If you are coming down the hill behind Jake’s Hamburgers to the stoplight where it intersects Sterling Street, you will notice a sign right there that says, “No Turn on Red.” That sign has always bothered me especially when I am sitting there at a red light waiting to turn. I can’t tell you the number of times I have sat there and talked to myself in the car vocalizing how stupid I think that is. Most places we can turn right on a red light that keeps the traffic going and to not have that permission there really bothered me. But then one day I realized that as much as I don’t like that sign it is probably there to protect me. When you look up the hill to your left there are some definite blind spots that if you pulled out at the wrong time there could be some serious accidents.
That is what’s happening in 1 Corinthians 8. Paul has obviously been told about this specific issue in the church. He is pointing out a dangerous spot if not addressed could cause a serious accident. The topic Paul is addressing is not one that we can identify with today but we certainly can identify with the principle behind it. “1 Now concerning food offered to idols . . .” (1 Corinthians 8:1). We can’t identify specifically with “food offered to idols” (1 Corinthians 8:1) but it was a huge deal in that day in Corinth. Their big question about the meat was “Can we eat it? If so, does it matter where we eat it?” The big questions for us out of this passage are . . . “How do you love people you don’t agree with?” And, “How do you get along with people who don’t see things just like you see things?” That’s never a problem in the church, right?
Corinth was a pagan city filled with pagan temples and pagan worshippers. You could not grow up as a Gentile in Corinth and not go to the temple. It was the ancient equivalent of our modern-day restaurant. The people in the first century would have been there as often as you are at a restaurant today. Pagan temples hosted festivals, community social events and private celebrations. Meat that was offered for sacrifices would have been set up in three different portions.
The first portion would have been set before the god and burned basically like a burned offering. The second portion would have been given to the people at the celebration. The third portion would have been put on what they called “the table of the gods” and attended by the temple employees. Meat that wasn’t burned in sacrifice or consumed by those in attendance was then taken to the market and sold for community consumption. So there was the tension in asking Paul to address the question, “Can we eat this meat and does it matter where we eat it?”
Since Corinth was filled with pagan temples and pagan or “idol” worshippers, many Christians who came to know Christ as their Savior were coming from this background. So there is the “conviction friction”. Paul divides this discussion into two groups . . . those who are the “weaker” brothers and the ones who are not specifically called this but who would call themselves the “stronger” brothers. As he begins to really dig in and address these two groups as he so often did Paul addressed their identity before he addressed their issues.
They had great theology but Paul rebukes them for what appears to be some “spiritual arrogance.” All of us must understand . . . Love is the goal of your faith in Christ; not knowledge. “1 Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” (1 Corinthians 8:1-3). You will notice in your Bibles that Paul uses a quote that “all of us possess knowledge.” (1 Corinthians 8:1). This was a phrase used in the church at Corinth. They were very arrogantly saying, “We have knowledge. We understand these realities and we know what is going on.” Their focus was not on the fact that they were known by God but on how much they knew and others didn’t.
They were finding their purpose, significance and identity in what they knew about God rather than God Himself. They had great theology but were not good at living it out. Daily reflection on the gospel keeps you grounded. If you don’t reflect daily on the gospel you will blow up or as Paul says be “puff up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Reflecting regularly on the gospel will blow up any spiritual superiority you might think you have.
Paul was trying to get them to understand . . . It’s not about what you know but who you know; It’s not about who you know, but who knows you . . . It’s not that you know and love God, but that you are known by God . . . It’s not about what you have done for God, but what has been done for you . . . It’s not your work, but Christ’s work that really counts!
All of this was an illusion back to the gospel and Paul ’s way of pointing them back to their real identity. Then Paul gets right back to the issue at hand. “4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (1 Corinthians 8:4-6). He was telling them as the “stronger” ones, “I know you know idols are not real and there is only one omniscient and omnipotent God made visible in Jesus Christ.” “I know you know food is food, rock is rock and God is one but everybody doesn’t know that.”
Which brings us back to our big questions. “How do you love people you don’t agree with?” And, “How do you get along with people who don’t see things just like you see things?” The second thing we must understand is . . . Knowledge without love kills. “7 However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? ” (1 Corinthians 8:7-10). One commentator has said, “Even the smell of the meat reminded them of their former enslavement to the pagan gods and pagan religion.”
The Corinthians who considered themselves “stronger” had one agenda for the so-called “weaker” ones and that was to teach them knowledge. They were like, “These people are just too sensitive about this meat stuff so we will just hold our small group at the temple and eat a meal there. We are just going to show you how free you really are.” As Christ-followers in love we should always have a desire to obey God, a desire to walk in holiness before Him, and desire to guard our hearts from the lusts of the world. But we should never get to the point of being legalistic which means we take all of those desires and become judgmental, arrogant and mean-spirited in those desires.
Paul was like, “Your so-called knowledge is not doing what you think it is. It’s not making your brothers stronger, more knowledgeable or more spiritual. It’s destroying the very brothers of yours that Jesus died for.” “11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.” (1 Corinthians 8:11-12). If you just do what you want to do simply because you can and you know but don’t care how it affects others, Paul says you have really messed up. You have sinned!
With everything you need to . . . Think about what you are doing, how you are doing it and why you are doing it! Love should always win! Love trumps liberty all the time! “13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:13). This describes a self-sacrificing love for others. This is not a begrudging self-sacrifice that has the attitude of, “Well, if I have to I will.” It is not a self-sacrifice that is constantly reminding people of how many things you are giving up for them. You are doing it because you love God and love people and you want God to be glorified.
Here was the complete scenario in Corinth: You had a city that was consumed with pagan worship with all kinds of temples and idols . . . You had a church (the Body of Christ) that was spreading the gospel and invading the culture with the gospel message of Jesus . . . You had Christians who were living in the culture but not being like the culture . . . You had mature believers who had been Christians for quite a while . . . You had believers who had only been Christians for a short while . . . Because of the pagan culture you had people coming to know Christ out of the pagan lifestyle.
So what was Paul’s goal in all of this? It definitely wasn’t for people to choose sides. The whole letter is about unity in the church. He didn’t want people choosing their verses and saying things like, “I’m one of the weak ones here and the way you are living is supposed to have a positive impact on my holiness and it’s just not working” or, “I’m one of the strong ones so just loosen up and eat the food because it’s all God’s anyway.” Paul never chose sides. He encouraged the “strong” to grow up and not demand their liberty at the expense of wounding the “weak”. And he encouraged the weak to get stronger. Eventually he wanted them all to realize . . . Food is food, Rock is rock and God is one.
What was Paul’s goal for the Corinthians when he addressed this issue? What should be our goal after looking at this? Paul addressed this same issue again in 1 Corinthians 10 and at the end of that chapter he gives the ultimate goal. “31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10:31-33). Always stand for truth without compromise in love and always do whatever it takes to see people come to know Christ and grow in their relationship with Him and seek to glorify God in it all!