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1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 8

By Pastor Doug
the conscience

For the Corinthians the issue of whether to eat meat sacrificed to idols is another of those questions about how to live in this world with our eyes on the next.  How do we fix our eyes on Jesus and still live and deal and shop in a fallen world?  We all struggle with that.  Can we spend our money on products made by godless companies?  Can we vote for candidates that oppose moral issues that violate God’s word?  How close can we be to those that worship other gods?  All these, and more, are questions of conscience we must deal with as Christians.

The beginning of Paul’s letter was all about how this worldliness and this worldly wisdom had made its way into their church.  As Paul’s letter of correction continues, he deals with these issues of conscience.  Paul is responding to questions from some of the leaders and saints of Corinth who were trying to get their house in order.  They needed guidance from the Apostle Paul.  They were specifically concerned about this issue of meat sacrificed to idols. 


1 Corinthians 8:1

These ‘things’ could mean things other than meat.  So this could have broader meaning.  There were all kinds of offerings made to these gods.  Sometimes it depended on what these people were seeking from a god.  They might take a chicken or silver and gold.

The false god Asklepios was the Greek god of health and healing.  When people were sick they went to the temple and they created a clay image of the body part that was ailing them.  So if a person had an earache they’d mold an ear out of clay.  When they entered the temple they would put their clay body part at the altar along with everyone else’s clay body parts.  With that done, you would make your request to Asclepius and then give him an offering.  This could be animal sacrifice, jewelry, flowers, fresh baked goods, fruit, vegetables or anything.  Then you had to stay the night in the temple praying to this false god and wait to see if he would miraculously heal you.  To honor Asclepius, snakes were sometimes used in healing rituals.  Non-venomous snakes were allowed to crawl freely around the floors where the sick and injured people slept.  In the morning you had to consult with the priest.  He would help you determine whether you had been healed or if your healing was revealed to you in a dream.

This false god Asclepius was depicted in statues as an older bearded man.  And he always had his staff with the two serpents wrapped around it.  If you look at the emblem on the American Medical Association you will see it is a staff with two intertwined snakes.  You’ll see this same emblem on many ambulances and many health and medical related emblems.  The history of the medical profession is tied very closely to this idol.  Every doctor takes the Hippocratic Oath.  This oath has been rewritten since the original hippocratic oath, thought to be written by Hippocrates.  The oath begins this way………..

I swear by Apollo, the healer, Asclepius, Hygieia, and Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses, to keep according to my ability and my judgment, the following Oath and agreement:

So, knowing this, do we as Christians view our doctor differently?  Do we refuse an ambulance that as the symobol of snakes wrapped around a staff?  This may seem like an extreme example but some may be offended by these things.  I know my doctor took the Hippocratic Oath but he also happens to be a very Godly man who is very active in minsitry and serves the Lord.

You can imagine over time what these temples began to look like.  There was stuff piled everywhere.  The priests of these false gods saw a way to make a lot of money while cleaning the place up.  All the sacrifices were cleaned out regularly and sold.  In Corinth, at the temple of Asclepius they discovered an area where they know there was dining.  They believe the priests may have operated a restaurant right there at the temple.


1 Corinthians 8:1-3

'The Knowledge that Paul is talking about here is the human knowledge of God.  Some believers have come to the knowledge that there is one true God.  From that knowledge they come to the understanding that idols are worthless and have no power over them.  Killing an animal in front of a worthless idol could do nothing to contaminate the meat.  There was no power in these false gods other than the power granted them by the people who bowed before them. 

Other believers had knowledge also.  They knew that some people shopped for meat at the temple.  Some people call themselves Christian and they eat meat offered to an idol.  Why would anyone do that?  How can you expect to be holy and sanctified before God and filled with the Holy Spirit when you feed your body and strengthen it with meat that has been defiled?  This was the knowledge of the other group.

One group knew they were right because they understood the severity of the offense.  The other group understood the sovereignty of God and saw no threat whatsoever from the food.  Paul said that Knowledge puffs up and love edifies.  Knowledge can be cold and calculated when it isn’t applied without love.  We are supposed to be driven by love.

Knowledge puffs up but love edifies.  Knowledge can swell you up with pride in your own opinion or the knowledge you think you have.  It can make you think your knowledge is superior to all other knowledge.  This can cause a division.  But love edifies.  It says, I have this knowledge, but instead of putting down others who don’t agree, I will help them to grow and be edified by the knowledge I have.  I will be patient and gentle with them and allow them to grow in the Lord.

I think Warren Wiersbe summed this up well when he said, “'Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy. 

The answer to this problem of dealing with idols sacrificed to foreign gods won’t be answered by knowledge.  It will be answered by the love and genuineness that Paul taught and honored.  Paul said, if you think you know anything you really don’t know anything at all.  But if you love God, verse 3 says, you will be known by God.  That’s the important knowledge; being known by Him.  God’s knowledge of you……

Imagine looking across a body of water.  It’s peaceful and you can see a long way.  It’s a brilliant blue, yet the sun reflects off the water.  You look across this vast body of water and say, I know this water.  I understand what it is and how it looks.  I am confident in my knowledge.  Yet when you go up in an airplane and look at the same body of water your perspective is different.  You say I really didn’t know that water as well as I thought.  It’s much larger than I thought.  The vastness is beyond what I imagined and the color is different.  Now, I look down on the body of water and I say, now I know this water.  And then one day you step into the water right at the edge.  It’s a half inch deep.  You say, I never noticed that before.  There is something under the surface.  That’s amazing.  All this time I thought I knew the water I didn’t know it had depth.  As I wade in, I realize it gets deeper and deeper.  Wow, I guess I didn’t know the water as good as I thought.  This time, instead of claiming to know this water, I say, “I wonder if there is more I need to learn.”  The only real important knowledge seems to be that I don’t know everything I think I know.  Suddenly, I have become teachable.

There is a human knowledge of God.  We can read the bible every day diligently and learn all about God and then we can say I know Him.  And it would be no different than looking over the surface of the water.  When we begin to love God we suddenly are known by Him.  Instead of us trying to understand God with our puny mind we instead love him and become known by the One who knows it all.  It’s like coming to the realization of not knowing the depth and breadth of the vast sea.  Understanding how little we really know is powerful, especially in light of knowing the One who created it all.  I don’t have to have knowledge of all because I know The One who knows it all; or more rightly stated, I am known by the One who knows it all.  We can’t be caught relying on a knowledge that puffs up.  Instead we must find the balance of knowledge and love, remain teachable and God will you teach us when we are ready to learn.


1 Corinthians 8:4

If we love God we know that this idol is nothing.  There really are no other gods, just those who believe in other gods.  The other so-called gods were manmade idols of stone, wood or metal.  To worship an idol is to give the glory and honor and praise that God deserves to a thing; a thing created in the mind of sinful men and formed with sinful hands of sinful men.

Isaiah 40:18-22 says……….

 18 To whom, then, will you compare God?
       What image will you compare him to?

 19 As for an idol, a craftsman casts it,
       and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
       and fashions silver chains for it.

 20 A man too poor to present such an offering
       selects wood that will not rot.
       He looks for a skilled craftsman
       to set up an idol that will not topple.

 21 Do you not know?
       Have you not heard?
       Has it not been told you from the beginning?
       Have you not understood since the earth was founded?

 22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
       and its people are like grasshoppers.
       He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
       and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

There is no other God, period.  God sits enthroned above the earth and all others are subjected to Him.  He is above all.  These idols are inanimate objects that have no power.  In 2 Samuel chapter 5 the Ark of the Covenant had been captured by the Philistines.

 1 After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then they carried the ark into Dagon's temple and set it beside Dagon. 3 When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained.

When God moves the earth…….. the idols and so-called gods fall face down.


