I Know Who You Are
--1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Last weekend, I led a worship service at the Korean Central United Methodist Church of Dallas and taught at the Pastor School for the second semester from Monday to Saturday. I deeply thank the intercessory prayer team and church members for praying for me and these two events. This was the second semester of the Pastor School, and I witnessed that young pastors were greatly encouraged through the course of this event. I thank God and church members for understanding and supporting such activities at the School.
Today, I’d like to share the story of the Corinthian Church one more time. We meditated about the Apostle Paul’s response to the sexual debauchery of Corinthian Church members in the sermon titled “I know Who I am”, which I preached two weeks ago. The Apostle Paul responded that we can overcome sexual temptations by being conscious of our identity. He suggested us to always remember that our body—i.e., our whole being— is a precious gift from God; that our bodies were redeemed by paying with the life of Jesus Christ so we became the part of the body of Jesus; and that our bodies are the temple in which the Holy Spirit resides. If we are conscious of these facts, we naturally come to a conclusion that our bodies are not ours and that we ought to live a life of honoring God with our whole bodies.
Not even referring to the theory of psychology, we know that the most influential factor affecting one’s thought and conduct is one’s response to a question asking one’s identity, “Who am I?” This is called “self-identity” in a technical term. One who is clear about one’s identity has high self-esteem. Self-esteem refers to a belief reflecting a person’s appraisal of his or her own worth. Thus, one who has high self-esteem acts with prudence. The most dangerous person among people is the one who abandoned self-esteem. We call this type of person as BJR. It stands for ‘Bae Zae Ra (‘Open up my stomach if you dare’). One who abandons one’s self-esteem is ready to abandon everything about oneself, thus this type of person is most dangerous.
A lack of self-esteem often leads to making a tragic choice. These days, bullying has surfaced as a big issue in schools in Korea. This issue caused a few school kids to commit suicide. What on earth is bullying that drives kids to make such an extreme choice? It is because it crushes their self-esteem. It breaks off the support which enables them to withstand the hardship in life. One may withstand the bullying if one has self-esteem or clear self-identity like “No matter how hard you harass me, you can’t succeed because I won’t be victimized by that!” However, the problem arises even before such a self-identity is formed. It is indeed a regretful circumstance.
The most important thing we need to acquire through meeting Jesus Christ is a “new identity” and “new foundation of self-esteem”. Jesus asked us to deny ourselves first, take up our cross, and follow Him if we want to become His disciples. What does it mean by “denying oneself”? It means to deny our identity we’ve been clung to. It means to abandon the self-esteem which we have built by ourselves regardless of God. It is because it is not real. It also means to deny all the foundation of self-esteem which we have kept as the support of our existence. It rather suggests that we ought to seek in Jesus Christ the new foundation of self-esteem that can truly support our lives.
Tyler, a hero in a novel called <Fight Club>, which was later produced as a movie as well, says this at one time:
You're not how much money you've got in the bank. You're not your job. You're not your family, and you're not who you tell yourself....You're not your name....You're not your problems.... You're not your age.... You are not your hopes.
This can be continued as much as we like: “You are not your IQ. You are not your salary. You are not your beauty. You are not your house. You are not your car. You are not your popularity. You are not what others say who you are. You are not your church. You are not your clothes. You are not the diamond ring you’re wearing. You are not the designer bag you’re carrying. You are not the university your child is attending. You are not your titles in your business card.”
In fact, these must be the words Jesus wants to tell us. We all built ourselves with these, and created our self-esteem based on them before we meet God through Jesus Christ. Jesus asks us to deny all of these. It is because none of these are the true portrait of ourselves. We must meet God through Jesus Christ, and find who we really are through the relationship with God. Being reborn means looking at oneself from a whole new perspective. When asked “Who are you?” those who are born again must answer like this: “I am God’s precious creation. I am the one redeemed by Jesus in return for His life. I am a part of the holy body of the Lord. I am a holy temple in which the Holy Spirit resides within.” This is the foundation of self-esteem of those who are born again. The very reason that my existence is precious no matter what other people say about me is that I am the creation of the Lord; that I am the one redeemed by the Lord; that I am the body of Lord; and that I am a temple of the Holy Spirit. We would neither be shaken at any hardship nor being tempted at any temptations if we clearly understand our self-identity and self-esteem.
