1 - 6 Love Edifies
1 Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. 2 If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; 3 but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him. 4 Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 6 yet for us there is [but] one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we [exist] for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we [exist] through Him.
V1-2. A new topic: the things offered to idols. Obviously the Corinthians have asked Paul questions about that, for he starts with: “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols.” You might not be literally involved with offerings to idols, but yet you could learn a lot from this section, for it is about the relation to your fellow brothers and sisters whom you are involved with.
One thing a Christian may know, is that an idol – that is an idol image – doesn’t mean anything on itself. To “know” is just about knowledge: it is something you know with your intellect. The danger of knowledge though, including the knowledge of Biblical truths, is that you may raise yourself by it. He who has knowledge of something, can easily ignore others who do not know about a certain matter. In this way knowledge is used in a wrong way.
By ignoring others, overlooking them, you come short in love for them. In this way knowledge stands against love, for love does indeed consider the other person. Therefore you ought to let knowledge serve love. If you let knowledge serve love, you will not make your knowledge a lofty thing. For what do you know after all? In chapter 13 it is said that all our knowledge is in part, which means that it consists of bits and parts only.
V3. If you love God, your heart will be focused on Him. And when your heart is focused on Him, you consciously live in His presence, and being in His presence means that you are known by Him. He sees right through you. In Psalms 139 it is written: “O Lord, You have searched me and known me” (Ps 139:1) That is not a terrifying thought, but rather a feeling of security and protection. When you are close to Him, you will not lift yourself up with your own knowledge anymore, but you will be more impressed by the knowledge He has about you. With that attitude you may now continue listening to what Paul further has to say about the idols and the sacrifices to idols.
V4. You know now that an idol doesn’t mean anything. After all, it is no more than a piece of wood or stone. You also know that there is no God than one. That doesn’t only mean that there is only one God and no one else. In Deuteronomy 4 God has made Himself known to Israel as the only true God (Deu 4:35). There it is written that “the Lord, He is God; there is no other besides Him”. In the Old Testament it wasn’t yet made known that God is a triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That was only made known in the New Testament through the coming of the Lord Jesus. God is One, because the Father is God, the Son is God and also the Holy Spirit is God. It is not three Gods. “That there is no God but one” means, that although there are three Persons in the Godhead, They are together one God.
V5. That is not to be comprehended with your intellect, but you can simply accept that in faith. There are many gods in the world and many lords, created by man. Therefore there are nations that idolize the sun or the moon. Other nations idolize trees or animals. All of those gods have been created for several reasons. The one idol is a piece of stone that ought to be used for health reasons, the other, a piece of wood, is used for the weather, a third one may be a celestial that can be used for conquering enemies.
Of course it is absurd that such things in itself could mean something for man, whether in a good or in an evil way. Later, in chapter 10, Paul enters with more details on this matter about idols and proves that behind these idols there are demons.
V6. For a Christian there is only one God, and that is the Father. You came to know God as Someone to Whom you are related very personally. He is your Father. You know Him as a child knows its father. You find yourself safe with Him.
You also know the Father as Someone of Whom all things are. You know that everything you see around you and everything that will happen in future, are from Him. He is the source of the whole creation and of everything that happens. He is, as it were, the Architect of them.
I’m not talking about man and what he has done with the creation because of sin. Attention will soon be paid to that. The thing is that creation and what is going to happen with it are not linked together through coincidences. The Father has made wonderful plans. Creation is a part of God’s plans and is intended to serve as an area where other as well as higher plans of God are being accomplished.
What goes for this whole goes also for you as an individual. You are not a product of time and coincidence. You were born according to a special plan of the Father. You were chosen to be in that plan and therefore a special place was given to you. You are actually there for God, the Father! That you’ve received this place before Him, is a pleasure to the heart of God. And because God is the eternal God, this place for you is not temporary, but for eternity. You shall be in the house of the Father throughout all eternity. Isn’t that something?!
