1 Corinthians 8
1 Cor. 8:1-3… With regard to food sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If someone thinks he knows something, he does not yet know to the degree that he needs to know. 3 But if someone loves God, he is known by God.
Chapter 8 represents the next question the Corinthians sent to Paul, namely, “with regard to food sacrificed to idols.” This was a pertinent issue in the first century because pagan idolatry was rampant. People believed that evil spirits were all around them looking for ways to possess them. One of the ways they believed these spirits had their entry was through their food. Because of this perceived problem with their food, these pagans would dedicate their meat to one of the many pagan gods they worshipped (idols). In doing so, they thought they would appease the god and drive out all evil spirits that they believed had attached themselves to the meat. It would then go to the pagan temple where the priest would cut it into thirds, burning one portion, keeping one portion for himself, and giving the last third to the worshipper who would then take the meat and have his feast. If any meat was left over, either from the pagan priest’s portion or from the worshipper’s portion, it was normally sold in the marketplace. Some of the Christians in Corinth were concerned about buying and eating meat that had once been offered to these idols. If they ate such meat would they then be guilty of participating in idol worship? Would eating such meat compromise their Christian testimony? Others, however, the ones being addressed by Paul here, were not concerned at all about the fact that their food had been offered to idols because they knew there was only one true God. They were smug about their superior knowledge over and against their weaker brothers who were concerned about the food. Their smugness, however, was leading others astray, confusing them, and bringing more factions into the church there. Paul’s address here concerns the limits of Christian freedom… if our actions offend, we sin.
Paul begins his answer by saying, “We know that we all have knowledge.” Keeping in mind that the church in Corinth had become exceedingly arrogant through their newfound “knowledge” and were making their own rules of Christian conduct (going to prostitutes, divorcing, etc.), Paul agrees in part that they all possess knowledge. Their knowledge was good enough to know that pagan gods were a myth. But they felt like this knowledge gave them the freedom to act any old way they chose to behave. They viewed their knowledge as a license to do anything they pleased – like eating food offered to idols. Paul, however, reminds them of the danger of knowledge… it “puffs up.” But “love builds up.” Knowledge, by itself, produces arrogance; but love is a strong structure. Both traits complement one another because love without knowledge produces a zeal for God that does not conform to God’s righteousness (cf. Rom. 10:2ff). And God says in Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Knowledge is only worthwhile when accompanied by love, and those who love God are “known by God” in verse 3. In other words, to have knowledge is good, but to be known by God is the ultimate because His knowledge of our love for Him is what’s really important.
Food for Thought
A paraphrased verse 2 might say, “If you think you know something, that just proves you don’t know anything.” True knowledge comes when a person passes through the unconscious state of their own ignorance to the realization that they know nothing – no matter how great their education. True knowledge is exhibited in one who understands biblical truth AND loves God’s people. They would do nothing to lead them astray with their own Christian liberty. Next time you order a beer in public remember that. If your Christian freedom offends another, you sin.
1 Corinthians 8:4-6… With regard then to eating food sacrificed to idols, we know that an idol in this world is nothing, and that there is no God but one. 5 If after all 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, from whom are all things and for whom we live, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we live.
Paul picks up again in verse 4 with what to do about meat sacrificed to idols and the proper Christian response to that food. First, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul affirms the fact that idols and “gods” are nothing but man-made myths and legends. He says they’re “nothing.” Then he alludes to what is known in Jewish circles as the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4 which says, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” In other words, there is only one God; there are no other deities in existence anywhere.
Now it is interesting to note the Hebrew word behind “gods” in the Bible. The word is Elohim – a plural term that is used for at least four different entities: God Almighty, pagan deities in the form of idols, angels, AND it also can refer to men in authority (cf. Exodus 22:9; Psalm 82:1, 6; John 10:34-35). So, in verse 5 when Paul does affirm the existence of “gods/lords” he does two things. First, he says that the existence of pagan idols all throughout the culture does attest to their mythical existence (though not real) all around them, and second, these “gods” do exist in the form of angels and men in authority (kings, pharaohs, etc.). Some exist “in heaven” and some “on earth,” likely referring to angels in heaven and kings on earth.
