1 Cor 8:1-13 Eating Things Offered to Idols CLICK TITILE FOR AUDIO
Paul wrote 1 Cor 8:1-13 to deal with the problem of eating things offered to idols [Acts 15:20]. In idolatry, worshippers take a sacrifice to the temple. The priest takes his portion and then sells the rest of the offering to support the temple and the priests. Paul addressed our liberty to eat in the idol’s temple [1 Cor 8:10] or to eat something that had been offered to an idol.
Paul first discussed how we should generally make decisions regarding our liberty.
Our liberty based on our knowledge and charity – 1 Cor 8:1-3 – generally speaking, two things, knowledge and charity, should govern our liberty [1 Cor 8:9] in Christ. By knowledge, we determine whether a thing is right or wrong. If it’s wrong, then we shouldn’t do it. If it’s right, then we can do it. By charity, however, we decide not to do something that is right if it will not edify others [1 Cor 10:23].
Paul said, “we all have knowledge.” But knowledge can puff a person up, so that he uses what he knows to justify what he does, without regard to how his decision affects others. In this case, if he knows eating things offered to idols won’t hurt his salvation or his fellowship with the Lord, then he knows he’s at liberty to eat. This is how a person can justify drinking alcohol. He knows there isn’t a specific command against it, so he feels justified to drink. Yet he doesn’t know everything regarding his decision, “as he ought to know.” Those who have knowledge only know what they know; they don’t know everything [1 Cor 13:9]. And their knowledge alone is not sufficient to satisfactorily make the decision whether, in this case, to eat things sacrificed to idols. They must combine their knowledge with charity.
Those who have knowledge with charity can edify others [Eph 4:15]. Though they know a thing is right, they will choose not to do it because of its affect on others. Since they want to edify others rather than weaken them, they let their love for others, rather than their knowledge, govern their liberty. This is why Paul said, “if any man love God, the same is known of him.” Their charity is evidence of their love for God [1 Jn 5:1-2].
Then Paul dealt with how people should make the decision whether to eat things offered to idols.
Our decision based on our knowledge – 1 Cor 8:4-6 – we could easily eat things sacrificed to idols because we know:
- That an idol is nothing – Ps 115:4-8
- That there is only one God – Is 43:10-11
- There are many that are called gods in heaven – 2 Cor 4:4; Job 2:1
- There are many that are called gods in earth – Ps 82:6; Jn 10:34, p.505
- That to us there is one God, the Father – Rom 8:15-16; Eph 4:4-6
- That there is only one Lord Jesus Christ – 1 Jn 5:20
Therefore, if we were to eat something that had been sacrificed to an idol, it is nothing. It’s just another piece of meat. The fact that it was offered to an idol changed nothing.
Their decision based on their lack of knowledge – 1 Cor 8:7-8 – some people don’t know what we know about idols, that there’s nothing to them, at all. People who have worshipped idols are steeped in superstition. They believe their sacrifice is a propitiation. They believe that through sacrifice and obeisance they gain favor with the gods. Therefore, after they get saved, they believe that if they eat something that has been offered to an idol, they are doing wrong. And so, if they were to eat, their conscience would be defiled. They would feel and be guilty.
In idolatry, they were used to gaining favor with the gods by eating the sacrifice and losing favor with the gods if they didn’t. However, with the Lord God, “meat commendeth us not to God.” In other words, we’re not better off with God if we eat it and we’re not worse off with him if we don’t eat it [1 Cor 8:8]. It’s nothing to God.
Their decision based on our knowledge – 1 Cor 8:9-12 – because we know that eating in an idol’s temple or eating something offered to idols is not a sin, we know that we have the liberty to do these things. However, our liberty can be a “stumblingblock to them that are weak.” If a “weak brother” sees us eating in “the idol’s temple,” he might be “emboldened to eat those things that are offered to idols.” Yet, after he eats, he is going to feel very guilty and ashamed of his decision. He’s going to “perish,” not in the sense of going to hell, but in the sense of defiling his conscience. He’s done something that he believes is wrong, and so it is wrong.
Here’s an example that can illustrate this truth. You have the liberty to sit in a bar and drink a beer, for instance. While you’re in the bar, a brother who has sworn off alcohol, sees you in there drinking a beer. He thinks, “well if it’s okay for him to drink a beer, I guess it’s okay for me to have a beer, too.” So, he goes in, based on your liberty, and has a beer. When he walks out, his conscience will “beat him to death” because he had sworn off alcohol. He made this decision that was wrong for him based on “thy knowledge.” You are a “stumblingblock.”
Acting alone, your decision to eat something offered to an idol isn’t a sin. But if your liberty emboldens a weak brother to stumble and “wound (his) weak conscience,” you are no longer at liberty. When “ye sin so against the brethren… ye sin against Christ.” And you do not have the liberty to sin.
Our decision based on our charity – 1 Cor 8:13 – so, Paul concluded this chapter by saying that, though eating meat sacrificed to idols was not a sin for him, he would not eat it if it “would make my brother to offend.” And because he could not be sure when he might be a stumbling block to others, he decided to limit his liberty. He decided he would never knowingly eat meat sacrificed to idols [as in 1 Cor 10:27-29]. He said, “I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” By this statement, he was commending this same limit of liberty to the Corinthians, consistent with the decree of the council in Acts 15:20. See Rom 14:20-21.