In today’s scripture, the Apostle Paul is dealing with another issue the Corinthian Church members had. Secret religions were so widespread and popular in the City of Corinth at that time. Some even called the City of Corinth as the Pantheon of Religion. Rituals offering animal sacrifice were held in temples of various secret religions every day, and prostitutes of the temples performed sexual conduct under the pretext of religion. Many issues were raised from various rituals in the temples as well as from sexual conducts such as, “Is it okay for a Christian to offer a service in pagan temples? Is it okay for a Christian to eat what is offered in pagan temples?”
With respect to these two questions, Corinthian Christians were divided into two groups. One asserted the following reasoning: "Since there is only one true God, and idols are made by people, taking a bow to the idols does not mean worshiping them. Also, it is not like that the person will be encountering evil spirits by eating what is offered to the idols. Therefore, it is okay to attend the rituals of pagan temples where secret religions are practiced or eat what is offered to the idols.” The reasoning seems to make sense.
On the other hand, another group of people thought in this way: "Taking a bow to idols is to worship unknown spirits, and a person is contacted by such spirits by eating the food offered to the idols. Therefore, Christians who serve God should not attend the rituals of pagan temples where secret religions are practiced nor eat what is offered at the altar. It is a spiritual adultery.” This reasoning also sounds logical and should not be easily discarded.
It reminds me of a childhood experience. When a neighbor performed an exorcism or an ancestral rite, he shared the rice cakes which were offered at the service with other neighbors. But my mother used to throw the rice cakes away. Since food was scarce at that time, I felt so sad to throw them away. Yet, my mother believed that we should not eat the food as it was offered to the evil spirits. Some believers had different opinions. Some thought it was okay to eat the food because the food, after it was offered during an exorcism or an ancestral rite, is not possessed by the evil spirits anyway. In fact, this problem is not yet settled in Korean churches. Each one makes one’s own decision based on one’s conscience and belief. We do not have to concern this anymore because we do not send food to our neighbors anymore, and because we have plenty of food so we are not compelled to eat this particular food.
Yet, this was a matter of daily life to Corinthians. It was a concern which they had to wrestle every day. Although some people struggled with the issue in order to decide their own conduct, some people also criticized and even attacked others’ behaviors and decisions.
As a result, there were serious conflicts among Corinthian churches. The leaders could not resolve the problem on their own. So they wrote a letter to the Apostle Paul and asked for guidance. The Apostle Paul advised them to remember two things.
First, it is not a matter of knowledge, but a matter of love. In other words, it is not a matter of right and wrong, but it is rather about their consideration and attention towards each other. The Apostle Paul asserts this in the beginning of today's scripture:
Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But Knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God. (Verses 1-3)
“Knowledge” was what Corinthians favored most. It is called 'gnosis' in Greek. It is not about being erudite; it is about knowing the truth and act according to the truth without reservation. Just like those who are fluent in English are treated well in Korea, people who possessed much knowledge were revered the most in Corinth at that time. So they pursued knowledge and boasted to each other about their knowledge. Even after becoming Christians, their ideals were to discover the truth through Jesus Christ and to live freely and without reservation within such truth.
Even today, there are those who revere the knowledge the most. There are people who pursue the truth and act freely according to their truth which they believe. They believe and act as if they are someone special. Weak people envy them while watching how they act. They have vague yearnings and say “How do they live with such confidence and pride, and without reservation?” To some extent, they do look great. However, their free and unreserved behaviors often hurt those who are nearby and worry them. The spouse of such a person would have to suffer for a life time. Nevertheless, they believe they are doing right things. Such people exist even among those who allege to live a life as disciples of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul clearly asserts in today’s scripture that what is most important to God is not “knowledge” but “love.” God favors the one who is tied up with love, and not the one who lives freely in accordance with one’s petty knowledge and thereby hurting the beloved. What does the Apostle Paul say to those people? “Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know (1 Corinthians 8:2).” The Corinthians should have been born again about this matter. They should have learned to abandon what they value the most, and instead revere love as the best value through the truth of Jesus Christ.
Second, the Apostle Paul speaks to the Corinthian Christians, who criticize each other for their lack of faith or knowledge, to think about who they are actually criticizing. It is in the verses 11-12.