But verse 6 brings it all into focus, for there is only one “God,” and Paul designates Him as “Father.” It is through this one God, the Father, “from whom are all things and for whom we live.” Paul is not only teaching theology proper (doctrine of God), he is attempting shift the arrogant focus of the Corinthians off of themselves, as they indulged their every whim in meat offered to idols, onto God the Father. He says it clearly when he tells them that life is meant to be lived for God, not to satisfy ourselves through our Christian liberties. Furthermore, Paul adds to our understanding of the Holy Trinity when he says that we also live for the Lord Jesus Christ. He calls Jesus “one Lord… through whom are all things and through whom we live.” In sum, it is FOR God the Father that we live because it was FROM Him that all things come; and it is THROUGH Jesus Christ that God made what He made (it was Jesus Christ who created everything in John 1:3-4; Col. 1:15-17), and as such it is THROUGH Jesus Christ that we live. Jesus is the only way to the Father (John 14:6). Without faith in the Son we’ll never see God.
So what is Paul trying to say? Simply this: the Corinthian Christians, many of them, believed that their Christian liberty allowed them to do anything they pleased. In this case it was eating food sacrificed to idols. They were innocent for doing so, but they were offending their weaker brothers in Christ who weren’t so sure about the practice. This is why they wrote to ask Paul this question. His answer is clear: we are to live for God and not our selfish desires.
Food for Thought
What Christian freedoms do you practice daily? Do you drink? Gamble? Listen to rock-n-roll music? None of these are evil in and of themselves – so long as they don’t go to extremes – but if your Christian liberty is a stumbling block to someone else, you might want to consider either giving it up or exercising your liberty in private. Before you go thinking that you can do anything you please and not care about what others think, ask yourself, “Am I living for God with my liberties, or am I living to please myself?” We must all examine ourselves about that.
1 Corinthians 8:7-8… But this knowledge is not shared by all. And some by being accustomed to idols in former times eat this food as an idol sacrifice, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Now food will not bring us close to God. We are no worse if we do not eat and no better if we do.
In the first part of verse 7 the writer says, “But this knowledge is not shared by all.” Whereas in verse 1 he said, “We know that we all have knowledge,” now he states that not all have sufficient knowledge. Hence, the letter to the Corinthians. The knowledge he speaks of likely refers to the doctrine of God the Father and of God the Son previously spoken about in verse 6. Not all had the knowledge of the true meaning of life. If they did Paul wouldn’t have had to write as he did. Their knowledge consisted of being saved by Christ and having freedom in Him. But Christian freedom and liberty isn’t the ultimate goal of the Christian any more so that just getting to heaven is. Knowing who God is (knowledge) is only half the equation, and proper knowledge of God should never lead a person to believe that he/she can go off and behave any old way they please. Proper knowledge of God means doing all things for God as opposed to exercising Christian freedom just because it’s legal. The other half of the equation is love for God – serving Him faithfully instead of our own appetites, whims, and desires.
Paul speaks of a group of people, in verse 7b, who had converted to Christianity from a life of idol worship. These were the ones “accustomed to idols in former times.” Apparently these folks bought and ate the same meat other Christians were buying and eating. The only difference here is that these former idol worshippers weren’t quite sure if what they were doing was proper. Prior to their conversion to Christ they had most assuredly participated in offering their food to idols, but now after being saved out of that life they were observing Christians eat the same meat without batting an eye. The liberty that these Christians were practicing confused them. Paul says that their “conscience, being weak, is defiled.” They were watching other Christians eat without feeling guilty, so they thought they could too. However, in doing so they just didn’t feel right about it, and because of their doubt, they were sinning. Romans 14:23 says that the person who acts without full faith in what he’s doing sins. In the case of eating food, if it sears one’s conscience then that one should abstain. If not, they should eat without guilt.
