very well-known term, which is translated “strengthened” in the NASB (“emboldened,” KJV, NIV, Berkeley; “encouraging,” J. B. Phillips). The word is seldom used in this negative sense by Paul, but is most often positively used with the meaning “edified” or “built up.” Eating idol-meat is reverse edification. It builds up or strengthens others, encouraging them to sin. True love, Paul has just said in verse 1 “edifies” (the same root word). Eating idol meat so as to encourage a weaker brother to sin is not walking in love! It is, instead, putting a stumbling block in his path (verse 9).

In verses 11 and 12, Paul shows that eating idol-meat is not only a sin against a brother, it is a sin against our Lord. Here is how Paul’s argument plays out in these verses. Christ died for sinners, to save them from their sin and to sanctify them. Christ’s work on the cross of Calvary was to set men free from their sin, and to present them holy and blameless to the Father. Christ’s work on the sinner’s behalf was for their edification, for their spiritual birth, growth, and maturity. When a thoughtless, self-serving saint insists on eating idol-meat, he knows that his “weaker brother” will be encouraged to follow his example. But in so doing, the weaker brother is not edified; he is caused to stumble. Insisting on my right to eat idol meat may cause a fellow saint to stumble, falling into sin, and in causing this, I find myself working at cross purposes with Christ. I am therefore not only sinning against my weaker brother, I am sinning against my Lord. This is a most serious offense indeed.

In verse 13, Paul sets down a principle which establishes the relationship of love to knowledge and Christian liberties. No liberty should ever be exercised when it acts contrary to love. No liberty of mine should be a spiritual detriment or hindrance to my brother in Christ. If I love my brother, I will gladly forego any liberty which will cause my brother to stumble. If eating meat (any meat, not just meats offered to idols) would cause a weaker brother to stumble, then I should gladly be willing never to eat meat again. No right should be exercised which is contrary to love, and love always seeks to edify.

Conclusion

I would like to suggest that we take a good, long look at these two categories of the “stronger” brother and the “weaker” brother. As I understand chapters 8-10 and Romans 14-15, the stronger brother is the one whose grasp of the Scriptures may free him from unnecessary prohibitions. The stronger brother is quite often the one who understands his Christian liberties. But if the “stronger” brother is to be a spiritual saint, he must also be willing to set aside those liberties. To exercise one’s liberties at the expense of a weaker brother is certainly not spiritual.

The stronger brother is also the one who recognizes those things which are contrary to God’s Word. In the case of meats offered to idols, the stronger brother must be the one who knows they are forbidden, and who therefore abstains from eating them. The “weaker brother” would be the one who concluded that eating idol-meats was a Christian liberty, in spite of the decree of the Jerusalem Council. From Paul’s final words on this issue in chapter 10, I think we must conclude that the more spiritual brother is the one who abstains from idol-meats, grasping its evil associations.

All too often today, the “weaker brother” is defined as the one who does not grasp his Christian liberties. While alcoholism and drunkenness are surely wrong, drinking a glass of wine is not forbidden. When a “tee totaler” saint insists that another Christian must not drink even a glass of wine, he should also be willing to accept the label of the “weaker brother.” The one who insists you cannot exercise a liberty is the one who is weak and poorly informed. The one who insists that another must refrain from a matter of liberty because that liberty is offensive has missed the point of the Scriptures. You may find smoking offensive, but you are not a “weaker brother” unless you are so weak that you will follow the example of the one who lights up. Most of those who insist that others refrain from alcohol or tobacco (because partaking of them is sin) are not those who are truly weak, and who will violate their consciences by following the example of the one who partakes.

For those matters which are liberties, the one who is truly spiritual will be willing to forego them if exercising his liberty is at the expense of another. The knowledge which informs us of a liberty must be subject to the love which puts the interests of our brother before our own.

I think it is safe to say that many, if not most of us, are of the intellectual Christian stripe, while there are many others who are the “loving Christian” type. We know that our Lord does not want knowledge without love (see Revelation 2:1-7). We know as well that He does not want us to love apart from knowledge (Philippians 1:9; 1 Timothy 1:5). Let us seek to “know God” and to “love Him.” Let us not divorce love and truth. Both are essential, and each contributes to the other.