So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
It is said that I, who believe in Jesus Christ, am created by God and redeemed in return for the life of Jesus Christ; I am also the body of Jesus Christ and the temple in which the Holy Spirit resides. If I am like that, so are others. Others are precious, too. Therefore, enjoying my freedom and right is not everything. If such freedom and right hurt or worry others, we should be able to give them up. Knowledge tempts us to “act on our own, and follow our own knowledge and right.” However, love tells us to “sacrifice our freedom and right because others are precious as much as we are.” If we are the ones who can remember ‘who we are’ before the hardships and temptations of the world, we should also be able to remember "who they are" whenever we encounter others.
With respect to this matter, the Apostle Paul is adamant. Verse 13 of today’s scripture says this:
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.
At the time, majority of the meat sold in Corinthian markets were leftovers from rituals at the pagan temples which practiced secret religions. Of the meat used for the ritual, some were offered up as burnt offering, some were shared in the temple, and what remained was sold in the market. And as difficult it is for consumers to determine whether a beef is domestic or imported in today’s Korean market, one could not tell whether a piece of meat came from slaughterhouse or temples in Corinthian markets. So some people even refrained from eating meat altogether for fear of eating what was dedicated to the idols. The Apostle Paul possessed the knowledge. He knew that refraining from eating was not necessary. He could eat meat without any qualms. However, he said that he will never eat meat again if eating meat of unknown source can cause any brother or sister to fall into sin.
The Apostle Paul was aware of “who he was” at anytime and anywhere during his life. At the same time, it is evident that he also had a clear understanding of “who the others were”. By changing the intonation as we say “who are you?” we can change the connotation of the question: it can be a sneering or a respectful remark. Words are like that. People we face in our daily lives are created by God, redeemed by Christ in return for His life, became a temple in which the Holy Spirit resides as well as a part of the holy body of Jesus Christ. No matter how bad the appearance is, and no matter how uneducated or poor the person may be, one’s true identity does not change. We must not forget that.
Here is a $20 bill. Let us pretend that this bill is all crumpled. Would that reduce its value? Or let us assume that while walking down the street, we found a $100 bill, all crumpled and covered in dirt. Would you just ignore it and walk away? No one would do so. No matter how crumpled or dirty it is, the value of the bill does not change. If possible, people may prefer a clean bill over a dirty one, but the value of the newly printed bill and the worn-out bill is the same.
Likewise, the absolute value which God has put on you and me does not change. Whether looking at others or ourselves, we must see that absolute value. That way, we will not make a mistake. But the problem is that we are too used to seeing the outward appearance that we judge people according to their looks. Depending on what we see, we become subservient to one person and act arrogantly in front of another. We offer extra service to someone and ignore another. Believing Jesus Christ is to rediscover the true identity of myself as well as those who are around us. This is why our attitude towards others, as
well as ourselves, is meant to be changed completely.
At this point one may ask, "When my absolute value and your absolute value conflicts with each other, who comes first?" Regarding this question, some people say that they should decide by vote. That is called democracy. Some people say that we should give priority to those who will bring benefit to the majority. That is called socialism. Some people say that it is up to the two persons who are involved. That is called liberalism. However, the Bible provides an entirely different answer. It says to “sacrifice your absolute value for the sake of another’s.” Hell is where people fight in pursuit of their own absolute value. Heaven is where people sacrifice themselves and serve others for the sake of other’s absolute value. In this world which we live, the heaven and the hell co-exist. Believing in Jesus Christ means to enjoy heaven and expand the kingdom of heaven on this earth.
We are appointing new deacons during today’s 10 a.m. service, and we are having an ordination ceremony for new elders and exhorters during today’s 12 p.m. service. At the Centreville Campus, the appointment of deacons and the ordination ceremony of exhorters will be held together.
Being entrusted with a position in the church is like stepping down one by one. The most important person in the church is not the elder, nor the pastor. It is the person who stepped into the church for the first time that day. It is indeed a great deal for a person to decide to come to church. Once the person comes to the church after making such a big decision, those who believed first must do their best to help that person accept Jesus Christ as the Lord and be redeemed as a true child of God. Being a deacon means to humble himself/herself to serve others in such a way. Being an exhorter means to humble himself/herself more so the person may serve at least 15 members of the church. Being an elder means to humble himself/herself even more so the person may serve at least 30 members of the church. It means offering oneself which is absolutely worthy to the Lord so he/she may serve the children of the Lord.
