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Freedom in Christ. 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
November 9, 2014

One of the key elements in the celebration of Remembrance Dayis the acknowledgement of the achievements wrought through conflict. In fighting tyranny and oppression, veterans protected freedom. Without this sacrifice, dictators would have forced their twisted ideology upon us while eliminating the freedoms that we enjoy, including the freedom of worship. Yet, with freedom comes responsibility.

The basic problem that confronted the Corinthians faces all of us. The issue is: How far does Christian freedom go in regard to behavior not specifically forbidden in Scripture? The problem is primarily attitudinal. They think Christian conduct is predicated on gnōsis (knowledge) and that knowledge gives them exousia (rights/freedom) to act as they will in this matter. Paul has another view: The content of their knowledge is only partially correct; but more importantly, (knowledgegnōsis is not the ground of Christian behavior, love is (Fee, G. D. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 363). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).

During the past several generations some of the strongest debate among fundamentalists and evangelicals has centered around questionable practices—practices that many believers feel to be wrong but that are not specifically forbidden in Scripture. Some of the key issues have been drinking alcoholic beverages, smoking, card playing, wearing makeup, dancing, Sunday sports, styles of music, and going to the theater or movies. One reason Christians have spent so much time arguing those issues is that the Bible does not specifically forbid them.

In answer to the specific question about eating food offered to idols, Paul gives a general and universal principle that can be applied to all doubtful behavior. In preparation for giving the principle, Paul responds to three reasons some of the Corinthians gave for feeling completely free to act as they pleased in regard to practices not specifically forbidden by God. The reasons are seen in : 1) The Principle :We know we all have knowledge(1 Corinthians 8:1–3); 2) The Reality: We know that an idol is nothing; (1 Corinthians 8:4-7) and (3) The Liberty: We know that food is not an issue with God (1 Corinthians 8:8-13). The apostle agrees that each reason is basically valid, but then goes on to show how none of those reasons should be applied to practices that might cause someone else to stumble spiritually.


To deal with doubtful behavior we first see:

1) The Principle: We Know That We All Have Knowledge (1 Corinthians 8:1–3)

1 Corinthians 8:1-3   [8:1]Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that "all of us possess knowledge." This "knowledge" puffs up, but love builds up. [2]If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. [3]But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. (ESV)

Food/things offered/sacrificed to idols is one word in Greek and can be translated simply as “idol sacrifices.” The meat offered on the pagan altars was usually divided into three portions: one portion was burned up, a second given to the priest, and the third given to the offerer. If the priest did not use his portion, it was taken to the meat market. Thus a considerable amount of sacrificed meat ended up in the public market, on the tables of pagan neighbors and friends, or at the pagan festivals (Mare, W. H. (1976). 1 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 238). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.)

Some Christians were not bothered. To them, meat was meat. They knew pagan deities did not really exist and that evil spirits did not contaminate food. They were mature, well–grounded in God’s truth, and their consciences were clear in the matter. That group gave Paul the three reasons for freely exercising their liberty.

The first reason that had been given for exercising freedom is summarized by Paul: we know that all of us possess knowledge. The statement was true but egotistical. It reflected a feeling of superiority. The believers who made the claim were not suggesting they were omniscient, but that they had more than enough knowledge and understanding of God’s Word to know that pagan gods and idols were not real and that food sacrificed to them was still just food. They knew that eating the food could not contaminate them spiritually, that it had no affect on their Christian lives. They felt totally free to eat whatever they wanted, no matter what others thought. True knowledge (gnōsis) consists not in the accumulation of so much data, nor even in the correctness of one’s theology, but in the fact that one has learned to live in love toward all (Fee, G. D. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 368). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).