So in verse 8 Paul says that food is nothing. It neither brings us closer to God nor does it separate us from Him. We’re no better for eating food, and we’re no worse. Those who make a big deal out of eating certain foods on certain days of the week, those who promote vegetarianism, and those who judge others for eating or not eating are listed as “weak” believers in the Bible. They are to be treated as weaker brothers and sisters because, for whatever reason, they have been led to believe that some foods are clean while others are unclean. Jesus declared all foods are clean in Mark 7:19, and Paul says as much in Romans 14:14.
Food for Thought
There are many today who grew up in religions where eating meat on Fridays was wrong. Others have been prevented from eating meat at all, and there are still more who frown upon putting cheese with meat (not kosher). The New Testament debunks all of those rules, but we who did not grow up under such guidelines must take caution. For those who do have issues with the aforementioned must not be judged. Scripture calls them the “weaker” believers because they don’t yet understand their full freedom in Christ. Those who don’t have such restrictions must not judge and must be careful lest we cause them to stumble. Be mindful of that today.
1 Corinthians 8:9-13… But be careful that this liberty of yours does not become a hindrance to the weak. 10 For if someone weak sees you who possess knowledge dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience be strengthened to eat food offered to idols? 11 So by your knowledge the weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed. 12 If you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 For this reason, if food causes my brother or sister to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I may not cause one of them to sin.
Verses 9-10 gives a stern warning about food to the stronger believers that is explained in harrowing detail in verse 11. They were cautioned not to use their Christian liberty, like eating meat sacrificed to idols, in a way that offended their weaker Christian brethren. Those who had come out of the life of idol worship were confused by their fellow Christians who ate the food sacrificed to idols, and they were considered by Paul as the “weak” ones – the ones who are offended over the actions of others. Paul isn’t talking down to the weaker brothers, for he holds their concerns in high esteem – so high that he commands the stronger believers to abstain from anything that offends them. The fact that the weaker Christians were persuaded to eat meat sacrificed to idols against their own consciences as a result of watching their fellow Christians do so was exceedingly harmful to them in Paul’s mind. He says in verse 11 that the weak believer, for whom Christ also died, is “destroyed” – not for eating meat sacrificed to idols but for doing anything against their own consciences – all because another believer led him down that path!
Verse 11 literally reads, “For the one being weak destroys himself by your knowledge…” The issue here is what “destroy” actually means. The middle voice of the verb literally means “destroy oneself.” Paul uses this word in other places to refer to physical death, but it can also refer to the eternal damnation of one’s soul. Given that Paul has clearly pointed out that these people are weak “believers” – and salvation is a gift of God’s grace that cannot be lost – the meaning here likely refers to the physical death of the person who has been led astray by another. To the strong believers Paul warns that Christ died a torturous death for these people. Were they going to be the cause of their brother’s destruction because they refused give up idol meat? Paul’s message to the strong… “while you’re exercising your ‘right’ to eat anything you want in order to make a statement that meat sacrificed to idols is nothing, you’re leading your brothers down the road to death. So stop!” Verse 12 is clear when it states that this practice is nothing short of sin against Christ, and the conclusion to the whole matter is found in verse 13. If doing anything causes another Christian brother to sin that practice must cease. It wasn’t that eating the meat was wrong; it was the fact that eating the meat led another astray. That was sin against God.
Food for Thought
Our freedom in Christ is a great freedom indeed, but it can be abused. We must be careful around those who were saved out of the “rock-n-roll” life of drug and alcohol abuse, wild parties, and sexual orgies. If our listening to that music causes them to become weak with reference to their old life we must take that seriously. If our freedom to participate in hunting Easter eggs on Easter or dressing up on Halloween causes a fellow Christian who was saved out of a former life in the occult to stumble, we must proceed with great caution. If drinking alcoholic beverages in a public restaurant causes a recovering alcoholic to become weak then our freedom to do so is nothing short of sin against Christ. The whole message of 1 Corinthians 8 concerns our actions and how they affect other Christians. Like all biblical teaching we cannot take this lightly. Simply put, Christian freedom is not a license to sin. It is the freedom to NOT sin.