1 Corinthians 8

These notes are based on the NASB text.

A Word To The Wrong!

8:1 Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge [regarding the emptiness of idol worship]. Knowledge makes arrogant [“to blow up…like a bubble, to puff up…like bellows, to make proud or arrogant, to cause to become conceited”], but love edifies [“to build up…like a building, to strengthen or build up an individual’s spiritual faith”].

In addition to their questions about marriage, the Corinthians asked Paul for counsel regarding the matter of meat sacrificed to idols in the letter they sent him (see 7:1).

The “things sacrificed to idols” is a reference to the sacrifice of animals in the heathen religious rites practiced in Corinth. The meat of an animal was used in three ways:

[A] It was used in the religious ceremony, usually burned as an offering.

[B] A portion of the meat was cooked and eaten as a part of the religious ceremony.

[C] A portion was taken home by the worshiper or sold to the public in the market places. R.B. Brown comments, “Since the best animals were sacrificed, the best meat at the marketplace usually came from pagan temples” (Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 10).

Paul identified two things that motivated and governed the actions of the Corinthians in regard to the “things sacrificed to idols.”

[A] “Knowledge”: The more mature Corinthian believers had “knowledge” that the less mature believers did not have. They knew that the “things sacrificed to idols” were not contaminated nor wrong to eat. They had no problem eating such meat. They approached the entire issue in a somewhat logical or matter-of-fact sort of way. The more mature believers however, were misusing their knowledge. It made them arrogant or puffed up rather than sensitive to the questions and concerns of their weaker brothers.

[B] “Love”: Knowledge without love is dangerous. Love edifies. It thinks of others. If the knowledge of the more mature believers had been tempered with love, they might have been more understanding regarding the hesitation of the weaker believers to eat meat sacrificed to idols. They might have taken the time to take their younger brothers by the hand and help them along.

8:2 If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know;

8:3 but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.

The mature believers assumed they knew more than they actually knew. The Corinthian believers were trying to deal with a sensitive spiritual matter on the basis of their knowledge and understanding alone. That was not enough. A personal and loving relationship with God must keep knowledge in check.

A Word To The Worried!

8:4 Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one.

Where would believers have an occasion to eat meat sacrificed to idols?

[A] In their own homes. Christians shopped for meat at the same marketplaces where pagans shopped for their meat. A Christian however, generally had no way of knowing whether the meat he purchased had been from an animal sacrificed in a pagan temple.

[B] In the home of a friend. An individual might give a feast or host a wedding in his home with meat that was left-over from a sacrificial ceremony.

[C] At a social ceremony at a pagan temple. Sometimes believers were invited to attend banquets, social and civic, in local pagan temples where meat sacrificed to idols was served.

Paul addressed those who were worried or concerned about the matter of eating meat sacrificed to idols. Paul reminded these believers that “there is no such thing as an idol in the world,” that is, that idols are not real, they do not exist, they are without substance. In fact, “there is no God but one” (see Deuteronomy 6:4). “Eating food sacrificed to idols means eating food sacrificed to nothing” (BBC, Vol. 10).

Psalm 135:15-18 and verse 5 support Paul’s thoughts in these verses:

• 135:15 The idols of the nations are but silver and gold, the work of man’s hands.

• 135:16 They have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes but they do not see;

• 135:17 They have ears, but they do not hear; nor is there any breath at all in their mouths.

• 135:18 Those who make them will be like them, yes, everyone who trusts in them.

• 135:5 For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods.

8:5 For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many [see Acts 17:22-23] gods and many [the pagans were monotheists] lords,

8:6 yet for us there is but one [in contrast to “many gods”] God, the Father, from whom are all things [He created the world], and we exist for Him; and one [in contrast to “many lords”] Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things [Jesus was the agent of creation, also as per Colossians 1:16], and we exist through Him [Jesus gives meaning to the lives of believers].

Regardless of how many “gods” and “lords” (Paul’s way of referring to demons) the heathen claimed there were, in reality there is only one God who has created all things and created man for Himself.

A Word To The Wise!

8:7 However not all men have this [particular] knowledge [regarding idolatry and the issue of meats sacrificed to idols as well as the sovereignty of God]; but some [those who do not have this knowledge], being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak [not because of a lack of concern but because of a lack of mature understanding] is defiled [to be morally polluted or stained].

Some of the Corinthian believers could not forget their past experiences with/in idolatry. They still felt uneasy about eating meat sacrificed to idols. Doing so brought to their remembrance old feelings. They were troubled at the thought of eating such meat and troubled by those who did. They still felt that eating meat sacrificed to idols was to partake in the idolatrous practice.

