Despite what you are thinking, we will not be examining the phenomenon of over-eating at Christmas time. Actually, over the course of our study of 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1, we have had people bring up the question, "How does this apply to celebrating holidays like Christmas?" Since there is no better time than the present to take up that question, we will do so tomorrow. See you then, Lord willing!
Angels from the Realms of Glory (#111)
Away in a Manger (#112)
Silent Night! Holy Night! (#109)
The Savior of the World (#127)
Old Testament: Leviticus 11:29-47; Psalm 81
New Testament: Luke 6:12-26
Corinth and Christmas: What Does 'Food Offered to Idols' Teach Us about Celebrating Christmas? - 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1
John Frame (The Doctrine of God, pp. 138-145) gives a powerful critique of what is commonly thought of as "free will" (more specifically, libertarian free will, the idea that the will is not determined by anything outside of itself). Here are short excerpts from his points, with my emphasis added at the end.
1. The biblical data...about God's sovereign control over human decisions, even human sins, are incompatible with libertarianism. Scripture makes clear that our choices are governed by God's eternal plan, even though we are fully responsible for them.
2. Scripture does not explicitly teach the existence of libertarian freedom. There is no passage that can be construed to mean that the human will is independent of God's plan and of the rest of the human personality.
3. Scripture never grounds human responsibility (in the sense of accountability) in libertarian freedom, or, for that matter, in any other kind of freedom. We are responsible because God made us, owns us, and has a right to evaluate our conduct.
4. Nor does Scripture indicate that God places any positive value on libertarian freedom (even granting that it exists).
5. Indeed, on the contrary, Scripture teaches that in heaven, the consummate state of human existence, we will not be free to sin. So the highest state of human existence will be a state without libertarian freedom.
6. Scripture never judges anyone's conduct by reference to his libertarian freedom.
7. Indeed, Scripture condemns some people for acts that clearly were not free in a libertarian sense...such as Judas' betrayal of Jesus.
8. In civil courts, libertarian freedom is never assumed to be a condition of moral responsibility.... Libertarianism would make it impossible to prove the guilt of anybody at all.
9. Indeed, civil courts normally assume the opposite of libertarianism, namely, that the conduct of criminals arise from motives....We see, then, that rather than being the foundation of moral responsibility, libertarianism destroys it.
10. Scripture contradicts the proposition that only uncaused decisions are morally responsible.
11. Scripture denies that we have the independence demanded by libertarian theory. We are not independent of God, for he controls free human actions. Nor can we choose to act independently of our own character and desire. According to Matthew 7:15-20 and Luke 6:43-45, the good tree brings forth good fruit,and the evil tree brings forth evil fruit. If one's heart is right, his actions will be right; otherwise, they will be wrong.
12. Libertarianism, therefore, violates the biblical teaching concerning the unity of human personality in the heart....This integrity of human personality is not possible in a libertarian construction, for on that view the will must always be independent of the heart and all of our other faculties.
13. If libertarian freedom were necessary for moral responsibility, then God would not be morally responsible for his actions, since he does not have the freedom to act against his holy character.
14. Libertarianism is essentially a highly abstract generalization of the principle that inability limits responsibility.
15. Libertarianism is inconsistent, not only with God's foreordination of all things, but also with his knowledge of future events.
16. Libertarians...tend to make their view of free will a nonnegotiable, central truth, with which all other theological statements must be made consistent. Libertarian freedom thus takes on a kind of paradigmatic or presuppositional status. But, as we have seen, libertarianism is unscriptural. It would be bad enough merely to assert libertarianism contrary to the Bible. But making it a central truth or governing perspective is very dangerous indeed.
17. Philosophical defenses of libertarianism often appeal to intuition as the basis for believing in free will....But...an appeal to intuition can never the basis for a universal negative....Intuition never reveals to us whether or not we are determined by causes outside ourselves.
18. If libertarianism is true, then God has somehow limited his sovereignty so that he does not bring all things to pass. But Scripture contains no hint that God has limited his sovereignty in any degree. God is the Lord, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. He is always completely sovereign. He does whatever pleases him (Ps. 115:3). He works everything out according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11). Furthermore, God's very nature is to be sovereign. Sovereignty is his name, the very meaning of the name Yahweh, in terms of both control and authority. If God limited his sovereignty, he would become something less than Lord of all, something less than God. And if God became something less than God, he would destroy himself. He would no longer exist. We can see that the consequences of libertarianism are serious indeed.
