1 Corinthians 8:1-13 – Freedom to be free or freedom to love!







Chapter 8:1 – 11:1 is dealing with the one overall subject of food offered to idols. As we have seen so many times – we can’t really understand the what Paul is saying unless we understand the historical setting in which he wrote. Food sacrificed to idols is not really something that you and I deal with in our everyday lives. It might be in other parts of the world but not in the part of 20th century England that we live in.


It seems clear from v.1 that Paul is writing in response to one of their inquiries in the letter they sent to him “Now about food offered to idols”  Why was this such an important issue in Corinth?


Corinth was a city that worshipped many gods and there were many temples dedicated to these gods. The eating of a cultic meal was a regular part of worship. These meals were sometimes State Festivals and at other times were private celebrations.


There was the preparation of the meal, the sacrifice itself and then the feast.  The sacrifice was divided into three portions, part burned before the god, part given to the worshipper and part place on the table before the god. This last portion was often taken out the back-door of the Temple and then sold in the public market place so that you could unwittingly be eating food that had been offered to an idol in someone’s home.


It does seem however that Paul is not deal in Ch.8 with the meat bought in the market but with the issue of eating at the temple itself. Most of the Gentile Christians in Corinth would have eaten in the Temples before their conversion. Bear in mind that the Temples were the basic restaurants of the day. They would eat there as we would eat at a restaurant or local pub!


There were two extremes to which the Corinthians were going in regard to Food offered to idols

– 1) the legalists who said “Don’t have anything to do with this meat because it is not pure.”

– 2) the libertines who said “ We are free from legalistic rules – offering food to a statue doesn’t change the meat in any way so we are free to eat what we like and eat it where we like.


It is the second group that Paul is addressing in this chapter – those who are free – the libertines who consider those not like them to be the “weak”.


Before Paul actually deals with their questions about food offered to idols he lays down some important foundational truths.







The word “Know” or “Knowledge” appears in this chapter a number of times. “Knowledge” was one of the “in” words at Corinth. We know that we all possess knowledge was possibly one of the slogans of the Corinthian Christians and Paul; is not disagreeing with that. BUT they were going further!


Their attitude becomes clear in v.2 The man who thinks he has arrived at knowledge [NOT NIV. knows something] Remember from previous chapters how the Corinthians thought the they Had already arrived. Their emphasis on the already as opposed to the not yet which affected their view of wisdom also here affects their view of knowledge.


These Corinthians had an inflated view of themselves and their knowledge. And as a results they thought of themselves as being better and stronger than those who did not share their view!

They considered themselves to have received a special kind of knowledge and it was possessing this special knowledge that made them super-spiritual and a cut about the rest!


“We know that this meat is not affected by being held up in front of an idol and therefore we are free to eat it when and where we like!


Paul does not disagree that We all possess knowledge but he warns of their misuse of that knowledge.

Knowledge PUFFS UP,




On its own knowledge is inflated and empty. Christians need to be filled with love  because it is love that builds up.


ILLUST: If you prick a puffed up balloon it will burst. Lean on a built up wall and it will hold your weight.


It is so easy for us to think that we have all our theology all wrapped up and neatly packaged and to be able to articulate the niceties of Christian doctrine and we might even impress people by so doing. BUT how much closer are people brought to God??


Paul warns that the one who thinks he has already arrived at knowledge does not yet know as he ought to know [v2]. It is not simply that his knowledge is incomplete, although that is true, NOR is Paul point that “a little knowledge is dangerous”, although that is also true, BUT Paul’s point is that the one who “thinks he is in the Know” is in fact showing that he doesn’t yet have the real thing. i.e. LOVE.


It is not knowledge that makes us spiritual BUT love

the man who loves {God -NIV}

This one truly knows {or  is known}


Not “loves God” NIV but loves his brothers and sisters – which is of course an outworking of our love for God.

The basis for Christian behaviour is not knowledge BUT love. By this Paul does not mean that knowledge is unimportant. We need to know what we believe and why we believe it. We need to study and come to grips with the deep truths of scripture. BUT if that knowledge does not have an outworking in our love and care for each others then it has only served to puff up and not build up.


So we need to ask questions like, “Are people brought closer to God? Are Christians strengthened in their faith? Is our knowledge of God radiated and passed on by Love?”


There is a warning in this passage about those teachers or systems that entice to receive “special insight” or “deeper revelation” that will put us one-up. This leads to pride and alienates rather than building up. Knowledge without love is a dangerous thing. The way of love supersedes the way of knowledge




Paul now returns to the matter of food offered to idols.

This group of Corinthians Christians who had no conscience about eating food offered to idols and eating it in the temple reasoned thus: “We know that there is only one God and one Lord and that these idols are nothing but dumb pieces of wood, stone, gold and silver.”


We read Ps.115 which describes these gods.


Therefore they reasoned that if this idol is not a god then it can’t effect the meat therefore we are free to eat it.


Paul readily with their theology but not with their practice as we have seen and will come to again in the last few verses of the chapter.


If we simply took the catch-phrase of the Corinthians “There is no God but one” we could argue that everyone is really worshipping the same God. We might give them different names and we may worship in different ways but really it is all the same.

This syncretistic/universalistic mood pervades the society in which we live. That is why inter-faith worship has become so popular and you can stand alongside a Hindu and a Muslim and any other kind of religious adherent and be quite happy. BUT in so doing you side-step or reject the central message of the Christian Faith.


