A little over twenty-five years ago, a missionary with the China Inland Mission, now the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, published a book that bore the title, Have We No Rights? The author was a missionary named Mabel Williamson, and she was simply saying what the Apostle Paul says so clearly in the ninth chapter of 1 Corinthians. She was saying that we do have rights. But if we are to be the servants of Jesus Christ and effective in his ministry, there are situations in which we must be willing to waive those rights for his sake and for the sake of the Gospel.

In this week’s lesson we have seen that our freedom in Christ must take into consideration our weaker brother. This requires balance. All the way down through history the church has come up with tests to measure a person’s level of spirituality, and whenever that mindset becomes dominant, you get a false kind of spirituality. We do not want that. But at the same time, you often have people in the Church of Jesus Christ who swing to the other pole. That which on one occasion was legalism now becomes license. People say, "We're free in the Lord to do anything at all." And so they do it and they do not care about their brothers or sisters at all.

In yesterday's lesson we saw that Paul urged the Corinthians to consider their brothers and sisters in Christ in how they used their freedom. Does this mean that nobody can ever eat meat that has been offered to an idol? No, Paul has just said he does not mean that. I am also certain he does not mean that these weaker brethren can use their weakness as a club over those who regard this as a matter of freedom in the Lord. If that were the case it would be a way of using a rear door back to legalism. You may say, "Well, I’m free." Yes, you are. But, what if a brother thinks I ought not to be free? Since he is my brother in the Lord, do I have to give up my freedom? Do I have to begin to live under a whole lot of rules that say, "You mustn't do this or that?" Paul is not saying that.

Yesterday we studied Paul’s clarification concerning the nature of true Christian knowledge. Once Paul has made this important admonition, he plunges into the question itself. It is at this point that he begins to lay down some principles. The first is that an idol is nothing. The book of Isaiah uses the same words. In Isaiah God is challenging the idols of the heathen. Isaiah quotes God and says, "Look, here is a man who cuts down a tree. He uses half of it to build a fire and cook his food. The other half he dries out, carves an idol, then falls down and worships it" (Isa. 44:14-17, abridged). Have you ever heard anything as ridiculous as that? The man is worshiping a stick of wood. It is nothing. Challenge it to reveal the future and tell you of things to come. It cannot, and so God ridicules those who put their faith in idols. That is the point at which Paul begins.

In the first chapters of 1 Corinthians, we see that Paul was facing serious problems with the church at Corinth. In light of those problems, Paul could have said, "Shame on you for writing to me about something as silly as meat, considering what is going on in the church. You ought to be worried about the immorality." Paul does not do that. He operates on the basis of the need, addressing the problems that people face. He deals forthrightly with the principles first, the most important things. Knowing God’s will in doubtful situations involves a number of key ideas.