Not only were plans needed however, and not only an architect was needed, but the plans also had to be executed. There had to be, said with reverence, a Contractor and an Executor. The latter is what you see in the Lord Jesus. He is the one Lord, “through Whom are all things, and through Whom we are”.
In John 1 it is written: “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (Jn 1:3; cf. Col 1:16-17). The whole creation is the work of the Son. But after the Lord Jesus had created all things, something happened that seemed to cause that all the Father’s plans couldn’t go on. You know what happened to creation and what happened to man. Sin entered the world. Then the Lord Jesus started again to work. That was a completely different work than when He created the world.
The creation was established through His Word: “For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Psa 33:9). But sin could not be removed from creation through a word of power. Therefore the Lord Jesus said: “Behold, I have come to do Your will” (Heb 10:9). John the baptist testified of Him: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29).
On the cross the Lord Jesus abolished sin, by God making Him to be sin and He underwent God’s judgment over sin. After He finished this work, He returned to heaven and “God has made Him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). To Him God has given all authority. Only in that way God could carry on His plan. You have been allowed to know that Lord and the work He has finished. You are allowed to know that you are there through Him and through Him you have become a partaker of the plans of God the Father. What an amazing knowledge!
Now read 1 Corinthians 8:1-6 again.
Reflection: What is the difference between knowledge and love? How can you combine knowledge with love in the right way?
7 - 13 Don’t Be a Stumbling Block
7 However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat [food] as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. 8 But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. 9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12 And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.
V7. Because of the preaching of Paul the Corinthians knew that there was only one God and only one Lord. Idols didn’t mean anything to them anymore. Yet, there were some among them to whom that was not yet that clear. Realize that these people had lived all their lives in idolatry. It is not surprising that, after their conversion, some of them haven’t been freed yet from everything that had kept them in captivity for a long time, before their conversion.
Eating a piece of meat for example, could still bother their conscience because they still connected it to the idols. In their minds they stood in the idol’s temple again bringing meat offerings to a certain god and to eat these offerings themselves afterwards. They had been maintaining this ritual for many years. Now they had become Christians they knew that an idol meant nothing and that meat was just meat, but still they were not free inwardly.
V8. He who is free from former influences, knows that food is not something by which we have some advantage in our relationship with God. Eating or not eating doesn’t make any difference, regarding our place before God. He doesn’t judge us on the base of our eating habits. In Acts 15:29 it is said that you are allowed to eat anything you want, except things with blood and things strangled. The prohibition of eating things with blood also concerns meat products mixed with blood, for example blood sausage. The ‘strangled’ is meat of an animal of which the blood hasn’t flown out, for example a rabbit that has been caught in a noose.
V9. In Acts 15 it is also mentioned “things sacrificed to idols” – even before the prohibition of eating blood or things strangled – and that is what this section is about. If to somebody who eats meat, that meat is connected to an idol, he is not to eat it. That applies to both the strong and the weak. The weak will get a defiled conscience when he eats that meat. He will be reminded of some idol. To the evil spirit that is hidden behind this idol image, room is given again in such a person’s spiritual life. This may turn out in such a way that a person completely falls back to idolatry. Therefore the strong, who knows that an idol means nothing and neither that meat offered to idols means anything, is being admonished to consider the weak.
V10. You can imagine that the strong had no difficulties in going to an idol’s temple and eat meat there. After all, to a strong person that temple didn’t mean anything more than a building where you can get meat. You also can imagine that a weak person might have seen his strong brother entering that temple. Now the weak brother could have thought: ‘I am also allowed to do what he is doing.’ Then the weak brother enters the temple, orders his meat and eats it.
But now the point is that he doesn’t eat it as ‘regular’ meat, but as meat offered to idols. He is actually not free in his conscience to enter such places and eat such meat. This meat, to him, is still connected to the idols. You might say: he must not imitate the strong brother just like that. Yet, here this matter is not viewed from the side of the weak brother, but from the side of the strong brother. The latter might actually be making use of his right in a wrong way, so that he is a stumbling block for the weak.