Paul therefore reminds the Corinthians that knowledge puffs up/makes arrogant. Those believers were mature in knowledge, but were not mature in love. Love builds up/edifies others; and that edification they did not have. They were solid in doctrine but weak in love. They were strong in self–love but weak in brotherly love. The church cannot praise ignorance or make ignorance a principle of its work and reduce either its doctrine or its practice to the level of the ignorant. We must, therefore, have knowledge and must dispense it in order to dispel ignorance everywhere. Yet knowledge alone or knowledge unduly stressed proves dangerous. It tends to puff up, to make (one) proud when comparing (oneself) with others (Lenski, R. C. H. (1963). The interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second epistle to the Corinthians (p. 335). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House).

For a biblical life, knowledge, even of God’s Word, is not enough. It is essential but not sufficient. Satan himself is full of biblical knowledge. By itself knowledge puffs up/makes arrogant. To have love but no knowledge is will lead to error and heresy; but to have knowledge and no love is will lead to interpersonal sin.

Please turn to 1 Corinthians 13(p.959)

Division among believers may be caused by problems of behavior as well as problems of doctrine. When some believers insist on exercising their liberty without regard for the feelings and standards of fellow believers, the church is weakened and frequently divided.

1 Corinthians 13   [13:1]If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. [2]And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. [3]If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. [4]Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant [5]or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; [6]it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. [7]Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  [8]Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. [9]For we know in part and we prophesy in part, [10]but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. [11]When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. [12]For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.  [13]So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (ESV) 

  • Notice how often in 1 Corinthians 13, knowledge is related to love. Even to one who understands (v.2) Love does not presume motive but gives people the benefit of the doubt (v.7).  A Child falsely believes they know everything (v.11) but it is only though glorification (v.12) that we shall truly know.

Love builds up/edifies, and the knowledgeable believer without the edification of love is not as mature as they are inclined to think. Love does not terminate upon itself as knowledge does, but goes beyond to seek the well-being and benevolence of others(Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2302). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.).

Paul continues his argument in verse two with the statement: If anyone imagines/supposes that he knows something/anything, he does/has not yet know as he ought to know. The unloving orthodox have right knowledge but not right understanding. The perfect tense of the expression here implies one who has assumed full and complete knowledge(Morris, L. (1985). 1 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 7, p. 124). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.)

  • The biblically mature person has wisdomwhich means that they have some idea of what they have yet to learn.

Quote: Alistair Begg said that knowledge is “the process of passing from the unconscious state of ignorance to the conscious state of ignorance.” Ignorance does not know that it does not know. True knowledge does not know and knows it". (

For the person who truly "loves God", verse three states that such a person  "is known by God". It is impossible to know God and not love Him. Loving God is the most important evidence of a right relationship to Him. Without love for God, made possible by His love for us (1 John 4:19), we can have no right knowledge of Him, because we will not have a right relation to Him. The only ones who know God and are "known by God" are those who have a love relationship with Him (John 14:21). Knowledge is important, immensely important. But, as everything else, without love it is nothing. Loving and being loved by God is everything. Paul here implies that if one is loved by God and loves God, he will also love other believers, whom God loves (1 John 5:1). Love sets the limits of Christian liberty.

Illustration:One of the greatest times of turmoil in the history of the church was the Reformation. Men like Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli were strong personalities in difficult times. Not a few people in those days found themselves banished from their ancestral homeland or city because of their beliefs. In some cases, wars were fought over beliefs and seemingly (to us) minor doctrinal points. In a day of fiery personality conflicts, major doctrinal deviation, and battles at every level, a lesser-known German theologian, Philipp Melanchthon, summed up Christian liberty in a superb fashion: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, (love) charity.”773 (Michael P. Green. (2000). 1500 illustrations for biblical preaching (p. 219). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.)