I am truly anticipating our celebration of the incarnation of the Son this Lord's Day. The choir has prepared a sacrifice of skillful praise, and this will be a program in which we can all participate with heart and soul and voice. I urge you to come this Lord's Day with a heart ready to overflow with a pleasing theme as we address our verses to the king!
Invite one and all to come, and join us at 10:30 a.m. Here's a bit of what we have to look forward to.
Since we have been studying 1 Corinthians 8-10, I want to draw your attention to this perceptive application of that text by Russell Moore. In answer to a photographer's question about whether or not to photograph a same-sex 'wedding ceremony', Dr. Moore astutely points out that this question has parallels with the Corinthian dilemma regarding food offered to idols.
The Apostle Paul says, first of all, that the idols don’t represent
real gods (1 Cor. 8:4), in the same way that you would argue that a
wedding without a bride or a groom isn’t really a marriage. If
something’s put before you, the apostle writes, eat it to the glory of
God, no questions asked. But, the apostle says, if the food is advertised as sacrificed to
idols abstain from it for the sake of the consciences of those around
you (1 Cor. 8:7-9). This is the difference between investigating a
doughnut shop owner’s buying habits before eating there and stopping in
for doughnuts when the sign out front flashes: “Eat here and support our
owner’s cocaine and prostitutes habit.” You need not investigate as a wedding photographer whether the
wedding you are photographing is Christ-honoring. But when there is an
obvious deviation from the biblical reality, sacrifice the business for
conscience, your own and those of the ones in your orbit who would be
Dr. Moore closes with a challenge to love those involved in this sin and to show kindness with conviction.
Tell the couple that you wish them well, but that you have beliefs about
marriage that won’t allow your conscience to participate in this way.
Thank them for asking you but recommend a photographer who can click
away with a clear conscience.
This advice is helpful, and the reminder to love is so appreciated. Yet I believe the advice could be much more helpful if it clearly represented the teaching of 1 Corinthians 8-10. In that text, the apostle teaches us that participation in idolatry is always and everywhere wrong. We must flee idolatry, both for the sake of saving others and for the sake of saving our own souls. Now, he also makes clear that mere association with idolatry is not necessarily a problem, for the earth is the Lord's. The mere fact that something has been used in idolatry or is associated with idolatry does not make it off-limits for Christians. But as soon as we cross the line into participation with idolatry in any given situation, then we must abstain.
I would argue that photographing a same-sex wedding ceremony is participation in idolatry, for a same-sex wedding ceremony is by definition clear-cut, in your face, public idol worship (Rom 1:18-32). It carries this meaning no matter what anyone's conscience says about it. Why is this so? Marriage is by definition a public, not a private, institution.
In this regard, photographing a wedding ceremony of any kind is not analogous to a Christian restaurant owner serving a gay couple who came into his restaurant. Eating a meal is a good and right act, and a Christian does no sin in helping others to eat. In fact, it is a good way to show love even to our enemies (Rom 12:20-21). A same-sex wedding is a sinful act. Period. Always. No possibility of it being anything other than sinful. Moreover, it is a sinful act which is by its very nature demands public support and approval. Christians must never support, condone, or encourage such things.
Participating in any way in a same-sex wedding ceremony is a good contemporary equivalent to "reclining at table in an idol's temple" (1 Cor 8:7). We ought not to do for the sake of fellow Christians with weak consciences (1 Cor 8:9-13), and we ought not to do it because we cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons (1 Cor 10:14-22). If the law of the land tells us that we have to do it, we must simply obey God rather than men and take what comes.
Speaking of consciences, I suspect that Dr. Moore's piece misconstrues what Paul is talking about with regard to conscience in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10. In particular, 1 Corinthians 8:7 is not talking about what someone thinks is wrong but is actually right. Paul says that some "through a pattern of behavior fixed by tradition and sanctioned by society eat food as offered to an idol." By doing this, their moral self-awareness is rendered unfit for the presence of God. Advocates and practitioners of same-sex 'marriage' are trying to make their practice fixed by tradition and sanctioned by society. Christians with weak consciences may be swayed by such community recognition into thinking that it is okay. This would be a real stumbling block for them, and it could lead to their falling away from Christ. If you wish, you can hear more about this in this sermon "Love Your Brother."
