There are conflicting views across different Christians religions regarding what food or meat we ought to eat or not, what festivals and ceremonies we ought to take part in and which Christian and non-Christian traditions we ought to follow. Paul’s addresses these matters in 1 Corinthians 8-11:1 . This post will demonstrate what Paul’s intentions were in this portion of the epistle and how we as believers can apply to our lives today. There are lies that Christians believe.
Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Concerning Food Sacrificed to Idols
8 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God. 4 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.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 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. 7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. 9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.
Eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols is not a question of right or wrong, but rather a question of whether the eating of such food may be a stumbling block to “weaker” Christians. The Corinthians had written to Paul saying they are not worshipping the idols the food had been sacrificed to; for they have the knowledge that idol gods are manmade and that only God is real (1 Cor 8:4-6).
Paul acknowledges that it is important to have this knowledge, but there are two things to realise here – not all possess the knowledge required to make this distinction and may be lead to feel guilty for eating this meat and that it is not enough to have knowledge without love as this leads to prideful behaviour (1 Cor 8:7-10). Rather, Paul emphasises that there is a lack of love. We obtain God’s knowledge by loving Him and we can know and be known by God by showing love to others. A showing of love is to not eat such meat where weaker Christians may be caused to stumble – rather the stronger Christian ought to not eat the meat at all if it causes another to stumble in their faith (1 Cor 8:11-13; Jabini 2020:ch. 7).
Paul’s own example
1 Corinthians 9:1-27
Paul’s Rights as an Apostle
9 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? 2 Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 3 This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. 4 Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 5 Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? 6 Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? 8 Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. 13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. 15 But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. 16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.
Paul’s Use of His Freedom
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
The Need for Self-Discipline
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Paul leads by example and demonstrates this by highlighting his rights as an apostle, which are, the right to food and drink, the right to take a wife and the right to earn a living from the gospel (1 Cor 9: 4-6).
However, Paul does not exercise these rights as he would rather not hinder the gospel of Christ but rather build stronger relationships with Christ and others (1 Cor 9:12).
Paul reminds the Corinthians that he is planting a spiritual seed inside of them and so he should be entitled to a share of the harvest, such as food, but his focus is solely on the saving power of the gospel (1 Cor 9:15-18). Paul makes himself a slave to everyone. He limits his own rights and freedoms in order to connect with others. He becomes ”all things to all people” so that some will be won to faith in Christ. He becomes as a Jew under the law to win law-following Jewish people.
He becomes like a person not under the law to win over the Gentiles. He even becomes weak for the sake of the weak. He does all of this for sake of the gospel, encouraging others to do the same (1 Cor:19-23). At the end of chapter 9, Paul likens himself to a highly trained athlete. An athlete is disciplined and has intent and so should a follower of Christ. He goes on to relate a runner in a foot race to God’s faithful followers, ultimately highlighting that Christians are racing towards more than just an earthly prize. (1 Cor 9:24-27, Jabini 2020:ch. 7).
The example of the Israelites (10:1-13)
The people of Israel were blessed by the protection of the cloud provided by God to guide them (v1a), deliverance through the red sea (v1b), baptism into Moses (v2) eating the same spiritual food (v3) and drinking the same spiritual drink (v4).
However, they failed and did spiritually immature things. They practised idolatry (v7; Exo 32-1:16), they were sexually immoral (v8) they tested God (v9) and they complained most of the time (v10). All this happened as a warning for future generations. Paul warned the Corinthians not to complain, but to rather focus on what God is doing for them, instead of what God is not doing for them. In the world then filled with moral depravity and sin-inducing pressure,
Paul gives strong encouragement to the Corinthians – all are tempted and fall so not one of them should feel singled out, others have resisted temptation and so can they, they can resist temptation because God helps them to do so. The Corinthians should read the example of their ancestors as a warning unless they, too, fall at God’s hand for participating with idols. Their standing in Christ does not mean that God will not act against unfaithfulness to Him with false gods. Still, such temptations are common, and God always provides a way to escape from sin. (1 Cor 10:11-13; Jabini 2020:ch. 7).
