Saturday 13th August 2022

1 CORINTHIANS 8

These ‘superior’ Corinthian Christians were so proud of their deep knowledge of the truth of the scriptures, which categorically say that there is only one God.  They lived in an idolatrous culture that worshiped many different gods and sacrificed all kinds of things to them, including food.  Probably their non-Christians friends kindly invited them to the pagan feasts, where meat had been offered up to this god or that one.  Knowing that all of this was a total farce (as they had said to Paul: “An idol is nothing at all in the world”), they were quite happy to go along with it for the sake of friendship and a decent meal.  In their eyes, they were doing nothing wrong. 

Paul acknowledged that they were correct in their doctrinal knowledge, but wrong in their behaviour.  Why?  Not because of them and not because of Paul.  The problem was that this rather blatant exercise of their ‘freedom’ was causing big problems for certain other church members who saw these liberated believers eating at pagan feasts.  Paul recognised that these other believers, who had reservations about what they ate and where they ate it, were weaker in conscience and faith than the ‘oh-so-superior’ believers that he was addressing.  The consequence was that the weaker believers might copy the same behaviour – whilst simultaneously believing that it was wrong – and so wound their conscience and sin against God as a result.  This is an unusual situation where doing something that is allowed, whilst believing that it is not, is counted as a sin.  Romans 14:23 says so too.

Paul therefore makes the point that putting your knowledge of the freedom we have in Christ into practice can sometimes be an unloving thing if it causes others to stumble in their faith.  If you deliberately continue to do this, forcefully exercising your ‘rights’ as a freed child of God, you sin against these weaker brothers and sisters in Christ.  As Paul makes clear right at the beginning of this chapter: “Knowledge puffs up, while love builds up”.  If we really want to know God, then we must learn to love like him, and then we will!

A thought: are there activities in our own lives – ones that are perfectly legitimate – which might be causing others to stumble in their faith?

ECCELESIASTES 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12

“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart”.  “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure”.  (Ecclesiastes 7:2, 4).  Death is the ultimate reality for this era, says the Teacher.  Pleasure and feasting are deceptive, putting off the day of truth.  At least funerals are honest and face the facts – whilst ‘partying’ is an emotional ‘anaesthetic’!

“Extortion turns a wise person into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart”. (7:7).  Not only a bribe, but also failing to pay the correct taxes, avoiding repaying our debts, pretending that you are entitled so a concession that you are not – all these erode our integrity and compromise our faith.

“Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”  For it is not wise to ask such questions”.  (7:10).  Life is probably getting neither worse nor better, although there are losses and gains along the way.  At present in this nation (UK) we are gaining in institutionalised respect for minorities at the expense of freedom of speech.  Medical advances are impressive, whilst lifestyle choices are increasingly unhealthy.

“Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins”.  “This only have I found: God created mankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes”.  (7:20, 29).  Whatever one’s view of the afterlife, it is evident that mankind is addicted to sin and going astray from God’s ways.  A global pandemic indeed!

“Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, “What are you doing?”  Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure”.  (8:4,5)  As Christians, there is a requirement for us to obey the ruling authorities (see Romans 13); the one exception is where our conscience tells us that it runs overtly against God’s will.  Let’s be sure, first, that it really is our conscience, and not just our preferences or our political views.

“When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong”.  “There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve.  This too, I say, is meaningless”.  (8:11, 14)  There are several reasons for judicial punishment: deterrence, retribution and (not mentioned here) restoration of the offender.  The fundamental one is judicial retribution (Romans 13:4).  But the Teacher here observes that the legal system is sometimes corrupt and sometimes inefficient, and so fails to achieve any of these aims.

“So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad.  Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun”.  (8:15).  If we assume that this life is all that there is, then you may as well be a hedonist!  However, joy and happiness are God’s invention, not the Devil’s.

More about the humanistic worldview: “All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.  As it is with the good, so with the sinful; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them”.  (9:2).  “Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days.  For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labour under the sun.  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom”.  (9:9-10).  Without a final judgement and an afterlife (the real life!) then there are so many injustices in this present age.

“I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favour to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.  Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come:  As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them”.  (9:11-12). 
There is an apparent randomness to this present age that causes many to question the existence of a loving God.  Only the more complete picture that includes the New Heaven and New Earth can make sense of it all.

“As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed[a] in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”  (11:5)  We still find weather forecasting very difficult and we still do not know what makes one embryo cell turn into a muscle and another into a bone.  The works of God are way beyond our comprehension!

“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”—…”  “…when people are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets; when the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags itself along and desire no longer is stirred.  Then people go to their eternal home and mourners go about the streets”.  “Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it”.  (12:1, 5, 6).

This is an allegory about growing old, progressive physical deterioration, and finally, death.  Physical strength decreases, the posture becomes stooped, teeth disappear, eyesight and hearing diminish and sexual desire plummets!  It all ends when ‘mankind goes to his eternal home and mourners go about streets’.  A funeral, a grave, and nothing!  So we should remember our Creator before this all occurs.  The silver cord, holding up a golden bowl, is a reminder of how fragile life is, and how we cannot predict when it will end for us.  Don’t kid yourself that you can choose when you will turn or return to the Lord!  Remember him now whilst you have the chance! 

This is all very depressing!  Unless you believe in eternal life and a heavenly Saviour, that is.  The Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:16-17: “Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all”.

Ecclesiastes concludes with the advice to: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil”.  We have been warned!

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