Dr. Moore's last piece of advice is not wise. The reason you will not photograph a same-sex wedding ceremony is not that "you personally would feel guilty about doing it but you refrain from making any public moral judgment about it" (which is how "you have beliefs about
marriage that won’t allow your conscience to participate in this way" translates in today's society). The reason you will not photograph a same-sex wedding ceremony is because you want to rescue those involved in this sin from the wrath of God (Gal 5:19-21; Heb 13:4). You thus should not recommend another photographer to participate in the idolatry. By doing this, you have condoned the evil. You have also missed a tremendous gospel opportunity. Only by dealing honestly with their sin can homosexuals come to repentance and salvation, as is true of each and every one of us. Better to lose your photography business honestly pointing people to Christ than to keep your business preaching "Peace, peace" when there is no peace. This is real love.
One last thought. As we evaluate our actions, we can never reduce them to an amoral "providing a service." If 1 Corinthians 8-10 makes anything plain, it is that we are responsible moral agents acting in real social contexts with real responsibilities both to the Lord and to others. I am grateful that the photographer who prompted these thoughts declined to participate in idolatry, and I hope he or she never feels guilty about it again. I also hope that we as Christians will gain the moral clarity we need to glorify God and advance the gospel while living in a land of false gods. Dr. Moore brought a perfect text to bear on this discussion. We need to take its full weight seriously.
With all the talk about being "gospel-centered" these days, it is important that we keep a clear head about what this does and does not mean biblically. Mark Snoeberger addresses "The Problem of 'Gospel-Centered' Sanctification" with accuracy here.
Some have seized the “Gospel-Centered” banner and have used it to wage general war on law and works—after all, they argue,
Major Premise: The Gospel is Justification.
Minor Premise: Justification is destroyed by law and works.
Conclusion: The Gospel is destroyed by law and works.
So what’s wrong with the syllogism? Well, the logical structure is
fine, so if an error is to be found, it has to be in one of the
premises. In this case, it is the major premise.
I assume that all of you want to be the genuine article - followers of Christ who faithfully glorify God and advance the gospel in a land of false gods. But in order to be real, you have to learn to be imitations. Join us this Lord's Day to learn how.
O Come, All Ye Faithful (#88)
Angels We Have Heard on High (#89)
The First Noel (#98)
Angels from the Realms of Glory (#111)
Old Testament: Leviticus 11:1-28; Psalm 24
New Testament: Luke 6:1-11
Peter Brown acknowledges that "it is still difficult to discover [Constantine's] intentions" for his conversion as well as "the extent of his ambition on behalf of the Christian faith" (Through the Eye of a Needle, 32). Nevertheless, he gives what seems to me to be a judicious and accurate assessment.
Constantine did not act out of political calculation. He did not perceive that Christianity was on its way to becoming a majority religion in any part of his empire--not even in the more densely Christianized East and certainly not in the Latin West, where Christianity seems to have made considerably less progress (32).
Constantine was prepared to devote great pains to keeping the worship of [the Christian] God immune from error and division....[He]patrolled the Christian episcopate ceaselessly to make sure that the worship they offered to God was correct and pleasing to Him.
But that was almost all Constantine was prepared to do. The non-Christian subjects of his empire were left largely to themselves; the Roman West remained a predominantly pagan world.
Thus Brown says, Constantine certainly thought of himself as a Christian. But he was not a Christian of the middle ages, nor was he even a Christian of the late fourth century. It was enough for him that the Christian God should be recognized, that Christians should no longer be persecuted, and, above all, that the Christian clergy should be privileged and protected (33).
Constantine was not the angel that Eusebius made him out to be. Nevertheless, it is historically inaccurate to assume that Constantine magically made Christianity into an easy and attractive religion for the Roman Empire. In fact, at the end of this deep study, Brown concludes,
Faced with massive losses of income and by a widespread weakening of its authority in large areas of the West, the imperial structure inherited from the fourth century showed no intention of surrendering. Instead, the empire--the Respublica--went down fighting. And it went down fighting as a frankly secular institution. Government circles made plain that they would not yield any of the prerogatives of the Roman state to the Christian bishops (529).
This is instructive for Christians of all political persuasions today.
Scientism - or what Austin L. Hughes calls the "latest superstition" - is simply another way of exchanging the glory of the immortal God for created things. Scientism is the belief that all real knowledge is 'scientific' knowledge, i.e. that which is observable and measurable. As we have learned from 1 Corinthians 8-10, this is one of the idols that we must flee, both for our brother's sake and for our own sakes.
Here is an interesting little video which discusses C. S. Lewis' insight into parallels between magic and modern science.
