I Corinthians 8:1-13
If one were to consider only the partaking of food sacrificed to idols that Paul discusses in I Corinthians 8, one misses the message that God intends. Today, unlike the day in which Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, the consumption of food dedicated to pagan gods is a rarity. Such consumption could be an issue for Christian converts from Hinduism in India, but nowhere else.
Paul’s discussion has all-encompassing and far-reaching effects because it addresses the manner in which believers interact with each other. It has application in every era and in every congregation. The real world of believers is comprised of individuals of varying intellects, educations, and experiences. We are all the same in that we are saved by grace alone, but not equal in knowledge of the things of this world. Neither are we equal in spiritual discernment. This unequal knowledge can cause one to become puffed up in himself.
Charity is independent of knowledge, but true knowledge is not independent of charity. In verse 2, Paul states that if a man thinks that he knows something, he does not know it in the manner that he ought. It is possible for an individual to know something as one ought. Those who know that their knowledge takes a back seat to charity, know things as they ought. Paul most certainly possessed a superior intellect and deep spiritual discernment. If any man knew things as he ought, it was Paul.
Paul uses the eating of food sacrificed to idols as an example of acting upon knowledge without regard for others. Food sacrificed to idols is no different from any other food. Idols are not the source of food. God is the source of all food. A ceremonial act does not change the nutrition of that which God provides. This knowledge gives one liberty to partake of this food. Not all Christians, however, share the same knowledge. Some do not view eating that which is sacrificed to an idol as eating food that God provided. They regard partaking of such food as an act against God. We note that Paul, while holding knowledge that idols are nothing (void of spiritual substance) and all food is provided by God, stated that he would not partake of such food while the world remained. Paul would not allow himself to become a stumbling block for others.
All possessing the knowledge that Paul possessed are free to eat. The exercise of that liberty, however, is wrong when it encourages one who lacks that knowledge to sin against God. Who lacks knowledge? Those with the conscience of the idol (v. 7). Weak brothers believe idols have power. Weak brothers believe that food sacrificed to idols possesses the spiritual power to defile that which God has made clean. When the weak partake of that sacrificed to idols, they sin against themselves.
God did not give liberty with the intent that it be a stumbling block to others. We have been given unmerited favor, not for our purposes but for His. We have been purchased with His blood. Paul vowed never to misuse the liberty which God has given.
There is no shortage of stumbling blocks today. Any action in which we may engage that can cause a brother to stumble is a sin against the brother and a sin against the body of Christ. Casual consumption of alcoholic beverages and/or the purchase of lottery tickets are not sins in themselves but become sin if such actions were to cause a weak brother to engage in an addictive behavior.
As one reads and rereads the words of the apostle, one cannot find one word of condemnation which is directed to the weaker brother’s lack of knowledge. Paul’s condemnation is reserved for those who do not know God as they ought.
Paul was right, knew he was right, but did not exercise his liberty to eat because the eating of such food would be offensive to them who thought different from him.
In verse 3, Paul stated: “But if any man love God, the same is known of him.” Paul possessed both knowledge and charity. How was Paul known? There is little doubt that charity reigned in him. In Paul, we see Jesus. We see Him who condemned the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 12:34) but not the woman caught in the very act of adultery (Jn. 8:11).
Knowing something as one ought to know involves knowing how our actions affect others. Paul knew and avoided acts which could offend others.
He put others before himself. We, like the apostle, are to let charity reign.