To deal with doubtful behavior awe now see:

2) The Reality: We Know That an Idol Is Nothing(1 Corinthians 8:4-7)

1 Corinthians 8:4-7   [4]Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "an idol has no real existence," and that "there is no God but one." [5]For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth--as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"-- [6]yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.   [7]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. (ESV)

In verses 4–6 Paul states his agreement with the Corinthians who were theologically well taught. First he agrees that an idol has no real existence/there is no such thing as an idol in the world. The stone, precious metal, or wood is real, but there is no god behind it. The image is not of anything that really exists. It only reflects the imagination of the one who designed it, or the impersonation of the demon who deceives through it (10:20). They are eidōla = ‘copies’, i.e. they do not have any reality. Thus the word ‘idol’ is used both for the image made of wood or of stone, and for the deity worshipped in such idolatry (Prior, D. (1985). The message of 1 Corinthians: life in the local church (p. 145). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.)

There is no God but one. It is not that there are no imaginary gods, Paul states clearly in verse 5 that there may be so–called gods in heaven or on earth--as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords". Some are outright fakes and some are manifestations of demons, but none are truly gods. The so–called gods have a certain type of reality, but not as deity.

Please turn to Psalm 115 (p.510)

Paul taught that truth throughout his ministry and was often persecuted for it. Demetrius, a pagan silversmith in Ephesus, stirred up his fellow tradesmen by charging, “You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all” (Acts 19:26).

The apostle agreed with the psalmist who contrasted the true, living God with the empty, impotent man made idols:

Psalm 115:1-9  [115:1]Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness! [2]Why should the nations say, "Where is their God?" [3]Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.[4]Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.  [5]They have mouths, but do not speakeyes, but do not see.  [6]They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. [7]They have hands, but do not feelfeet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. [8]Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. [9]O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield. (ESV)

Paul repeats the truth in verse 6 that there is one God. He is the one from whom are all things, and for whom we exist; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through/by whom are all things, and through whom we exist. There is only one true God. He has come to us in the person of the Son, Jesus Christ, and we are brought to the Father through the divine Son. Everything comes from the Father, and all believers exist for the Father. Everything is through/by the Son, and everyone who comes to the Father comes through the Son. This is a powerful and clear affirmation of the equality of essence of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul not only makes clear that there is only one true God, but also shows there is only one way to know and worship him, and that is through the Lord Jesus Christ (Ellsworth, R. (1995). Strengthening Christ’s Church: The Message of 1 Corinthians (p. 143). Darlington, England: Evangelical Press.).

It is absolutely true that idols are not real, that so–called gods are not real, and that the only real God is the God of Scripture revealed in Jesus Christ. Paul’s statement of “one God” and “one Lordplaces the uniqueness and living reality of God the Father and Jesus Christ against the false Corinthian deities. This characterizes God the Father as the source and fulfillment (destiny) of all creation, and God the Son, Jesus Christ, as the mediator (Barton, B. B., & Osborne, G. R. (1999). 1 & 2 Corinthians (p. 115). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.).

  • In those doctrines the freedom–loving Corinthian Christians were completely orthodox. But they were not right in how they applied the truths to their daily living. They had the right concepts, but did not carry them over to make the right relationships.

Paul reminds them of an additional truth in verse 7, one they must have known but that they did not take into consideration when exercising their Christian liberty. However, not all possess/have this knowledge. Not all believers were mature in their knowledge and understanding of spiritual truths. Some were new Christians, freshly out of paganism and its many temptations and corruptions. They still imagined that idols, though evil, were real and that the gods the idols represented were real. They knew that there is only one right God but perhaps they had not yet fully grasped the truth that there is only one real God. Even if they did understand that there was only one real God, the experiences of their past paganism were so fresh that they rejected all that was related to it. To participate in any way was to be tempted to fall back into former practices.

  • We understand this practice for those who have come out of an addition. It would be unwise to invite someone who has just come off an alcohol addiction out to lunch in a bar. They wisely avoid this association, lest they relapse into addiction. For those do not have a conscience that condemns, they must be considerate to the one who's conscience does.

Some, through former association/accustomed with idols, eat food as really offered/sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. Some new converts wanted to take no risk of being contaminated again by the evil influences that for so long had governed everything they thought and did. The pagan gods were not real, but the wicked practices associated with them were real and fresh on their minds. They recoiled from having contact with anything associated with their past paganism. Their consciences were not yet strong enough to allow them to eat idol food without having it pull them back to their former idolatrous activity.