Paul is adamant in these verses that we worship the one God – Father – the creator and sustainer of all things AND Jesus Christ who is also creator and sustainer and therefore equal to God. NOT just a prophet as the Muslims believe or a good teacher as some teach.


The foundation of the Christian Faith is that God the Father is the ONLY God and that Jesus Christ is Divine and the Only Saviour and the Only way to God. And the Holy Spirit is the ONLY one who can give spiritual live and that these three are ONE GOD. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


All these other god are simply “so-called gods” and exist only in the minds of their worshippers.


It is not the wood or stone that has any power but rather what is behind it! In 10v20 Paul gives a warning about this very thing “…the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons”


ILLUST: Hindu boy worshipping Monkey god – jumps into tree and chatters. No power in the monkey but power behind is Satan


Muslim Saint worship – trances – young skinny teenager throwing off 4 grown men – no power in dead saint but power of the Devil .


Satan in the Prince of This World and he will substitute anything to deflect us from worshipping the One true God.


Paul now goes on in the remaining verses to explain how the Fundamental Principle of “Love builds up” and the Foundational Truth of “One God and One Lord” Have there outworking in practical Christian behaviour.




READ v7-8


Whether they eat the idol food or not really has no spiritual value and is of no consequence to God ultimately.


BUT while all know at a theoretical level that an idol is nothing it had been so much part of their lives and so dominant in their lives for so long that it was difficult to possess that knowledge at an experiential and emotional level. While they were pagans these “gods” and “lords” had been very real to them and it would take time to break away from that for some of them.


Remember that Paul is addressing the “Strong” or at least those who consider themselves to be strong – those who think of themselves as “free”.


READ v9-13


For the “weak” – “weak of conscience” – eating in the temple food that had been offered to an idol could well be the thing that would cause them to slide back into paganism and away from God. And says Paul to the “strong”, “If you are encouraging them to do that then you will be guilty of destroying them by your so called knowledge!


1) Those who are the “strong” were going to the Temples and eating food offered to idols.

2) They were also encouraging the “weak” to do the same and indeed putting them under pressure.

3)  The problem with the “weak” is NOT so much that they are offended by what  the “Knowing-ones” are doing BUT it was going to the temple and eating – What was simply FOOD to the strong was to the weak Food sacrificed to idols and it was not the food that would destroy them BUT the idolatry inherent in eating in the temple.


Again it is not the food or the idol but what is behind it that has the power – Satan.


So Paul here brings in what has become know as the stumbling block principle. The stumbling block principle is not simply offending some overly sensitive person who has a hang up about some particular non-essential:


ILLUST: We must not move the pulpit because so-and so will be offended.

We must not have drums or guitars in church because only a piano or organ are worshipful.    SOME are simply TOUCHY and will always be offended by something.


That is not the stumbling block principle. It is actively encouraging someone to do something that will destroy their faith. And doing it because we feel that we have the right knowledge and should have the right to exercise our freedom.


When we insist on OUR freedom and OUR rights at the expense of others then we are on dangerous ground. We live in a society that is very individualistic. My rights and my freedom – what I feel is my due is all that is important and if that impinges on another’s rights well too bad!!


We must not allow that thinking to predominant in the Church of Christ.


ILLUST: A Christian who had an alcohol problem before being saved! It would be wrong for a fellow Christian to pressurize him to go to the pub and encourage him to have a drink Knowing that it could cast him to fall back into alcoholism!


The strong Christian is not the one who insists on his/her rights as the Corinthians were doing BUT rather the strong are those who because of the knowledge and love for God and their fellow believers are willing to give up their rights for the sake of others.

If you are in bondage to exercise your freedom then you are not free.

Christians are so free that they are free not to exercise their freedom!!


ILLUST: Muslims friends when missionaries – did not eat pork in front of them. Not because I don’t like pork but it is an offense to them.


V.11 – Christ died for the weak brother – If we are going to love like Christ loved which is the goal and what God wants from us then we, like Christ must be willing to give up our rights and our freedom for the sake of the other.


If we cause another to stumble we are sinning against him / her and also against Christ. Love builds up the body of Christ, the Church, when we by our behaviour cause another to fall we are in danger of damaging not only the individual concerned but also the body of Christ.


ILLUST: Church where I grew up – split because a group became preoccupied with [obsessed] with a particular theological view and when the rest of the church would not go along they left cause great damage to the church.


The principle therefore is v.13 [Paul’s example]

Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to sin,

I will never eat meat again, so that I will not

cause him to fall.


The issue is not offending someone in the church simply because they are touchy BUT it has to do with our conduct that others would emulate and cause them hurt.

Or worse actively urging people to do certain things because of our so called superior knowledge.


The other danger that needs to be avoided and which would be an illegitimate use of the stumbling block principle is this: Those who feel that they have been offended trying to force others to conform to their own idiosyncrasies of behaviour.


ILLUST: I thinks it is wrong for women to wear makeup trousers therefore it is wrong and I will try to force others to follow my ideas.


Paul’s whole point in this passage is that as God’s people living in community with each other we are to build each other up in love – putting the needs of others before our own rights. Without one group demanding their own behaviour of others.


True knowledge is not academic but practical – expressing itself in acts and attitudes of love and kindness so that others can be built up and God glorified.


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