8:8 But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse [inferior to or below the standard] if we do not eat, nor the better [to be advanced or more prominent] if we do eat.

Food neither gives one special status with God nor deprives one of status with God. Jesus said, “there is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man” (Mark 7:15). Food neither commends nor condemns a man before God.

8:9 But take care [beware] lest this liberty [your right to choose and to act] of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

At this point Paul takes the issue from knowledge to love. The issue now is not whether it is right or wrong to eat such meat, but the impact this will have on others. Failure on the part of the more mature believers at this point could cause weaker brothers to stumble by:

[A] offending them

[B] causing the weaker brother to imitate the stronger believer and thus violate the convictions of his conscience.

The burden of the responsibility to live above reproach is with the more mature Christian.

8:10 For if someone [a weaker brother] sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened [emboldened to do what he believes is wrong] to eat things sacrificed to idols?

Paul’s discussion now moves to the issue of influence. Those who had left idolatry felt strongly that it was wrong to have anything to do with idolatry, either directly (“dining in an idol’s temple”) or indirectly (buying meat sacrificed to idols in the marketplace). Therefore, if these new believers, trying to live for Christ, were to see a more mature believer do something they felt was wrong, it would either lead them to confusion or to imitation in spite of their feelings.

8:11 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died.

In what sense would a weaker brother be ruined?

[A] He “would become so confused in his conscience that he would be lost to effective and fruitful service for the Lord. In that sense he would perish.” (Brian Harbour, Bible Book Study Commentary, page 55).

[B] “It means that their spiritual life would be wrecked” (Bible Book Study for Adult Teachers, page 50).

[C] “Not his soul’s salvation but his Christian courage and convictions…A saved soul but a lost Christian life” (Hobbs).

The phrase “for whose sake Christ died” should motivate mature believers to imitate Christ’s example. Since Jesus loved us enough to die for us, we should love our brothers enough to give up personal rights for their benefit and spiritual well-being.

8:12 And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding [to strike a blow] their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

Paul took his argument a step farther by stating that when we cause a weaker brother to stumble/sin we sin against Christ. See also Matthew 25:40, “Truly I say to you,to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

8:13 Therefore, if [since] food causes my brother to stumble [from the Greek word “scandalizo” from which we get our word “scandal”], I will never [for the rest of my life] eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble.

Paul summed up his argument in verse 13 by stating that he was not willing to participate in any activity, even if it was right, that had the potential to cause a weaker brother to stumble. He was willing to give up his personal rights for the sake of others. For Paul, it was more important to love others than to participate in an activity that his knowledge told him was within his rights. Paul’s freedom and rights were governed by love. So, before deciding to do something that is morally neutral or morally questionable, ask: “Is my doing it harmful to others?”

Practical Considerations

Knowledge must be governed by love.
It is good to grow in our knowledge and understanding of spiritual things, but we must not allow that knowledge to become a source of pride. Knowledge without love is cold and insensitive to the concerns and needs of others.

Believers have a relationship with the God of the universe!
There are indeed many so-called gods in this world who are worshiped by many. Such gods are, however, impotent and incapable of meeting the deepest needs of man. Believers are privileged to enjoy a relationship with the living God of the universe through His Son.

Believers have a responsibility to guard their influence.
A story is told of a blind man who went about his business carrying a lantern. Someone asked him why he carried a lantern with him everywhere he went since he was blind and obviously unable to benefit from the light of his lantern. The blind man replied that he did not carry the lantern to keep from stumbling over things in his path but that others might not stumble over him. In like manner, every believer must walk in such a way that they do not become a source of stumbling to others. Believers have a responsibility to guard their influence, to let their light shine in such a way that they enable others in their walk rather than cause them to stumble and fall.

Believers must be willing to give up their rights for the sake of others.
Mature believers should be sensitive to the impact their behavior has upon others. While it may not be wrong to indulge or participate in an activity, it may be harmful to the spiritual well-being of others. We should be willing to give up our personal rights for the sake of others. Paul wrote, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

Believers should keep in mind that Christ died for others, too.
Lord, help me see in those I meet,
On country road or city street,
Not just people passing by,
But those for whom Jesus came to die.

Ask before you eat…or do…or say!
This chapter offers a good guideline for moral decision-making. Ask yourself the following questions before participating in any questionable or even neutral activity.

Will my participation in this activity…
[A] be harmful to others?
[B] be harmful to the cause of Christ?
[C] cause another to stumble?

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