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First Corinthians: Meat Sacrificed to Idols

January 21, 2008

Having addressed the first question in the letter from the Corinthian church, Paul turned to the second: Was it permissible for a Christian to eat meat that had been sacrificed to an idol? Based on Paul’s response, apparently their question was accompanied by some comments attempting to justify the practice, along these lines:

Since we know that idols are nothing, meat sacrificed to them is no different from any other meat. So why shouldn’t we eat it?”

Paul sets the stage for his answer by correcting an assumption in their argument. It is not sufficient to judge what is appropriate based only on our knowledge. Rather, our judgment must take into account love for our neighbor.

1Co 8:1-3 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.

Paul acknowledged that, as the Corinthians had pointed out, idols really are nothing.

1Co 8:7 But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.

The Corinthians who wished to eat meat sacrificed to idols were missing a couple of important points. First, they were not only free to eat, but also free not to eat. There was no spiritual benefit to eating the meat. Their knowledge, which enabled them to eat the meat, in no way made them superior to those who could not.

Second, by their eating they were harming their brothers for whom Christ died. What a profound point! Never before in human history had such a statement been possible. The very Son of God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, had given his life for the weak brother whom they were treating with such disregard! What a striking contrast is evident between the love of God and the indifference of the Corinthians who asserted their right to eat meat! A more powerfully compelling argument could not be imagined. If by their eating they destroyed the one for whom Christ had died, they would be showing contempt for the sacrifice of Jesus, and even for our Lord himself. Jesus suffers with the very least of his followers:

Mat 18:6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Mat 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Mat 25:45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

There could hardly be a more pertinent teaching for modern Christians. Because Christ died for a person, we ought to regard him as holy, sacred, and of immeasurable value. We ought to treat him with the deepest love and respect. It is unimaginable that we would knowingly do something that would put that person’s soul in jeopardy. It is no wonder, therefore, that Paul was able to say

1Co 8:13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.

Paul was calling the church to love, because of the gospel. Because Christ died for us, and for the other person, what would we be willing to do on behalf of a brother or sister in Christ? What service would we render? What rights would we give up? What would we be willing to forgive? What divisions between churches would be bridged, if we loved those on the other side like Jesus loves them?

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