1 Corinthians 8:2
The discussions contained in this chapter relate to "things offered unto idols." Bear in mind that idolatry was not then simply a religious system, but a system immensely extended and covering a corresponding surface of political, social, and business interests. At all points it touched individuals and families, and was connected with feasts, entertainments, and etiquette. "Most public entertainments and many private meals were more or less remotely the accompaniments of sacrifice" (Stanley). How far might knowledge assert itself and put on independency? What was the true use of expediency? And what the offices of conscience? And to what extent must the strong be tender and considerate towards the weak? Two parties existed on this subject in Corinth: the one that rested on Christian liberty, and, believing that "an idol is nothing in the world," demonstrated its adhesion to this belief by buying and eating meats sacrificed to idols, and even went to the excess of attending the feasts "in the idol's temple;" the other party looked upon such conduct with abhorrence. If, now, Christianity had been a mere scheme of human thought, an elaborate philosophy, a poetic inspiration, it is obvious that no such earnest dispute could have arisen. If, again, St. Paul had contemplated the subject on the ground only of abstract and theoretical principles, following out the logic that "an idol is nothing," and claiming the full freedom guaranteed by the assumption, a very different chapter from this would have been written. But see how he approaches the matter. His first step is to check the liberalists, and he does it efficaciously, for he convicts them of pride and recklessness on the side of intellect. Intellect he does not condemn, but its wrong use. His condemnation is founded on the fact that the intellect arrogantly claims to be the mind, to be the equivalent of the man himself, and, consequently, shuts off the recognition of anything except knowledge. St. Paul's position at the outset is, "Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth." It is vigorously stated and is accompanied by evident impulse. The "knowledge" referred to is knowledge isolated from its rightful and essential associations, the knowledge of a truth, and yet without its checks and balances - an engine lacking safety valve and governor. No matter how valuable the knowledge may be in itself; call it insight, call it what you please; if it abuse itself in its use, it loses its worth. Selfishness vitiates its excellence, and makes it doubly harmful, pernicious to the possessor, and obstructive of benefit to him on whom it acts objectively. Men are prone to exaggerate knowledge as knowledge. They say, "Knowledge is power." So it is, but whether the power be for good or evil depends on the man behind the knowledge. Think of the intimate connection between the intellect and the body, and how much more it is affected thereby than other portions of the mind; think how tangled it often is in the nerves, and imprisoned in the cells of the brain, - and can you wonder at the distrust that wise men have of its functions, unless controlled, and that sternly, by principle and sentiment? What subtle poisons creep into the blood and thence into thought! A slight imprudence in eating, a bad dream last night, a household worry or a business vexation, disturbed breathing or accelerated heart action, and the intellect is warped and enfeebled. Do what we may to curtail the evils, infirmities cling to all its activities. Yet much may be done, and it is done in no other way than that suggested by the apostle. "Charity [love] edifieth [buildeth up]." By this he means that the heart must he under the influence of grace, and thus inspire the intellect so that it may be delivered from its selfishness and especially its self conceit. And so fully has Christianity indoctrinated all our best thinkers with this idea, that they have come to believe that wisdom is the conjoint product of right thought and true feeling. "If any man love God, the same is known of him," and the knowledge here predicated of God has a reflex agency on the man's knowledge. Instead of being "puffed up," instead of an inmoderate and unjustifiable use of his Christian freedom, instead of a vaunting display of his superiority to prejudice and ignorance, he is regardful of the scruples of others, and, while aware of the difference between them and himself, turns the difference to the account of humility and forbearance. The idol is nothing, but its nothingness is no reason for insensibility to the claims of weak brethren on his manly sympathies. For the great doctrine of "one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him," is so profoundly realized, that human brotherhood is its complement in his character and conduct. "One Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him," the Mediator of the natural universe, in whose sovereignty all laws and institutions and objects have their reason and end; the Mediator of the Spiritual universe, who has consummated the manifestation of humanity in the person and work of the Holy Ghost; - this Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ of God and Lord over all, has so embodied the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of humanity in his own incarnation and office, that henceforth the grandeur of the one is the strength and joy and glory of the other. St. Paul loses no opportunity to enforce this supreme truth. Does he argue in behalf of Christian liberty? Here is his basis. Does he plead for expediency? Here is his warrant. Does he harmonize them as coexisting and cooperating sentiments? They are mutually supporting because their possessor has the knowledge which comes from God in Christ. From this sublime height he is never long absent. Thitherward is he always tending, nor will he decide any question, whatever its bearings, with a judgment detached from the great truth Christ taught: "I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one." All, however, have not this knowledge. The insight of some is partial and confused, "whose Christian faith is not yet so emancipated from the religious convictions of their old heathen state, and who are still in the bonds of their former conscience, moulded by heathen ideas" (Dr. Kling). Having this "conscience of the idol," looking upon the idol as a reality, and forbidden by his conscience to eat the flesh offered to an idol, the "weak brother" is offended. The meat itself is a matter of indifference, nor are you the "better" or the "worse" for the mere act of eating. A grave question, however, lies at the back of the action. It concerns "this liberty of yours," and the spirit actuating your mind in doing this thing. "Take heed;" this liberty may degenerate into a haughty self valuation, may become a "stumbling block," and may induce the "weak brother" to imitate your example, and thus sacrifice his conscience under your influence. Though the conscience be weak, it is conscience; it is his; its authority over him is sacred; obey it he must. Worse than all, your conduct, taking effect upon him, may imperil the salvation of a man, "for whom Christ died." Enlighten his conscience all you can; hell) to make it truthful as well as sincere; hut, meantime, "take heed" lest sympathy and conventionality embolden him to err. "Weak" now, you will only weaken him the mere if your liberty mislead him. The only element in him out of which strength can grow is the conscience. Use your freedom so as to liberate, not to enslave, this highest authority in our nature. Use your knowledge to illuminate, not to darken, this divinest of all the organs personal to the soul, through which truth reaches the man. Use your Church relation to build up and not pull down your brother, that you may be a coworker with God and with his conscience in making him a "temple of the Holy Ghost." Then comes the utterance of great heartedness - the declaration that he will eat no such meat forever if it make his brother to offend. This was no sudden effervescence of sentimentality. It was genuine sentiment. It was organic to the man's nature. Impulse was strong because conscience was stronger. The current of feeling was no cataract leaping from a rocky bed into rocky depths, and dashing itself into foam, but a mighty river that could not become too full for its banks. - L.

