Robert Jeffress - Meat Market Christianity - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. For the most part, the Bible clearly states the difference between right and wrong, but in some situations, it's hard to find a definite answer. For example, is it permissible for Christians to go out to a bar and drink? Or can Christians watch movies or television shows with explicit content? Well, today I'm going to share an important biblical principle for navigating the gray areas of life. My message is titled "Meat Market Christianity" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Well, I remember it like it were yesterday. I was 16 years old. I was seated right out there in the middle somewhere during a Sunday evening service. After the service was over, people were standing around, milling around, talking like they will tonight, and while we were just standing there, everybody talking with one another, the mother of a girl in our youth group came up to me and we started chatting, and mom's still here in the church, and she said, "Robert, my daughter went to a movie last night and she was just horribly offended at the language in that movie". And I remember thinking to myself, "Well, why is she telling me this? Maybe it's because I'm so spiritual. She just thought I would want to know about this".
So I thought, so after she made that comment, I took the bait and I asked her the question. I said, well, "Why did your daughter go to that movie in the first place"? She said, "Well, a couple nights ago, she was driving by the theater and she saw you and your date standing in line to go see that movie. And she said to herself, if Robert Jeffress can go to that movie, it must be an okay movie for me to go to". I remember crawling under that pew right there in the middle, wanting to hide. Now, I want to be quick to say this wasn't some x-rated movie. It was a comedy. It still appears on the Disney channel, you know, 40 years later. The language certainly had some questionable things in it, but that night made an impact on me. It reminded me of a truth that, while I don't always act on, I always remember, and that is what we do does impact other people.
As John Donne said, "No Christian," he really said, "No man is an island to himself". I would paraphrase it, "No Christian is an island unto himself". And that's really the theme of the passage that we're going to look at tonight. What we do impacts other people. If you have your Bibles, turn to 1 Corinthians chapter eight. Now, remember 1 Corinthians is a book that is a list of answers to questions the Corinthians had about a variety of topics. The last several weeks, we looked at what Paul said about being single. What about being married? What about divorce? What about remarriage? Those were some of the questions. In future weeks, we'll see what did Paul say about the role of women in the church? What about the gift of tongues? What about spiritual gifts? And an assortment of other topics. But tonight he introduces a new topic, and it's beginning in verse one of chapter eight.
"Now concerning things sacrificed to idols". That's four words in English, one word in Greek. It talks about meat that had been sacrificed to idols. We know that we all have knowledge. Paul says, "I'm going to take up this very controversial subject of eating meat that had one time been sacrificed to idols". Now, a little background will help you understand the controversy here. The city of Corinth was noted for many things, the Olympic-sized stadium outside the city, for being a seaport town, for its sexual immorality, but it was most known for the worship of idols. You know, the Greeks and the Romans had Gods, they had idols for everything under heaven. In fact, it was said about the Greeks, "There are more Gods than men in the city of Athens". And so idol worship was a very, very common thing. And so the Greeks and the Romans would sacrifice to their many idols. William Barkley points out that these Corinthians were not only polytheistic, they believed in many Gods, they were also polydemonistic. They believed in a multitude of demons.
Now, we believe in demons, too. Paul talked about demons, but these Corinthians did not have a biblical understanding of demons. They believed that the way demons entered into a person was through the food that they ate, and so in order to pacify the Gods, these pagan worshipers would take meat, and they would offer it to their various idols. Just kind of like you set out cookies and milk for Santa Claus, you know? You'd offer this meat, and it would pacify the idols, it would cleanse of demons, and so forth, and what would happen would be, Charles Hodge points this out, that the meat would be divided into three portions.
One third of it would be consumed by the fire. The other third of it, the consumer would take home. He could eat it, but he would have to eat it in the house, or he would have to eat it within the confines of the temple. But the other third was given to the priest, and this priest, of course, think about it, if everybody did that with the priest, the priest would have this mound of meat, you know, that he would have, and so he couldn't eat all of it, and so there was a shop set up within the temple grounds where you would purchase meat that the priest had that had been sacrificed to idols. Now, this meat was very, very desired meat. I mean, think about it. It could have a wrapping around it, "No cholesterol, no demons," you know? I mean, it was meat that had been sanctified. It had been freed, it had been cleansed of the demons.
Now, the real question was what should a Christian do about this meat that had been offered to idols? Even though it was a desired item, should a Christian go into this pagan meat market and buy meat that had been offered to an idol? I mean, what if somebody saw a Christian doing this? Would they assume that Christian was a pagan because he was eating meat that had been sacrificed to an idol? Or what if you went to a home of a non-Christian. The non-Christian served you meat that had been offered to an idol. Should you eat it or not eat it? Now, of course, the older, the more mature Christians said, "There's no problem with that. I mean, we know there's no such thing as an idol. What's wrong eating meat that have been sacrificed to an idol"?
But remember, some of these younger, newer Christians in Corinth, they had come just out of idol worship. They had said no to idol worship. They had just embraced Christianity, and for them, to eat this meat that had been offered to idols, it would remind them of their former lifestyle. It might cause them to lapse back under their former way of life. And so that was the debate that was going on in the Corinthian church. Even though the Bible doesn't specifically address this issue, is it okay to eat meat that had offered to an idol? Now, I realize that's not a burning issue in the church today. You don't go into Albertson's and see a section in the meat department, meat that had been offered to idols, and wonder, "Should I, or shouldn't I"? And so I was sitting here thinking this week, as I was preparing this message, what are some comparable issues today that the church debates? Things that the Bible doesn't specifically talk about, but Christians tend to have strong feelings about one way or the other.
So, let me get my bag of sin here. Now, I thought, you know, one issue would be the lottery. You know, is it okay for a Christian to play the lottery, or not? And you know, I know a lot of you have strong feelings about the lottery, but there's no verse in the Bible that says, "Don't play the lottery". You can tell me about all the sociological detriments that the lottery brings to society, and I agree with those, but there's nothing in the Bible that says, "Don't play the lottery". Actually, we know the answer to this question. It's fine to play the lottery if you win and tithe on the proceeds. So that's really not an issue, okay? Or here's another issue Christians wonder about. What about smoking cigarettes? Is it okay to smoke cigarettes, or not? Now, we know there are health risks associated with cigarette smoking, but is it sinful to smoke a cigarette, or not?
You know, again, one of my childhood memories is coming to church here on Sunday nights. It used to be at 7:30. Can you remember church used to start here at 7:30 in the evening, and I remember standing out in front of the Truett building with my dad before the church service began, and he would be standing out there, the other men would be standing out there, deacons standing out there, just smoking away before the evening service. Remember that? You'd just stand out there and smoke, and then right before the service began, you know, you'd extinguish the cigarette and walk on in and have a holy time in God's house, you know? Nobody really thought anything about it. So that's not really a big issue, the lottery and smoking. But then I thought, okay, what's the one issue that really causes a stir in a Baptist church? Drinking. Here's a can of bud light here. What does the Bible have to say about drinking? Is it right or is it wrong for a Christian to drink?
Now, I know some of you are shocked that I would bring a can of beer into the church, or that I would set it on the sacred desk here. The whirring sound you hear right now? That's some of the graves spinning out in the cemetery, out at Sparkman hillcrest right now. Can't believe he did that. He put a can of beer right here on the sanctuary, on the pulpit. Is it right for a Christian to drink, or not? Now, you know, some people say, "I can't believe he did that". Other people would say, "What's the big deal"? We know that, you know, Jesus's first miracle at cana, the wedding feast at cana, was turning water into what? It wasn't Welch's grape juice. He turned the water into wine, to an alcoholic beverage. Is there anything really sinful about this beer?
I brought this in here for a purpose, because what I'm trying to do is duplicate the controversy that was brewing, pardon the pun, in the church at Corinth about these questionable things, and so I'm going to leave this beer right here, and as we work through 1 Corinthians 8 and talk about meat that had been sacrificed to idol, I want you to substitute beer for meat, okay? Or substitute some other questionable practice, the lottery, celebrating Halloween, all of these things, dancing, that Christians debate about. What does the Bible have to say about those things? Well, let's look and see what the text tells us about these questionable areas of behavior in the Christian life.
