Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
The reading of 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 brings Christians face to face with issues of culture and ethnicities.
Does the Gospel of Jesus Christ erase people’s cultural values, identities, and ethical norms? Answering this question is not easy because when the gospel encounters people’s way of living, an engagement begins and this involves a two-way navigation of mutual love and trust. Paul raises the issue of knowledge that makes people proud and at the same time he introduces love that builds (1 Corinthians 8:1). While there must be boundaries between gospel and culture, the truth of the matter is that Jesus’ incarnational presence is always transformative in ways that are a mystery, allowing believers to be hyphenated-Christians who wrestle with issues of “idols” of culture and at times idols of the heart.
There are so many diverse and plural versions of Christianity today and like the Corinthian Christians, this passage confronts 21st-century gospel with the need to navigate cultural boundaries with grace. The message of the passage is about how cultural and ethnic people reorder and reorient their lives when encountered by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Corinthians had to discern their new faith in the context of cultural and ethnic diversity of which each was called to surrender old ways of living and embrace new Christian values of obedience to Jesus Christ — faith, hope, and love. Instead of worshiping many gods, Christians in various global contexts are called to a monotheistic faith. While their identities will not change and even be erased, faith in God becomes the primary lens through which they define and see themselves.
The question of loyalty to God becomes a requirement and confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior replaces all other cultural underpinnings (1 Corinthians 8:7-13). Worship of idols is a foreign concept to most people but in the postmodern world, most church members are affiliated with certain clubs and fraternal orders which also demand their loyalty. In this passage, Paul warns against such practices because they become modern forms of idolatry in a culture that claims Christianity as its religious identity.
In a political world, Christians find themselves attracted to subcultures such as the National Rifle Association, political parties, and sororities to which their loyalty is demanded. It would be a great topic in a Sunday School class to discuss whether we see ourselves being called out by Paul. In what ways do these clubs align themselves with our faith in Jesus Christ? In what does this chapter challenge our Christian faith and rethink on our allegiance to many other subcultures?
From a Pauline Christocentric theology, allegiance to all forms of clubs is counter to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The way many 21st-century Christians accommodate, assimilate, rationalize, and compromise their faith in a world of so many allegiances prevents one from being an authentic witness of the Gospel. Therefore, idolatry whether in worshiping cultural gods or clubs is no different to what Paul was warning Christians against in Corinth. If Corinthians is our email or letter, then it addresses us and a response of obedience is called forth from each one of us who are the belly of modern subcultures.
At the center of this passage is maybe the issue of religious syncretism, which is present in many Global Christian groups. Paul seems to warn Christians then and now that cultural rights have to be surrendered if one is to authentically serve God. Because of globalism, trade, and social media, idolatries are becoming more and more, so much that it becomes normal for us to be part of this new world order.
In the midst of all this, Christians may find themselves drifting away from Christ and with time worship of God becomes a secondary phenomenon. The questions then become: In what ways can the Church maintain allegiance to Jesus Christ and be a Holy Community? Can one live as a hyphenated Christian, yet faith requires worship of God alone? How will those weak in faith become mature in a world demanding their allegiances? These questions are crucial and we should always keep them in front of our daily walk with Christ and help people not to lose their faith in Jesus Christ, even in the midst of technology and globalization.
All in all, our rights or prerogatives are called into question in this passage. The educated and the rich are called to be careful about ways they rationalize what they do in order to ease their conscience and still claim to be loyal to Jesus. In other words, our education and wealth life styles can easily become idols and thus prevents us from living a fully authentic discipleship life. Anything can be a stumbling block to faith and Paul warns Corinthians and also cautions 21st-century Christians to be aware of their affluent life.