If such persons, following the example of more knowledgeable believers, go ahead and eat what their consciences tell them not to eat, their conscience being weak is defiled. Even though the act in itself is not morally or spiritually wrong, it becomes wrong when it is committed against conscience. A defiled conscience is one that has been ignored and violated. Such a conscience brings confusion, resentment, and feelings of guilt. A person who violates their conscience willingly does what they think to be wrong. In their own mind they have committed sin; and until they fully understands that the act is not sin in God’s eyes, they should have no part in it.

Romans 14:23   [23]But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (ESV)

  • Defiled conscience is defiled faith. Such behavior brings guilt feelings, despair, and loss of joy and peace. It may also lead to sinful thoughts connected with former pagan practices and even lead a person back into some of them.

Paul’s primary point in the present passage is that anyone who causes such a weaker believer to defile their conscience and their faith helps lead that believer into sin. Knowledge may tell us that something is perfectly acceptable, but love will tell us that, because it is not acceptable to a fellow believer’s conscience, we should not take advantage of our freedom.

Illustration:Sometimes, when you enter a main highway or come to an intersection, you will see a sign with the word “yield” in large letters. The sign means that the driver on one road is to yield the right to proceed to any driver on the other road. The latter driver does not own the right of way; rather, another driver yields it to him.

This is an excellent picture of what Christian liberty is all about. We are to yield our rights so that others may go on to greater maturity. No one can demand that another believer yield his rights; rather, as an act of maturity, he should see the need to give up his rights for the good of another. Perhaps we should make yield signs and put them up in our homes and churches—because it is a Christian philosophy to yield, to give way to other believers.770(Michael P. Green. (2000). 1500 illustrations for biblical preaching (p. 218). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.)


Finally, To deal with doubtful behavior, we now can apply all this in:

3) The Liberty: We Know That Food Is Not an Issue With God (1 Corinthians 8:8–12)

1 Corinthians 8:8-12   [8]Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. [9]But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. [10]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? [11]And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. [12]Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. (ESV)

The third truth with which Paul agreed was that eating or not eating food has no spiritual significance in itself. Neither act will commend us to God. Commend (paristēmi) means “to place near, bring beside, present to.” Neither eating or not eating food will bring us closer to God or make us approved by Him. The general point is that doing things not forbidden by God has no significance in our relationship to Him. They are spiritually neutral. Food is an excellent illustration of that fact. Common sense and concern for the bodies God has given us should make us careful about what and how much we eat. Gluttony is harmful and eating foods to which we are allergic is harmful. No sensible, mature person will do those things. But, in itself, eating or not eating certain foods has absolutely no spiritual significance. Jesus made it plain that “there is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man” (Mark 7:15). The Lord’s command to Peter to “kill and eat” was both figurative, referring to accepting Gentiles, and literal, referring to eating food previously considered ceremonially unclean (Acts 10:10–16; cf. v. 28). And Paul told Timothy to receive all food with thankfulness (1 Tim. 4:4).

Food makes no difference for food’s sake, for ceremony’s sake, or for God’s sake. But it can make a great difference for the sake of the conscience of some of His children. What would not otherwise be wrong for us becomes wrong as verse 9 notes, if it is a stumbling block to the weak. A stumbling block (proskomma) is a stone in the pathway, an obstacle, something that trips one up and makes progress difficult (Morris, L. (1985). 1 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 7, p. 127). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.).

  • Obviously, some Corinthian believers could not handle such liberty; it would pull them down into the pit from which they had been delivered. If an immature brother sees us doing something that bothers his conscience, his spiritual life is harmed. We should never influence a fellow Christian to do anything that the Holy Spirit, through that person’s conscience, is protecting him from.

