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Sermon for January 28, 2024 – Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

Welcome to this week’s episode, a special rerun from our Speaking of Life archive. We hope you find its timeless message as meaningful today as it was when it was first shared.

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 3010 | Felt Not Seen
Heber Ticas

Work is a central part of our lives. I mean, we have to have an income to support ourselves and our families. We talk about “hard work,” and we’re suspicious of work that seems too easy. As human beings, the idea of work means putting forth effort, either mentally or physically, and having a tangible outcome. Some of the greatest works human beings have ever made are called “wonders of the world,” like the Taj Mahal in India or the pyramids in Egypt.

If we think about natural wonders in the world, those same people might say some of God’s greatest works are the Grand Canyon in the United States or Mount Everest in Nepal. Or perhaps the Great Barrier Reef in Australia or Victoria Falls in Africa. These are breathtaking natural wonders–clearly not made by man.

The manmade wonders I mentioned, like the Taj Mahal or the Egyptian pyramids, certainly are a visible outcome of hard work, but the effort of creating them came at the expense of human beings, usually slaves. God’s wonders and works, however, never exploit human beings and instead, show love and care for all beings. Further, his greatest works are felt in the heart and not seen.

One of the best places in the Bible to hear descriptions of God’s works is the book of Psalms. Let’s look at a few verses from Psalm 111:

Great are the works of the Lord; they are studied by all who delight in them. Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful…. The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. Psalms 111: 2-4, 7 (NRSV)

If we look closely at the descriptions the psalmist gives for God’s works, we see qualities of God’s heart: honor, majesty, graciousness, mercy, faithfulness, and justice. Not only are God’s works beautiful and majestic, but they also reflect his goodness and his love. In other words, they reflect who God is by revealing his heart.

When we consider the beauty and majesty of the Grand Canyon or Mount Everest, we know they were created by a loving God who is devoted to showing his great love and compassion for all people, for all creation. The next time you visit or see a picture of one of God’s wonders, allow your heart to dwell on the love, compassion, and faithfulness that brought those wonders into being. This is the same Creator who made you and me, the same Creator who became human to draw us into a loving relationship. The greatest works of God are felt in the heart, not seen.

As you witness beauty in the world God created for us, I hope you experience his love and compassion.

Mi nombre es Heber Ticas, Hablando de Vida.

Psalm 111:1-10 • Deuteronomy 18:15-20 • 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 • Mark 1:21-28

This week’s theme is God’s love seeks expression. In our call to worship psalm, activities of God’s love are praised and recounted. The Old Testament text in Deuteronomy speaks of a prophet being raised from among the people which Christians later identify as Jesus. Paul writes to the Corinthian church to encourage a love that builds others up. The Gospel text in Mark highlights Jesus’ ministry of teaching and casting out demons.

The Love of Knowledge vs. the Knowledge of Love

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 ESV

There’s a Catholic priest, a Baptist preacher, and a Jewish rabbi.

These three got together at the local café to talk shop. And as you might imagine, they all went about their jobs very differently. One of them began bragging about how good he was at preaching and bringing people to conversion. Well, the other two took issue with that as they felt their way of doing ministry was superior. So, they decided to have a little competition. They decided that they would each go into the woods, find a bear, and use their best methods to convert it.

So, they all went into the woods, found a bear, and did their thing. After they each got out of the hospital, they met back up at the café to debrief and see who had the best results.

The Catholic priest was pretty scratched up and was still wearing some bandages from his encounter with the bear. He told his story first.

He recounted, “I went out and I found a bear that was good and angry and in need of God’s peace. Things between the bear and me got a little rough so I quickly grabbed some holy water and sprinkled it on the bear while saying three hail Mary’s. And I kid you not, that bear became just as calm as a little lamb. In fact, he will be coming out next week for confirmation and to take his first communion.

Then the Southern Baptist stood up to tell his story. He was in even worse shape than the Priest. Not only did he have scratches and bandages, but he had a cast on one arm and a patch over his left eye.