If any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.
St. Paul would teach those who placed a high estimate upon a philosophical comprehension of religious truth, and who therefore were liable to a spurious kind of knowledge, that if any one of them conceitedly imagined himself to comprehend the gospel mysteries, he was in reality utterly ignorant concerning them. Pride injures our religious knowledge as to —

I. ITS QUANTITY OR EXTENT. The apostle refers to that disposition which leads a man, when he has made some addition to his stock of knowledge, to stop and review it, and boast of it. These Corinthians were anxious to get the credit of superior insight into Christian doctrine, hence St. Paul says to them, "If any man among you," &c. (1 Corinthians 3:18-20). Such a self-complacent spirit prevents a man from surveying and travelling over the whole field. It is like a traveller among the Alps, who, having ascended the first range of hills, and seeing the lower valleys, should "think" that he had exhausted Switzerland. The instant a Christian begins to dwell upon his knowledge of God, or of himself, with any degree of self-complacency, he creates an eddy in the flowing stream of his self-reflection, and whirls round instead of moving onward. And unless the volume of water starts once more, and gets out of this whirlpool; unless the Christian ceases to think of how much he knows, and to boast of it, he will never know any more than he now knows. And even the little knowledge, over which he has boasted, will be absorbed in the pride of the heart and disappear. But he who contemplates the character of God, e.g., with no side glances at himself, and bows down before it in reverence and awe, is carried forward from one vision to another. So with the knowledge of our own heart, of the atonement, &c.

II. ITS QUALITY, OR DEPTH. The moment the mind begins to compute the distance it has gone, it stops going. If, therefore, under the influence of pride it pauses to see how profound it has become, and to tell the world its success, it adopts a suicidal course. Suppose that a man fixes his attention upon some one sinful habit, and begins to see plainly its odiousness. The longer this process continues, the deeper and clearer is his view. Now suppose that his attention is diverted from his sin itself, to the consideration of the fact that he has been exploring it, his sense of the iniquity of his sin will begin to grow more shallow, and he will come up to the surface of his heart again, instead of penetrating to its recesses. The sin will not appear so odious to him; he will know nothing as he ought to know.

III. ITS PRACTICALITY. The great purpose of religions truth is, that we may be made better by it. We ought not to desire to know God except that we may become like Him. We ought not to make any scrutiny into our own sin except to get rid of it. When religious knowledge loses this practicality, it degenerates into mere speculation, and hardens the heart instead of melting it into sorrow and love. Man's first duty on obtaining some new view of Divine truth is to apply it. But nothing so interferes with this as pride or selfgratulation. "Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit, there is more hope of a fool than of him." When a man feels himself destitute of knowledge, instruction can be imparted. But when he thinks that he comprehends the whole subject, the prospect of his becoming enlightened is hopeless. Conclusion: Spiritual pride —

1. Is the most subtle of sins. It is the sin of Satan. He fell from a purely intellectual temptation, and his wickedness was "spiritual wickedness." In wrestling against it, we "wrestle not against flesh and blood," &c. (Ephesians 6:12). When the believer proves to be on his guard against the more common and outward temptations of earth, then the arch-deceiver fills him with the conceit of holiness and of knowledge.

2. Especially requires the aid and influence of the Holy Ghost to overcome it. No spirit is a match for the subtlety of Satan but the Eternal Spirit.

(Prof. Shedd.)


1. Assumption.

2. Dogmatism.

3. Contempt of the opinion of others.

II. ITS REBUKE. Human knowledge is —

1. Very limited.

2. Mixed with much error.

3. Morally defective.

(J. Lyth, D. D.)

The wisest men feel that they know nothing compared with what they are capable of knowing. I was struck with a remark that a man once made to me on this subject. To my mind he was a marvel of learning. He seemed thoroughly educated in every direction. As now there is not a tree in the forest which, if you tap it, will not run sap, so there was not a side on which you could touch him where his knowledge did not seem complete. I said to him one day, "If I knew a tithe of what you know, I should think myself very fortunate." Said he, "Henry, I seem to myself like a basket in which are being carried away the fragments of a hotel — a bit of this, the fag-end of that, and all sorts of things jumbled up together. I do not know anything except little fragmentary parts of this, that, and the other."

(H. W. Beecher.)

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