Can’t remember the last time I attended a dinner party with food offered to idols. So why should we study 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1? Because it’s God’s Word to us . . .
Food, offered in worship to idols, was sold in the marketplace. Do the Corinthians, who have eaten it all of their lives, have the right to continue now that they’ve become Christians? Do they have that right even if it leads “weaker” believers to follow their lead and commit what their consciences say is sin? Before going into detail, Paul begins with what shouldn’t and should guide our behavior.
KNOWLEDGE OR LOVE?
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 (8:1-3).
The Corinthians have written to Paul about “idol food”, arguing they have the right to eat it, as they always have. Indeed, most meat was sacrificed, then sold. It’s apparent that the Corinthians believe they have special gnosis (“knowledge”) from the Holy Spirit about idols.
Knowledge, however, says Paul, leads to pride. While love expresses concern for the welfare of fellow-believers. Those who presume to be “in the know” about idols and idol food don’t know as they should, because real knowledge in Christianity leads to love—loving God and thus being recognized by God as “really knowing.”
Theological knowledge mustn’t be the primary guide in our relationships; love that builds up the other must be.
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.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 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 (8:4-6).
Paul addresses the issue at hand: “eating food sacrificed to idols”. He agrees with the Corinthians’ knowledge: “An idol is nothing” and “There is no God but one”. However, pagans, by believing in idols, give them what we might call a “subjective reality”. Some new converts to Christ do the same. But “there is but one God”. He is “the Father”, the source of all things and the one “for whom we [believers] live”. And “there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ”. All things came into existence through him and we believers have new life through him.
Thus Paul affirms God’s uniqueness and the “nothingness” of idols, though many believe they are “gods” and “lords”. This isn’t just a profound theological statement; it’s the ground for ethical behavior. God is our Creator. Jesus is our Redeemer. Thus he (God the Father and God the Son)—what he is like—must govern our conduct.
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. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 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? 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. 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 (1 Corinthians 8:7-13).
Some among them haven’t yet outgrown their old pagan ideas. They haven’t come to really know that an idol is nothing. To them “idol food” has been “sacrificed to a god”.
Their inner moral sense of right and wrong is “weak”; that is, they haven’t fully grasped that idols are nothing. Therefore, when those who “have knowledge” eat idol food, it encourages the “weak” to eat—and thus by eating they believe they are worshiping “another god” and defiling their relationship with Christ.
Paul agrees food holds no spiritual significance. He warns them, however, not to demand their rights and become a “block” weaker believers stumble over. If they do, they will allow their knowledge to destroy a brother or sister “for whom Christ died”. Thus this is “sin against Christ”.
Paul sets himself out as the model to follow. “ . . . if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into (what is to him or her) sin, I will never eat meat again . . . “
* * *
Application is obvious: if my brother believes it a sin for him to drink wine, or if he’s a Muslim convert to Christ who believes eating pork is a sin, I mustn’t lead him into “sin” by drinking wine or eating pork (at least in his presence).
A broader application. We presume what we do affects only us.
For example, how often do we think, “If I skip Worship today, how might that affect other worshipers? If they see me missing again, what message do I send them about seeking God’s presence in worship?” I have the “right” to skip Worship again. But am I acting in love?
A personal example. The Corinthians’ had knowledge others didn’t. They knew an idol was nothing. And their knowledge led to arrogance (8:1-3). These days my illness has challenged my faith. I think of young preachers exuding confidence they can handle whatever hits. I say to myself, “Wait ‘til your aging body won’t work. Let’s see how full of bubbly faith you are then.” My knowledge produces arrogance; I’m not loving my brother.
In the Christian community, we don’t live to ourselves. We mustn’t presume what we do is our private “right.” My behavior affects you. That’s why I must do what builds you up in Christ.