As Christ followers, we get to disregard the ceremonial aspects of the Law of Moses. It’s important, though, to remember Jesus’ explanation that the greatest commandment is to: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40) If we are truly in Christ, we will obey these two most important of commandments–or at least we will grow in our obedience to them as we grow in our relationship with God and our understanding of His heart.
In 1 Corinthians 8:4-13, Paul is talking about eating food offered to idols and how this might affect weaker brethren. This principle can be applied to many situations, and the foundational truth here is to always be careful to walk in love. When we do or say things that, though not wrong in themselves, harm others in some way, we are not walking in love. I’ve quoted the verses here (though I don’t think I’ll do that in the future as it involves erasing a lot of unneeded and troublesome code), but if you’d like to see them in another Bible translation, click on the link and it will take you to Bible Gateway where you can choose from more translations than anyone could possibly ask for.
(1Co 8:4) About eating food offered to idols, then, we know that “an idol is nothing in the world,” and that “there is no God but one.”
Paul quotes the Corinthians’ saying: An idol is nothing in the world. Though he agrees with them in chapter 8, later in his letter (chapter 10) he qualifies this by saying that what the heathen sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons. We can go into that later. For now let’s just, with Paul, agree that an idol is nothing in the world.
The second saying of the Corinthians used to justify their eating food sacrificed to idols is: there is no God but one. True enough, when taken in a certain way–there is no true God but one–yet there are many that exalt themselves as gods though they are nothing.
(1Co 8:5) For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth–as there are many “gods” and many “lords”–
None of these gods is genuinely a god, though they doubtless see themselves as gods. They are only demons. Not much compared to the true God, though perhaps fearful enough if we had to face them without our Papa standing by.
(1Co 8:6) yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through Him.
Because we live (if we believe Jesus and follow Him) in God’s kingdom, we stand before one God–the real one. We have been given His Spirit by which we call Him Abba or Father. Abba, as you have most likely heard before, means “Daddy” more accurately than the more formal “Father”. All things come from Him, through Jesus, to us and to the world. We were made by Him, through Jesus, for His pleasure. We are for Him and we come to Him only through Jesus.
I am so grateful that I am for God–that I get to come to Him through Jesus–that after everything I’ve done, He wants me to be His daughter. He actually wants that intimate relationship of a little girl who trusts and depends on her Papa for everything. Way beyond amazing!
(1Co 8:7) However, not everyone has this knowledge. In fact, some have been so used to idolatry up until now, that when they eat food offered to an idol, their conscience, being weak, is defiled.
(1Co 8:8 ) Food will not make us acceptable to God. We are not inferior if we don’t eat, and we are not better if we do eat
(1Co 8:9) But be careful that this right of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak.
(1Co 8:10) For if somebody sees you, the one who has this knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, won’t his weak conscience be encouraged to eat food offered to idols?
(1Co 8:11) Then the weak person, the brother for whom Christ died, is ruined by your knowledge.
(1Co 8:12) Now when you sin like this against the brothers and wound their weak conscience, you are sinning against Christ.
1Co 8:13) Therefore, if food causes my brother to fall, I will never again eat meat, so that I won’t cause my brother to fall.
Earlier in this chapter, Paul quotes the Corinthians’ saying: We all have knowledge or, as I think it might credibly be paraphrased: Everybody knows that an idol is nothing in the world. There’s only one God. Idols are just big bits of rock or wood or metal or what-not. They’re not real at all.
Though Paul has not previously disputed the knowledge proverb, he calls it into question here. He says, “No. You’re wrong. Not everyone does have this knowledge.” Here, Paul brings out the point that doing something we believe to be wrong, even if we do it because we are intellectually convinced it is okay, is wrong. We must know in our hearts that a thing is acceptable. It’s not good enough to say to ourselves, “Well, brother so-and-so is doing it, so it must be okay.”
I hate to drag out the old “wine” example, but though there are many other examples, this is the easiest one I can think of to use. If you have spent much of your life in bars (or elsewhere) engaging in the lifestyle of a partier and a heavy drinker, you may have a hard time truly believing (as a new Christ follower) that drinking in moderation is okay. For you, until if or when your conscience is healed of the damage you’ve done to it by your lifestyle, drinking really is wrong.
If I, as a person who has rarely or never abused alcohol, pick up a couple of bottles of wine at the local liquor store and you, the reformed carouser, see me, might that not cause you to think, “Well, sister so-and-so drinks and she’s been a Christian longer than I’ve been alive. I guess maybe I can drink, too. Maybe I’m being silly, abstaining from alcohol.” The problem is that in your heart, you believe it is wrong for you to drink. If you drink, you’ll violate or wound your conscience. For you, at least for now, drinking is genuinely wrong.
So is it wrong for me to drink wine, so long as I do it sparingly and responsibly and do not become intoxicated? No. I personally don’t believe there’s anything intrinsically wrong in my drinking wine. Is it wrong for me to allow myself to be seen by you, to your harm? Yes–definitely.
Is this a ticket for the particular or overly-sensitive or people of weak consciences to dominate the actions of the rest of the church? Certainly not! But it is a call for those members of the body who posses, perhaps, a fuller understanding of God’s word and requirements to remember that God’s chief requirement is to walk in love. Love does no harm to a brother.
There’s a balance here. Paul points out that he would abstain from meat all together rather than harm one for whom Christ died. Nevertheless, we have no record that Paul did abstain from meat. He gives specific instructions later as to how to handle the matter of food offered to idols, so we’ll go into how that might apply to us today when we get there.
In the meantime, the truly important thing, I think, that we need to take from this chapter is that God expects us to walk in love. Even if it means giving up or using less freely something we personally do not believe is a forbidden pleasure. If it hurts, if it injures, if it leads astray one of our brothers or sisters, is it really worth it for the minor pleasure it may bring? Certainly not! God has commanded us to love one another. If we have learned to love God and to love others, then we are good and obedient and happy children. I like that better than anything else I may have to forgo to achieve it. God is worth far more than we could ever sacrifice in order to please Him.