1CORINTHIANS 8:1-13 (NIV – UK)
Concerning food sacrificed to idols
1 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.
BE CAREFUL FOR ONE ANOTHER
This is perhaps not a regular problem for us in the 21st century West, but it certainly was in Corinth! Food sacrificed to different gods of pagan religions was available for Christians to eat – perhaps given as gifts by pagan friends, perhaps available in the market to purchase. It seems that some Christians were even going to the pagan temple (maybe with pagan friends) to eat meat sacrificed to idols there.
Paul’s take on it all is liberating. He is advocating to us freedom in Christ. If a Christian ‘knows’ that the pagan gods are ‘nothing at all in the world’ (v. 4) then he/she is free to eat the meat sacrificed to them. But that’s why Paul stresses that there is one God and Father and one Lord Jesus Christ (v. 6). Because of this, the idols are nothing in this world – and so long as we aren’t getting confused that the idols the food is sacrificed to are real and deserve worship, there’s no problem.
But that’s just the thing…
Some Christians aren’t as strong in this area – maybe they are more susceptible to slipping into idolatry. Whatever the reason for their weakness, there seem to have been brothers and sisters in Corinth who struggled with these issues. So perhaps they would see a fellow Christian in the pagan temple happily eating food sacrificed to idols – to the one eating it is fine, they know it means nothing – but to the one who struggles in that area they think ‘look, there’s Terry eating in the pagan temple, perhaps that means the pagan gods are worthy of praise.’
Paul’s instruction is challenging: ‘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’ (v. 13). That might seem a fairly radical response. Surely it’s the problem of the weaker brother or sister to sort themselves out? Well, that’s not how Paul sees it. Paul calls the church to love one another and watch out for one another in a self-sacrificial way. If something we are doing is causing a fellow Christian to stumble, we should deny ourselves for the sake of them. This can be applied across all areas of life – the Salvation Army, for example, abstain from alcohol as they do a lot of work with people suffering from alcoholism. But, of course, this means different things in different contexts. The over-arching point remains – this is a radical, self-sacrificially loving response – this is the way of Jesus.
Question: How would you feel about giving up something you like doing for the sake of a fellow brother or sister in Christ?