God’s Worldview of Love:

A Key to Living in a Modern Multi-cultural Church - 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Today is the beginning of “Folklorama” in Winnipeg, the festival that celebrates different cultures from all over the world. Last year, people from about 47 different cultures represented their cultures and countries by allowing others to share in their food and see how they dress and hear their music and a variety of performances. Many of you who are here this morning have taken part in festivities or visited one of the pavilions. Folklorama is one evidence of how multi-cultural our city is. The Bible is sold here in more languages than in many other places.

This congregation is also very multi-cultural. Over the last two decades, there have been people attending here from approximately 30-40 different countries and from six of the continents: Africa, America (North and South), Asia, Australia, and Europe. The only one not represented is Antarctica! Each of these people from other places bring with them different languages, food, dress, and different ways of looking at the world. We call these “worldviews” (originally from German: “world” plus “perception”).

David J. Hesselgrave defines a world view as “the way people see ...the world, the way they ‘know’ it to be.” A Chart from Charles Knight shows how our world views develop (please see attached chart). On the left is “all that happens.” From this we process or chose through a lens “what we believe possible.” Then, these things pass through another filter or lens to “what we experience.” Of all our experience, we filter out certain things, “what we analyze.” The beliefs we adopt form our “view of reality.” Our worldview is made up of what we believe about: What can we know about God, reality, the physical world, the spiritual world, who we are as human beings, death, knowledge, right and wrong, history, and time.

Let’s look at three dominant worldviews based on the first of these factors, the “big picture” as it were, our views of God. First, there is one worldview that says, “There is a God.” Then there is another that says, “Everything is God.” Third, there is one that says, “There is no God.” We refer to these as, Theism, Monism (based on the idea of the “oneness” of everything, where we get the prefix “mono”), and Naturalism. Depending our “big picture” views of what life is about, we will live differently. There are other factors that form our views of the world too. Some of use come from multi-cultural countries, some from “uni-cultural,” or monolithic, cultures. Some have a view of time that is linear, other circular. Some focus on the past, some on the future. Some people think their own particular group is more important than their individual life. They are very relational.

Now wouldn’t it be great if everyone with one worldview could get along with those from other worldviews. But this is not how it is in the world. In many ways, the war in Iraq is a clash of worldviews. Our task this morning is to see how God’s view of the world can help us live successfully as a modern multi-cultural church.

The church in Corinth existed in a multi-cultural setting with many similarities to Winnipeg. There were people from many different places and religious backgrounds. There were Greeks, Romans, Jews, Asians, travellers, Europeans, Middle-East, Asians, Christians, Jews, Pantheistic Monists, dualists, philosophers and secular pagan revellers. In this multi-cultural church at Corinth conflicting worldviews were causing strong Christians to hurt weak Christians by eating meat offered to idols (pantheistic Monism). People liked to eat out then much like we do now. The caupona was for “full service” meals and rooms. The popina served wine and hot food quickly, akin to our “fast food” today. The taberna (source of our word tavern) was primarily for drinking. Meals also took a variety of forms, such as feasts, symposiums, and convivium, or small private dinner parties. Some of these occasions were quite decadent. There were also dinning halls attached to temples.

There were many places to eat meat, and much of the meat had been sacrificed to idols which were very common in Corinth. This would have been particularly hard from some new Christians. C. K. Barrett gives us some helpful background: “There are in Corinth men who have eaten sacrificed food ( i.e. sacrificed to idols) all their lives and have always thought of it as sacrificed to an idol having real existence, and thus bearing real spiritual significance and force. In becoming Christians, they have not ceased to believe in the reality of the spiritual beings behind idols and have accordingly not ceased to think of the food itself as having religious meaning.”

Notice how trouble emerges in 1 Corinthians 8 as a result of the clashes of two worldviews. In verse one, Paul says, “knowledge makes arrogant,” or “knowledge puffs up.” In other words, “knowledge makes conceited.” One brother thinks he is better than another. This knowledge represents the worldview of monotheism. Notice verse four, “we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world and that there is no God but one.” One brother has the correct knowledge. He knows there is only one God. He knows that idols are nothing. So meat offered to an idol does not bother him.

But all the Christians in Corinth do not possess this knowledge as Paul points out in verse seven, “However not all men have this knowledge.” Some are still of the worldview that idols mean something. They have not yet made the transition from polytheism to monotheism, believing in the one true God alone. They are still “accustomed to the idol.” They are in transition. They are changing from one worldview to another.

The real problem comes when the strong monotheistic Christian becomes a stumbling block to the weaker one by “strengthening,” or “building up,” his conscience to eat meat which to the weaker Christian still has religious significance. Paul makes the strong statement that “through your knowledge, the weaker brother is destroyed” (8:11). Paul is not just saying he has a bad day or has indigestion. He sins. And this sin can lead to the destruction of his soul. In doing this, the stronger Christian is sinning “against Christ” (8:12) by wounding the conscience, the inner voice, of the weaker brother that tells him what is right and wrong. He is strengthened to do something that keeps him in polytheism and from understanding the oneness and love of God. His soul is at risk.

