Chapter 8 (ESV) - Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
Question to consider: What knowledge did the Corinthians possess about food sacrificed to idols?
At the beginning of chapter 7, Paul started answering questions he received from the Corinthians. The first was in regard to sexual abstinence, the second was whether those who were betrothed should still consider marriage, and in this chapter Paul deals with a question about eating food offered to idols. Paul used this question to give a lesson on Christian liberty. It’s possible the Corinthians received the letter being passed around from the apostles in Jerusalem which was written to deal with the false gospel of the circumcision party (Acts 15:23-29) which raised a few questions for them. After reassuring the Gentiles that they did not need to get circumcised to become a Christian, the letter ended with the prohibition to, “... abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.”
Their question about food sacrificed to idols could have been something like this, “Paul, this letter prohibits us from eating food sacrificed to idols, but you’ve told us that an idol has no real existence. If this is true, why does it matter whether we eat it?” Consider the situation where a Corinthian believer was invited to dinner by an unbelieving relative or neighbor. What were they to do with the prohibition given by the Jerusalem apostles if their host served a dinner containing food sacrificed to their idols? By eating, would they be disobedient? By refusing, would they needlessly isolate themselves from their friend or relative?
Paul’s response was to affirm their theology regarding meaningless idols but that they should consider the most loving course of action in exercising this knowledge. In the situation I mentioned above, it would be perfectly acceptable to eat the food provided by their neighbor and enjoy their fellowship as long as it wouldn’t be a stumbling block to a fellow Christian. What if another member of the dinner party was a Christian brother who had just come out of idolatry and would risk falling back into it by participating in the meal? It would be more loving in this case to join their brother in refusing the food to help to keep their brother from violating his conscience.
True Christian liberty means we are free to say “no” when it is more loving to do so. We can’t relate so much to food sacrificed to idols, but we can relate to something like alcohol at a dinner party. I am free to drink an alcoholic beverage at a dinner party if I am not at risk of becoming a slave to it. However, if other Christians at the party would stumble in their faith by my decision to drink, I would abstain out of love for them.
Dear heavenly father, thank You for giving us the ability to know You and even more to be known by You. Please give us discernment in exercising the freedom we have in Christ so we may not cause someone to stumble in their faith. May our desire be to build one another up in the love of Christ. Amen.