Paul devoted several chapters of his first letter to the Corinthians to the subject of eating food that was sacrificed to idols.
We only have Paul’s side of the discussion, but we can assume the positions were as follows.
— Church Leaders – All of us possess knowledge (1 Cor. 8.1).
— Paul – Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Cor. 8.1).
— Church Leaders – We know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one” (1 Cor. 8.4).
— Paul – It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge (1 Cor. 8.7).
— Church Leaders – “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do (1 Cor. 8.8).
— Paul – But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak (1 Cor. 8.9).
The church leaders are using their knowledge to excuse their behavior which consists of eating food in pagan temples.
The low-income members of the church could not join in these meals. They probably believed that idols contained power and were offended by the activity of leading members of the church.
Paul called for church leaders to show their love for the lower-status members of the church and refrain from eating in the temples.
Paul wanted love to reign in the church because love builds up.
— Paul – For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them (1 Cor. 9.19).
More than anything else, Paul wanted to help people become friends and followers of Jesus. He was willing to undergo any sacrifice that would achieve that end.
— Paul – Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Cor. 11.1).
Paul wanted the church to follow his example because he followed Jesus.
Paul called on the leaders and the entire church to live in an attitude of self-sacrifice for the sake of the gospel.
— Church Leaders – Be sensible (1 Cor. 10.15).
— Paul – What pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons (1 Cor. 10.20).
— Paul – My dear friends, flee from the worship of idols (1 Cor. 10.14).
What looked sensible to the powerful church leaders was something they should avoid at all costs.
The church leaders were wrong on two points.
First, the idols were empowered by the demonic. There were evil spiritual powers behind what looked like sensible behavior.
Second, the church leaders failed to see how their behavior influenced the lower status and lower-income members of the congregation.
The only reasonable course of action was to run from idol worship into the arms of Jesus.
Prayerful self-reflection will help us to see possible ways that we serve idols, which are substitutes for God.
Please join me in a careful examination of your life to see if you have slipped into a similar problem that was present among the leaders of the church in Corinth.
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