Therefore, those of you who are entrusted with duties today should be able to see yourself clearly in Jesus Christ. You have to find a new identity in Jesus Christ. You have to uncover a new reason for self-esteem in Jesus Christ. So many people present themselves as deacons, exhorters, elders or pastors, but they are still unable to find their true worthiness in Jesus Christ and instead, seek the foundation of their self-esteem from money, appearance, big house, expensive car, designer handbag, or the success of their children. God’s name is disgraced so many times because of these people who hold a position but who are not truly born again. I sincerely hope that those of you who are entrusted with duties today would discover their unchanging worthiness by knowing Jesus deeper and triumph over hardships or temptations by being conscious of “who you are”.
Moreover, those of you who are entrusted with a position today should know that other people are as much precious as you, and that the calling of God is to honor the worthiness of others by offering down ourselves who are as much worthy. Please do not conform to the pattern of this world which ignores the need of others by degrading “who they are.” Instead, I hope that you learn the love of the Lord and be able to respect whoever you meet for “who they are”, as you humbly serve them. You are called to do this.
Today’s scripture is not only applied to those who are named today. Those of you who are already entrusted with duties must think again what it means to hold a position. The title you receive in the church is meaningless in the outside world. In the past, a position of an “elder” was recognized in the society. However, titles such as “elder” or “pastor” do not carry any weight in today’s society. Rather, people have become more suspicious of those who present such titles. If a title received from the church is considered to be a rank or an honor, it becomes a detestable thing to God. Are you being called as a deacon, an exhorter, an elder, or a pastor? Without knowing the meaning of such position and without living up to it, it becomes a detestable thing. If we do not have an accurate understanding of ourselves by knowing Jesus Christ deeper and better, if we do not live a life in accordance with our true identity and if we do not serve others by offering ourselves that are absolutely valuable, then our positions are meaningless.
Some of you may think, “I don’t hold any position in the church, so today’s sermon does not apply to me.” You are mistaken. Those who are entrusted with duties must strive to do so, but anyone who wants to be a true Christian must bear today’s sermon in mind. We must contemplate “who we are” in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, whenever we meet other people, we must bear in mind “who they are.” We must strive even more so in the church, but we should make the same effort at home or in the workplace. We must treat our sisters and brothers in Christ in such a way, but we must also try to treat the non-believers in the same manner. It is because they are our sisters and brothers who have not yet returned home. They are also created by God, Jesus gave up his life for them, and the Holy Spirit wants them to be the temple in which the Holy Spirit resides. Therefore, we must sincerely treat the non-believers in the same manner when we meet them.
Once you become aware of your own identity in Jesus Christ, you will be able to see your neighbors with the same awareness. Those who realize the worthiness of themselves in Jesus Christ will also realize the worthiness of others. People who stay in Jesus Christ live by faith and not by sight. Through eyes of faith, they look at the heart rather than the outward appearance. So whoever they meet, they treat the others sincerely with a belief of “I know who you are!” People whose eyes are opened in such a way realize that love is the most important thing. Love is offering oneself to others for the sake of others despite the awareness of one’s own absolute worthiness. If I offer myself to others without realizing how precious I am, it is not a true love.
How about you? Did such changes occur in you? Are you already transformed in such a way? If so, congratulations! But please do not settle for it. If we do not stay with Jesus all the time, we will soon forget our identity, and eventually, the identities of others as well. So many people claim that they believe Jesus, but live with a sneering answer to the question of “who am I?” So many people say that they go to church, yet they judge others by appearances and ignore or look down on them by sneering, “Who are you?” One can avoid from becoming like that only by staying with Jesus Christ and living a life that is transformed and touched by the Holy Spirit.
If you have not experienced such an encounter yet, I hope you would devote more time and effort for your spiritual life. Please continue to devote yourself until you rediscover yourself in Jesus Christ and be transformed in such a way that you become to see the world and your neighbors with a new perspective. Then you will experience changes; everything that you thought was important will suddenly lose its value and something that you never even knew will acquire absolute value in you. In Jesus Christ, you will walk the true journey of love which you will face yourself, your neighbors, and the entire living things with a new identity and self-esteem. I pray that such blessing will be with you.
Lord, the root of our existence,
We are returning to you.
Let our eyes be opened within the Lord,
So we may see our own worthiness,
And the worthiness of our neighbors;
Lead us to walk the journey of love
So we may offer ourselves to serve our neighbors.