On the Eating of Sacrifices Offered to Idols: Liberty and Expediency
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Now as touching things offered to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but charity edifies.…

Another of those questions which troubled the Christian community at Corinth comes up here for consideration. To understand the difficulties connected with it we must bear in mind that the religious worship of the pagans entered largely into their social life. The victims offered in sacrifice to the gods were not entirely consumed on the altar. A portion went to the priests, and the remainder was either given to the poor or sent to the public market. Thus not only the feasts in the temples, but also private meals, were brought into close connection with idolatrous worship; and the Christians could never be sure that the meat they purchased had not formed part of a sacrifice. It is easy to see how this interweaving of religious with social life would occasion complications and perplexities as to practical duty. To the Jewish converts the eating of things sacrificed to idols would be an abomination. Among the Gentile converts two classes may be discerned.

1. There were those who had been completely emancipated from their old ideas regarding the heathen divinities. To their view these divinities were mere creatures of the imagination, having no real existence; and accordingly they felt themselves quite free to partake of the sacrificial flesh when set before them.

2. There were those who could not get rid of the idea that an idol was a reality, and that consequently everything connected with the system they had abandoned was polluted. Thus the question became an important one, and the decision of it had an interest, not only for the Church at Corinth, but also for other Churches where the same difficulties had arisen (comp. Romans 14). But it may be asked - Had this matter not been already settled by the council at Jerusalem (Acts 15.)? The apostle himself was present on that occasion, and we naturally ask why he does not simply refer to the Jerusalem decree, instead of proceeding to give a judgment of his own in some respects opposed to it. The answer is to be found in a right view of the grounds on which that decree proceeded, which were grounds of expediency. The Gentile converts were enjoined to abstain from things sacrificed to idols, out of regard to the feelings of the Jewish converts among whom they were located. But this reason did not hold good in a Gentile community like Corinth; and consequently the whole subject had to be considered on its merits and in view of the altered circumstances. The question in itself is no longer a living question for the Church, but there emerge in connection with it great abiding principles which never lose their value.

I. KNOWLEDGE AND LOVE. The apostle prefaces his treatment of the question "concerning things sacrificed to idols," by a statement regarding the relative value of knowledge and love.

1. Knowledge by itself puffeth up. Knowledge without love inflates the mind with conceit. Take the knowledge of God. You may read what is written on the pages of nature and of Holy Scripture, so as to know a good deal about him; but if there be no outgoing of heart towards him, you do not really know him. What you have learned of God will lead to a false exaltation, inasmuch as you rest in it as sufficient instead of advancing to a personal acquaintance with him. Or take the case in hand. The knowledge of the nullity of idols led many of the Corinthians to think themselves superior to their brethren, who could not shake themselves clear of the notion that an idol had a real existence. They were filled with conceit, which, being untempered by love to others, led them to please only themselves.

2. Love leads to true knowledge and true edification. The way to knowledge is through love. This is true of the knowledge of God. "If any man loveth God, the same is known of him" (ver. 3). "Every one that loveth is begotten of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love" (1 John 4:7, 8). Love gives itself away to the object beloved, opens out the nature to receive impressions, and puts all it has at the service of the loved one. Love to God brings us near to him, and gives us experience of his gracious dealing, while he in turn opens himself to us. It is only where mutual love exists that there is a mutual revelation of heart to heart; and this holds good, with necessary limitations, of our relation to God. We know him only in proportion as we love him, and even his knowledge of us turns upon love. "The Lord knoweth them that are his" (2 Timothy 2:19), in a way that be knows no others. Our knowledge of God is more correctly his knowledge of us; for all we can know of him here is but the alphabet of that more perfect knowledge which comes with perfect love (comp. 1 Corinthians 13:12). Now, the knowledge that comes through love is not an empty thing, puffing up the soul as a bubble, but a solid thing, imparting strength and stability. It builds up the spiritual temple within with the stones of truth. The lesson is - You can know God only by loving him, and the measure of your love will be the measure of your knowledge.

3. Conceit of one's knowledge is a sure evidence of ignorance. The man who is proud of what he knows has no adequate view of the greatness of the object. The more we really know the more humble do we become. This is true of secular knowledge, but especially of Divine knowledge. The glimpses we get of God lay us in the dust. He who is puffed up because he has gathered a few pebbles on the shore has never looked out on the great ocean of truth.

II. THE LIBERTY THAT COMES THROUGH KNOWLEDGE. (Vers. 4-6.) Returning now to the question in hand, the apostle shows how the faith of the enlightened Christian suggests a ready answer.

1. The idols which the heathen, worship are mere nonentities. Their so called gods, with which they have filled the heaven and the earth, have no real existence. There is no Jupiter, no Mars, no Venus. They are simply creatures of the imagination, having nothing corresponding to them in the universe. This view of the pagan divinities finds frequent expression in the prophets, who ridicule them as mere vanities (comp. Isaiah 44:9; Jeremiah 10:3; Psalm 115:4). How melancholy a picture does this present of the condition of those who know not the true God! Men must worship, and so strong is this impulse that they first create the objects of worship and then bow down before them. It is the blind groping of the human mind after the Most High - a creature, with dreamy recollections of a lost glory, stretching out suppliant hands towards a silent heaven.

