In pagan temples, animal sacrifices were common. Worshippers would bring in their animals, the priests would slaughter them, and then the meat was divided up into three parts: one portion was given as a burnt offering to the idol; one portion was given back to the guy who brought it, and the third portion was for the priests. With all of the idolatry around, this was way too much meat for the priests to eat, and so they frequently sold it.
So in those days, the best place to buy meat was right there at the pagan temples. Their meat markets featured good, fresh, inexpensive meat. It was the best deal in town. Many temples actually added restaurants they'd cook up your steak for you right there!
Now, everyone in town knew that by buying that meat, or sitting down at the temple restaurant, you were eating what had been offered to a false god. And Christians started asking the question, "If a we eat this meat that's been offered, are we aiding in the worship of an idol, a false god?"
As with everything else in the Corinthian church, two schools of thought had developed. There were those who thought that this was tantamount to idolatry, which is a sin, and wanted no part of it. Then there was the other side those who said, "What is an idol? It's wood, stone, and gold. It's nothing, so why don't we take advantage of a good deal? We're actually being wise stewards of the money God has given to us."
The Corinthians had written a letter to Paul asking several questions. Last week, we saw his answer to their questions regarding marriage and purity. This week, we examine his answer to the question, "Is it okay to eat meat sacrificed to idols or not?"
Have you ever noticed that very often, the more a person knows, the more they hold it over your head, making you feel inferior? Constantly correcting you, repeatedly reasoning to you, daily disagreeing with you.
Their knowledge has made them proud, arrogant, puffed up. Paul is making the case, "yes, we have all knowledge in regards to this but it has made you arrogant. You've been puffed up, when in fact, you should be building others up."
Those who said that an idol is nothing but stone and wood were right. They had correct knowledge, but their arrogant use of that knowledge was hurting other Christians who didn't have that knowledge. Paul's saying, "Of course an idol isn't God. Oh sure, there are bunches of things called gods and lords, but there is only one true God the Father. And we exist FOR Him. And there is only one true Lord Jesus Christ. And we exist THROUGH Him. So in that, yes, you're right. An idol is nothing.
But not everybody had that knowledge. Many of the Christians who were in the church at Corinth had been idolaters. They had been worshipping these false gods. They were used to the idea from their former lives that this was the false god's meat. And if they were to eat it, they would feel defiled. It went against their very consciences.
Paul says, "Food is just food in itself, it won't bring us closer to or push us further from God." But, he calls those with that knowledge to accountability and says, "But look at what you're doing. Your knowledge is injuring those without knowledge." Someone who is convinced that eating in an idol's temple is idolatry could easily be pushed back into that lifestyle of idolatry by watching you doing it. And so, by exercising your liberty in Christ, you have caused someone else to sin.
1Cor. 8:11-12 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
Now, as far as I can see, I don't think anybody in Cheyenne has stumbled over this issue lately. But it has very practical application for us today. There are stumbling blocks in every believer's life.
Take for example the issue of drinking. Say you're exercising your liberty in Christ to have a glass of wine with dinner, or a beer after mowing the lawn. But your Christian sister is stumbled by your actions. She sees you drinking and thinks, "Well, if he can do that, then I can do that. Blammo she falls back into alcoholism. Your freedom has destroyed someone for whom Christ died.
Let's say you're enjoying your freedom to listen to your favorite music, say it's classic rock from the 70's. You have every right to do that (because all things are lawful), but what happens to the weaker brother who's riding in the car with you? He could be stumbled by that. He thinks, "Well, he's listening to it, and I love all those tunes. They remind me of when I was younger." So he begins to listen to that stuff too. He starts to reminisce about the "old days," Blammo in just a short time, he ends up back in the wrong crowd, smoking pot again. You've destroyed someone for whom Christ died
It could be the movies you watch, the cigarettes you smoke, or the things you enjoy in your free time. All things which, because you've been justified in Christ, are lawful for you to do. Not necessarily helpful, not necessarily beneficial, but lawful nonetheless.
Now here's the big question: Are you willing to give up your freedoms to keep a brother or sister from stumbling? Paul says,
1Cor. 8:13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble.
Are you loving enough to say, "Hey, if my enjoyment of wine is stumbling to you, I'll never drink a drop of it again"? Are you mature enough to say, "I love you so much that I'll never listen to a secular song again if it's going to make you stumble"? Or is exercising my liberty in Christ far superior to your weakness and possible spiritual shipwreck? The Bible says to,
Rom. 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;
Now, in chapter nine, Paul is going to demonstrate how he himself had liberties that he refused to exercise.