Please turn to Romans 14 (p.948)

A mature believer rightly sees no harm for themselves as verse 10 says, in eating/dining in an idol’s temple in some family or community event. Because one would do so, does not in itself accept the pagan beliefs or participate in the pagan practices, because a mature believer can associate with pagan people because they are spiritually strong; they have spiritual knowledge.

Notice how this applied to those in Corinth:

Romans 14:1-4   [14:1]As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. [2]One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. [3]Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. [4]Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (ESV)

  • The strong are tempted to enter into quarrels (v.1) with those who have a weaker faith. The strong are operating in their correct belief that all foods are permitted. Yet they are liable to ridicule and mock the weak with their delicate conscience (v.3). Conversely, the weak are prone to pass judgment on those who feel the liberty to eat anything. The weak must not stand in judgment, for God has accepted the strong believer and they will stand righteous before God on the last day because God will give them grace to keep them from falling away (Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2180). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.).

The situation where consideration is necessary is in the case where a Christian who has a conscience that is weak sees a mature believer eating in the temple, the weak brother is likely to be tempted to go against their own conscience and to eat in the temple themselves That could be dangerous to them, causing them to go against their own conscience. The voice of a Christian’s conscience is the instrument of the Holy Spirit. If a believer’s conscience is weak it is because they is spiritually weak and immature, not because the leading of their conscience is weak. Conscience is God’s doorkeeper to keep us out of places where we could be harmed. As we mature, conscience allows us to go more places and to do more things because we will have more spiritual strength and better spiritual judgment. God confines His spiritual children by conscience. As they grow in knowledge and maturity the limits of conscience are expanded. We should never expand our actions and habits before our conscience permits it. And we should never encourage, either directly or indirectly, anyone else to do that.

  • A small child is not allowed to play with sharp tools, to go into the street, or to go where there are dangerous machines or electrical appliances. The restrictions are gradually removed as they grow older and learn for themselves what is dangerous and what is not.

Without attention to a weaker brothers conscience, consequently, as verse 11 notes,  by/through your knowledge this weak person is destroyed/ruined, the brother for whom Christ died. "Destroyed/Ruined" has the idea of “to come to sin.”  With the present tense he conveys progressive action but not the thought that the weak brother “has been lost.” (Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 18, p. 275). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.)

We cause that person to sin by leading them into a situation they cannot handle. It is never right to cause another believer to violate their conscience. To do so runs the risk of ruining a brother for whom Christ died (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 1:18–19). Our Christian liberty must never be used at the expense of a Christian brother or sister who has been redeemed at such a price. For the Corinthiansknowledge” (= insight) means “rights” to act in “freedom.” Thus for them freedom became the highest good, since it led to the exaltation of the individual. For Paul the opposite prevails: “Love” means the “free giving up” of one’s “rights” for the sake of others (cf. 9:19–23), and “life together” in community is the aim of salvation (Fee, G. D. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 385). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).

Without heading conscience, verse 12 notes that our actions are sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Causing a brother to stumble is more than an offense against them; it is an offense against our Lord. That is a strong warning. Surely no believer would desire to sin against Christ. We should be eager to limit our liberty at any time and to any degree in order to help a fellow believera brother whom we should love, and a precious soul for whom Christ died.

Finally, in verse 13, Paul restates the principle he has been explaining. In regard to doubtful things, or grey matters a Christian’s first concern should not be to exercise their liberty to the limit but to care about the welfare of their brother in Christ. Paul set the example. He would never eat meat again, or do anything else his own conscience allowed him to do, if that would cause his brother to stumble.

  • The brother or sister who believes in certain freedoms should not be trying to influence others with scruples to “loosen up.” Those bothered by some actions should not be judging or condemning those with freedom, nor should they be trying to force their scruples on the entire church. Instead, all believers should seek to have a clear conscience before God, (expressing their faith towards one another in love) (Barton, B. B., & Osborne, G. R. (1999). 1 & 2 Corinthians (p. 119). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.)

(Format Note: some base commentary from MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 188–197). Chicago: Moody Press.)


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