For the last week, I have been developing the idea of Christian Freedom and what it really means. I have discussed what we are free from and what the responsibility of bearing that freedom is. This I have been doing out of the book of Colossians. Today, we will go into the pinnacle of what Christian Freedom truly is out of the book of 1 Corinthians.
First, Christian freedom does not mean that we get to live however we want and do whatever we want. That I’ve already talked about, but there’s more to it. The first thing we need to consider is our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.
However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. – 1 Corinthians 8:7-13
I always like to put things into context before going into any detail. Here the context is this; ancient Corinth was a port trade city. Like many port cities where the economy is based upon imports and exports (trade), the cities tend to become more cosmopolitan. Think of San Francisco, for example. When I visited San Francisco, I ate sushi and cuisine from cultures like, Thai, Persian, Italian, Mexican, etc… There’s a Japan Town and a China Town in San Francisco. Port cities draw in people from many different cultures and they usually bring part of their cultures with them, including their religious system. Corinth was no different. Idolatry was in full swing in Corinth.
Idolatry was the major thing that Paul was talking about in this passage here. Christians in Corinth were trying to live out their faith in the middle of an idolatrous culture. This was a very difficult task in those days. While there was a significant Jewish population at Corinth, Paul was writing this letter to all believers in the Church at Corinth. Some of those new Christians had been delivered out of an idolatrous lifestyle and had felt very guilty about the way they had lived.
A Christian coming out of Judaism would be more sensitive to idolatry than a native Corinthian. To a Messianic Jew (Christian of Jewish heritage), they would have been brought up to know and memorize the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” A Messianic Jew would know that idols mean absolutely nothing (Isaiah chapter 44) and food sacrificed to idols is just as meaningless.
However, a new Christian convert out of the idolatry of Corinth would not have had had the same background in the Tenach (Old Testament) and would not have understood this. Because the Corinthian Convert was brought up believing idols held power, and therefore to the Corinthian Convert, food sacrificed to an idol would have held power in their minds.
So Paul was commanding the stronger believers (those who knew that idols held no power) not to rub in their freedom to eat whatever they wished in the faces of the Corinthian Convert who came out of idolatry. Paul didn’t want the Corinthian Converts to fall back into their old ways and habits. And this is the heart that Paul was getting at in this scripture. Paul would rather forego eating meat entirely, than to see someone fall away from Christ into their old habits.
Today, the scripture holds true in many other circumstances. For example, while there is no specific commandment against drinking alcohol period, I know of many Christians who were delivered out of alcoholism. If I was eating at a fancy restaurant with one such Christian, I would rather drink water than take a glass of wine because I do not want to tempt the other person to go back into alcoholism.
There have been many Christians who have been delivered out of witchcraft, occultism, and paganism. I would certainly not invite a Christian delivered out of that to watch Harry Potter lest they become tempted to fall back into their lifestyle.
We all have our areas of struggle and temptation. We must be sensitive with one another when it comes to those areas and we need to know our own limits. I read once about a guy who could not see the movie “Soul Surfer.” He knew the movie was a good movie that glorified God through the testimony of surfer Bethany Hamilton. However, he also knew that there would be a lot of women wearing bikinis in the movie. He knew that would be a major area of temptation for him so he chose not to watch it.
The sad part is that many times, when someone chooses to abstain from a movie or activity because they know their areas of temptation, they get teased by other Christians. We shouldn’t be doing this to each other.