Sometimes living as a Christian can seem confusing. Unlike the Law of Moses given to Israel, there isn’t a list of “do’s and don’ts” detailing how we should live. Instead we find principles we can use and examples we can see that help us determine how we should live.
One of the big ‘issues’ that the Christians in the first century had to face was in eating. Although this might seem strange to us, we need to realise the problem was not necessarily in the food itself, but in people’s perception of who we were, based on what we were eating. In particular this had to do with food that had been sacrificed to idols.
“With regard then to eating food sacrificed to idols, we know that ‘an idol in this world is nothing’, and that ‘there is no God but one’. If after all there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we live, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we live.” (1 Corinthians 8:4-6 NET)
As far as idols go, Christians can know that there is only one God. Even though there might be a plethora of “so-called gods,” in reality, there is but one. So the problem is not in knowing that the idols are not real – they are not.
“But this knowledge is not shared by all. And some, by being accustomed to idols in former times, eat this food as an idol sacrifice, and their conscience, because it is weak, is defiled. Now food will not bring us close to God. We are no worse if we do not eat and no better if we do. But be careful that this liberty of yours does not become a hindrance to the weak. For if someone weak sees you who possess knowledge dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience be ‘strengthened’ to eat food offered to idols? So by your knowledge the weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed. If you sin against your brothers or sisters in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.” (1 Corinthians 8:7-12)
This gets to the real problem. Although the food was simply food, if you ate in the temple of a particular god it was perceived as being in worship of that false god. Although we might have the knowledge that this is not a real god, so we really aren’t worshipping it, those coming out of a pagan background might conclude that we are worshipping another ‘god’ in addition to the real God. They then might think it is all right to participate in the worship of the idols, because, after all, they see a ‘mature’ Christian doing this.
While we might have the knowledge that there is nothing to this but food, the weaker Christian does not. So we end up hurting the weaker Christian. If we lead them to sin, we are sinning against them. In reality, we are sinning against Jesus. So what is the solution?
“For this reason, if food causes my brother or sister to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I may not cause one of them to sin.” (1 Corinthians 8:13)
If what we are doing causes someone who thinks it is sinful to also get involved, just don’t do it. After all, food doesn’t bring us closer to God or make us any worse or any better. Although we may have knowledge are we showing love? Are we wise enough to know that we can forego our knowledge and rights to help a weaker Christian?
Although food offered to idols is not a problem in most western congregations, we need to be sensitive to younger, weaker Christians who may see other activities as sinful that may not be. Show love by giving up our ‘rights’ in order to build up the weaker Christian. By being sensitive to each other, we will achieve unity.
Readings for next week: 1 Corinthians 7-11