Now, again, we know the Bible says clearly in Ephesians 5:18, "Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the spirit". We're not talking about getting drunk. That's obviously prohibited in scripture. What we're talking about is the occasional glass of wine. We're talking about drinking occasionally. What does the Bible say about that, or any of these questionable issues? How do we decide what is right and wrong? Now, the more mature Christians in the church at Corinth would say, "There's nothing wrong with it". The new Christians would say, "How could you ever think about doing something like this"? Now, had I been Paul addressing this topic, here's what I would have done. I would have addressed the younger Christians in the church. I would have said, "You know what? You all need to grow up and realize that you've got freedom in Christ, that there is nothing wrong about eating meat that had been offered to an idol".
But that's why God didn't have me write 1 Corinthians, okay? Paul, instead of addressing the younger Christians, he addresses the more mature Christians, to tell them how they should gauge their behavior in light of younger Christians. And here is the theme of 1 Corinthians 8. He said mature Christians should limit their freedom for the sake of immature Christians. He says, out of love, mature Christians have the obligation to limit their freedom for the sake of immature Christians. My freedom in Christ stops when it hurts another believer, and that is the theme of the passage we're going to look at tonight. Now, the way Paul structures this very short chapter is he talks to the more mature Christians and he uses their arguments for why they think it's okay to use or eat meat that had been offered to an idol, and he refutes the two arguments that they were using to say there's no big deal about eating this meat.
And notice the two arguments. Argument number one, we have superior knowledge. They went around boasting about the fact that they had freedom in Christ. They knew that there was no such thing as an idol, and Paul points out first of all the problem with knowledge. He says in verse one of chapter eight, "Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies". You see, the more mature believers said that there's nothing in God's word that prohibits this. Therefore we are, free. They had that knowledge, but knowledge, ladies and gentlemen, without love produces arrogance. It produces an insensitivity toward the feelings of others.
Do you know people like this? Their heads are just filled with all kind of biblical knowledge, or they've gone to seed on some manmade system of theology, whether it's Calvinism or Arminianism or pre-millennialism or some other ism. Man, they have all the knowledge up here, but there's some of the meanest people you'll ever meet. Have you ever wondered why that is? Why is it that some of the most orthodox Christians are also some of the most hateful Christians? You see, it's not about how much knowledge you have up here. It's not about head knowledge. The Bible says the purpose of any knowledge you have from the scriptures is either to cause you to love God more or to love others more. Isn't that exactly what Jesus said when he said, "You want to know what the greatest commandment is? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind, soul and strength, and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself".
Any knowledge that doesn't help you love God or love other people is really worthless knowledge. Paul says the same thing in verses two and three of chapter eight. He says, "If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he is not yet known as he ought to know: but if anyone loves God, he is known by him". Paul is saying the bottom line in the Christian life is love for God, and flowing out of that is a love for other people. Look at 1 John 4, verse 20. "If somebody says, 'i love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar: for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen". What does this love stuff have to do with your behavior? Paul says our love for God, our love for other people is the boundary of our behavior.
We limit our freedom because of our love for God or love for other people. And then Paul talks about the limitation of knowledge. These Corinthians were boasting about their superior knowledge. What is it that they had, this superior knowledge? Look at verses four to six. To me, this is so interesting. "Therefore concerning eating things sacrificed to idols, we know that there's no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. But even if there are so-called Gods, whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many Gods and many Lords, yet for us, there is but one God, the father, from whom all things and we exist for him: and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through him".
Now, in verse six, he's not teaching relative truth. He's not saying we believe there's one God. Other people believe there are many Gods. Everybody just needs to believe whatever they want to believe. He's not saying that at all. He's simply acknowledging the fact that there are many different beliefs about the Gods, but we know that there's one God, Paul says. Now look at verse seven. This is the key. "However," he says, "Not all men have this knowledge". Now, he's talking about Christians. Not all Christians in the Corinthian church have this knowledge. What knowledge? That there is only one God. You say, "Wait a minute. How could that be? You're talking about Christians in the church, and some of these Christians didn't know there's only one God? You mean you can be a Christian and believe that there's a multitude of Gods"?
