Summary: In today's sermon we learn how to exercise our Christian liberty.
We continue our study in The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians in a series I am calling Challenges Christians Face.
One of the challenges that Christians face is the issue of Christian liberty. Let’s learn about this in a message I am calling, “Food Offered to Idols.”
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 8:1-13:
1 Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
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. (1 Corinthians 8:1-13)
I have led two short-term missions trips to South Africa. On both trips we were involved in evangelism to students at three different college campuses in the city of Cape Town. And on both trips we spent the first weekend in Cape Town learning about ministry in South Africa and, specifically, in Cape Town.
We learned that one of the most difficult issues facing the Christian church is the issue of syncretism, which is “the combination of different forms of belief or practice.” Many black South Africans who come to faith in Jesus Christ come out of an African Tribal Religion background. One feature of African Tribal Religion is the way in which the gods are appeased, which is by offering animal sacrifices to the gods. So, it is not uncommon for new Christians to continue practicing animal sacrifices to the gods, while at the same time going to worship, reading the Bible, praying, and trying to grow as a new Christian.
In the city of Corinth Jews and Gentiles were coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Gentiles who came to faith in Jesus Christ were coming out of a pagan, idol-worshipping background. Prior to their conversion to Christ they worshipped many gods. One of the ways in which they worshipped their gods was by offering food sacrifices, usually of meat, to the gods.
This meat offered to the gods was divided into three parts. One part was burned on an altar as a sacrifice. A second part was given to the priest, who would either eat it or, more likely, sell it at the meat market. And a third part was eaten by the worshipper, usually in the temple precinct. In fact, one commentator says that “this was the basic ‘restaurant’ in antiquity.”
These pagan temple “restaurants” had not only social significance but religious significance as well. The gods were thought to be present since the meals were held in their honor and sacrifices had been made.
What took place in Corinth almost two millennia ago still takes place in many parts of the world today. People offer foods to idols in South Africa and in many other parts of the world as well.
So, how would the Apostle Paul respond to food offered to idols? How did he respond to the Christians at Corinth?
Paul teaches Christians how to exercise Christian liberty. He sets forth the principle that in areas not forbidden by Scripture, Christians should consider how their actions will affect others.
In addressing the principle, Paul responded to three reasons the Christians in Corinth gave for feeling free to act as they pleased regarding areas not specifically forbidden by Scripture. Paul agrees that each reason is basically valid, but then shows how none of these reasons should be used to cause others to stumble spiritually. The reasons given were: