Michael Youssef - Healthy Living in a Sick World - Part 11
It's not a surprise to any of us that we live in a time where we are bombarded by information. We are drowning in information, and yet we are starved to death for knowledge. We are plugged into the information superhighway online, and yet we're becoming truly disconnected from reality. There are more books and papers and electronic research that are published every day, every day, than one can read in a lifetime. Here is a fact: knowledge without wisdom is dangerous as a car without a steering wheel or without brakes. So what is wisdom? Wisdom is applying knowledge to the situation.
If 1 Corinthians letter teaches us anything, it teaches us how to balance knowledge with love, how to balance freedom with responsibility, how to balance grace with accountability, how to deal with what is clearly forbidden in the Word of God, and what is not. That is why so many of you have been saying to me, "This is the most relevant epistle," and it is. It's relevant for us today in the 21st century, more than any other time, and in 1 Corinthians chapter 8, is a chapter about issues that are not plainly forbidden in the Scripture. It's about issues that are left up to the individual believer to deal with under the guidance of the Holy Spirit with wisdom, things that we decide for ourselves, for yourself.
Beloved, here's the problem: in the 21st century church in the West, in the West particularly, and it affects everyone at the sound of my voice, most people fall into one of the two extremes; sadly, there are few who are balanced. Legalism, on the one hand, that focuses on issues that are not necessary for salvation. The other hand, the other extreme, are those... and this is, by the way, the vast majority of evangelicals today... is license under the guise of grace. It's really cheap grace, license to immorality and justify it under cheap grace. We have little balance between legalism and license.
The legalist, on the one hand, thinks we'll not make it to heaven unless they keep certain rules, unless they keep certain regulations. On the other extremes, we have the blatant flaunting of the freedom into promiscuousness. Now, you must understand that liberty and freedom are at the very core of the Christian faith. Can I get an "amen"? In John chapter 8, verse 31 and 32, here's what Jesus said: "If you hold on to my teaching, you really are my disciples, and then you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you," what? 2 Corinthians 3:17, Paul said that, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom and liberty".
Galatians chapter 5, verse 1, "It is for freedom that Christ has set you free". But freedom and liberty does not, does not, does not, does not, does not mean that we have an unbridled license to sin. That's not what freedom means. Freedom in Christ never, never, never means freedom to sin. But here the apostle Paul is saying more than that. He is saying, even in the gray areas where we have freedom, we are not totally free. Even in the areas that are really up to the individual believer to handle, we're not totally free. Why? Because it may cause others to stumble. It may cause others to sin. It may cause others to fall.
This is not legalism where people say, "This is a list of dos and don'ts, and you must follow them, but if you don't follow this list, you're not saved". No, and a million nos. Your spiritual temperature is not measured by keeping man-made rules. You are to live a Spirit-filled life, not a rule-bound life. Can I get an "amen"? The freedom that Christ gives us is freedom not to sin. That's the freedom that the Bible talks about because Christ set us free. Before we came to him, we were slaves to sin. Now he sets us free. In fact, in 1 Corinthians chapter 8, he gives us three reasons as to why we are not free to act and behave as we want to. Three reasons. Look at them with me, please.
He tells them first that knowledge alone is not complete. Look at verses 1 to 3. Then he said, secondly, not everyone has the same knowledge. This is verses 4 to 7. And, finally, he says, wounding the... listen to this one. Wounding the conscience of another because of carelessness is a sin. Let's look at these. I'm gonna focus so much on the first one because the second two are really self-explanatory. He is saying knowledge is not enough. What's that mean? The principle is this: when it comes to issues that are not specifically forbidden in the Word of God, how you are to exercise your freedom matters.
But let me, first of all, give you a context because you won't understand the principle until you understand the context, the historic, the cultural context. Until you understand what is Paul saying to them, you won't understand how to apply it to us. Let me tell you a story, okay? Just think with me. In a Greek or Roman culture where the Corinthians were living, it was filled with polytheism. "Polytheism," "poly" means "many", "theos," god, many gods. They were believing in many gods. But they're not only polytheistic. They were "polydemonic". What does that mean? They believed in many demons. Demons. And they believed that all of these demons are really working hard in order to possess them. But how are these demons possess people?
Here's what they believed, that these demons, first of all, they get into the meat. When you're eating meat, they're already possessed with demons, and you eat it, and you become possessed. Isn't that amazing, the terror that they lived in? They think this is the fastest way a demon spirit can possess you is when they get in the food. What's man-made solution? Ah, you take this meat, you offer it to one of the gods or the goddesses first. That way, you really strike two birds with one stone. You basically please the god, make them happy with this offering, and get them off your back, and, secondly, the gods to whom you're offering this meat ahead of time, they will cleanse the meat from the demonic forces.
See how Satan had them bound? As a matter of fact, this kind of meat that is offered to idols was the most highly preferred, highly valued meat. That's a good meat. Why? Because it's already been cleansed from evil spirits. This is how it worked. Listen carefully. The pagan worshiper divides his offering three ways. One portion goes as a burnt offering. The second portion goes to the priest in the pagan temple. The third part, the worshiper keeps. Here's a problem: what's the priest gonna do with all that meat? So the priests, clever as they were, priests are always clever, they take it, and they will sell it for money. Where do they sell it? They sell it to the butcher shop that's in the temple.
Now, there are other butcher shops, but they sell it to the one in the temple. Here was the dilemma for the new believers in Jesus Christ. When they come to Christ and they've been set free from all this, those believers who were living in Corinth, it's a dilemma for them. It was impossible to avoid eating that meat. It's everywhere. If you went to your neighbor's wedding, if you went to your neighbor's dinner party, if you went, yeah, you're gonna be offered this meat offered to idols. Then should the Christian believer go along to get along and just eat and don't worry about it? Or should they cut themselves off from the society altogether? This was a dilemma. It was genuine dilemma for the believers in Corinth.
So you understand now, when you read the Scripture, you understand these people were not just frivolous about it. This was important issue. Some sensitive Christians refused to eat meat that's offered idol. They wanted nothing to do with it. Why? Because it brought back to them that terrible memories of their former pagan life before Christ. Above all, they did not want anyone to think that they have reverted back to their previous life before Christ. On the other hand, there were some Christians who couldn't understand what the hoopla is all about. "Meat is meat," to them: "These gods are nothing. They're not really gods at all, and there's not evil spirits".
They're the ones to whom Paul is writing, whom he called mature believers. What is he saying? "Do not let your liberty to be your focus. You should be more concerned about those who are less mature in the faith. Do not focus and flaunt your freedom at the price of wounding the conscience of others. Let your love for the weaker Christian override your rights. If you truly love the weaker Christian, then you will not use your liberty to crush them, even in these things that are not forbidden in the Scripture, that are left to the individual discretion".
But he's saying more than that. Listen carefully, he's saying, "Your knowledge of the truth regarding pagan gods is good, but it's incomplete. You might be mature in knowledge, but you also should be mature in love. Your doctrine is solid, but there is a crack in your love. Your mind is sound, but there is something wrong with your heart. You get an 'A' for knowledge, but you get a 'D' for love". He is saying that knowledge must be tempered with love. Knowledge is vitally important, but do not use it negatively.
In fact, the Lord himself bemoans the fact that his people are dying for lack of knowledge, as he says, through the prophet Hosea. A balanced Christian believer is the one who balances knowledge with love. Can I get an "amen"? Paul said, "Knowledge puffs. Love humbles". Verse 3, it is impossible to know God and not love him, and God knows those who love him, and he knows them by name, and he calls them by name. So knowledge alone is incomplete. Secondly, he says, verses 4 to 7, not everyone has the same knowledge. I think this is a fact. You already know this. Not everybody has the same knowledge.
Paul agrees with the mature Christians, with the mature believers. Verse 4, not all Christians have the same knowledge, why? Because there are all different stages of walks. There are a lot of different stages of walks. Some people have been walking with Christ for many, many years; others, just new ones. So we all have different knowledge. Believe it or not, within the Christian community, there are such thing as late bloomers. Even though the act of eating is neither morally nor spiritually wrong, yet it becomes wrong when I deliberately and carelessly let it violate the weaker conscience of another believer.
Thirdly, finally, wounding the conscience of another believer, weak believer, is a sin. It's a sin. Verse 8, "Neither eating or not eating these types of meat will commend us to God". It's not gonna affect my relationship with God if you eat or you don't eat. Doing things that are not forbidden in the Word of God is not significant, has no significance in our relationship with the Lord. Mark chapter 7, verse 15, Jesus said, "It is not what you eat that defiles you. It's what comes out of your mind". Acts chapter 10, when the Lord showed Peter a vision of unclean food, and by Jewish standards, it's just unclean, and God said, "Eat it".
Don't forbid what God allowed. If an immature Christian or a weak Christian sees a mature Christian doing something that they, not the Bible, but they, the weaker ones, think is wrong, it could wound their conscience. If the believer's conscience is weak, it's because that brother or sister is just weak in the faith, and, therefore, the mature Christian is mature because he or she is strong in the faith, and therefore, they should have better judgment. And that is why the strong has the responsibility not to offend the weak, not the other way around.
Let me repeat this: the strong has the responsibility not to offend the weak. And that, my beloved friends, requires sacrifice. Sacrifice. I'm gonna tell you this as I conclude. True story. There was a family who loved hiking. The father particularly would take the family to hiking trips. And one day, they arrived into the picnic place, and he said to the family, he said, "You wait here, unpack the lunch, get it ready. I'm gonna get up that steep one. I'm gonna go on my own. I'm gonna check it out, and I'm gonna come back very soon".
And so he goes up, and halfway through his climb, he heard a voice that literally, I mean, this terrified him, paralyzed him, and the voice said, "Daddy, take the safe path. I'm following you". It was his little boy. What do you think the father would do? "Oh, keep on coming, son. You're free to do that. Well, do whatever. You're free, you're free. Come on, come on. Come up, if you want". No, not on your life. Why? Because the knowledgeable father is also a loving father.
Don't split those two. Don't split them. A knowledgeable father is also a loving father. He turned around and immediately picked up his boy and went back. Beloved, being free in Christ is not sufficient to allow you to do things that may be harmless to you, but devastating to others. Think about this with me. Think about this with me, everyone. "Daddy, I'm following you". "Mommy, I'm following you". "Bible teacher, I'm following you". "Church leader, I'm following you". "Pastor, I'm following you".