I like what one commentator says. He said the Corinthians, these new believers had come to the place that they believed there was only one right God, but they had not yet arrived at the knowledge that there is only one real God. Now, I'm going to say something that's going to raise some hackles in here tonight. If yours hasn't been raised yet, it probably will at this point. You know, there's only one thing you have to believe to become a Christian. The Bible says believe, cling to, trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. That's the only thing you have to believe to be saved. And yet there are people who constantly are adding all of these things that you have to believe to be a Christian. Well, to be a Christian, you have to, you know, believe in the virgin birth, and you have to believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, and you have to be against abortion, and you have to believe in creation, and you have to believe all of these things to be a Christian.
I've actually heard people say, "You cannot be a Christian and be pro-life. You cannot be a Christian and not believe in the inerrancy of the scripture. You cannot be a Christian and believe in evolution". Of course you can. You can believe in a Christian and believe in abortion. You can believe in same-sex marriage. You can be a Christian and believe all sorts of wrong things. You know why that is? Because you can be an immature Christian, you can be a misled Christian, you can be a disobedient Christian, but you're still a Christian. The only thing you have to believe to be saved is that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior. And I believe that when a Christian sincerely comes to know the Lord, he'll want to grow in his faith, and as he grows in his faith and grows in the knowledge of the Lord, he'll become convinced of these other things as well. But these Corinthian believers, these new believers, they had not yet come to the truth that there's only one God.
Now look at verse seven again. "However not all men have this knowledge: but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol: and their conscience being weak is defiled". Here's what was happening. Here's a brand-new Christian, just came out yesterday out of paganism and idol worship, brand new believer, and because of the influence of another Christian, he begins eating this meat sacrificed to idols. What happens? His conscience told him, "No, don't do it". He does it anyway. He falls back into paganism and his old lifestyle. His conscience being weak is defiled. Now, what is conscience? Conscience, a conscience is that internal warning system that God places in every believer to warn him about what he should and should not do.
John MacArthur describes it this way. He says "Conscience is God's doorkeeper to keep us out of the places where we could be hurt. As we mature, our conscience allows us to go more places and to do more things, because we will have better judgment". Now, when our girls, they're both here tonight, were little, like four or so forth, every Saturday, we would go down to the park by our house couple of blocks down the street to play. Imagine one Saturday morning, they come and say, "Hey, dad, let's go to the park to play," and I said, "I'm tired". I throw 'em the keys, and I said, "Drive yourself down there," you know? Would you ever do that with a four-year-old? I mean, I wouldn't have think about allowing them to drive themselves in a car when they were four. I wouldn't let them out of the house by themselves when they were four, because of what they might get into or what somebody else might do to them. But the older our girls got, the more freedom we gave them, and to now they're able to exercise their own freedom. That's what a conscience is.
When you become a Christian, God many times sets your conscience at a very high level of sensitivity. Your faith is fragile, and because of that, God is very restrictive about what he will allow you to do and not do, knowing how easy it would be to revert to your former way of life. But the older you grow in your faith, the more mature you become, the more freedom you're able to exercise. The key thing, ladies and gentlemen, is not to disobey your conscience. It is God's warning system that he places inside of you, and your conscience is set at a different level than other people's conscience. God knows exactly how much sensitivity ought to be there. But when you violate your conscience, it's like you destroy that internal warning system.
In 1 Timothy 4:2, Paul talks about men whose conscience has been seared as though with a branding iron. That's a vivid picture. What happens if you take your finger and you put it into a flame? The flesh begins to burn, you destroy the nerve endings, and you get to the point you can't feel anything anymore. When you go against your conscience, when your conscience says, "No, don't do this," but you do it anyway, you are searing, you are destroying those spiritual nerve endings so that there comes a point that you cannot feel God's leading any longer. It is a wrong thing, is it is a terrible thing to violate your conscience. It's an equally terrible thing to cause somebody to violate their conscience, and that's what this passage is talking about.