The preacher began to speak: “Well sonny, we don’t sprinkle nothing. I went out, found the meanest bear in the woods I could find and gave him the best fire and brimstone sermon I ever delivered. That bear was so convicted in his soul he rose up and attacked me. So, I grabbed him and just threw him in the creek and baptized him right then and there. And I kid you not, that bear rose out of the water just as calm as a little lamb. In fact, he signed up for membership class and will be joining us for our Sunday potluck.

Finally, it was the Jewish rabbi’s turn to tell his story. Only he was in terrible shape. He was in a full body cast, had an IV drip, and had to be rolled in on a hospital bed. In agony and pain, he tried to tell his story. He groaned, “You know, now that I think back on it. Circumcision probably wasn’t the best approach.”

That’s just a humorous way to make a simple point. We all have our ways of thinking and doing things that we think are best. And sometimes our way of thinking can get someone hurt.

Today we’re going to look at a section in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church where he is going to have to deal with some ingrained ways of thinking that could create some problems. Before we go into the text let’s get a little backstory of what is going on.

To begin with, 1 Corinthians is a letter written by Paul in response to oral reports and a letter written by the Corinthian church to Paul. In their letter to Paul, the Corinthian Church was challenging some of Paul’s prohibitions and teachings. They put together some logical arguments to justify their actions and Paul responds to each issue they are challenging. If you read through the entire letter of 1 Corinthians, you will notice Paul addressing each issue that the church put to him. He typically starts in on a new issue with saying “now concerning” such and such. Our text today begins with “Now concerning food offered to idols.” We do not have this particular issue today in our culture; however, the principal approach Paul takes on the issue does have application for us as well. We will get to that.

It may also be helpful to know that the city of Corinth was a thriving metropolis due to its strategic position for trade. Corinth grew quickly and attracted many people with different religious backgrounds. This gave rise to a city full of idol worship and rampant moral decay. Also, the Greeks prized their knowledge and debate skills. With this background, we can see the cultural influence on the church in Corinth as they were trying to use their knowledge to excuse their behavior. They were proud of their reasoning skills and were more concerned with their rights and freedoms than the consequences of their choices. Does this sound familiar to our day and time? We shouldn’t be surprised here in the west as we inherited much of Greek thought that the Corinthians are reasoning from. But Paul is not going to challenge their knowledge or logic. He often will agree with it. But he will contrast their knowledge with God’s knowledge. He starts his address of this issue by exposing their faulty premise of knowledge and he then grounds the discussion on the premise of love. We can see in this the need to ground all our thinking on the ground of who God is. God is love and any conclusions we reach that run contrary to this are faulty, no matter how logical or knowledgeable our position. Let’s look at how Paul begins addressing the issue of eating meat offered to idols:

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. (1 Corinthians 8:1-3 ESV)

Paul begins by leveling the playing field by agreeing with their own statement of “all of us possess knowledge.” Then he provides a deeper foundation than knowledge that we should consider in making our decisions—love. Paul also points out how knowledge can become a point of pride. Our knowledge can get us into a lot of trouble. Paul challenges how much “knowledge” these Corinthians really have. As we may often say, “the more we know, the more we come to know how little we know.” Paul is pointing out that to think we have all the answers and know how everything should work, only shows how little we know. That’s where knowledge with humility serves us well. Is it not a temptation for us when we learn something new, to use that knowledge as a point of pride, with complete disregard to others? This is where Paul is going. And he wants to shift our focus with his unexpected comment, “But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” That’s an odd sentence structure is it not? In Greek the most important concept of a sentence is placed in the front.  Here, Paul is focusing the attention first on the love they had toward God and then noting God’s action toward them.

Paul is making a shift of what knowledge is really important. It’s not our knowledge that really counts, but God’s knowledge of us. He knows us best and therefore he should get the final word in all our choices. We have some pretty damaging choices made in the name of knowledge and freedom that do not take into account our triune God of love who knows us best. It’s a trust issue at its root. The Corinthians, and us, need to be reminded that God’s word to us is not to rob us of our freedom or our choices. He does not dehumanize us. On the contrary, he aims to make us into the humans he created us to be. He wants to truly set us free to live in the freedom of making the right choices that align to the reality of his love and good purposes for us. And we can trust he knows what he is talking about since he created us.