What Paul has written here in chapter 8 should in no way be misinterpreted to mean that he is opposed to theology. His Epistle to the Romans is a theological masterpiece, surveying the doctrine of salvation. Paul warns us about those who teach false doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3; 4:1; 6:3) and encourages us to be nourished with sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6). Jude spoke of our obligation to “contend earnestly for the faith, which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Peter warned us of those who distort the teachings of Paul (2 Peter 3:16). Our Lord warned of those who would teach the precepts of men as though they were divinely revealed doctrine (Matthew 15:9). We are expected to be students of theology and to be precise in the doctrines which we hold.

Having emphasized the importance of theology and sound doctrine, we must also recognize our limitations in this area. Our theology can only go as far as God’s revelation. We know there are many things which God has not revealed (Deuteronomy 29:29; Acts 1:6-7; 1 Corinthians 13:9, 12), and we must be careful not to “fill in the blanks” which God has purposely left open. All too often, we spend more time trying to supply the missing pieces, rather than concentrating upon what God has revealed. False revelation frequently majors on God’s silence in Scripture. Students of Bible prophecy often try to lay out the scheme of the end times when God has deliberately been vague, sometimes by failing to tell us things we would like to know and at other times telling us future events in terms too symbolic to understand.

We need to be very careful not to trust our own logic and reason, as opposed to God’s clear commandments. Those who hold to infant baptism, for example, reach their conclusions totally by way of analogy and inference. They conclude that parents should baptize their infant children, although there is not one New Testament command to do so, and not one clear example of it being practiced by the early church. While I appreciate much of the teaching and insights offered by those who hold to a reformed or covenant theology, I am greatly troubled that none of their foundational covenants are specifically named as such in the Bible, and that the covenants which are identified (the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New covenants) are not given proper emphasis. Inferences and human logic should never take precedence over divine decrees and commandments. Some of the Corinthian saints were able to set aside the decree of the Jerusalem Council and eat meat offered to idols, based upon their reasoning by heaping inference upon inference, starting with divine truth and ending in disobedience. Paul instructs us to subordinate our reasoning (often puffed up and distorted by our pride) to divine commands: “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

There are two vastly different kinds of reasoning—one we should avoid like the plague, and the other we should practice and perfect. The first kind of reasoning is the reasoning of unbelief leading to disobedience. The second is the reasoning of faith unto obedience. Eve practiced the former; Abraham the latter.

God instructed Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, warning them that to do so would result in death. Satan questioned Eve in such a way as to cast a doubt on God’s character and on His command. She was forbidden to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He was to trust God and to obey Him by giving up an illicit means to knowledge. As she looked at this one forbidden tree, she came to look upon it as desirable, and thus she ate of it. Eve trusted in her own reasoning, and she consequently disobeyed God.

Abraham reasoned unto obedience. Abraham knew that God had promised this son in his and Sarah’s old age, when they were “as good as dead,” so far as bearing children was concerned. Nevertheless, he knew that God was the Creator, the One who called what did not exist into existence. He contemplated his own body and that of his wife Sarah, dead as they both were so far as bearing children, and chose to believe God’s promise, in spite of what he saw (Romans 4:16-22). Late in his life, Abraham was commanded by God to offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Abraham once again contemplated the situation in the light of who God was. He knew that when he and Sarah were as good as dead with regard to bearing children, God gave them a son anyway. Their son was born as from the dead. And so, when God commanded him to sacrifice his son Isaac, Abraham knew this son was the means to fulfill God’s promises. He also knew that God was able to bring life to (or through) the dead, and so he reasoned from his walk with God, and from the Word of God, that God was able to raise even the dead (Hebrews 11:19). Abraham reasoned by faith unto obedience. This is the kind of reasoning God wants of us. He does not want Christians to stop thinking; He wants Christians to think biblically, to think with a renewed mind, so as to have sound judgment, and thus to obey God’s commands (see Romans 12:1-3f.). We Christians do not think too much; we think too little, and when we do think, we often think humanly, unto unbelief and disobedience. Let us think more, with a renewed mind, and according to God’s Word, unto obedience to His commands.


94 There is discussion in the commentaries as to what the Greek term, rendered “meat offered to idols” means, but it is important to note that precisely the same Greek term Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 8:1 is what Luke employs in Acts 15:29. Whatever some Corinthians considered their liberty, the apostles and church leaders forbade.

95 That is Paul’s point here, it seems, but in Philippians 1:9, Paul indicates that love must be informed lest it degenerate to mindless sentimentalism.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Christian Home, Apologetics