Thinking about Others First (1 Corinthians 8:1-13)

There are surely more than a mere handful of us in the church who are middle-aged and above and who grew up in a similar Christian environment that was very, very conservative. There was a list of items that you simply did not participate in doing if you were serious about your faith. At a minimum, participating was on the verge of sin, if not seen as certainly committing sin.

Among items on the “list” were such things as going to movies, smoking or drinking, dancing, long hair for boys and short skirts for girls, and listening to rock music. Those Christians who felt they had “liberty” on these issues were viewed as rather suspect in the depth of their genuine faith.

Some of this was outright silly. Some had a marginal amount of general truth on at least a basic level, and some also was and is sourced in wisdom.

Culture and cultural norms shift and change over time, not always for the better. What strikes one generation as awful and heinous was seen in an earlier generation as normative (consider some of the issues behind the current outcry to tear down certain monuments). And what was seen in an earlier generation as forbidden may much later look rather silly (like a guy having hair over his ears – I would have been thrown out of my college for that infraction).

In the culture of Corinth, the Christian community had a question that was vexing them and causing conflict as to whether it was right or wrong. It may seem a bit ridiculous to us, though again, we have not lived in a context of pervasive idolatry and a belief in a pantheon of gods. It was a common practice in Corinth that meat sacrificed to idols was then sold in the marketplace. So was it right or wrong to eat this meat?

Paul begins and ends this discussion by bringing to it a larger principle that love for God and others is bigger than the individual rights that one possesses. He affirms that of course there is no God but the one and only true God. There is no reality to the meat being actually tainted in some fashion by having been offered to false deities.

But not every believer really believed and felt this separation. For them, this meat was still tainted and a part of their background to the extent that eating it essentially took them back to that place of the past. It destroyed their forward process toward growth in the Lord and they were greatly harmed.

So Paul says that the act of the stronger believer eating it does not make him better and closer to God for doing it. There is no benefit, and nothing is lost by not eating it. Therefore, since participation can have such a negative effect upon these other believers, the greater principle of love kicks in and non-participation is the appropriate direction.

It could be argued that these immature brethren should grow up toward a better understanding of the true realities. And yes, there should be teaching on that … if the opportunity was not completely lost by them falling away into sinful returns to their old way of life.

Applications of this passage could cause us to go on and on at great length. Paul also returns to this again at the end of chapter 10 with reference to some more overarching principles.

At this juncture I’ll simply state an overarching principle that I have arrived at on some of these questionable matters in our cultural context, with the issue of alcohol participation being particularly forefront in my mind. The question is not so much “am I able to have the freedom do this without sinning?”  Unlike the assertions of those in my past who said drinking (to use this one example) is sin, I do not believe you can make the Scriptures prohibit the liberty to do so. There is liberty. But I would still raise the question as to if it is wise and truly considerate of others (including newer believers and more than a few who have had addictive problems) in the church family to participate, particularly given the pervasively destructive nature of this issue in our culture.

I personally conclude that it is unwise to maximize this liberty in broad ways. Drinking alcohol certainly is not a necessary activity and it seems difficult to me to understand how it adds benefits, whereas it is easy to see where it leaves a wake of destruction on many fronts. That is my conclusion. I cannot understand why it is not reasonable, even as I also realize how out of step this is within even the evangelical culture of our era.

8:1 – Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.

8:4 – So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

8:7 – But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

8:9 – Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

1 thought on “Thinking about Others First (1 Corinthians 8:1-13)

  1. Some things in life, like driving, are very serious responsibilities and need to be thought of very carefully. Alcohol use can be thought of along those lines.

    Scripture indicates that two of Aaron’s sons were put to death by God for a mistake they made in carrying out their priestly duties. After this incident a command was made that the priests were not to drink wine before carrying out their priestly duties. Reading between the lines we get a very strong hint that alcohol use was part of the reason for that mixup and God’s firmest response to it.

    Proverbs 31 has a strong warning about alcohol use.
    4 It is not for kings, Lemuel– it is not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer,
    5 lest they drink and forget what has been decreed, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.
    6 Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish!
    7 Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. (Prov. 31:4-7 NIV)

    Regarding though “forget their poverty and remember their misery no more” … here is an interesting study.

    It helps explain the warning about drinking in yet another passage in Proverbs.
    29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?
    30 Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine.
    31 Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly!
    32 In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper.
    33 Your eyes will see strange sights, and your mind will imagine confusing things.
    34 You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging.
    35 “They hit me,” you will say, “but I’m not hurt! They beat me, but I don’t feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?”
    (Prov. 23:29-35 NIV)

    After all the problems caused by this drinking … a person can be oblivious and want to dive back in again.

    And then there is the stereotypical “bar fights” … captured by this Proverb.

    Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise. (Prov. 20:1 NIV)

    Scripture gives some little bit of freedom to drink, but the list of caveats and cautions are really long.

    Among these are understanding differing genetics. Jewish people are for example more able to drink without a huge pull towards alcoholism whereas native American Indians, get a different response to alcohol in their brains and entire communities are often destroyed by this, So if one person can drink (genes that don’t over-excite that person) and this person introduces or shares it with someone else of another race … it might really destroy that person, his family and his community.

    Alcohol, even a moderate amount, can make someone more susceptible to male/female drives and heighten attraction while lowering restraint. Again, this may be dangerous for it can make alcohol a family breaker, or cause people to become physically entangled with someone, that they would not have, if they were thinking spiritually and wisely. (Movies and jokes abound with references to one-night stands with people that seemed attractive while they were drunk or had some alcohol.)

