The next issue Paul addresses concerns food offered to idols. Apparently, some who were strong among the Corinthians chose to eat in idol’s temples. While they could justify their actions with the knowledge that idols are in fact not gods at all, their actions had become a stumbling block to the weak brethren. Over this and the following two chapters, Paul not only answers the question of eating food offered to idols but puts forward key guiding principles that Christians should bear in mind in making choices.
Did You Know...?
- At the Jerusalem council, the apostles and elders had reached the decision under the Spirit’s guidance that Gentiles believers were not required to be circumcised. But they still must keep themselves from certain things, one of which is food offered to idols (Acts 15:28–29).
- Encouraged (10): The word is the same as that which is translated “build up” in verse 1. Paul’s use of the same word may be deliberate to heighten the contrast between the word’s positive meaning in verse 1 and its negative sense in verse 10.
How does the first segment (vv. 1–3) relate to the rest of the chapter?Hide Answer
Paul opens the chapter with the overarching principle that love rather than knowledge should be our ultimate goal in making decisions, including the eating of food offered to idols. By “knowledge,” Paul is referring to the claim that one knows better than others—a kind of knowledge that does not consider the benefit of others. If a person acts out of love rather than only by how much he knows, he would refrain from eating in an idol’s temple.
How does knowledge puff up?
How does love build up?Hide Answer
Love considers the good of others. Naturally, when we love a person, we would do what is helpful for that person. In the context of faith, when we act out of love for others, their faith is strengthened.
How does building up stand in contrast to being puffed up?Hide Answer
Building up is about helping the other person, whereas being puffed up is about boosting one’s own ego. Knowledge, if not combined with love, can only impress others but does not do others any good.
Explain the meaning of verse 2.Hide Answer
This statement speaks of two levels of knowledge. A person may think that he knows something in the sense of understanding some facts or truths. But God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His ways higher than our ways (Isa 55:8–9). With our limited knowledge, we may be ignorant of God’s higher thoughts and ways. We should, therefore, never take pride in what we think we know.
Taking an example from this chapter in
1 Corinthians, a person may choose to eat in an idol’s temple thinking that he knows that idols are nothing. But he is actually ignorant of God’s command and desire for us to love our weaker brother and to not become a stumbling block.
Being known by God means being favored by God.
What contrast is conveyed in verses 2 and 3?Hide Answer
Similar to our relationship with other human beings, love also surpasses knowledge in our relationship with God. If we know of God’s commandments but only use them to justify our own actions, then our knowledge means nothing to God. But if we do all things out of love for God, we would always be in God’s favor, even when we may not fully understand His ways.
Is knowledge a bad thing? What is Paul teaching us about knowledge?Hide Answer
Having knowledge is not only a good thing, but is essential in our relationship with God (cf. Ps 119:66; Prov 2:10, 8:10; Hos 4:6, 6:6; Eph 1:15–21; Col 1:9;
2 Pet 1:5, 3:18). However, if we think we have knowledge but do not have the heart to fear God and love others, we are in fact ignorant in God’s eyes. What Paul wishes to teach believers in 1 Corinthians is to seek true knowledge, which encompasses love.
What is the point of this segment in terms of food offered to idols?Hide Answer
Believers know that there is only one God and one Lord. All the so-called “gods” are not real. Based on this fact, one may argue that idols are nothing at all and hence food offered to idols is no different from ordinary food or that eating in a temple is no different from eating anywhere else. This argument may serve to justify eating food offered to idols or eating in a temple.
In what sense is the conscience of the weaker one defiled (v. 7) or wounded (v. 12)?Hide Answer
For a weak brother without the knowledge that idols are nothing, eating in an idol’s temple is tantamount to idolatry. When he sees another believer recline to eat in a temple, he may be inclined to do the same even though his conscience tells him it is an act of unfaithfulness to God. In this sense, his eating of such food would not be out of a clear conscience.
What right have you had to give up for the sake of someone weaker?(The answer is empty)Hide Answer
Cite some present-day examples of giving up our rights out of consideration for others.Hide Answer
Some actions or practices may not be wrong in themselves because the Bible places no explicit prohibitions against them. But we need to be aware how our choices may affect others, who do consider such matters to be contrary to their faith. For example, dressing casually to a church service may not be an issue in certain societies but may be viewed as a sign of disrespect for God in other places. Some cultural customs or celebrations may seem to be harmless to us, but when we bring them into the church environment that consists of believers from various cultures, we may become a stumbling block to others, especially if some view these customs or celebrations as having pagan origins.
Why does Paul remind the reader that the brother is someone “for whom Christ died”?Hide Answer
By reminding that the brother we stumble is someone for whom Christ died, Paul wishes to point out the gravity of such an offense. Every believer is bought at a price—Christ’s death. If Christ loves every believer to such an extent, destroying another believer is a sin against Christ.
Is the teaching about not stumbling others telling us to please everyone? Please explain.Hide Answer
Paul is not teaching us to try to please everyone. He himself has written that it is a small thing that he is judged by others because it is ultimately the Lord who judges him (
1 Cor 4:3–5). We do not need to worry people’s opinion of us. What is important is whether our Lord is pleased with us.