1 Corinthians 8:5

These so-called gods behind the idols are demons.  We’ll see that in 1 Corinthians chapter 10.  Then in 2 Corinthians 4:4 Paul calls Satan the ‘god of this age.’  When Paul calls Satan a god he is referring to him as a ‘so called’ god.  He doesn’t mean for one second that Satan is a rival god to the Lord God.  Satan is god of this age because so many regard him as a god, many, if not most, without realizing it.


1 Corinthians 8:6

That’s where real life and real joy exists.  It’s not in these things offered by the world or by Satan, the god of this world.

At the Aeropagus in Athens, Paul revealed to the Athenians God Most High was their ‘unkown god’.

26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, (Acts 17:26-28a).


1 Corinthians 8:7-8
It was nearly impossible to avoid eating food that was offered to some idol in cities like Corinth.  It’s not hard to imagine a new believer who grew up seeing these animals offered to a god, and worthiping that god that way.  Then, they become Christian.  They feel it is wrong to eat that meat.  They know where it comes from, this is part of the life they turned from.  Some of these folks ate this meat because they were told they could or should.  Yet in their conscience they felt it was wrong.  Then after they ate, because their conscience was weak, they were suddenly consumed with guilt and distraught at having become defiled.

This same thing could happen to someone that ate meat for whatever reason and later found out it had been offered to an idol.  They too would feel distraught and racked with guilt.  Both of these people felt as if they had sinned against God by eating this meat.  They felt as if they had honored this other god by their eating.

However, they weren’t defiled because of the food they ate.  They were defiled because in their conscience they ascribed power to that food that it didn’t have.  There was no power in the meat or the idol to which it was offered.  Paul said that food doesn’t commend us to God.  We aren’t in better standing with God eating one kind of food over another.  Likewise, we are no worse for what we have eaten.


1 Corinthians 8:9-10

This is a brother in Christ saying to you they saw another brother down there eating the meat that was offered to idols.  Because of that, they decide to go eat also.  Yet, their conscience told them it was wrong.  They are racked with guilt.  The brother didn’t do anything wrong by eating the meat.  He had the knowledge that an idol is nothing and that the meat can’t hurt him.  But his knowledge had the affect to embolden someone else.  This embolden is ‘to build up’ and it built them up toward something they saw as sinful.

So the Christian did something wrong when his brother saw him; the knowledge, freedom and exercise of liberty led someone else to go against their conscience.  This made them a stumbling block that led the other to sin.


1 Corinthians 8:11-13

Paul is saying that we must season our knowledge with love.  The liberty we have in our knowledge can drive someone else to sin; which becomes our sin.  We can have the knowledge of what our liberties are, however, if we live in our own knowledge without love we cause our brother to sin.  In this case, Paul said there is no food that is worth the cost of making a brother stumble. 

However, there is a balance that must be attained.  There are many folks carrying around their legalisms and insist on those around them living in those same legalisms.  Having a ministry of legalism isn’t the same as a weak conscience.  At that time some of the Jewish Chrisians believed you had to live as a Jew to become a Christian.  Not abiding in these legaisms didn’t cause these folks to stumble and sin; it it just offended their legalism.  While Paul encourages us to pass on some of our liberties to keep somone from stumbling, he would scold us to relinquish our liberty to passify a legalist.  See what he says in Galatians:

Galatians 2:11-21

11 Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; 12 for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.

14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? 15 We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

17 â€œBut if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. 19 For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”

In this consideration for the conscience of others is the hazard of sending a message that we are somehow seen more righteous to God if we do certain things or don’t do others.  While the gospel message is a message of liberty and freedome from bondage.  The price has been paid.  Our actions are then a reponse to ‘good news’ we’ve received.  Every aspect of our life should be a ‘right response’ to the God who went to such great lengths to save us.

If you are unable to continue your study straight through chapters nine and ten, you might  jump forward to 1 Corinthians 10:14 where Paul completes his discussion of this topic.


©2016 Doug Ford