Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.Hence, 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.’ Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— 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.It 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. ‘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. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling-block to the weak. For 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? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall. 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
There is much going on here, far more than there is time to address in this short space (yes, I know blog space is unlimited but I’m think of both of our time commitments – I do try to keep my posts no more than half a cup of coffee long). And, to fully understand the daily bits we get in the lectionary of what Paul is saying to the Corinthians, you need to look at the whole letter, but here we are with all this talk of knowledge and food and idols and weak consciences and just what are we to make of it?
Paul is addressing the behavior of the Christians in Corinth, fully accepting the fact that each person’s behavior affects the community, a community of individuals of various ages and backgrounds, some of whom have been “in the faith” for a short time and others longer. Paul wants them to understand that their faith and formation is a joint effort. If I know that something I do causes you to question something about our faith in God, I need to be careful with my own “liberty”. I must think of the other. Will my behavior build you up or cause you harm? Am I using my God-given gifts and talents as a member of the Body of Christ in a way that is beneficial or detrimental to the whole Body?
This is a tough thing to think about – giving up our own interests for those of others. We want to each be “important”, to matter and the good news is that we each do matter. We are all equally children of God and God gives us his best, always and abundantly. And that’s part of the point, letting God give us his best, not demanding what we think is best for us. God created us out of the self-giving love that is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are created in the image of the ultimate self-giving love to live in relation with God and with each other. Giving up my own desires, like Paul was willing to give up eating meat so that others wouldn’t stumble in their faith, doesn’t make me less human but more fully human because it points toward the Image in which we were created and toward the Kingdom that is to come. N. T. Wright, in his book After You Believe puts it this way: “It isn’t enough to pursue our own goals in private, precisely because the goal we have in view is not an escapist heaven but God’s kingdom of restorative justice and healing joy, coming upon the whole creation … the self is not in the center of that picture, God and God’s kingdom are in the center.”
Almighty God, help us always to keep you and your kingdom at the center of what we do. Amen.