First Corinthians 8:1–13 . . . Bible Study Summary with Questions

Food Sacrificed to Idols

In the Christian life, we've been given great freedom; yet there are certain potential danger spots that can cause a serious accident between brothers and sisters in Christ. In 1 Corinthians 8, we've a dangerous intersection concerning meat offered to idols. Paul knew that there was only one true God and that idols were nothing; eating meat offered to them was neither right nor wrong. But not all believers felt that way.

As Christians, we're free in Christ — free to engage in social practices and customs not specifically forbidden by biblical commands. However, the Holy Spirit may prompt us to refrain from some legitimate practices. In the end, we have a responsibility to look out for our brother's welfare. With this high calling in mind, Paul lays out two principles to guide us.

1. Recognize that love is more important than freedom (8:1–6, see below)  Christians in Corinth questioned whether they should eat meat that had been offered to idols. For Paul, however, the more important question was how the church should deal with it. He answers that question by making this point: Those Corinthians who are boasting of their freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols are acting arrogantly, without demonstrating love and respect for their brothers and sisters.

Right off the bat, Paul alerts us in 8:1b, in effect asking us, "Are you 'puffed up' in your knowledge? Do you look down on others who don't know as much as you do?" Paul tells us to recognize that "love edifies," meaning "builds up." The Christian life isn't based on how much we know, or how strong we are, or how much Christian liberty we possess, but "how much we love others." After all, you are your brother's keeper (Genesis 4:9).

In vv. 4–6, Paul staunchly argues against idols and puts forth a profound understanding of God. He reminds the Corinthians that there's only one God worthy of worship — God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

[The heart of Paul's argument, especially as it relates to Christian community, comes in vv. 7–13. Even though members of the Corinthian church understand that idols have no real existence (v. 1), many are unable to put this knowledge into practice.]

2. Limit your freedom for the sake of love (vv. 7–13)  Paul challenges us to look out for our brothers and sisters because we love them and have their best spiritual interest at heart. Paul does have a word of warning in 8:9: "Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak." For example, believers who enjoy eating food at a Chinese restaurant ought to look for idols hung or displayed in the restaurant. While we recognize that those idols mean nothing to us, we ought to be careful when taking a new Christian who'd been saved from Buddhism or Hinduism to such a restaurant. See Paul's similar illustration in v.10 below.

Paul concludes this chapter by using himself as an example. The point being: We need to remember that there's something more important than our freedom to do as we please. What a Christlike attitude! He exhorts us by example: "Don't look at your freedom; look at their need."

It Makes You Wonder . . .
  • Q. 1  When have you used your knowledge to build up fellow Christians (v. 1)? What was the response? Do you strive to balance your knowledge with Christlike love?
  • Q. 2  Seeing how important theology is to Paul (vv. 4–6), should theology be important to you? If so, to what degree?
  • Q. 3  What sin are you presently struggling with that might "ruin" a brother (v. 11)? How can you learn to be more sensitive to fellow Christians?

This Week’s Passage
1 Corinthians 8:1–13

New International Version (NIV)
[You can view it in a different version by clicking here; you can also listen to this chapter.]

Concerning Food Sacrificed to Idols

8 1Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that "We all possess knowledge." But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3But whoever loves God is known by God.

4So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that "An idol is nothing at all in the world" and that "There is no God but one." 5For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), 6yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

7But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

9Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol's temple, won't that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.