Summary: About spiritually tripping another person, or as Paul says, being a stumbling block to another Christian.
Though one of the objectives of football is to knock the other guy down, tripping is not allowed. If the Packers' Ross Verba is blocking the Vikings' John Randle, trying to prevent him from sacking Brett Favre, he is not allowed to stick out his leg and trip him. If he does, and the referee sees it, he will be assessed a 15-yard penalty. Yes, fall is approaching which means that there will be lots of football games on television, and at least occasional references to football in my sermons. My point today is that if tripping is not allowed in football, a game where people are supposed to be knocking each other down, it certainly should not be allowed in church, a place where people should be helping and holding each other up. Some of you are thinking, "What in the world are you talking about, Pastor Dan? I don't see anyone tripping people in church. Oh, yeah, that one time a lady tripped over my leg in the foyer, but that was an accident." No, today we are not talking about physically tripping someone, but rather about spiritually tripping another person, or as Paul says, being a stumbling block to another Christian. Our text, as we continue our journey through 1 Corinthians, is 8:1-13. Here, as Paul addresses a problem which was very specific to the church at Corinth, we find the Lord reminding us of some things which are very important for us and our church. Let's pause and pray that God would speak to us through His Word today.
The issue in Corinth, which Paul addresses, centers on food sacrificed to idols. He is responding to the question: Is it wrong to eat such food? In the pagan culture people would bring food offerings, meat and other products, to a temple and place them beside a statue of one of the Greek or Roman deities. In Corinth these included Aphrodite, the goddess of love; Asclepius, the god of healing; and Apollo, the chief Roman god. Now, everyone knew that these stone or wood figures were not going to consume the food, so it was considered acceptable to use it for other purposes. Often the temple priests would take the offerings home and cook them for supper. Sometimes people met at one of these pagan temples and would end up using the offerings they had brought for kind of a potluck picnic. Usually there was more food left than the priests could possibly use, so they would bring it to the market where it was sold to folks who were grocery shopping. The question that came up in the church was this: What if a Christian eats some of this food that has been sacrificed to a pagan idol? Does partaking of that stuff constitute participation in idol worship? Is it a sin to eat a steak which had once been offered to Aphrodite?
In our text, Paul gives a two-part answer to those questions. First, he says no, there is nothing inherently wrong with eating this food. The main reason is because these pagan deities don't really exist. 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. Aphrodite or Apollo can't contaminate a piece of meat, because they are not real. There is only one God, the God of the Bible, the triune God -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Christians have nothing to fear from any idols.
Now, some Christians today might say, "Wait a minute, Paul. Of course, the statues don't have any power, but isn't the worship of pagan gods connected with the demonic? Apollo and Aphrodite may not be real, but Satan and his angels certainly are. Would it be OK to eat food which had been offered to Satan? In Chapter 10 we find that Paul basically agrees with that analysis. He says that though the idols are nothing, (Verse 20) ..but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. Is Paul contradicting what he says in Chapter 8? No. In Chapter 10 he clearly discourages and forbids Christians from participating in pagan worship, from going to the temple and feasting on the offerings there. To do so would be playing with spiritual fire. It would be opening oneself up to demonic influences. In Chapter 8, however, he is talking about eating food which has been purchased at the market. Though it may have once been a pagan offering, and there is often no way to know whether it was or not, there is no residual demonic presence. It is perfectly safe to eat.