Paul has essentially grounded the argument on a whole new premise. He wants to reframe how they are thinking about the issue before addressing it. He is basically saying, “we are going to look at this from a different point of view. God’s point of view.” Now that he has established that premise he returns to the issue:

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Corinthians 8:4-6)

Paul is now going forward with their argument by repeating what they said and even agreeing with it. Paul has no problem agreeing with the statement that there is only one God and therefore idols are empty of any real existence. Paul gives them a hearty “Amen!” But he goes further. He then speaks of this “one God” as a Father to whom all things, including ourselves, belong. He also adds that this “one God” includes Jesus Christ, who is Lord. Paul is bringing home a very important distinction about this “one God” that the Corinthians are using to justify their decisions. This God is a God who has revealed himself to us as a Father, and as a Father who has a Son who is Lord over all that exists. We are not in a position to exalt our knowledge or our freedom over the Creator God who is Lord over all. This God is a triune God of love and to run counter to this is to undo ourselves.

Now that Paul has established who God is, he will bring home the point that has been missing from the Corinthians “knowledge.” They have not been taking into account how their decisions will affect their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul begins by indicating something is missing with the transitional word, “However”:

However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:7-13 ESV)

Paul brings the discussion to include others. Here he is making his overall point that he made back in chapter 6.

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV)

Just because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should. There were other believers in the Corinthian church who did not possess the same “knowledge” as some had. The Corinthian church also included Jews along with Gentiles so some of these Jewish brothers and sisters may have considered eating meat sacrificed to idols as an idolatrous activity, not to mention unkosher. The Gentile believers on the other hand had the problem of associating with their friends and neighbors, where avoiding eating this meat would have been difficult. So, there is much more to consider on the issue than just the knowledge of facts. There’s more going on than meets the eye, as it is so often with many of the issues we face today. Things are not always so black and white. It takes discernment, and that discernment must be sought from the triune God of love.

Paul’s argument here brings up what “freedom” really means when grounded in the truth of this God revealed as the loving relationship of Father, Son, Spirit. Their relationship has been coined as perichoresis which points to the mutual indwelling of Father, Son, Spirit. The word comes from the Greek peri, meaning “around,” and chorein, meaning “to give way” or “to make room.” Perichoresis could be understood as “rotation” or “going around.” We see in this perichoretic relationship that Father, Son, Spirit live equally and in a unified relationship. Their focus is never selfish or territorial. They fully make room in all that they do. God is truly free to be in loving relationship as Father, Son and Spirit. Like the Corinthian church our mindset also can be influenced by the culture around us. Here in the West, we tend to think contrary to this life of perichoretic relationship. We are tempted to think in terms of individualism and rights. We run the risk of losing freedom by defining it on the premise of individual rights. True freedom is being able to lay down your rights in loving response to relationship. Freedom truly finds its wings on the premise of the love that God in his infinite wisdom is sharing with us in his Son and through the Spirit.

Paul also makes a logical argument of his own. He points out to the Corinthians that if eating meat offered to idols is no big deal, then why make a fuss over it when it creates trouble for your brother? If it really is a small thing, then why not go without to embrace the big thing of loving your brother? And that is how Paul concludes. He states for himself that he would rather never eat meat if it is going to create harm for another. That is a choice that is truly set free by love.

True freedom is not expressed by being able to do whatever we want; true freedom is being able to go without what we want for the sake of another. This is the freedom we see in our Lord Jesus Christ who went to the cross for our sakes. If we call him Lord and want to enter into his freedom, we will want to think twice about our freedom on certain issues to discern how it may affect others. This doesn’t mean we should walk on eggshells to avoid any risk of offending everyone’s self-proclaimed sensibilities. That’s impossible and not at all what Paul is saying in this passage. Our decisions need to be based on the love we see in Jesus Christ and that is proclaimed in his word to us.

