Summary: 1) The Principle (1 Corinthians 8:1–3); 2) The Reality: (1 Corinthians 8:4-7) and (3) The Liberty: (1 Corinthians 8:8-13).
One of the key elements in the celebration of Remembrance Day is the acknowledgement of the achievements wrought through conflict. In fighting tyranny and oppression, veterans protected freedom. Without this sacrifice, dictators would have forced their twisted ideology upon us while eliminating the freedoms that we enjoy, including the freedom of worship. Yet, with freedom comes responsibility.
The basic problem that confronted the Corinthians faces all of us. The issue is: How far does Christian freedom go in regard to behavior not specifically forbidden in Scripture? The problem is primarily attitudinal. They think Christian conduct is predicated on gnōsis (knowledge) and that knowledge gives them exousia (rights/freedom) to act as they will in this matter. Paul has another view: The content of their knowledge is only partially correct; but more importantly, (knowledge) gnōsis is not the ground of Christian behavior, love is (Fee, G. D. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 363). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).
During the past several generations some of the strongest debate among fundamentalists and evangelicals has centered around questionable practices—practices that many believers feel to be wrong but that are not specifically forbidden in Scripture. Some of the key issues have been drinking alcoholic beverages, smoking, card playing, wearing makeup, dancing, Sunday sports, styles of music, and going to the theater or movies. One reason Christians have spent so much time arguing those issues is that the Bible does not specifically forbid them.
In answer to the specific question about eating food offered to idols, Paul gives a general and universal principle that can be applied to all doubtful behavior. In preparation for giving the principle, Paul responds to three reasons some of the Corinthians gave for feeling completely free to act as they pleased in regard to practices not specifically forbidden by God. The reasons are seen in : 1) The Principle :We know we all have knowledge (1 Corinthians 8:1–3); 2) The Reality: We know that an idol is nothing; (1 Corinthians 8:4-7) and (3) The Liberty: We know that food is not an issue with God (1 Corinthians 8:8-13). The apostle agrees that each reason is basically valid, but then goes on to show how none of those reasons should be applied to practices that might cause someone else to stumble spiritually.
To deal with doubtful behavior we first see:
1) The Principle: We Know That We All Have Knowledge (1 Corinthians 8:1–3)
1 Corinthians 8:1-3 [8:1]Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that "all of us possess knowledge." This "knowledge" puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. (ESV)
Food/things offered/sacrificed to idols is one word in Greek and can be translated simply as “idol sacrifices.” The meat offered on the pagan altars was usually divided into three portions: one portion was burned up, a second given to the priest, and the third given to the offerer. If the priest did not use his portion, it was taken to the meat market. Thus a considerable amount of sacrificed meat ended up in the public market, on the tables of pagan neighbors and friends, or at the pagan festivals (Mare, W. H. (1976). 1 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 238). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.)
Some Christians were not bothered. To them, meat was meat. They knew pagan deities did not really exist and that evil spirits did not contaminate food. They were mature, well–grounded in God’s truth, and their consciences were clear in the matter. That group gave Paul the three reasons for freely exercising their liberty.
The first reason that had been given for exercising freedom is summarized by Paul: we know that all of us possess knowledge. The statement was true but egotistical. It reflected a feeling of superiority. The believers who made the claim were not suggesting they were omniscient, but that they had more than enough knowledge and understanding of God’s Word to know that pagan gods and idols were not real and that food sacrificed to them was still just food. They knew that eating the food could not contaminate them spiritually, that it had no affect on their Christian lives. They felt totally free to eat whatever they wanted, no matter what others thought. True knowledge (gnōsis) consists not in the accumulation of so much data, nor even in the correctness of one’s theology, but in the fact that one has learned to live in love toward all (Fee, G. D. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 368). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).
Paul therefore reminds the Corinthians that knowledge puffs up/makes arrogant. Those believers were mature in knowledge, but were not mature in love. Love builds up/edifies others; and that edification they did not have. They were solid in doctrine but weak in love. They were strong in self–love but weak in brotherly love. The church cannot praise ignorance or make ignorance a principle of its work and reduce either its doctrine or its practice to the level of the ignorant. We must, therefore, have knowledge and must dispense it in order to dispel ignorance everywhere. Yet knowledge alone or knowledge unduly stressed proves dangerous. It tends to puff up, to make (one) proud when comparing (oneself) with others (Lenski, R. C. H. (1963). The interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second epistle to the Corinthians (p. 335). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House).