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.
This is a ’go to’ passage when confronting divisive issues. We might have wrestled over a thorny matter and finally reached a conclusion after prayerful reflection. But some of our brothers and sisters have a different view. It seems that our perspective threatens their peace of mind, that their faith is in danger of wavering. How do we express our view without disturbing them further?
The life of faith isn’t static. Our views will change as we grow as Jesus’s disciples. Some of the early believers at Corinth were confused about what they should and shouldn’t be eating: having been used to eating food sacrificed to idols before converting, they thought this was now off limits, and were puzzled when they saw other believers eating it. These others were secure in their knowledge that idols didn’t exist. They knew that they worshipped the only God (vs. 4-6). So it was irrelevant to them whether the food they ate had been offered to an idol or not. But for those with ‘weak’ consciences, the food was tainted by its association with idol worship. The fragile foundations of their faith were shaken.
‘Knowledge puffs up but love builds up,’ Paul tells us bluntly. Whenever we think we have reached a mature view on an issue, we must tread carefully. Loving our sisters and brothers in Christ means that patience, listening and understanding will underpin our sharing of new knowledge and insights.
Gracious God, thank you for opening to us new vistas of understanding and insight. Help us to respond with humility, and never to assume that our knowledge is superior. May we listen to one another with patience and understanding, seeking always to build on your foundation of love in Christ, the cornerstone of our faith. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Gillian Poucher, Minister, Gainsborough United Reformed Church