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.’ For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), 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.
1 Corinthians 8:4-6 (NIV)
Read: 1 Corinthians 8
Consider: Paul moves on to deal with another question raised by the Corinthians: that of food sacrificed to idols. There had obviously been an ongoing debate amongst the Corinthian believers concerning food sacrificed to idols and they had raised the issue in their letter to Paul.
It is worth remembering that the apostles in Jerusalem had issued a letter to the Gentile church in Antioch to the effect that they should avoid meat offered to idols (see Acts 15:20,21 and Acts 21:25). This then became the standard advice to all the Gentile churches. So what was happening in Corinth that became a problem for which they needed to seek Paul’s advice?
Looking at the beginning of the chapter, Paul introduces their question: ‘Now about food sacrificed to idols …‘ (8:1), but he digresses to talk about knowledge (8:1-2) and then returns to the main question: ‘So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols ….‘ (8:4). It would appear that there were amongst the Corinthian believers some who because of their knowledge were willing to challenge the apostles’ decree concerning avoiding food sacrificed to idols. Their logic was simple. If there is only one God, then idols aren’t gods. Therefore, food sacrificed to idols hasn’t been polluted in any way, so must be acceptable to eat.
Paul does not attempt to contradict them as their logic is impeccable. He actually agrees with their logic (8:4-6). What he does do is to point out that not everyone possesses this knowledge and when a weaker believer eats food sacrificed to idols it could draw them back into their former pagan lifestyle. Paul could easily have argued that through educating weaker believers, they too would come to understand that food sacrificed to idols wasn’t actually polluted and was ‘safe’ to eat. However, this is not what he does.
In 1 Corinthians 8:9 Paul says: Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling-block to the weak. Here Paul reveals that his primary concern is not about food, but about the believers’ spiritual condition. He is aware that when someone exercises their right to do something, it might cause a weaker believer to stumble. Paul is not saying that the action in itself is sinful, but that its effect could be detrimental on someone else. Your response might be like Cain who said: ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (Genesis 4:9), or you might think: ‘Surely each person is individually responsible to God?’. What Paul is saying is that because of our love for others, this should limit how we live out our freedom in Christ.
How might this apply to us today, particularly as we are unlikely to face the issue of food sacrificed to idols? Thinking about issues we might face it is not possible to come up with an exhaustive listing of things to be careful over. However, there are a few obvious areas of life where caution should be exercised. Things like how we view and use material wealth, what we watch on television or in the cinema, the kind of car we drive, the home we live in, possessions we surround ourselves with, use of alcohol and food. None of these things are inherently bad in themselves, yet each if used inappropriately can lead other believers to think that these things are more important to us than Christ.
Look at how Paul rounds off this part of the letter: Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. Ask yourself if there is any area of your life that could cause a brother or sister to stumble. If so, will you have the same conviction as Paul that seeks the other’s good over your own?
Pray: Father, may you shine a spotlight on our lives, showing us where the exercise of our rights and freedom in Christ could be harmful to others. May we have the courage to face these issues, so that we do not cause a brother or sister to stumble. Amen