Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God. 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. But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Be honest. Did you read that whole section from 1 Corinthians 8? Or did you read the portion about “food sacrificed to idols” in the very first line and jump down here? :) I ask the question because I know how frustrating it can be to read a portion of the Bible that seems to be dealing with an issue that is completely foreign to us. It’s easy to skip through books like Leviticus because we think to ourselves, “This is all about Old Testament worship life. Sacrifices and stuff like that. I’ve never been around an animal sacrifice, nor do I ever want to be. And if I ever need some meat products I’ll let the fine folks down at the Butcher Block handle the butchering.”
Let’s face it—unless you’re a hunter, the concept of butchering an animal has become completely foreign to most of us. Animal sacrifices? Even more foreign! So when we come across something in the Bible that’s completely foreign to us, it’s understandable that we may skip right over it.
I hope you’ll hang with me, however, because there is some really valuable, good news stuff in this section from 1 Corinthians 8!
Here’s what’s going on. Some people in Corinth were eating meat that had been sacrificed to a false god. They didn’t feel any guilt about doing so because to them, an idol was nothing more than a hunk of wood or stone. The meat which had been sacrificed to said hunk of wood or stone was not tainted in any way. It was just meat.
The Apostle Paul agreed. The person who felt no guilt over eating this meat had no reason to feel guilty because the meat they were eating was nothing more than meat. We might say they were “free” to eat. Their practice was not only logical, it was Biblical. But, just because they were “free” to eat, didn’t mean they were required to eat. In fact, as Paul goes on to point out, there was good reason for them not to eat this meat.
Remember, this is Corinth we’re talking about. Corinth was and is a Greek port city about 50 miles west of Athens. In the 1st century AD, this place was as heathen as they came. The people who lived there grew up worshiping idols. Many of them probably worshiped the mythological Greek gods you and I may be familiar with. To them, if meat was sacrificed to one of those gods, it was a big deal. It meant something.
Some of these people had become Christians. Now that they know about the true God, they leave those mythological gods behind. And yet, if someone sacrifices a lamb to Zeus, they don’t want anything to do with it. Our text tells us that when they think of such meat, to them, it’s “defiled!”
Can you understand why? Zeus and many other false gods were a big part of their lives! But now they’ve come to know the truth about who God is and who God is not—they’ve come to know the beauty of the gospel message which tells us all that sinful though we are, and deserving of God’s punishment in hell though we are, the true God became a real man and suffered the punishment we deserve all so we could be spared that punishment. That’s why Jesus died. But then he rose! And now, in place of the punishment we deserve, the true God promises resurrection and life in heaven to all who believe in him!
These Corinthian Christians believed in the true God and in the forgiveness Jesus had won for them. They no longer believed in Zeus or any of the other false gods worshiped around them. And yet, they struggled to remove themselves from the reality of the idol culture around them. For them, eating meat that had been sacrificed to Zeus was just plain wrong. And so they didn’t feel comfortable eating meat sacrificed to idols.
So back to those who were eating. Was their knowledge flawed? No. They really were free to eat this meat, because, in reality, they were right. The meat wasn’t tainted in any way. It was just meat. They knew the truth. And yet, knowledge of a Biblical truth that allows us to do something is not an excuse to stop loving souls “for whom Jesus died.”
You see, people’s knowledge of the facts found in the Bible will vary. Not everyone will have the same grasp of Biblical concepts. That’s not a knock on anyone. It’s simply reality. And this is important to understand because our knowledge of the facts found in the Bible, impacts how we feel about “right and wrong.”
We call that feeling a conscience. God placed one inside of each and every one of us. You could think of your conscience as a little Supreme Court judge. It compares the things you think, say and do to your understanding of “right and wrong.” Your conscience then makes a ruling. Either you’re guilty—and you’ll feel it!—or you’re innocent—you’ll feel that too! God put this conscience inside us all so we would be without excuse when we do slip up. He wants us to be aware of our sin and subsequent failure to be perfect as he demands—all so we can see our need for help—all so we can appreciate what Jesus has done for us.
Here’s where things get tricky. Our understanding of “right and wrong” is constantly being shaped and molded. It begins with a natural understanding of “right and wrong.” (See Romans 2:14-15). But then, as we grow older that natural understanding of “right and wrong” is shaped and molded. The question is this. What is causing the shaping and the molding? We want our consciences to be shaped and molded by the truths of God’s Word. Only then will we have a pure understanding of “right and wrong.” But the reality is that we are all influenced by the world we live in. As a result, our consciences can easily be shaped and molded by just about anyone or anything in this world.
That’s what we see in Corinth. Some Christians had a conscience shaped and molded by God’s Word to the point where they had a very solid, Biblical understanding of “right and wrong.” Some younger Christians hadn’t gotten to that point yet. Their consciences were “weak.” And yet they were still people “for whom Jesus died.” And as Christians, THEY BELIEVED! That means God’s promise of forgiveness and heaven belonged to them. Why would a “strong” Christian want to do anything that might drive a “weak” Christian away from faith in God’s promises? They wouldn’t. And that’s Paul’s point.
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.
Paul was willing to give up his freedom as a Christian for the sake of people who did not yet have the same level of Biblical understanding that he had. Why? Because ALL people are people “for whom Christ died.” That means Jesus died for your sins. That means Jesus died for my sins. That means Jesus died for the sins of everyone who has ever lived. Weak conscience or strong conscience—doctorate level Bible knowledge or kindergarten Bible knowledge—Jesus died for us all.
Blessings on your weekend!