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Food Offered to Idols

 8

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.


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He now passes on to another question, which he had merely touched upon in the sixth chapter, without fully discussing. For when he had spoken of the avarice of the Corinthians, and had drawn that discussion to a close with this statement — Neither covetous, nor extortioners, nor fornicators, etc., shall inherit the kingdom of God, he passed on to speak of the liberty of Christians — All things are lawful for me. He had taken occasion from this to speak of fornication, and from that, of marriage Now, therefore, he at length follows out what he had touched upon as to things intermediate — how we ought to restrain our liberty in intermediate things. By intermediate things, I mean those that are neither good nor bad in themselves, but indifferent, which God has put in our power, but in the use of which we ought to observe moderation, that there may be a difference between liberty and licentiousness. In the outset, he selects one instance, distinguished above all the others, as to which the Corinthians grievously offended — their having been present on occasion of the sacred banquets, which were held by idolaters in honor of their gods, and eating indiscriminately of the meats that were offered to them. As this gave much occasion of offense, the Apostle teaches them that they rashly perverted the liberty granted them by the Lord.

1. Concerning things offered unto idols. He begins with a concession, in which he voluntarily grants and allows to them everything that they were prepared to demand or object. “I see what your pretext is: you make Christian liberty your pretext. You hold out that you have knowledge, and that there is not one of you that is so ignorant as not to know that there is but one God. I grant all this to be true, but of what avail is that knowledge which is ruinous to the brethren?” Thus, then, he grants them what they demand, but it is in such a way as to show that their excuses are empty and of no avail.

Knowledge puffeth up He shows, from the effects, how frivolous a thing it is to boast of knowledge, when love is wanting. “Of what avail is knowledge, that is of such a kind as puffs us up and elates us, while it is the part of love to edify?” This passage, which otherwise is somewhat obscure, in consequence of its brevity, may easily be understood in this way — “Whatever is devoid of love is of no account in the sight of God; nay more, it is displeasing to him, and much more so what is openly at variance with love Now that, knowledge of which you boast, O ye Corinthians, is altogether opposed to love, for it puffs up men with pride, and leads to contempt of the brethren, while love is concerned for the welfare of brethren, and exhorts us to edify them. Accursed, then, be that knowledge which makes men proud, and is not regulated by a desire of edifying.”

Paul, however, did not mean, that this is to be reckoned as a fault attributable to learning — that those who are learned are often self-complacent, and have admiration of themselves, accompanied with contempt of others. Nor did he understand this to be the natural tendency of learning — to produce arrogance, but simply meant to show what effect knowledge has in an individual, that has not the fear of God, and love of the brethren; for the wicked abuse all the gifts of God, so as to exalt themselves. Thus riches, honors, dignities, nobility, beauty, and other things of that nature, puff up; because men, elated through a mistaken confidence in these things, very frequently become insolent. 458458     “Et intraittables;” — “And insufferable.” Nor is it always so; for we see that many who are rich and beautiful, and abounding in honors, and distinguished for dignity and nobility, are, nevertheless, of a modest disposition, and not at all tainted with pride. And even when it does happen to be so, it is, nevertheless, not proper that we should put the blame upon what we know to be gifts of God; for in the first place that were unfair and unreasonable; and farther, by putting the blame upon things that are not blameworthy, we would exempt the persons themselves from blame, who alone are in fault. My meaning is this — “If riches naturally tend to make men proud, then a rich man, if proud, is free from blame, for the evil arises from riches.”

We must, therefore, lay it down as a settled principle, that knowledge is good in itself; but as piety is its only foundation, 459459     “La crainte de Dieu est le seul et vray fondement d’icelle;” — “The fear of God is its only true foundation.” it becomes empty and useless in wicked men: as love is its true seasoning, where that is wanting it is tasteless. And truly, where there is not that thorough knowledge of God which humbles us, and teaches us to do good to the brethren, it is not so much knowledge, as an empty notion of it, even in those that are reckoned the most learned. At the same time, knowledge is not by any means to be blamed for this, any more than a sword, if it falls into the hands of a madman. Let this be considered as said 460460     “J’ai bien voulu dire ceci;” — “I have felt prepared to say this.” with a view to certain fanatics, who furiously declaim against all the liberal arts and sciences, as if their only use were to puff men up, and were not of the greatest advantage as helps in common life. 461461     “Moyens et instrumens tres-vtiles, tant a la cognoissance de Dieu, qu’a la conduite de la vie commune;” — “Most useful means and instruments, both for the knowledge of God, and for the conduct of common life.” Now those very persons, who defame them in this style, are ready to burst with pride, to such an extent as to verify the old proverb — “Nothing is so arrogant as ignorance.”

2. And if any man thinketh That man thinketh that he knoweth something, who is delighted with the opinion that he entertains of his own knowledge, and despises others, as if he were far above them. For Paul does not here condemn knowledge, but that ambition and haughtiness which ungodly men contract in consequence of it. Otherwise he does not exhort us to be sceptical, so as to be always hesitating and hanging in doubt, and he does not approve of a false and counterfeit modesty, as if it were a good thing to think that we are ignorant of what we do know. That man, therefore, who thinketh that he knoweth something, or, in other words, who is insolent from an empty notion of his own knowledge, so that he prefers himself before others, and is self-conceited, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know For the beginning of all true knowledge is acquaintance with God, which produces in us humility and submission; nay more, it prostrates us entirely instead of elating us. But where pride is, there is ignorance of God 462462     “La regne ignorance et faute de cognoissance de Dieu;” — “There ignorance reigns, and deficiency in acquaintance with God.” — a beautiful passage! Would to God that all knew it aright, so as properly to understand the rule of right knowledge!




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