Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
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.
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.
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? 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. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. <Biblegateway.com>
How to be Right
“I will never eat meat again.” I think this is probably one of those passages of the Bible that we read, then wrinkle our forehead in confusion, and then just dismiss. Why would Paul say he’s not going to eat meat? Is it bad to eat meat? It’s not bad to eat meat.
One of the things I really like, is being right. I study and read and educate myself, and in an argument, I really like to be right. I think I can say that most of us feel this way. Being right feels good, it feels smart, and being wrong feels terrible.
This passage of the Bible tells us that it’s more important to love others, than it is to be right. Paul is talking about eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols. This meat is then eaten by the pagans, in expectations of receiving some sort of blessing from their false god. At the time of this letter to the Corinthians, most of that region was in a famine, there wasn’t much food to go around. Plus, most of the Christians there were converts to Christianity. They had been brought up worshipping idols, but had received salvation by accepting Jesus as their savior. They are now children of God. Some of them thought it was wrong to eat this meat, and some thought it was ok. The ones who approve of eating the meat know that only God is God, there is no other god, and therefore this meat has been sacrificed to nothing. There’s no harm in eating it, because there is no other god. The ones who disapprove think that eating the meat shows some allegiance to these false gods, these idols.
Paul basically says that its true, you can eat the meat, it doesn’t matter. But here’s where it gets sticky. So you, in your knowledge of God, go and eat the meat. You know its ok because there’s no one else but God, eating the meat has no connections to any idols for you. But if someone with a weaker faith than you sees you eat the meat, and they are confused and eat the meat too, even though they believe it does have connections to the idol, then you have made them stumble in their faith. You pulled them into sin because they don’t have a mature faith yet. They are still learning and still studying. You know the truth, but they don’t understand it yet.
It says knowledge puffs us up, but love builds us up. We think we are better than others because we know so much. In this letter, Paul is saying that its good to have knowledge, but its better to help your fellow Christian follow God than to be legally right and cause them to stumble. If you have a friend who is a recovering alcoholic, then you shouldn’t drink alcohol when they visit you. You wouldn’t want to tempt them back into addiction. There’s nothing wrong with you having a drink, but to be a supportive friend, it’s a good idea to abstain while this friend is with you. And in this same example, Paul says that if you have a friend who doesn’t want to eat this sacrificed meat, you shouldn’t try to push them into doing it. They feel that it’s wrong, and so to them, it is. Legally by God’s laws, you are right. You can eat whatever you want, but they haven’t gotten there yet, so don’t push them in the wrong direction.
Those of us who do study the Bible to become more knowledgeable are actually in a dangerous position. We know what God did for us by putting Jesus on the cross. We know that there is nothing we can do that hasn’t already been forgiven. We know that once we accept God, we can never lose our salvation. God made us free from sin on that cross. Jesus took every sin ever committed, and every sin that would ever be committed and he bore that heavy weight on the cross. He died one time for all sin, and in his sacrifice, made us one with God. He freed us from the slavery of sin. He freed us from death. We have God in us.
But there are those people who don’t understand the amazing thing God did for us. They think that they are bad people, they are sinful people, and they have to work hard to get into heaven. There are people who are following all the Jewish laws trying to be good enough to get into heaven. There are people who condemn others who are different from them, trying to make others follow these laws as well. I know that there is nothing I can do that will make God love me any more than He already does. I can’t win His affection by being good because I already have it. Once Jesus died for our sin, He took all that away, and made us new creations in Himself. He won’t ever stop loving you, and once you give Him your life, you can’t take it back.
But having this knowledge, I need to share it and to be a good example to those around me. I need to help others see how good God is so they too can share in His love. Once you have truly experienced the freedom and peace and joy of God’s love, you want everyone to experience it! It a joy you can’t contain! But not everyone is there yet. And for the weak in faith, if they see you doing something they thing is wrong, they might do it too. You may know it’s not a sin, and it’s not a sin for you. But if they think it’s wrong and do it anyway because you did it, then you have helped them stumble. Stumbling takes us farther away from God. And if we cause people to stumble, then we aren’t loving people the way God intends for us. We aren’t loving people the way we need to in order to draw them into the family of God.
Knowledge is a great thing to have, and the more you know the better. But another thing about knowledge is the potential for it to make you prideful. If you keep reading in 1 Corinthians, you get to chapter 13, one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible. The second verse says “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” You could actually be the smartest person in the world, being able to read the Bible in every one of its original languages, and be able to interpret dreams, and heal people with your faith, and perform miracles. But if you don’t have love in your heart for your fellow man, you have nothing. All those amazing things are for nothing. Without love, we are nothing. God is love. Without love, we are nothing. Without God we are nothing.
So instead of being right, or prideful, or getting angry at people who “just don’t get it”, we all need to take a step back, and love like God does. In spite of our weaknesses, in spite of our differences in theology, in spite of our pride and anger and self-righteousness, we need to love and have love for those around us, no matter what they believe. For then, we will have love, and love is everything.