Only the Son can set you free, and we will only be free when we serve him as our master.
This has political ramifications.
Oliver O'Donovan writes that what happens in the church by the Spirit of God "is a paradigm for the birth of free society, grounded in the recognition of a superior authority which renders all authorities beneath it relative and provisional. We discover we are free when we are commanded by that authority which commands us according to the law of our being, disclosing the secrets of the heart. There is no freedom except when what we are, and do, corresponds to what has been given us to be and to do. ‘Given to us’, because the law of our being does not assert itself spontaneously merely by virtue of our existing. We receive ourselves from outside ourselves, addressed by a summons which evokes that correspondence of existence to being" (The Desire of the Nations, 252).
By contrast, the late modern social order in which we live conceives of freedom quite differently.
"The point of departure [for the modern social order] is the moment of 'free' choice, indifferent and indeterminate....Society derives from an original free compact of individuals, who have traded in their absolute freedoms for a system of mutual protection and government....It means that society's demands are justified only in so far as they embody what any individual might be expected to will as his or her own good. It rejects the Christian paradox of freedom perfected in service" (275).
Freedom is a god-word in our society today. Everyone appeals to it as an unquestioned and unquestionable good. But what is it?
Christians also talk much about freedom and Christian liberty, but too often we fail to grasp and appreciate the full meaning of liberty in Christ. This is particularly important to our grasp of 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1, the text we have been considering for a few months now.
Let me illustrate with something I recently read. In a work beloved by libertarian types and Austrian school economists, Frederic Bastiat asked,
...What is the political struggle that we witness? It is the instinctive struggle of all people toward liberty. And what is this liberty, whose very name makes the heart beat fast and shakes the world? Is it not the union of all liberties--liberty of conscience, of education, of association, of the press, of travel, of labor, of trade? In short, is not liberty the freedom of every person to make full use of his faculties, so long as he does not harm other persons while doing so? Is not liberty the destruction of all despotism--including, of course, legal despotism? Finally, is not liberty the restricting of the law only to its rational sphere of organizing the right of the individual to lawful self-defense; of punishing injustice?
There is much to appreciate in these questions, particularly in opposition to the socialists, but there are also fatal flaws. This is not the biblical understanding of freedom, and we do not do well if we read this into the apostle Paul's discussions of the topic.Bastiat thinks of freedom as arising from the individual, but because of this his whole theory of law and society breaks down. He can only see law as a negative constraint, not as a positive contribution to a greater good. He opposes the "many" of socialism by means of the "one" of individualism. He cannot overcome the perennial problem of how to harmonize individual man and corporate mankind.
Self-preservation and self-development
are common aspirations among all people.
And if everyone enjoyed the unrestricted use of his faculties
and the free disposition of the fruits
of his labor, social progress
would be ceaseless, uninterrupted, and unfailing.
This is a decidedly humanistic view of mankind.
In contrast to this, when the apostle Paul speaks of being free, he does not have in mind the autonomous use of his faculties. Freedom primarily has to do with being released from the power of sin and the law by the power of the Spirit so that one can be all he was meant to be in Christ (note esp. Rom 6 and 8 and Gal 4 and 5). "Freedom" has theological meaning for the
apostle Paul which is overtakes any passing sociological context (cf. 1 Cor 7:21-22). It is
intimately connected with the new creation and the new covenant (2 Cor 3:17). This mirrors
perfectly what Jesus said to the Jews (John 8:33, 36).
Paul's idea of freedom also comes through in the statements "All things are lawful for me" (6:12) and "All things are lawful" (10:23). Paul takes a common
notion about freedom and redefines it in Christian terms. As David Garland expresses it perfectly: "Freedom is
freedom from something; but for it to
be meaningful, it must be freedom for
something….[Paul] conceives of freedom in terms of belonging to another (6:19-20;
7:22-23; 9:19; Rom 14:8), not in terms of self-determination or self-interest.
The more one seeks life’s meaning in God, the freer one becomes" (1 Corinthians, 229). So when Paul says "All things are lawful," he means that everything in its proper relation to Christ is permissible
for him to do. [And he can quite literally say “all things” because everything
belongs to Christ and believers possess them by virtue of their union with
Christ (1 Cor 3:21-23).]
This, of course, rules out anything which is contrary to
the law of Christ. That which is inherently sinful is not included in Paul’s
statement, for it is not part of “all things” from a new creation perspective.
