We will only be willing to set aside our liberties and rights for the weaker brother’s sake when we see that we too are the weaker brothers whom Jesus set aside his own endless privileges to save.
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
1Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
4Therefore, 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.” 5For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed 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.
7However, 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. 8Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For 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? 11And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
Today, many of us eat meat with every meal, but in first-century Corinth the only time the less advantaged would have meat would be in a temple feast. Even in the market, nearly all of the meat for sale would have come from sacrificed animals.
Those who have been set free by the blood of Christ will not be tainted by eating idol-sacrificed meat, but they should take care in how they express their freedom so as to not abuse other believers.
Paul warns against arrogance, ignited by embracing theological truths without heart transformation. Rather than information, it is love that will produce results.
The know-it-all Christian has a long way to go in his “learning,” as life is not defined so much by what you know but by who knows you—specifically, God.
Idols and all the little gods of the culture don’t truly exist, even though many people still worship and submit their lives to them. For Christians, there is one true, real God. Paul uses the same language to describe the Father and Jesus: It is for the Father’s glory we live through the empowerment of Christ. This truth centers the church and individual believers, and should motivate the love that Paul is calling for.
While the humbling truth of Jesus’ grace is defining for mature believers, not everyone in the church has the same awareness. Former worshipers of idols will be confused and hindered spiritually by eating food offered to their old deities.
Our standing with God does not come from our behavior—eating or not eating—rather, it comes from our Lord Jesus, through whom we exist.
With that in mind, we are called to care for weaker brothers and sisters, new Christians, that our embrace of freedom in Christ does not hamper their spiritual maturity. Believers are then encouraged to restrict their freedom for the sake of others, living with a humble love toward less aware or mature Christians.
Eating meat is morally neutral. But Paul escalates this disregard for others to an act of sin—not only against the other believer, but against Jesus. This is so significant that Paul would prefer to never eat meat if it meant he would harm another believer. He is willing to set aside his rights for another, which is exactly what he is calling the Corinthian believer to do when it comes to food offered to idols.
In our day and age, we don’t have meat sacrificed to idols, but there are other ways we may need to restrict our freedoms in order to help other believers mature in the gospel. This is hard stuff, but it’s exactly what the truth of Christ expects of the church for God’s glory and our good.
As inconvenient or unpopular as it is to self-restrict, we can find motivation and hope when we realize that we too are the weaker brothers.
When we were at our weakest, incapable of freeing ourselves from our idols, Jesus intervened, setting aside his freedom and rights so that he could call us his own. He gave his perfect obedience to us as righteousness, he shed his blood to cover our defilement, and now we can live new lives of humble love in response.