Christianity and idolatry do not go together
1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1
Idol Feasts and the Lord’s Supper
14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf. 18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
The Believer’s Freedom
23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. 25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” 27 If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29 I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? 31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. 11 1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
Paul tells the people of Corinth why it is essential to their salvation to flee from idol worship of any kind. Taking part in communion by taking in the representations of Christ’s body and blood brings us into fellowship with Him. To be involved with idolatry brings people to fellowship with demons. They cannot have fellowship in Christ and demons.
Paul uses questions to warn them about stirring up the Lord’s jealousy in this way. God is stronger than us and will act when betrayed (1 Cor 10:14-22). Furthermore, Paul shows that merely asking, ”Is this lawful?” is not the right question for them to be asking. Instead, they must continue by asking, ”Will this glorify God?” and ”Will this build up others?”
Paul instructs them to act on this by refusing to eat meat they know has been offered to an idol. The reason is to avoid causing anyone to think Christians approve of idol worship in any way. They are free, though, to eat any meat they do not know to have been offered to an idol, with a clear conscience, and with thanks to God. The key message of this passage is that their intent, and the effects of their actions on others, are more important than the physical things involved (1 Cor 10:23-11:1).
Is it permissible for Christians to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols? There are two dimensions to this question for Christians. One is whether it was permissible to eat meat served within the temple precincts. The other was whether it was permissible to purchase meat that had been sacrificed to idols and to eat it at home.
Eating meat within the temple precincts would be a problem because immature Christians seeing more mature Christians eating meat at a temple would almost certainly conclude that the mature Christians were engaged in idol-worship (8:10). Eating meat at home, even though it might have been sacrificed to idols, would be less liable to be interpreted in that way.
However, if someone happens to interpret it that way, Paul says that the one eating the meat should cease (1 Cor 8:13; 10:28-31). This would be an act of love.
We all have the right to marry, but we have the freedom to choose to forego that right to devote our time to sharing the Gospel (1 Cor 9:5.). We have the right to require a congregation to provide for us financially in return for preaching the gospel but can also choose to forego that right for their benefit (1 Cor 9:6).
So too, we should choose to forego our right to eat meat sacrificed to idols if someone might misunderstand this behaviour and be caused to stumble in their faith.
While the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols might seem irrelevant today, what Paul has to say about sensitivity to the feelings of other Christians is highly relevant. He calls those who are strong – those who understood that idols did not represent real gods, so meat that has been sacrificed to idols had no religious significance – to defer to those who are weak – those whose faith might be weakened by seeing Christians eating meat sacrificed to idols.
A real-life example could be alcoholism. A person who is strong in their faith and unlikely to get drunk could say, “I am free to drink whenever and wherever I choose, because I can handle it. I will not get drunk. I will not lose control. I won’t drive while impaired.”
However, doing so in the presence of one who is weak, (an alcoholic or someone who might be disposed to be an alcoholic, the stronger person needs to consider the potential consequences of their behaviour on the weaker person. The weaker person might be tempted to drink and end up being drunk. In such a case, Paul calls the stronger person to consider the vulnerability of the weaker person and to defer to the weaker person’s sensibilities. The principle of love for the other person trumps the principle of the personal freedom that comes with faith in Christ.
It is difficult to generalise, because the application of Paul’s principle of love for the weaker person is so dependent on the immediate situation—and who might be watching—and how our behaviour might affect that person.
Applying Paul’s principle of love requires that we be alert and sensitive to those who might be led astray by our behaviour.
Paul calls us to that same kind of sensitivity to other people, both children and adults—anyone who might misunderstand our actions or our language—anyone who might be tempted to emulate our behaviour in ways that might do them harm—anyone whose faith might be damaged by seeing us do things that they might believe to be questionable morally.
I believe that the circumstances of the world today can lead us to temptation and idolatry far more quickly than in the days of the Corinthians. Our 21st-century world of technology, ease of access to information, ease of access to food, food that you may have no idea where it came from, can easily lead us astray. We ought to always be vigilant of those around us and ensure our own actions do not lead other Christians astray.