Monday, June 8, 2009

Eat at Apollo's

There were many questions arising out of my message about meat offered to idols from 1 Corinthians 8. You can listen to the sermon from June 7, 2009 by clicking here or by visiting iTunes. The problem in 1 Cor 8 is that there are two terms that present difficult interpretive challenges.

In 1 Cor 8:11, "Brother" normally means a convert; yet “destroyed” almost always means eternal destruction. To make it more interesting, with both those issues, Paul also calls this person “a brother for whom Christ died.” it almost seems to set up a no win situation! The key, of course, is to seek to take everything in a "whole-Bible" context and to let the "clear" passages interpret the "unclear."

It seems to me that even within the letter of 1 Corinthians, Paul teaches that there are people who are called brothers who are not...for instance, in 1 Cor 5:9-11 Paul talks about not associating with anyone who "bears the name of brother" but is practicing unrepentant sin. So, it seems clear that Paul is talking about people in the visible, local church who are accepted as brothers, perhaps by a profession of faith, and yet may not be Christians at all...only time will tell. But in the meantime, other Christians are not to associate with them that the unrepentant brothers may see their sin and repent.

Another key reason I'm convinced that Paul is talking about our actions toward those with an unformed faith is what he says in 1 Corinthians 9. Specifically, in 1 Cor 9:19-22, Paul is clearly emphasizing that he is willing to give up his rights and liberties so that by all means he might win/save as many as possible. Paul is not talking about ticky-tack differences with respect to "gray areas" among Christians...he is talking about actions that might keep those with an unformed faith from coming to the cross. Our actions toward others matter in the grand plan of God regarding the spiritual lives of others!

As far as "the brother for whom Christ died," not being a Christian, what does this say about the atoning work of Christ? There are other passages that present that difficulty as well. For instance, 1 Tim 4:10 mentions that Christ is the Savior of ALL people, especially of those who believe. Just as there were universal, cosmic consequences to the First Adam’s sin (Gen 3:17-19), so there are universal, cosmic consequences to the Second Adam’s Righteousness (Rom 8:19-23). So, my take on both 1 Tim 4:10 and 1 Cor 8:11 is that there is a sense in which Christ lived, died and rose for ALL, but not in a salvific way (only the elect have Christ as Savior in a salvific way (Rom 9), thus He is ESPECIALLY their Savior.

There is a sense that we are called to remember the dignity and worth of every human being, that we recall that they are all image bearers and that since we don't know who the elect are, it MAY be that Christ died even salvifically for such a "brother" with a still unformed faith, and our actions have an impact on people. God is sovereign and we are absolutely responsible…as Paul mentions in Acts 20:26 (likely referring to Ezek 3:18!).

There is obviously a lot of mystery in these verses...things we just don't know that we must try to grapple with. Bottom line, 1 Cor 8 seems to be dealing with those in the visible, local church who perhaps have made a profession of faith, but who are not yet converted and through our wrong use of knowledge and liberty are drawn back into idolatry, away from the Church, never to return, and are lost forever...Hebrew 6:4-8 seems to address a similar group of people as does Hebrews 10:26-39. They may be non-elect, but we are still responsible for our witness to them…we are NOT hyper-Calvinists!!

It seems that God wants His children to hope in the doctrine of eternal security, but also wants us to never feel we can become complacent and presumptuous about salvation. He gives us assurance...and also gives us real warnings! We, and others, may be "called" brothers...and if we are we are TRULY brothers and sisters in Christ, we will persevere to the end because of God's grace...but if we get drawn back into idolatry and unrepentant sin, and leave, we were never really in Christ...and John addresses this issue in 1 John 2:19.

Fun stuff, eh? to show yourself approved...a workman who handles accurately the word of truth--2 Tim 2:15; and as Peter reminds us in 2 Peter 3:16, there are some things in Scripture that are hard to understand!!

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