1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Use Knowledge in a Loving Way
Chapter eight presents us with a situation from the ancient world, the particulars of which we would not face today, but the principles we learn from which we find everywhere around us. The ancient world was full of pagan temples where people gathered to sacrifice to a god and then eat a meal in that temple in the god’s honor. These meals served as social as well as religious occasions, and Gordon Fee refers to them as the “restaurants” of the ancient world (NICNT, 361). No doubt, many of the Corinthian believers frequented these places before coming to saving faith.
The question was whether believers may continue to frequent these pagan temples for meals. If the question is asked why a believer would wish to do so, I can only guess for the social aspect and what we might call today, “networking.” We shall see in chapter ten that Paul has a very definite opinion about attending pagan temples, but for now he approaches the problem from a different angle which is evident from the very beginning of the chapter. You see, the Corinthians liked to think themselves very knowledgeable: “All of us possess knowledge,” Paul quotes them as saying. But Paul answers back, “This knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Both here and in chapter thirteen, Paul will exalt love above all other Christian virtues, and it is just this virtue these Corinthian believers seemed to lack.
Now there was nothing wrong with their argument, per se (as I said, Paul will address it more pointedly later on). After all, it is true that the “gods” in the pagan temples are not gods at all, and it is also true that food will neither commend us to nor drive us away from God. Yes, Corinthians, we know these things. But there is a deeper issue. It has to do with your “weaker” brother who once frequented these temples and worshiped these idols. Having come out of that life, he now lives to God. Perhaps you too have come out of that life and now live to God as well. But you have come to terms with that former life, having received God’s grace and having come to know the true God, and now know that those gods you once worshiped are no gods at all, and see no problem eating there with a client. And you wonder, “Why can’t my brother see that?” Because his conscience is more tender than yours; and what’s worse, what if he does follow your example and thereby return to idolatry? Isn’t his salvation more important to you than your “knowledge” and “freedom”? Do you not love your brother for whom Christ died more than your appetite? And so where might we be a cause of stumbling for a brother out of a desire to please ourselves?