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.