How free are you? How easy is it for you to forego some right or freedom for the sake of another? Jesus holds out to us his freedom and his love. And the Father’s ear is always turned to hear our prayers for wisdom in discerning what is best in any given situation. Considering Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians, today would be a good day to revisit any choices you are making in the name of “knowledge” or “freedom” that may be a hindrance to another. What might it look like to reframe the issue on the basis of God’s love to us as revealed in Jesus Christ?

Grace Areas w/ Dan Rogers W4

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January 28—Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
1 Corinthians 8:1-13, “Grace Areas”

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Program Transcript

Grace Areas w/ Dan Rogers W4

Anthony: Let’s immediately move to our final passage of the month. It’s 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for the fourth Sunday after Epiphany, on January 28.

Dan, we’d be grateful if you’d read it for us, please.

Dan: I’d be happy to. Chapter 8, beginning in verse 1 of 1 Corinthians, Paul writes:

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge, but anyone who loves God is known by him. Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11 So by your knowledge the weak brother or sister for whom Christ died is destroyed. 12 But when you thus sin against brothers and sisters and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never again eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

Anthony: So, looking back through this pericope, the very first verse says that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Knowledge is generally revered, and certainly something we all seek. So, help us understand what Paul is really getting at with this statement, Dan.

Dan: Okay the Christians in the city of Corinth were blessed with many spiritual gifts. But sadly, this had gone to their heads and caused division in the congregation. Now, one of the gifts, evidently, was the gift of knowledge. The Greek word is gnosis. And it appears to have become a popular catch word for the Corinthians.

Now, at least some, evidently, had come to believe that their special knowledge gave them rights and freedoms to act and behave as they wanted. Paul points out that their knowledge really is only partial, and that the basis of Christian conduct is not knowledge but love, as Paul goes on to say in chapter 13 of first Corinthians. “If I understand all mysteries and all knowledge, but do not have love, I am nothing now.”

In other words, if you know that the monarchy of the Trinity is located in the being of God, not in the persons of God, and you understand the perichoresis, the homoousion, and the hypostatic union, and that there is no lacuna in the prolepsis of the eschaton, but that the eschatological Parousia is certain, but you judge and tell me that because I don’t understand that, that I’m a stupid disciple and not worthy of being called a Christian … you just might be a Corinthian! (Apologies there to Jeff Foxworthy.)

Anthony: As I’m looking at verse nine, Dan, thinking about just what you said. You could have all this knowledge, theological jargon, but if you abuse the liberties that you have and it becomes a stumbling block to others, that’s problematic to God. And I just want to ask you, is there any way that you can contextualize that in the modern day?

Maybe things that you see where we are taking liberty, that is actually becoming a stumbling block to others. Any words that you would say there?

Dan: Yeah, I would put it this way. If I were giving a sermon and after I had exegeted this pericope, I would probably come back and say something to the effect that, what do we learn from the apostle Paul in this passage?

Some Christians, perhaps relatively new to the faith, though intellectually they knew and understood the gospel, were still subjectively and by habit tied into their old ideas and ways. We can see this today. We see Christians, maybe even ourselves, we say, cross your fingers, or knock on wood, or here’s wishing you good luck. And now we know objectively that those things are superstitions, but it’s a part of our culture, and we still subjectively use those terms.

But so, how should we, as church leaders and senior members of a congregation, act and behave toward folks, especially those who are new? What kind of examples should be set? Paul would admonish the leaders and senior members to be careful. Now what about us? Are we conscious and aware of how our example as church leaders and senior members affect those who are new to our congregations?

What about our example? Now, not in matters of indifference, but in matters that might mislead and hurt new attendees. Might we even lead them into sin by our attitude and conduct?

On one level, what if we knew that some new attendees, because of their former religion or church, believed that it was a sin to eat pork? Would we invite them over to our house or have a fellowship meal at church that offered only pork? Would that be a good way to educate them and break them in?

But even more seriously, and right along the lines of what Paul is talking about in our passage, let me give this example—because what Paul is really talking about is eating meat sacrificed to idols, but eating it at the pagan temple.