2. There is but one living and true God. This is the Christian's simple creed.

(1) Instead of "gods many," "to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him." This Supreme Being is the Creator and Primal Source of all things, our Father in heaven, for whose glory we exist. This is the fundamental doctrine on which all true religion rests, and which at once takes the ground from pagan polytheism. It also strikes against all modern idolatries which are practised in Christian lands: hero worship, mammon worship, etc.

(2) Instead of "lords many," there is "one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him." There is but one Governor of the universe, into whose hands all power has been committed, Jesus the Messiah, by whose agency all things were created, and in whom we are made new creatures. This is the second article of our holy faith. Instead of the endless series of gods and demigods, who were supposed to hold sway over different parts of the universe, "there is one God, one Mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5).

3. From this the inference is plain that eating or not eating of things offered to idols is a matter of indifference. If an idol has no real existence, it cannot defile that which is presented to the image in the temple. The flesh which formed part of a sacrifice is neither better nor worse on this account, and may be used without scruple. Thus the enlightened Christian is freed from the entanglement of such petty questions, which belong to the bondage of legalism rather than the liberty that is in Christ. How important is a full acquaintance with Divine truth! How good it is to be free from prejudice, and to receive the whole truth as to our standing in Jesus Christ! But such knowledge is dangerous if it stands alone.

III. LIMITATIONS TO LIBERTY ARISING FROM CHRISTIAN LOVE. (Vers. 7-13.) An enlightened view of the nature of heathen divinities delivers the Christian from questions as to the lawfulness of eating what had first done duty as a sacrifice; but all Christians are not thus enlightened. There were at Corinth believers, converts from heathenism, who could not get rid of the idea that the idols they had formerly worshipped had a real existence, and who consequently regarded the flesh used in sacrifice as polluted. A due regard to the case of these weaker brethren will modify the use of their Christian liberty by the stronger.

1. Consider their case. Their conscience was weak, inasmuch as it could net rise to the conviction that an idol is nothing, and was therefore troubled with scruples as to the lawfulness of partaking of a thing sacrificed to an idol. Hence such persons could not eat without defiling their conscience, i.e. without the feeling that they had done wrong. This carries with it principles that have an important bearing upon Christian ethics. It is wrong for a man to do what his conscience tells him is wrong, or what it does not clearly approve. The thing in itself may be good, but if you are in doubt about it you are thereby debarred from doing it. The dictates of conscience are always imperative, but with this there goes the duty of seeing that conscience is instructed. Comp. Romans 14:23, where Paul is treating of the same subject: "He that doubteth is condemned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith; and whatsoever is not of faith is sin." Apply this to some forms of amusement, doubtful practices in trade, extravagant living, etc. It is not enough to plead the example of others, if you are in doubt regarding their rightness. "Let each man be fully assured in his own mind." Do not disregard the faithful voice within your bosom, even when it speaks in whispers.

2. The eating of such things has no religious significance. Neither the use nor the abstinence from use commends us to God or affects our standing before him. To abstain from eating for the sake of weak brethren is not to surrender any spiritual benefit. It is a matter of indifference. "The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking" (Romans 14:17). Observe the class of matters to which alone the apostle's reasoning is meant to apply. They must be such as involve no religious principle - cases where accommodation to the weakness of others does not imply the sacrifice of truth or duty. In such cases we are free to consider the condition of our brethren, and to regulate our conduct by a regard to them.

3. The strong must not use their liberty so as to put a stumbling block in the path of the weak. If a weak brother, who had doubts about the eating of sacrificial flesh, should by the example of another be emboldened to eat also, in that case he would sin and his conscience be defiled. The more enlightened Christian would thus be the occasion of stumbling to his brother, bringing him into danger of perishing altogether, and would thereby sin against Christ who died for him. Rather than do anything that might lead to this result, the apostle declares, "If meat maketh my brother to stumble," etc. This is the principle of Christian expediency, of which Paul is the great exponent, and which enters so largely into the believer's practical life. It has its root in love, which leads us to "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). It is an outcome of that spirit of self denial which dwelt in him. "Now we that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each one of us please his neighbour for that which, is good, unto edifying. For Christ also pleased not himself" (Romans 15:1-3). In applying this principle, note:

(1) It applies only to things in themselves indifferent. Where true Christian liberty was in danger, Paul refused to yield (Galatians 2:3-5).

(2) It is not to be confounded with mere time serving or man pleasing.

(3) Each Christian must judge for himself how this principle requires him to act in special circumstances. Total abstinence from strong drink for the sake of others is a good example of its application. - B.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.

WEB: Now concerning things sacrificed to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

'Love Buildeth Up'
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