What would you do if you went to Church or were in a small group with someone that smoked, drank, had a cheek piercing, or was political? What would you do if your lifestyle was offensive to them? The early church was faced with these types of relational problems too.
1 Corinthians 8 addresses how deadly knowledge can be. The church was conflicted. Some groups of people felt that it was sin to eat food that was sacrificed to idols, while others felt that it had no bearing on what was right and wrong. Paul affirms the later group while challenging them to look beyond their knowledge and extend grace through self-limiting love. Being able to express self-limiting love will reveal Christ; this is the strongest version of you.
What is Self-limiting Love?
Self-limiting love is an inward and outward expression of God’s kindness, generosity, and self-sacrifice acted out through a conscious ruled and educated by the Spirit of God.
How do we ensure we have the ability to express self-limiting love?
- When Christ is enough (Chapter 1)
- When our trust in Christ allows us to trust others (Chapter 1)
- When we are lead by the Spirit (Chapter 2)
- When we are restoring relationships (Chapter 3)
- When we are servant leaders (Chapter 4)
- When we don’t pervert God’s truth to meet our needs (Chapter 5)
- When we are dominated by Christ (Chapter 6)
- When our heart beats for Christ (Chapter 7)
- When we share selfless expressions of love (Chapter 7)
- When we read, recite, and react with God and find our pleasure in the Lord (Chapter 7)
- When we extend kindness, generosity, and self-sacrifice through a conscious ruled and educated by the Spirit of God. (Chapter 8)
How do we know when we are expressing self-limiting love?
- When the needs of others outweigh our personal needs
- When we are no longer offended or amused by the thoughts, opinions, perspectives, and beliefs of others
- When we develop the ability to build empathic relationships
The Self-Limiting Love Exercise
To ensure that we can express self-limiting love we need to be others focused. This is typically called empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. If we can develop this ability then our response to their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs (no matter how wrong or right they are) will be motivated out of love that longs to see others grow to their fullest spiritual potential. To ensure we are others focused we need to:
Find Commonalities with Others (8: 1-6,8)
No matter what makes us different God is the deepest source of our commonality. When we have very little in common Christ is enough to bind our hearts and minds. If we focus on what we have in common our differing thoughts become less impactful.
Cultivate Curiosity in Others (8: 7-11)
It is vital to understand what makes people tick. Taking the time to investigate someone’s beliefs, history, traditions, heritage, habits, etc. can help us better understand why they feel the way they do. Cultivating curiosity in others requires us to listen, observe, investigate, and ask ourselves questions. Why do they feel that way? Why is that belief so important to them? How did their circumstances and/or relationships cause them to feel or think this way? How deep is this specific conviction? What makes this conviction so important? What can God do to help them move toward a deeper enlightenment? Understanding focuses our attention on getting to know the person rather than focusing on the differences.
Journey with Others (8: 10-13)
When you begin to walk with someone, his or her journey becomes more important than your own. When we journey with others our role is to share self-limiting love, an inward and outward expression of God’s kindness, generosity and self-sacrifice acted out through a conscious ruled and educated by the Spirit of God.
When we find commonalities, cultivate curiosity, and journey with others we are positioning ourselves to express self-limiting love. This positions us to be our best representation of Christ.
Without the rule of Christ’s love, knowledge tends to make us competitive and prideful. Our knowledge of God is important, but knowledge about God is no substitute for a personal relationship, initiated by God, grown through Christian relationships, and that expresses our love for Him. Love for God expressed in self-limiting love for others in Christ is the key to peace and maturity within Christian fellowship.
True spiritual strength is not in knowledge only, but in loving actions toward other believers, even weak ones, superstitious ones, legalistic ones, ascetic ones, baby ones! True knowledge makes one a humble steward of the undeserved grace of God in Christ!
Strong believers know that there is only one God and they become influencers for Him. Weak believers are still influenced by the past. Strong believers bend over backwards to make sure they do everything possible to not offend the weak in Christ or the sincere seekers. If that means being wrongfully accused, imprisoned, ridiculed, judged, or misunderstood it is what we do when expressing self-limiting love.
The believer’s conscience needs to be more and more formed by the Word of God. The Spirit of God will judge believers by the light they have (i.e., weak or strong), but all of us need to be open to the Bible and the Spirit for more light and to be growing in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Small Group Discussion
- What are some typical ways that today’s Church expresses self-limiting love for one another?
- Does this encouragement from Paul apply to the way we interact with non-believers?
- Can God be enough to unit you with a weaker brother or sister? Why or why not?
- Does understanding someone’s reasons, motivations, and convictions help you more easily extend kindness, generosity, and self-sacrifice?
- How do you feel about making someone else’s journey more important than your own? Is that possible? Why or why not?
1 Corinthians 8 (NIV)
Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know, as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God. 4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. 7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. 9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.