Now food offered to idols is not a real problem for us in the world today. But many people today are very taken up with diet and other things that they can improve their lives apart from God. In a way, there are still many idols, things that people ascribe more meaning to than God. There are many more worldviews today than there were in Paul’s day. As a church in a multi-cultural society we need to be aware of them. Sure, it would be nice if life were simpler, but it’s not, and it’s not moving in that direction. Take, for example, theism. Not only Christians believe in one God. Jews and Muslims do too. And then there are deists who see God as a big clock maker who wound up the universe and stepped back to let it run. Among the naturalists, there are different worldviews, such as existentialism and nihilism. Among the monists, there are polytheistic monists and animists. Another worldview developing around us is what some call postmodernism. In a way, then, God’s mission, and the mission of his church, is to change people’s worldviews to God’s worldview.

Let’s go back to Corinth and revisit chapter eight of Paul’s letter to see what God is doing to help resolve the conflict of worldviews there. God is looking at the world and loving people, seeing the problems between Himself and people and people and one another. God’s love for people living in his world motivates Him to send Jesus to die for us all show us how to live in unity. As opposed to the knowledge that leads to conceit, Paul says that “love builds up” in verse one. Like a house builder, love lays a foundation in a persons life and builds them up with good things, with the characteristics that Paul mentions later in chapter thirteen, things like patience, kindness, and forbearance. He says that those who love God… notice what he says…. are known by him. We would have expected him to say that those who love God know him. But he emphasizes that God knows those who love him. There is a proper use of knowledge. Knowledge should lead to acts of edifying love.

In Paul’s view of the world there is one God, our creator, with whom we identify, “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through him.” Notice the oneness of God and the prepositions that describe our relationship with him. We are from him, for him, by him, and through him. We have our identity with him. We are all wrapped up in him and his love. He is what we are about. This reality gives us freedom and liberty, literally rights and authority (8:8), but for loving and building up one another.

Notice Paul’s gospel focus in verse 11. The ultimate demonstration of love is that Christ died for us (8:11). God’s worldview motivated him to send Jesus to offer himself for us. Our sins make us worthy of punishment, but Jesus suffered for us, in our place and God accepts his sacrifice on our behalf. John 3:16 states God’s worldview in a powerful way, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” God’s love motivated him to send Jesus to show us what God is like and to show us the life his followers can live by his power. He died for us, was buried, and was raised. When we are united with him in baptism, we are forgiven of our sins, buried, raised and united with the love of God. This love is what enables us to get along as brothers and sisters in Christ. It motivates us to give up our own desires and preferences for others. This is what Paul says he is willing to do in verse thirteen. Paul uses very strong language, including a double negative and never (into the age) to say that he is willing to make whatever change is necessary to avoid making his brother stumble. In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, Richard Oster says that, “Paul is willing to radically alter his own lifestyle in order to build up saints.” This is commitment and love in action!

God is working in his world today to transform lives by changing their worldviews to his worldview of love. There are several realities at work in this chapter that we can take home with us to help us resolve worldview conflicts in our own lives and move them closer to God’s worldview. The love of God builds up. He builds us up and enables us to build up others. Spiritual knowledge about the oneness of God and the lordship of Christ gives us an identity as His people. The key to God’s love is the gospel of Christ, the good news of His death, burial, and resurrection, for the forgiveness of our sins and our salvation. It saves us and transforms us to be like Him.

Let’s run through some of the factors we mentioned at the beginning and consider what God’s worldview looks like. Regarding the “big picture,” there is one God, the Father of all, and there is the Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of all. There are not many “gods” of any substance. God is the creator of the world. It is not an accident. The physical world is good. God is sovereign in both the physical and spiritual world. A human being is made in the image of God and precious to him. After death there is eternal existence with God or apart from him. We die once, not many times, and then face God. Knowledge comes from good and is essentially good. Our ethics, the guides of conscience in right and wrong come from God and guide us. They are not relative. History moves forward not in circles. We have a meaningful past, the presence of God, and the hope of a glorious future. Time is specific and full of event potential in his kingdom. Relationships are very important in God’s worldview of love. It guides in forming loving bonds in the church and with our neighbours.

Someone has asked, “Are you a global or a regional Christian?” Is your worldview so narrow that it only considers its immediate surroundings? What would Jesus say in answer to this question? What would Paul say? They are global thinkers. “For God so loved the world...” There are many worldviews around us. We need to stretch our thinking and be aware of them. We need to think globally with God’s worldview of love. We need to take advantage of the opportunities in our generation. We need to be willing, like Paul, to make changes in our lifestyles to keep others from eternal loss. We need to see the world like God sees it. His world is “multi-cultural.” His church is multi-cultural. I think when we get to heaven, God’s banquet is going to be one amazing “International Dinner!”

Paul Birston

August 2004©

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