Now we’ve got to remember that the pagan temples in those days were kind of their versions of what we might call a restaurant. In other words, if you wanted to get a good steak, where would you go? You’d go down to the local pagan temple because that’s where the animals were slaughtered and butchered and cooked and served as meals. And the community would go there, and they would eat and of course they would have the dancing girls, the prostitutes, the idols and all of that. But hey, it was a good meal.

So let me give this example. It’s something that came to mind while I was watching the TV show The Big Bang Theory. Now, in that show, there’s a character named Barry Kripke.

And Barry likes to invite new acquaintances and new colleagues to have dinner with him at a buffet that has excellent food and is very affordable. Now, the buffet is located in the local strip club. So, what if a church leader or senior church member invited a new attendee to a meal at a strip club? The leader or member could argue they only go there for the food, and they have the character not to look at anything else.

Some in Corinth are making much the same argument about going to a pagan temple for a meal. Now, would any of us do that to a new member? God forbid! We could very well be leading someone into sin, even an addiction, by our so-called freedom and our belief in our own character.

Let’s realize that God has called us to follow and imitate Christ. We’re to walk as he walked; we’re to follow Paul as he followed Christ. Others should be able to follow us as we follow Paul. And as we follow Christ, it’s not about us. It’s not about our freedom. It’s not about our knowledge. It’s about love and concern for others, and we need to realize the importance of setting a right example for other people, of being a light set on a stand, of being a city set on a hill for all to see.

So, what should we do? We should spiritually discipline ourselves and let our example shine. And be a light and a guide to others because that is love, and the greatest of all gifts is not knowledge. The greatest of all gifts is love. God has all knowledge, but God is love, and we are his children in communion with the Holy Spirit and in union with Christ.

So, what should we do? Let’s grow up to be like our Father and let us grow in love.

Anthony: Hallelujah and amen.

Pastors, I want to remind you that God could have chosen angels or any other thing he’s created to preach the gospel. But he chose the weak who can sympathize with the weak. He’s chosen you pastors, you preachers, you teachers. Thank you for your labor of love and Christ’s service.

Dan, I want to thank you for participating in the many ways that you have. Thank you for your insights here today. I have no doubt there are nuggets that our preachers are going to be able to take away from our discussion here today. So, thank you so very much for your labor of love.

And I want to thank three people who helped make this podcast possible. Reuel Enerio, David McKinnon, and Elizabeth Mullins. They’re a great team and I certainly could not do this without them.

As is our tradition here on Gospel Reverb, we like to end with prayer. And Mr. Rogers, if you would we’d be grateful for your prayer over our listening audience here today.

Dan: I’d be happy to, Anthony.

And let me, first of all, say thank you for the job you do on Gospel Reverb. In my opinion, for what it’s worth, I think you do a wonderful job here, and I really enjoy listening to all of your programs. And thank you for allowing me to be a part of them.

So, if you join me now in prayer.

Our great God and Father in heaven, we come to you through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit to praise and to worship you and to realize it is all about you.

And our preaching and our teaching and in everything we do, it’s about you, and it’s about love. Love God and love others, that fulfills everything you’ve asked of us as humans to do.

God, we need your help. We need your power. We need you in our lives. We need to participate with you through the Spirit to bring this about. But God, we trust in you and your faithfulness to do this for us.

Thank you for your word. Help us to rightly understand it, rightly preach it, rightly teach it, and rightly live by it. And let us interpret it all through the lens of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, who is our epiphany, who is the one who reveals to us your way, your word, and your being. So, we give you thanks and praise, and ask your blessing, and give you great thanks in the name of our Savior, Jesus. Amen.

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • The sermon spoke of how the Corinthian church was being influenced by the culture in which it lived. How do you see the church today being influenced by the culture that surrounds it? What are some common negative influences?
  • Can you think of examples of where “knowledge” was used in a way that was hurtful to others?
  • Discuss what it means to be free. How does Jesus’ life give us a picture of what true freedom looks like? How does this freedom differ from how freedom is often portrayed?
  • Can you think of some examples where laying down your “rights” was the right thing to do?
  • Can you think of some actions you have taken or seen others take that were not morally wrong but still became a hindrance to others?

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