“Exercise Freedom with Caution”
Lesson Text:1 Corinthians 8
Background Scriptures:1 Corinthians 8, 9
Devotional Reading: Romans 14:7-12
1 Corinthians 8 (KJV)
1Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.
2And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.
3But if any man love God, the same is known of him.
4As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.
5For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
6But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
7Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
8But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.
9But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
10For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;
11And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
12But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
13Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
To choose to limit our freedom for the well-being of others.
To explain how the issue of meat sacrificed to idols translates into issues in the church today.
To identify a behavior in your life that may cause others to stumble and make a plan to eliminate it.
Knowledge Must Be Balanced by Love
Jesus sets us free from legalism. Yet as is so often the case, this truth must be balanced by another: freedom in Christ does not give us permission to do anything we want, especially trampling on the convictions of others. Some of the Corinthians, pleased that they were free in Christ, seem to have forgotten that with liberty comes responsibility. Paul was concerned that the egos of some of his readers were causing them to behave in ways that were harming the spiritual health of others in the church. The Corinthians seem to have often been more selfish than saintly.
This week’s Scripture passage teaches that love, not knowledge, is the most important aspect: of Christian relationships. Exercising our freedom in Christ matters less than strengthening the faith of a spiritually weak believer. Consider the example of Jesus. According to Philippians 2:7, He laid aside His kingly privileges as God to become a human being. When we limit our freedom for the sake of others, we are showing a similar kind of love.
It is not a matter of who is right and who is wrong on a certain issue, for Christians may have differing convictions. Instead, Paul was calling us to look out for those with less spiritual maturity who may be harmed in some way by our actions. Such consideration for other believers often involves personal restraint.
The Holy Spirit can help us be sensitive to questionable things. He can also enable us to remember that younger believers are walking behind us, and we should be careful of the footprints that we leave. But limiting Christian freedom also involves giving time to doing positive things. For instance, when we limit watching our favorite television program and instead have refreshments with a Christian friend who is struggling, we are using our freedom responsibly.
There were two sources of meat in the ancient world: the regular market (where the prices were higher) and the local temples (where meat from the sacrifices was always available). The strong members of the church realized that idols could not contaminate food, so they saved money by purchasing the cheaper meat available from the temples. Furthermore, if unconverted friends invited them to a feast at which sacrificial meat was served, the strong Christians attended it whether at the temple or in the home.
All of this offended the weaker Christians. Many of them had been saved out of pagan idolatry and they could not understand why their fellow believers would want to have anything to do with meat sacrificed to idols. (In Rom. 14-15, the weak Christians had problems over diets and holy days, but it was the same basic issue.) There was a potential division in the church, so the leaders asked Paul for counsel.
Love versus Knowledge: 1 Corinthians 8:1-3
1. What does the Apostle Paul mean by “knowledge puffeth up”(1 Corinthians 8)?
As discussed in the previous lesson, Paul sometimes quotes brief slogans that seem to be circulating among the Corinthians. One such slogan is in the verse before us: we all have knowledge. This is an obvious truth, for everyone has a certain amount of knowledge. At the most basic level, knowledge is “information.” A higher level of knowledge can be called “comprehension,” a deeper understanding of a subject. Paul does not dispute the slogan we all have knowledge. But he wants the reader to consider the nature of knowledge and how it can be misused.
The warning knowledge puffeth up means that its possession can lead to self-importance and pride. It is possible for a person to acquire and hoard information to gain advantage over others, even in a church situation. An outward focus on charity, meaning love for others, is the needed corrective to an undue inward focus on knowledge.
How is this working in Corinth? Paul’s issue with knowledge has to do with the matter of food offered unto idols. Most if not all of the Corinthian Christians have been instructed about the true nature of idols: they are lifeless objects of stone, metal, or wood (see v. 4, below). That’s good knowledge! The problem is that at least some within the church at Corinth were proud of knowing that such a food was merely meat and not defiled by idolatrous associations. They announced that they were free to eat whatever they pleased and that they were not bound by any of the dietary regulations existing in Judaism.
Sadly, the awareness that these believers had led them to feel intellectually superior to other believers in the Corinthian congregation who thought that it was wrong to patronize meat markets affiliated with pagan temples. The consciences of these individuals bothered them about buying or eating such meat. They were newly converted from the rampant paganism of the Corinthian culture were fighting a desperate battle to keep themselves from slipping back into their, old idolatrous ways. We can understand why it bothered them deeply that their fellow believers would flaunt their liberty in Christ to enjoy meat that had been sacrificed to idols.
2.What did Paul say to those who thought they were mature in Christ? (1 Corinthians 8:2, 3)
Paul now says, “You aren’t as smart as you think you are.” The Corinthians’ correct understanding regarding the bogus nature of idols is leading to problems. The problem isn’t the presence of the knowledge as such, but lack of wisdom in its application. Wisdom is the judicious use of knowledge. If true knowledge regarding the phony nature of idols is somehow leading to spiritual problems among members of the congregation, then such knowledge is being used unwisely.
Turning from human knowledge to divine knowledge (v. 3), Paul points out that God knows those who love Him. The implication of Paul’s statement is that God is not fooled by empty claims of devotion. He is not impressed by our knowledge, but by what is in our hearts. The smartest person in the church is not necessarily the most blessed by or devoted to God.
