No Better Off If We Eat It

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

Food and Drink #8

“Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Cor. 8:7-13).

One of the problems that the early church had to confront was the problem of eating meat that had been sacrificed to an idol. So the problem for Christians was two-fold. First, what do we do about the foods that were prohibited in the Old Testament law? That was one problem. The second problem was what they were to do about a roast that earlier in the day had been on the altar of a false god. Paul addresses this second question here, and he says there is no problem with the meat.

Paul can disassociate the idolatry from the meat, but he acknowledges that not everybody can do this (v. 7). In particular, he has in mind the recent convert out of paganism who identifies the meat from the worship with the worship itself. If he sees a stronger brother eating the meat, and then he imitates that, and stumbles back into the idolatry, then the stronger brother stumbled him (v. 9). If he is emboldened by the one with a stronger conscience (v. 10), then he will follow—but he will do it without the capacity to keep the idolatry out of it. If he slides back into idolatry, then he will perish (v. 11). But he is your brother, worshiping in the congregation together with you. Christ died for him, so don’t treat him that way. To flaunt your liberty is to flout Christ (v. 12). Paul resolves that he would rather become a vegetarian than to do that (v. 13).

 

The principle is simple. This is not a command to give way to legalists. When someone commands you not to eat or drink something, for the sake of some super-spirituality, you are not flouting Christ if you flout the legalist’s rules (Col. 2:20-23). Why do you submit to decrees? Give carnal decrees the raspberry. We are not talking about submitting to legalisms, but rather are talking about loving someone who used to be in bondage to something that is, in his mind, inextricably connected to something else that is innocent. You know the distinction, but he does not. You can separate wine and drunkenness, but he cannot. You can separate rock music and smoking dope, but he cannot. Love gives up the innocent thing rather than stumble a weaker brother. But remember—stumbling means stumbling him back into a life of abandoned sin. It does not mean that you ruffled some feathers.

The reason this approach to food is possible is given by Paul in verse 8. Food is adiaphora, a thing indifferent. God doesn’t care what we eat. We are no better off if we eat certain things, and we are no worse off if we refrain. God doesn’t care what we order off the menu, just so long as we are grateful for it.

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