A chapter on “meat sacrificed to idols” may not, at first glance, look like the most relevant subject for us modern technophiles, but as is always the case—the eternal Word of God is living and active and never dull in bringing piercing insight to our lives. In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul addresses the strong and weak consciences of the Corinthian believers and challenges those with “knowledge” (a key idea in this chapter) to use that gift to care for and edify their weaker members in the church.
This chapter is one of a few key passages that deal with conscience (the others include Romans 14–15; Galatians 2; and Colossians 2). It also shows how love must be worked out in matters where Scripture does not give a specific command. From the love God has shown us in Christ, we are to love in steadfast and sacrificial ways, to people who are not like us, with the goal of spiritual unity and edification.
In preparation for this message I found great help from a book on the conscience (Conscience by Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley) and from considering the the nature of idolatry and meals in Corinth. You can find a few reflections on Naselli’s book here and notes on the culture here. For further reflection, you can listen to the sermon, read the sermon notes, or discuss the questions and resources below.
1 Corinthians 8:7–13
7 However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 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? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
- What was your first impression about studying “meat sacrificed to idols?” How are these archaic instructions relevant today? What does this teach us about the Word of God?
- Who counts in the church? Does the “all possess knowledge” in v. 1 indicate preferential treatment? How can we make sure that weaker and stronger members of the church are considered?
- Whose consciences do we need to consider? Who are the Christians you are most responsible for encouraging and not “destroying”? How responsible are elders for concerns raised by non-members (see Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:3)?
- How do pre-Christian habits or family ‘rules’ inform your views of right and wrong? Are you aware of tendencies towards legalism (adding to the law)? Or license (subtracting from God’s requirements)? How does self-awareness help you walk in love?
- What are the essentials that are necessary for unity in the church? Where do we permit differences? Do those differences invite division? How could such differences help display the power of the gospel and the greatness of God’s love?
- How do you respond to people whose matters of conscience are different than yours? What are ways we can loving forebear with people who think differently about non-gospel issues?
- Who would the Lord have you reach out and love in a sacrificial way? What happens if they refuse your love or question your motives? (See John Piper’s pertinent words concerning racial reconciliation).
For Further Study
- Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, And Loving Those Who Differ by Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley
- The Vanishing Conscience by John MacArthur
- A Week in the Life of Corinth by Ben Witherington III
- Considering the Conscience: A Book Review by David Schrock
- On Disputable Matters by D.A. Carson
- One of the Most Important Lessons John Piper Learned in the Pursuit of Racial Reconciliation and Ethnic Harmony and Diversity by Justin Taylor
“For Whom Christ Died” in 1 Corinthians 8:11 by David Schrock
“‘Temple Restaurants’ and Food Sacrificed to Idols,” in Archaeology Study Bible (p. 1871) — see quotation below
In many ancient cultures people routinely sacrificed animals to their gods and then at the meat. In the Greco-Roman world temples would often contain dining areas in which groups of people could feast together. The temple of Asclepius at Corinth, for example, had three dining rooms, each with space for 11 guests on couches lining the walls. It is uncertain whether these particular dining rooms were in use during Paul’s day, but some such arrangement seems to have been behind Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 8–10. Corinth also included a temple for the goddess Demeter and her daughter Kore, as well as sanctuaries associate with Egyptian gods and Roman emperors. Although meals at these shrines were often more social occasions than religious ceremonies, no one could deny that there was in them a religious element. The presence of a Christian at a meal associated with such a pagan context was repugnant to Paul.
Excess meat from the temples may have found its way to the market. If such meat, which may or may not have been associated with idol worship, was presented to a believer in someone else’s home, Paul permitted the Christian to eat it. If, however, the host openly declared that the meat had come from a pagan shrine, the believer was to abstain for the sake of the ‘weaker’ brothers, whose consciences might still be sensitive to idolatrous practices.
May the Lord grant us consciences cleansed by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:14), that we might walk in holiness and love towards others who possess consciences stronger or weaker than our own.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds