1 Corinthians 8 focuses on a point of conflict within the Corinthian church that at first glance may seem to have no relevance to us. However, on close examination and with proper application, the lessons Paul teaches in this chapter are more relevant to us than ever before.
The topic of debate was food sacrificed to idols. In the first century Roman world, idolatry was a huge part of daily life. Idols and altars dotted the street corners and social life revolved around the events and happenings at the various temples in the city. Furthermore, all meat available for purchase in the marketplace had to go through rituals at the temple. The portions were sacrificed to the idols before becoming available to the public. So whether the first century Christians liked it or not, their entire way of life was impacted by idolatry regardless of whether or not they participated in the religious ceremonies and practices.
Therefore, views and perspectives on whether or not to eat meat or participate in some of the events at the local temples was a point of conflict in the Corinthian church. So Paul addresses this issue in 1 Corinthians.
“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.”
~1 Corinthians 8:8-12
While there are several layers to what Paul is teaching in this passage, his two main points are these: food does not add to our spirituality and sinning against a brother’s weaker conscience is sinning against Christ. For the Corinthians, food offered to idols was a real part of everyday life and while a mature and well-grounded believer would understand the truth that idols are nothing in and of themselves and therefore, food offered to them is not spiritually charged or made unusable in any way, some Corinthian believers with a strong history in idol worship and young in the faith do not possess the same understanding. For them, watching other Christians eat meat or engage in food festivals at the temple would be a stumbling block.
And this is the crux of the issue. Food does not make us more or less spiritual. However, if food is a stumbling block to a brother or sister in Christ, then God is concerned about how we conduct ourselves in those situations. Because sinning against a brother by causing them to stumble—regardless of whether or not that action would be a sin for you—is sinning against Jesus.
So for the Corinthians that meant that they needed to be careful about engaging in food festivals at the temple and handling meat sacrificed to idols. Paul gave them specific instructions on how to act with different examples and potential situations, and while these are helpful we, as 21st century Americans, do not deal with this specific point of conflict. However, that doesn’t mean that these points don’t apply to us. We have our own areas of controversy and opportunity to consider others above ourselves. So while food sacrificed to idols may not be our situation to be aware of, how we handle alcohol, entertainment choices, medical marijuana usage, and other gray matters are situations in which we must apply Paul’s exhortation.
Furthermore, this exhortation to consider the weaker brother and be mindful that sinning against them and inadvertently causing them to stumble because of our actions is sinning against God, is even more relevant and applicable as we continue to navigate COVID-19. This is a hot, divisive, and polarizing topic both within the church and without with believers falling on all different points of the spectrum. So as we continue to navigate the times we live in with the issues at hand, let us always remember Paul’s exhortation to consider others first and always be mindful of how our actions my negatively affect others. Therefore, let’s join Paul in his resolve to never do something that would cause a brother or sister to stumble and by so doing sin against God.
“Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
~1 Corinthians 8:13
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