1Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3but anyone who loves God is known by him.
4Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth – as in fact there are many gods and many lords – 6yet 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.
7It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8“Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
This one needs some context! This is the Apostle Paul writing to his miscreant church in Corinth. The problem is this: the church is having trouble leaving their old, pre-Christian habits behind. Things like class and personal morality have come to the fore and continue as identity markers for many in the Corinthian church. One of these customs people are having difficulty leaving behind is eating food sacrificed to idols. Because of our tradition’s blanket condemnation of idolatry, you might wonder how any Christian would fall for eating something sacrificed to, say, Jupiter. But the cultural pressures do something like that was immense. Pagan temples were operable throughout the ancient world. They were akin to gathering spots, restaurants, and festival coordinators—so to take part in any kind of public life meant, often, eating food that was provided (which had been part of a temple sacrifice). To all of us this is superstition, as it was to Paul: “‘we know that “no idol in the world really exists,’ and that “there is no God but one.’” Consequently, it really didn’t matter if you ate the food in any real way. The problem was something that cuts right to us, however. Not everyone in the church knew that this was the case. There was still plenty of pagan superstition floating around; and there were still people having trouble conforming to the dictates of society. Paul, then, encouraged the church to refrain from eating food sacrificed to idols so those who still held these superstitions would not find the occasion to sin. The church was responsible for its weakest members and for those around it by offering a witness to something else; and nothing should distract us from that goal. Like I said, it cuts right to us—because what else is God calling us to think about but holding the experience of our neighbors and the vulnerable beyond our own inconvenience? What we do matters for others. That’s what is meant by, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
God, unite us in the grace and love in Jesus Christ—that, as we share in his baptism, we might receive the full comfort of your Spirit. Keep us together, even when we are apart, full of the hope of the coming Easter. Amen.