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Sermon Ideas For 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 Part 2

At the center of discussion and debate in the early church is a concern about the relationship of Christian faith to historic, ritual regulations of the Jewish tradition. As the church moves from predominantly Jewish-Christian settings to Gentile Christian settings, cultural norms and patterns are open for re-evaluation. The need for circumcision and adherence to Jewish purity codes are open for discussion as well as the difficulty of evaluating customs and patterns from other cultural traditions.
As the church grows in predominantly Gentile settings, additional cultural norms requires discernment on the part of leaders and members of the early Christian community. The reading from 1 Corinthians analyzes the debate over eating foods offered to idols. In the opening verses, there is a distinct contrast between gnosis and agape. Knowledge is subordinate to the role of love. The claim of special knowledge (particularly central in Gnostic communities) is relativized since "all of us possess knowledge" (v. 1). Rather than appealing to knowledge, decisions are based on the experience of love.
The irony in this text is that the argument in support of love is finally based on an epistemological claim: "Not everyone has this knowledge" (v. 7). Since the levels of knowledge are not the same, then freedom (which is brought by knowledge of the one true God) is subordinate to the needs of others in the community. Since some still object to eating food that is offered to idols, the community is encouraged to avoid the practice all together so that those who are already "weak" will not participate in the practice of idol worship. The issue is not food itself. It is about acknowledging the role of food in signifying the presence of idols. As a result, while love is used as an operating principle, the role of knowledge remains open to investigation.
While often the debates about cultural norms in the early church seem obscure or trivial, they play an increasingly significant role in raising issues for the church during periods of dramatic change. The antinomian controversy in Reformation and post-Reformation times provides but one example of the need to re-examine the role of law within the context of faith.1 In this post-Christendom era, there is an increasing polarity within many denominations and churches that struggle with similar questions of how Christian faith can adapt in multi-cultural and multi-faith contexts.
The reading from Deuteronomy sets the stage for the on-going need for the community to hear and respond to prophetic words. The people are commanded to remain open to the words of the prophet. The sole requirement on the prophetic voice is a faithfulness to speak on behalf of the one God.
The Gospel lesson further reasserts the need for these discussions to happen within the worshipping life of the community. In Mark, Jesus enters the synagogue and teaches with authority. This authority is further manifest in the healing of a man with an unclean spirit. Both the teaching and the healing on the Sabbath foreshadow growing controversies between religious leaders who favor the status quo and the ministry of Jesus which calls into question religious practices which draw from purity codes that separate and isolate individuals from the community.
Once again the religious community faces a challenge to discern how to live out the faith in keeping with the past, yet in light of new experiences of the presence of God.
Paul Galbreath
1. Justo Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought, Vol. 3 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1975), pp. 100-103.