Question of the Week: Should Christians avoid eating meat sacrificed to idols because it’s demonic or because it could stumble a fellow Christian?
Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth was addressing a wide spectrum of issues they were dealing with. From sexual misconduct by people who attended the church all the way to using communion as an opportunity to get drunk, Corinth had a lot of issues that Paul only had so much paper to address. Fortunately, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he was able to address practically every issue at once by reminding them of Jesus’ New Commandment.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:34-35 (NKJV)
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Romans 13:8-10 (NKJV)
If the Corinthian church understood the example Jesus Christ set in how He uniquely modeled love, then the issues of immorality would sort themselves out with this in mind. The controversy surrounding meat offered to idols was merely one example of many he uses in order to make the point emphasized in chapter 13. He also uses the Olympics in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. He uses Israel’s wanderings in the Wilderness in 1 Corinthians 10:1-3. And he uses the example they set for them through a pattern of self-denial in 1 Corinthians 9:3-12. All of Paul’s illustrations were meant to draw their attention to the one thing they were missing in their conduct. They didn’t need an extensive list of do’s and do not’s. They needed to understand the heart of Christ. That is why the statement that introduces this point about meat offered to idols begins all the way back in chapter 8.
Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.
1 Corinthians 8:1-3 (NKJV)
Knowledge wasn’t the issue. Love, or the lack thereof, was. Knowing certain facts theologically about whether or not the idols they used to worship were real didn’t matter to those who had a weak conscience. Corinth was a city wholly given over to every possible sin and vice you could imagine in the names of these false gods. In these temples, the meat produced from their sacrifices would only be associated by the Christians with the lives they were now trying to walk away from. An informed Christian would know that these idols weren’t actual gods and had no power over anyone or anything. (1 Corinthians 8:4-6) Yet Paul points out that this knowledge isn’t universal. Food wasn’t the issue. The heart being expressed towards those with or without knowledge was. (1 Corinthians 8:7-8) Therefore, Paul comes to the conclusion that he’d rather avoid eating meat altogether. Not because meat was the issue, but the fact that those with less knowledge would be stumbled by seeing fellow Christians participating in any part of the idolatrous world they had left behind. Knowledge would say that meat is meat and they need to grow up spiritually in order to recognize that these idols aren’t even real. Love would consider how their behavior affects their brethren and adjust themselves accordingly. You could have solid theology and still be no more Christ-like than how a pagan would treat his fellow man. Knowledge is important, but love is what’s most important.
This is what brings us to Paul’s point in chapter 10. Giving example after example of where a Christian’s priorities should be, knowledge and love continue to be what’s being contrasted with one another. He clarified two chapters prior that an idol is nothing (1 Corinthians 8:4) and that what you eat doesn’t make you better or worse off in your relationship with God. (Matthew 15:11) With these two premises in place, we won’t misunderstand what Paul is pointing out when he mentions the role demons play in food offered to idols.
Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.
1 Corinthians 10:18-20 (NKJV)
With Israel in mind, they offered sacrifices to God in order to have fellowship with Him. This word fellowship, or literally “sharing of hearts and minds” served as a foreshadowing of the sacrifice God was willing to make in order to restore us back to a love relationship with Him again. You’re modeling yourself after God’s heart when you are willing to sacrifice for another out of love for them. That’s the goal. If your sacrifices or goals in who you want to emulate more in life is anything less than or apart from God, you’re playing right into the hands of the enemy. Some take the logic of this passage and note that to sacrifice to an idol is to sacrifice to demons, therefore the idol is actually a demon. This logic is only sound if the “sacrifice” actually determines what the object of that worship is. Paul has already noted that isn’t true. (1 Corinthians 8:4-6) With the proper knowledge of what an idol is in place, we’d also have to conclude that a demon is nothing, since the very word idol as well as Paul’s definition of it in the same book is “nothing.” This is all in terms of knowledge. The point Paul is making is to emphasize love. You don’t want anything to do with demons. They don’t love you. They will do anything in their power to distract you from God and divide those gathered together for that purpose. Paul isn’t giving some profound insight into the realm of the demonic in explaining the idols of the world are all actual demonic entities. This is unfortunately the conclusion many have come to in order to sell books. The immediate, extended, and overall literary context of the passage is setting up the imperative of love. If my behavior, whether it’s what I eat or not, causes my brother to stumble, it is far more edifying and productive to adjust my behavior for their sake then attempt to walk them through the poor logic behind their spiritual conclusions. There’s a time and place for both, but Paul is simply stating that love should always be our priority in the Christian life.
A Reason For Hope is a ministry of Calvary Christian Fellowship of Tucson
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