I’m reading out of the New Living Translation and I love how this chapter opens. You can really get a sense of Paul’s concern (and love) for the church at Corinth. His leadership and wisdom come pouring out in this chapter. Look how Paul addresses the church:
1 Now let’s talk about food that has been sacrificed to idols. You think that everyone should agree with your perfect knowledge. While knowledge may make us feel important, it is love that really builds up the church. 2 Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. 3 But the person who loves God is the one God knows and cares for.
“While knowledge may make us feel important, it is love that really builds up the church.” Wow – that preaches.
This chapter deals with those struggling with eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols. To understand a bit better, I turned to Matthew Henry’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians chapter 8. Here’s an excerpt:
… it must be observed that it was a custom among the heathens to make feasts on their sacrifices, and not only to eat themselves, but invite their friends to partake with them. These were usually kept in the temple, where the sacrifice was offered (v. 10), and, if any thing was left when the feast ended, it was usual to carry away a portion to their friends; what remained, after all, belonged to the priests, who sometimes sold it in the markets.
So – the new Christians at Corinth had a problem with eating the left-overs from the sacrifices from heathen feasts. Makes sense. But Paul’s message here is that we’re free from all that bother. The meat is just…well, meat. The gods this meat was sacrificed to do not exist. Just because some heathens, looking for a reason to party, decide to throw in a ritual or two over the food, does not change the food in any way. There is only One God, so the rituals were meaningless. So what’s the fuss?
I like how Paul explains it in verses 7 and 8:
7 However, not all Christians realize this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated. 8 It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t miss out on anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do.
Here’s the kicker. Look at the rest of the chapter:
9 But you must be careful with this freedom of yours. Do not cause a brother or sister with a weaker conscience to stumble. 10 You see, this is what can happen: Weak Christians who think it is wrong to eat this food will see you eating in the temple of an idol. You know there’s nothing wrong with it, but they will be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been dedicated to the idol. 11 So because of your superior knowledge, a weak Christian, for whom Christ died, will be destroyed. 12 And you are sinning against Christ when you sin against other Christians by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong. 13 If what I eat is going to make another Christian sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live for I don’t want to make another Christian stumble.
Confused?First, Paul is saying it’s okay – then he says it’s not (if there is a chance other “weaker” Christians see you and stumble because of it). What you need to understand here is that some were converted to Christianity from heathenism. If they were to eat meat sacrificed to idols they may still eat out of respect to the idol, imagining that there was some divine ritual in doing so, and thus commit idolatry. Not having a background in heathenism, other Christians may not understand this.
We need to be careful with the freedoms we enjoy in Christ. Every time I read this passage my thoughts turn to alcohol. Not having grown up struggling with addiction to alcohol, my weakness is not to become drunk. So, I occasionally enjoy wine with my dinner or a cold, frosty beer on a hot day. However, doing so (or talking about it) in front of a Christian who struggles with alcoholism may cause that person to start thinking about a drink. Obviously, this could lead to problems for this person.
Paul, in no uncertain terms, lays it out clearly that this is a sin for a Christian to cause a weaker Christian to stumble in this way. Even to go as far as to say we could lead to them being destroyed. I don’t want that on my hands – so it’s easy for me to “never eat meat again”, or in this case never touch a beer again.