One God, Creator, and Lord: 1 Corinthians 8:4-6
3. What crucial point did Paul make about idols (1 Corinthians 8:4-6)?
Paul seems to quote two Corinthian slogans in verse 4. Both have the ring of truth but are dangerous if used in the wrong context. The first slogan, an idol is nothing in the world, recognizes that idols are physical objects having no power. The second slogan, there is none other God but one, recognizes just that.
Putting these two together in the context of eating those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols would seem to lead to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong with eating food at pagan temple festivals (therefore being a passive participant). On a logical level, this makes sense. But our actions can have unintended consequences, and this is Paul’s next point.
While pagan deities did not really exist, yet many people believed that they were real, living entities. People worshiped all sorts of “gods” (v. 5) and “lords,” some of which they venerated as objects they could see and some of which they believed to reside in heaven (see Deut. 10:17; Ps. 136:2-3). Be that as it may, the apostle later stated in 10:20 (which will be studied in next week’s lesson) that demons were behind the people’s idolatry. In essence, demons encouraged people to set up idols-though the idols themselves were lifeless and powerless-to distract people from worshiping the one true God.
In contrast, believers knew the truth that there is only one God and one Lord (1 Cor. 8:6; Isa. 45:5). Paul further described God as the Father, who was the source of all creation. In addition, the apostle referred to the Lord as Jesus the through whom all creation came into existence.
Consumption of Food versus Spirituality: 1 Corinthians 8:7, 8
4. What did some believers not understand about idols? How did this affect their ideas about meat sacrificed to them? (1 Corinthians 8:7, 8)
Although many former idol worshipers had become Christians, Paul said that not all of them understood—at least on an emotional level—that the idols had no real existence (1 Cor. 8:7). To these believers, eating meat that had been offered to idols was equivalent to idolatry. So, by consuming such food, they defiled their moral consciences. In short, they saw themselves as sinning.
Scripture teaches that people come to the Father only through faith in the Son. He alone is the way to God (see John 14:6). For that reason, no religious stipulations can achieve anything when it comes to personal salvation.
In 1 Corinthians 8:8, as before Paul agreed that there was nothing inherently wrong with eating meat that had been offered to idols. Likewise, he affirmed that food neither deepens nor diminishes our relationship with God. The impact of food, however, on a person’s spirituality was not the main issue being addressed by the apostle. Paul’s concern was for the effect that one believer’s action (namely, consuming idol—sacrificed meat) would have on the faith of other Christians who were troubled in their consciences by the act.
What Do You Think?
How do you exercise discretion with regard to places and situations that pose a spiritual danger to others but not, you believe, to you?
Freedom Exercised Judiciously: 1 Corinthians 8:9-13
5. Can freedom be abused? (1 Corinthians 8:9)
Paul’s answer: of course! We may be firm advocates for human rights, but there are times when an exercise of our own rights can cause problems for others. This can be a touchy matter within the church. Things that I do without the slightest twinge of conscience may become a “stumblingblock” to others.
We remind ourselves that we do not live in isolation. The church is a community, a fellowship of believers. We must be aware that activities that one person sees as harmless may be damaging to others. This is particularly true of a person who has been delivered from the deep abyss of a certain type of sin. One person might be indifferent to violent content in movies, but this same content might tempt another to return to a life of violence. Paul’s reminder is that the spiritual safety of our Christian brothers and sisters is always more important that the exercise of our rights in Christian liberty. Romans 14:1-21 expands on this.
6. What example did Paul give us as to how we might undermine the faith of the weak? (1 Corinthians 8:10-12)
Paul now gets very specific about the issue at hand. Suppose a church member who has a mature knowledge about the unauthentic nature of idols socializes at the pagan temple and takes a meal there. What if this is seen by another Christian who was recently delivered from the full-blown worship of idols? The action on the part of the first Christian may result in the second Christian’s falling back into the sin of idol worship!
Paul is leading up to this stern warning for those who are more mature: are you not endangering the faith of one for whom Christ died? Christ loves this less enlightened one—”the conscience of him which is weak”—so much that He gave His life so that this person can have eternal salvation. Are you willing to risk this individual’s faith so that you might exercise your liberty? This should not be. This cannot be (compare Romans 14:15).
Furthermore, Paul’s passionate tone rises (1 Cor. 8:12). Not only will the thoughtless participation in the pagan temple’s food event be a sin against the one with a weak conscience, it will also be a sin against Christ himself. If you damage another believer’s relationship with the Lord, the Lord notices!
What Do You Think?
What are some ways to show consideration for the conscience of a fellow Christian?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Regarding recreational choices | Regarding sensitivity to former temptations
Regarding misunderstanding of biblical teachings on Christian living
7. What stand did Paul say he would take for his fellow Christian? (1 Corinthians 8:13)
Paul pledges that he will give up eating meat altogether rather than have his food choices lead to sin in another believer (compare Romans 14:21). We note that the word offend in this context means “to cause someone to sin.”
Although he does not quote it, this is Paul’s application of Jesus’ second great commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:39). We would not appreciate another church member leading us into sin, so why would we do it to anyone else?
CONCLUSION /POINT TO PONDER
Love must always enter the picture, for “love builds up” and puts others first. When spiritual knowledge is used in love, the stronger Christian can take the hand of the weaker Christian and help him to stand and walk so as to enjoy his freedom in Christ. You cannot force-feed immature believers and transform them into giants. Knowledge must be mixed with love!
Heavenly Father, may we never be the cause of the fall by one of the precious souls for whom Your Son gave His life. Help us to love our brothers and sisters as much as You do. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Be a building block, not a stumbling block.