In chapter 8 we find Paul answering a different question involving eating food sacrificed to idols. Before Paul actually addresses their question (which we will see tomorrow), he first makes clear how Christians view idols in this world.
1 Corinthians 8:1-6
8 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. 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.
First we see Paul address our “knowledge” and that it makes us arrogant. The word here that Paul uses in the Greek is gnosis, it is where the Gnostics get their name, and it refers to our moral religious knowledge. In other words, we know the difference between right and wrong. Anyone who has heard any bit of the story from the bible should see this as a no brainer. Even if it wasn’t prevalent enough, it is passed all the way down from the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 where we read, “4 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. 5 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, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Paul tells us, “if you think this is all you need, then you’re missing the point; it’s about love.”
Verse 4 can be deceiving based on how we read it. Paul is saying, “because of our gift of faith in the One True God, we know that there are no other Gods.” We can certainly serve other things, ideas, or people and call them gods, but it doesn’t make them any more a god than does the unbelief in the One True God make Him less God. It was very important for Paul to make this clear because the Corinthian Church was situated in a cornucopia of religions who serve other gods. Likewise, if we look around we find ourselves in the middle of a society full of idols as well: money, sports, Hollywood stars, singers, work, food, sex, and even church. Yes, I said church. Paul here is making a distinction between religion and faith here: that religion is about morality or “doing good” and faith is about recognizing the deity of God the Father and the importance of Jesus Christ.
It is too easy for us these days to look at “going to church” as our god because it makes us feel good about ourselves and when we go out and do nice things for people because we are told that it’s what we should do to be “good people,” then we begin to become arrogant. Do you see the difference? I know some of you are thinking of that verse in James (1:27) that tells us to take care of orphans and widows, that in God’s eyes it is pure religion. Yeah, its pure morality, but it isn’t salvation, faith, or grace, it’s just being a “good person.” Remember what we read in Isaiah about our good deeds (aka morality)? “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Just to clarify how filthy we are talking, the literal translation is “menstrual rags”. Our good deeds don’t make us clean or righteous so therefore we must be careful that our good deeds and moral intuition doesn’t make us arrogant to think they do.
Has your own knowledge become your idol? Have you fallen into thinking that your own morality will save you? Maybe you need to revisit the Old Testament or the teachings of Christ that it isn’t about what we know, it’s about who we know. How has society warped your perspective of doing good things? Our morality doesn’t make us righteous, but rather our righteousness (ie or salvation) is what causes us to act morally.
I know I’ve posted this clip before about idolatry, but it’s a great eye opener and wonderful reminder of how easy it is to slip into idolatry.