Summary: In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul teaches us how to keep from causing others to stumble by limiting the use of our freedoms and rights.
A. All my life I’ve been told how dangerous tripping is.
1. As a child my parents taught me to never trip my sisters and brothers.
2. It was certainly a lesson I had to be taught, because I had a fun-loving, devious side.
3. All organized sports have rules against tripping players.
4. That’s the case in basketball.
5. That’s the case in soccer.
6. And even in football – a game where one of the objectives is to knock the other guy down.
B. Just like in all other arenas of life – tripping is dangerous and is against the rules – such is also the case in the church.
1. I’m not talking about kids tripping kids in the nursery or in the foyer after services, I’m talking about people putting spiritual stumbling blocks that will cause other people to trip spiritually.
2. That’s the very thing that was happening at Corinth and so Paul addressed the problem in chapter 8.
3. Let’s take a look at the Corinthian’s situation and Paul’s response to it.
4. Then let’s work to apply it to our own life situations.
A Stumbling Block at Corinth
A. Having addressed the questions the Corinthians had sent him about marriage in chapter 7, now Paul addresses another question – “Now about meat sacrificed to idols…” (8:1)
1. There appears to have been a controversy among the Corinthian Christians whether it was permissible to eat meat from animals that had been used in pagan sacrifices.
2. We might expect Paul to give a simple and straightforward answer to the question, because elsewhere in the NT the answer is pretty “cut and dry.”
4. The only other mention in the NT of the problem occurs in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation. The churches of Pergamum and Thyatira are corrected for tolerating the practices of eating meat sacrificed to idols (Rev. 2:14, 20).
B. In contrast to those two brief NT references, Paul does not render a simple judgment – instead, he launches into a long and complex argument that actually covers three chapters – 8, 9 and 10.
1. At times it seems that the complex argument that Paul lays out is contradictory.
2. Richard Hays, in his commentary, says that one key to following Paul’s argument is to recognize that he is primarily addressing the problem of sacrificial food consumed in the temple of the pagan god, rather than meat sold in the market or served in private homes.
3. So that must have been the primary question raised by the Corinthians in their letter to Paul.
C. There are actually four movements to Paul’s treatment of the idol meat question.
1. The first movement is chapter 8, and can be summarized as “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
2. The second movement is chapter 9 where Paul uses himself as an example of renouncing rights.
3. The third movement is chapter 10, verses 1-22 where Paul offers a warning against idolatry.
4. The final movement is the final verses of chapter 10 where Paul’s point can be summarized as “Use your freedom for the glory of God.” (10:23-11:1)
5. We will explore each of those movements as we proceed through our sermon series in the coming weeks.
D. The fact that Paul crafts such an elaborate argument concerning idol meat shows that it was a major issue in the church at Corinth and that its’ important principles needed application in Christianity in general.
1. Even though this may appear to be an obscure problem from our point of view, we should take this section of the letter very seriously and try to understand what was at stake.
2. Meat sacrificed to idols was a “hot-button” issue in Corinth because it exposed three much larger concerns.
a. First, the problem of boundaries between the church and pagan culture.
b. Second, the strained relationship between different social classes in the church.
c. And third, the relationship between knowledge and love as the foundation of the church’s life.
E. As Paul begins chapter 8, it seems that he is employing the same diatribe approach as in pervious chapters.
1. Paul reflects the Corinthians’ views back on them in verses 1, 4, 8 and then he replies in counterpoint.
2. The overall question being asked is “Are Christians free to eat meat from animals slaughtered in pagan cultic rituals?”
3. Paul’s discussion of the problem suggests that this issue had arisen because some of the Corinthians were attending feasts held in pagan temples where meat was served to all present.