Food Sacrificed to Idols
8 Now regarding your question about food that has been offered to idols. Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. 2 Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. 3 But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes.
4 So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God. 5 There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many lords. 6 But for us,
There is one God, the Father,
by whom all things were created,
and for whom we live.
And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ,
through whom all things were created,
and through whom we live.
7 However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated. 8 It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do.
9 But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. 10 For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? 11 So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. 12 And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. 13 So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.
Paul was referring here to some of the Corinthians’ habit of eating food that had been scarified to idols, thinking that they were spiritual strong enough for it to not matter. But Paul was saying that God was not impressed either way, because food does “not commend us to God.” What kind of food we eat does not bring us closer to God, nor does food help or hurt our cause for freedom. But what does matter is our love toward others, especially those in the family of God. As Paul wrote in Romans 14:1, “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.” Notice that it is the stronger believer who is to receive the weaker.
Concern for others is the issue at stake here. Because of the overriding principle of love, we are to take responsibility, to think about, the weaker brother or sister, watching the way we live out our faith before them so that they are encouraged to stay close to God and grow in Him.
Dr. H. A. Ironside gave an illustration of this. He was at a picnic with other Christians, including a man converted from Islam. A girl brought a basket of sandwiches to this man and offered one. He said,
What kind are they? She said,
All we have left are ham or pork. He said,
Don’t you have any beef? She replied,
No, they’re all gone.
Well, he said,
then I won’t have any. Knowing he was a Christian, she said,
Well, sir, I am really surprised. Don’t you know that as a Christian you are freed from food restrictions, and you can eat pork or ham or whatever you like? He said,
Yes, I know I am free to eat pork, but I am also free not to eat it. I’m still involved with my family in the Middle East, and I know that when I go home each year, and come to my father’s door, the first question he will ask is, Have those infidels taught you to eat the filthy hog meat yet? If I have to say, Yes, father, I will be banished from that home and have no further witness in it. But if I can always say, No, father, no pork has ever passed my lips, then I have admittance to the family circle and I am free to tell them of the joy I have found in Jesus Christ. Therefore I am free to eat, or I am free not to eat, as the case may be.
That story sets this problem in proper perspective. We do not have to claim our right to freedom based on knowledge. We are free to give up our rights anytime the situation warrants. Though we have the rights, we also have the right not to exercise them for the sake of love.
Cain’s old question to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) is answered in these verses; and it is a simple and powerful answer, “Yes, you are your brother’s keeper.” God is others-centered, and He wants us to become more and more like Him. We are to stay focused on God and others, keeping our eyes off ourselves. Self-centeredness leads us away from God, denying self leads us closer to Him. 1 John 3:11 tells us, “For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.”
Lord, help me use the freedom I have in you correctly. Help me to not be insensitive and cause another to stumble. Give me wisdom to be “others” focused. In Jesus name, amen.