For example, adultery is not permissible. But adultery is a perversion of
marital love, and marital love is permissible. All things, as they were meant
to be in Christ, are permissible for me.
For Paul, to be free meant to be able to live for God, to
be all he was meant to be in Christ. Freedom is
tied to holiness, without which it would not be freedom. Freedom includes
righteousness and justice, without which it would not be freedom. Freedom
includes mercy and grace, without which it would not be freedom. Freedom
includes truth and faithfulness, without which it would not be freedom. Freedom
includes love, without which it would not be freedom. In other words, freedom
means being taken up into the life of God via union with Christ by the Spirit.
of this is possible because Jesus has come, perfectly kept the old covenant as
the last Adam, died in our place, and
has risen from the dead and ascended to the Father, inaugurating the new
covenant era of the new creation. That redefines everything! Paul saw this, and
that’s why he lived according to the law of Christ, which is the perfect law of
liberty and is fulfilled by love. He understood himself and his ministry and
everyone else in that light. May we do the same, and thereby show the world that "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36).
Twice today I experienced scenarios which illustrate well something I encourage believers to do - study from multiple translations of the Bible. While it is practically wise to have one primary translation from which to read and study and memorize, it is also good to compare with other translations. This becomes particularly important (1) when you have little experience with the original languages, and (2) when you base a point of doctrine on a text.
A few hours ago I was talking to a fellow believer when the subject of nonresistance came up. For those who may not know, nonresistance is an application of Christ's teaching to love our enemies and not to resist evil. According to those who embrace nonresistance, this means that Christians must avoid violence at all times, including refusing any participation with governments in their exercise of the power of the sword. So, for an obvious example, nonresistant Christians would not join the military (although the issue of nonresistance extends far beyond this). In our discussion, this young man said, "What really drove [nonresistance] home for me was where the Bible says, 'Do violence to no man'" (Luke 3:14 KJV). Not remembering that text, I pulled out my little pocket ESV and read, "Soldiers also asked him, 'And we, what shall we do?' And he said to them, 'Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusations, and be content with your wages.'" There seems to be a real difference in the meaning of these translations. At the time I was talking, I did not know the reason for the difference, so once I got back to my office I looked it up.
In this case, the difference in translation is not based upon a textual variant. That is to say, both translations are translating the same Greek words. The term in question is (transliterated) diaseio, a term which is used only here in the New Testament. The standard Greek lexicon for the NT (BDAG) gives this gloss, "extort money by force or threat of violence, extort (literally 'shake violently'; cp. our colloquial 'shake down')." In fact, it claims that this term was a legal technical term in ancient Greek documents from around the time of the NT. Another NT lexicon based upon semantic domains (Louw & Nida) defines the term in the same manner and classifies it with other words that have to do with stealing or robbing.
Here is one example of the use of this term in an ancient apocryphal book called 3 Maccabees. In 3 Maccabees 7:21, we read "And among their enemies they possessed a greater dominance than before, both honored and feared, and were abused of their belongings by no one" (NETS, my underlining indicates the translation of the term we are considering). As you can see then, in Luke 3:14 John the Baptist was not issuing an order against violence in general. He was telling the soldiers not to abuse their position of power to intimidate, bully, threaten, or otherwise oppress the people in order to get what they want out of them.
Now with a text like this, what is a Christian to do who does not read Greek and does not have access to Greek lexicons? First of all, always read carefully in context. Read in context, even the KJV translation does not necessitate a nonresistant interpretation of this text (as a perusal of Matthew Henry's commentary will show). But in addition to that, a very simple and easy step is to read the text in some good English translations. The point of doing this is not to cherry pick the translation that suits you. It is to gain a more well-rounded understanding of the text. By simply reading a few other translations besides the KJV, one can quickly discern that the violence spoken of here has to do primarily with others' possessions.
New American Standard Bible: "Do not take money from anyone by force."
New English Translation: "Take money from no one by violence."
New International Version: "Don't extort money."
Holman Christian Standard: "Don't take money from anyone by force."
New King James: "Do not intimidate anyone."
Thus, we can see that this text does not support a nonresistant application. When John the Baptist had the perfect opportunity to tell soldiers to quit their profession and stop waging war, he did not do it. He told them not to abuse their power, but he did not tell them that repentance required abandoning soldiering.
Now, my point here is not to prove or disprove the theory of nonresistance. There are many good brothers who hold that position based upon their understanding of Scripture. My point is that reading a few different translations will help you avoid misunderstanding and misapplying a text of Scripture.