    Spiritual guidelines about a proper marriage relationship are easily over-looked when passions take over … and passions take over so much faster when alcohol is involved. Kids may come along, or in other cases the embarrassment might drive a woman to have an abortion … and that will bring guilt… the man fathering the boy is then knowingly or unknowingly perhaps either becoming a parent before he is ready … or has created the life that is ended in the abortion operation. Not being very careful with alcohol brings about these situations constantly.

    Driving. Alcohol impairs the ability to drive. But that is only half the equation. For those that don’t adjust their driving, they are quickly taken by surprise at the moment that usually come to a stop at a stop sign and glance around and then go… Their timing is off. Though not overtly “drunk” their reflexes “muscle memory” thinks they have had enough time to assess the situation at the stop sign … but really they don’t factor in that little bit extra time needed to evaluate the intersection and if they follow their muscle reflexes and hit the accelerator they can be going into the path of a moving car or truck. (This is low level impairment but high level consequences.)

    Also low level impairment with alcohol can exacerbate a bad mood and create a more aggressive driving posture.

    Alcohol can heighten depression. It can make people less productive. Here is yet another scripture.

    Whoever loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich. (Prov. 21:17 NIV)

    Randy is probably familiar with my position. It is nuanced. However, it isn’t right to sell someone on the benefits of driving or having a car without instructing about all the pitfalls and rules and good driving practices. Similarly if there be some possible or marginal health benefit in some situation(s) for some people and that person creates a positive impression of alcohol use (because that person somehow benefits a little from it) and then another person who due to different genes, or different cultural thoughts on alcohol use where it is deemed to cool to drink a lot … or whatever … I mean it is easy for someone to take a positive portrayal of alcohol and couple it with the way alcohol is often misused in his/her culture and then become hurt by it.

    I once saw a speech that President Trump gave. He said he had never tried a cigarette or alcohol.
    Why do I bring this up? It is possible to grow up to be President without drinking.

    Another great danger for someone delving into using alcohol is that a first time or novice drinker isn’t going to have the “tolerance” to alcohol that a more seasoned drinker will have. Why is this a problem? Someone might think “Joe had two beers in the last two hours and he is OK so I can” … and boom then any or all of the above disasters can hit the person. One beer or a fraction of a beer can end up causing problems. And for those that do drink more heavily and develop a tolerance … their liver can suffer greatly. Toxins in alcohol are very severe … but the liver prioritizes removing them. But you only have one liver and diseased and “exploding” livers don’t only hit the most obvious alcoholics.

    So anyone that doesn’t know what they are doing in drinking .. they can quickly get into a heap of trouble. The time to be deciding how much alcohol is healthy isn’t when a person has already had a drink. The judgment is already sliding … and in a bad environment the peer pressure is escalating and when under the influence saying “no” to more alcohol isn’t as obvious a choice, and may not be an easy or possible decision to make. “Lead us not into temptation.”

    This is all so doubly and triply important if around people that are not spiritually grounded. Don’t be affected by alcohol around those who are not a positive force.

    Scripture even exhorts “do not be drunk with wine but be filled by the spirit.” Let God guide in how to think, live and act. His joy and peace is to give us rest, not something from a bottle.

    Though scientific studies seem to be all over-the-place, in general alcohol use is associated with higher rates of cancers.

    Yet then I come across things like this.

    I’m reluctant to say anything in favor of alcohol use because of the reasons I outline above.
    The link above only PERTAINS to moderate use … it does not deal with how a moderate drinker might cause a bad example or somehow fail to keep people from using alcohol in anything but a most responsible manner.
    The link is only there because above you said, “it seems difficult to me to understand how it adds benefits.”

    I personally conclude that it is unwise to maximize this liberty in broad ways. Drinking alcohol certainly is not a necessary activity and it seems difficult to me to understand how it adds benefits, whereas it is easy to see where it leaves a wake of destruction on many fronts. That is my conclusion. I cannot understand why it is not reasonable, even as I also realize how out of step this is within even the evangelical culture of our era.

    Perhaps a good analogy to a responsible use of alcohol in today’s culture is to compare it to someone who decides to bring electricity into a machine shop. (The benefits aren’t as high as electricity, but if you don’t handle and insulate the wiring just right .. you can kill people.) And so just like bringing 480 volts into a building requires lot’s of precautions to insure that others won’t get hurt … drinking alcohol is probably just as serious … given the “wake of destruction on many fronts” that anything but the most responsible use can entail.

    When it comes to health benefits am I putting wine and polyphenols and resvetrol at the top of the list for health concerns? No. I’d put adequate vitamin d consumption or manufacture from sunlight as much higher. I’m also learning about benefits from periodic fasting and I believe this also far exceeds benefits from wine.

    Some people don’t have great results from vitamin d. Some people can’t or shouldn’t fast. And lots of people probably should not drink alcohol. Probably a lot of people should not be driving … they are much too dangerous behind a wheel in any condition.

    Thanks Randy for putting attention on an important topic that causes many heart-breaking results, seen and unseen. Though my position isn’t exactly yours, a cavalier approach to drinking alcohol is definitely a wrecking ball in so many ways. And even for those that think they are “getting it right” they need to stay vigilant.

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