1 Corinthians 8:1-13
1Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3but anyone who loves God is known by him.
4Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— 6yet 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.
7It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8“Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
When I came home last Sunday, my wife said that I should have preached on not eating meat, which is what the reading ends with.
At our zoom coffee hour I was asked about what the reading was all about.
I suppose it is a bit obscure because the practises described are not practises we are familiar with.
First of all this is not about meat, it has nothing to do with eating meat or being vegetarian, though there are a couple of places in the Bible that implicitly address that question.
Here you have a community of people come together to celebrate worship, share a meal, and share their life. Faith in Jesus is only about 25 years old. Paul wrote the letter sometime in the year 53 or 54 AD.
He writes to a congregation in which at least some used to worship idols. And as sacrifice of animals was common in the ancient world, meat that had been sacrificed to idols may later have been sold at the market.
Paul agrees with those who affirm that worshipping idols and eating meat offered to idols are two completely different things. Worshipping idols is, of course, apostasy, rejecting the living God revealed to us in Jesus. Eating the meat offered to idols is OK because we know that there is only one God.
But the issue Paul raises isn’t actually about meat. It’s about how we recognize one another. Do we pay attention to one another and to each other’s sensitivities? Do we live in such a way as to try not to offend others, even when we are right, or especially when we are right?
I mean, how could a dispute with a neighbour lead to a shooting that leaves three people dead? No wonder James speaks about the tongue as a restless evil.
Here’s the thing, I like it when I am right. Most of us like it when we’re right. And that sensation sometime emboldens us to live in such a way that we no longer care about those who are wrong. That happens regarding political issues, moral issues, anything. Being right, some in Corinth assumed gave them the right not to worry about giving others offense. Paul calls them the strong.
The weak are those who may buy the argument about it being OK to eat meat that was previously sacrificed to idols, but perhaps because they used to do just that not long ago, it is hard for them to see and impossible to do without thinking back of their previous faith before they were found in the true God through Jesus. It’s an affront to their faith. Or perhaps they only find it confusing and they’d like things to be kept apart.
Later Paul will write, “‘All things are lawful’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful’, but not all things build up.” (1 Cor 10:23)
I don’t find it easy to translate the situation Paul describes into our own experience.
Perhaps an example is not to drink in the presence of someone struggling with alcohol, although they will have to navigate the presence of alcohol elsewhere.
When I very first thought of the passage I remembered how in my years as pastor people would always bring me their old Bibles, the ones they didn’t know what to do with, because they didn’t speak the language in which it was written, or because it was written in older English they had difficulty understanding. They brought these Bibles to me because they couldn’t stand the thought of recycling them, even though the pages and paper aren’t holy, it is the words through which God speaks to us today that are.
It is important that we pay attention to each other, and that we don’t dwell on being right, even when we are.