The question here is this: Is the strong brother so strong that he is willing to consider the conscience of his weak brother? The power to consider the other is only to be found in love. When there is true love for the other person who is weak, you will not do anything that could cause the other to have moral dilemmas.
It is not about things that are sinful in themselves. In this case, about eating meat, it is a completely lawful thing to do. God Himself has given meat as food. There is nothing wrong about it at all. The point is, how you make use of your liberty. Do you use it for your own concern or do you also think of the weakness of your brother or sister in a certain matter?
V11. A wrong way of using these rights can even work out in such a way that a brother for whom Christ has died, is ruined that means perishes! That is coming on very strongly, isn’t it? But just imagine the following case, which is not fictional. A drunk comes to conversion. Alcohol had been very destructive in his life. Because of that his body and family have been destructed. Don’t think that after his conversion the urge for alcohol has disappeared completely.
Actually, for a Christian, the use of “a little wine” (1Tim 5:23) is allowed. Yet, when the ex-drunk pays you a visit, would you offer him a glass of wine? If you do that and he accepts it, that might cause him to get back the taste of alcohol and completely fall back into his former life. The result is that because of your knowledge such a person perishes.
The reaction of people is often: If anyone is converted and has received a new life, he cannot possibly perish eternally, can he? Paul also knows that very well. He even speaks about “for whose sake Christ died”. Therefore the doubt, that this brother would perish, is excluded. Nevertheless, this reaction may distort these verses. For the point is causing a brother to sin. That is by no means insignificant!
The wages of sin is always and inevitably death. God will never let somebody, who has come to Him with repentance of his sins and who has accepted the work of the Lord Jesus, ever perish. God will bring such a person to his senses. In John 10 it is written very clearly that it is impossible for a believer to still perish (Jn 10:28-29). However, here it is not about all the things that God will do, but about our own attitude.
V12. In order to point out the gravity of the situation, Paul uses these strong expressions, and you should not interpret them as if he is exaggerating. He who doesn’t consider his weak brother, sins against him and against Christ. He who loves Christ, also loves his brother, also the one who is weak.
V13. Paul’s attitude in the last verse can be of an example to us. He also says this very strongly: he would never again eat meat, lest he would make his brother stumble.
Don’t think that all these words are exaggerated. If Paul says all these things that strongly, it must be very important. Nevertheless, I think that there are a few sections in the Bible, with which people deal in such a wrong way as they do with this section. I include myself in this. Do we really consider our weak brother in all things, that are not wrong to us, but that could be a stumbling block to our weak brother? If we don’t do that, we sin and we must confess that.
A lot of spiritual weakness occurs, because we have made use of liberty, without having asked ourselves what the consequences could be for others who imitate us and in that way wound their conscience. You can think about a computer game. Let’s assume that you occasionally play a game on the computer, for your relaxation. You also know how to keep control of the time you spend on it. Yet, when someone, who is a former game addict who has been converted, pays you a visit, it is not wise to suggest to him to play games on the computer. Playing a game could easily cause him to fall back into his former addiction. By choosing another kind of recreation for the sake of your brother, you take his weakness into consideration.
These verses involve an important message for all who know their position in Christ and who know that their God is their Father and that the Lord Jesus is their Lord. Nevertheless practice proves if this knowledge is real knowledge, whether it is also in the heart and not only in the head.
Christian liberty is too often seen as an untouchable right. You might feel very violated in your liberty as a Christian, when you think that you should consider others and yet even those who think of themselves that they are not allowed to do certain things. This ‘thinking of themselves not to be allowed to do certain things’ is indeed very important, of course. When a weak person would forbid you to make use of your liberty, he would be going too far. Your liberty remains indisputable and you shouldn’t let anyone take that away from you. Yet, as it is said, here the issue is not the attitude of the weak towards the strong, but the attitude of the strong towards the weak.
Now read 1 Corinthians 8:7-13 again.
Reflection: Just name a case wherein you should consider a weak brother.