1 Corinthians 8
1 About food offered to idols: We know that “we all have knowledge.” Knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up. 2 If anyone thinks he knows anything, he does not yet know it as he ought to know it. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by Him. 4 About eating food offered to idols, then, we know that “an idol is nothing 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 there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father. All things are from Him, and we exist for Him. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ. All things are through Him, and we exist through Him. 7 However, not everyone has this knowledge. In fact, some have been so used to idolatry up until now that when they eat food offered to an idol, their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not make us acceptable to God. We are not inferior if we don’t eat, and we are not better if we do eat. 9 But be careful that this right of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, the one who has this knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, won’t his weak conscience be encouraged to eat food offered to idols? 11 Then the weak person, the brother for whom Christ died, is ruined by your knowledge. 12 Now when you sin like this against the brothers and wound their weak conscience, you are sinning against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to fall, I will never again eat meat, so that I won’t cause my brother to fall.
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Paul writes this passage to teach believers how to be responsible with their newfound knowledge. What many people outside the Christian faith do not understand is that our submission of will to the Godhead is the most liberating action a human can make. Paul's fear for these young believers is that they will not be able to appropriately utilize that freedom for the sake of Christ-likeness.
He considers the question of whether or not it is appropriate to eat food that has been sacrificed to idols. On the one hand, Paul acknowledges that belief in the one true God necessarily eliminates any notion that the idol to which the food has been offered is real.
On the other hand, Paul understands that it might be difficult for individuals coming out of that system of idolatry to partake of the old things while wholeheartedly embracing their new knowledge of Christ. Although the idol does not represent a true god, it may still have a true effect upon those who worship it or used to worship it. Paul fears such a regression by some who turned away from that religion, which prompts his warning them to be responsible with their knowledge.
Paul makes it clear that in Christ we do not live for ourselves; rather, we live for the sake of Christ—which entails a commitment to our Christian brothers and sisters, as well as to unbelievers. Therefore, if what we are doing causes another to have a crisis of faith, whether the act is morally neutral or not, we should refrain from doing it. By causing another to stumble, Paul stresses that we sin directly against Christ.
Knowledge is truly a blessing. Traditionally, the rationality possessed by humanity has been identified as the primary feature that sets us apart from the rest of creation. Many have believed that the “image of God” spoken of in Genesis 1 refers to our ability to think and to relate. To employ our gift of knowledge by growing it, by maturing it, and by putting it to use for the kingdom is gratifying and joyous to the Godhead.
However, our knowledge can also be used for evil. We must cherish our knowledge and guard our knowledge against its being used in the service of evil. Paul warns about the pride that comes with knowledge that we must avoid at all costs. Paul claims that knowledge makes arrogant, but that love edifies.
Is Paul against knowledge then? No. Paul wants all gifts given by God to be used for the sake of the gospel. To do that, our knowledge must serve love. By love, Paul seems to have in mind the notion of sacrifice and protection.
If some action of ours—an action we know is not against the Kingdom in itself—causes someone to question the validity of the gospel, then that action becomes against the Kingdom and we should avoid it. In doing so, we sacrifice our liberty to engage in that action so we might offer protection to our compatriot in his/her struggle. Such sacrificial humility should be our joy.
Make a list of your friends with whom you spend time and the struggles in their lives that you are aware of. Then try to identify any actions in which you engage in the presence of these friends that may unintentionally promote that struggle. Pray for the discernment of the Spirit in carrying out this task.
Think of your own struggles. Are you putting yourself in situations that cause you to stumble? Are you engaging in any acts that do not violate God's commands in general, but that do violate God's commands given to you? If so, pray for the power to resist and remove them … then do it.
- When out with your friends, try to be attentive to your surroundings with respect to things that are not inherently evil, but that may not agree fully with the nature of Christ and the Bible. If you find such things, use them as an entry point for sharing the gospel or for simply elucidating the Christian walk.
- This passage is difficult to employ if you are not aware of some of the struggles of your friends and frequent acquaintances. Try to discuss your own struggles in order to identify their struggles. Once you know their struggles, seek activities and environments that edify rather than tempt.
- Parents can use this passage in discussions with their children. Paul writes a few chapters later in chapter 10, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” He goes on to discuss concern for neighbor again. Use this passage to explain to your children that God rejoices when we seek the things that most edify us toward Christ-likeness. Such an approach is always in our best interest in spite of our perpetual shortsightedness.