All of Christ for All of Life
Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone

15 April 2021 – 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. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

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.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 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.

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. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 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? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. – 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 (ESV)

If this passage doesn’t make us feel a bit uncomfortable, we are probably either not understanding it fully or not trying to apply it to our own lives. This is in fact a very challenging word from our God. As Richard Hays reminds us, “The exclusive lordship of Jesus stands as a challenge to many arrangements that we take for granted.” We also need to be on guard against legalistic miss-applications of this passage. Hays goes on to say:

The “stumbling block principle” is often erroneously invoked to place limits on the behavior of some Christians whose conduct offends other Christians with stricter behavioral standards. For example, it is argued that if drinking alcohol or dancing or dressing in certain ways might cause offense to more scrupulous church members, we are obligated to avoid such behaviors for the sake of the “weaker brother’s conscience.” The effect of such reasoning is to hold the entire Christian community hostage to the standards of the most narrow-minded and legalistic members of the church. Clearly, this is not what Paul intended. He is concerned in 1 Corinthians 8 about weaker believers being “destroyed” by being drawn away from the church and back into idol worship. Therefore, in applying this text analogically to our time, we should be careful to frame analogies only to those situations in which the boundary-defying actions of the “strong” might actually jeopardize the faith and salvation of others by leading the weak to emulate high risk behaviors. Framing the analogy in this way will significantly limit the number of situations in which the text is directly relevant.

A corollary of this point, however, is that idolatry can actually lead to destruction. This was denied by the {“we all have knowledge”} group at Corinth, but Paul solemnly warns of the danger in dabbling with idolatrous practices. The seductive lure of idolatry is real, and the destructive power of the pagan world is real. Members of the church who are drawn away from God will suffer irreparable loss. If we are tempted to be casual about dalliances with the idols that rule our culture’s symbolic world (primarily the gods of wealth, military power, and self-gratification), we would do well to re-read 1 Corinthians 8 and consider the possible risks for those among us who are seeking to escape the pull of these forces. Our first concern should be to preserve the symbolic integrity of the church in such a way that weaker members will be protected from these destructive temptations.

MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 5
Q. 5. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but one only, the living and true God.