Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him. (1 Corinthians 8:1-2)
Having dealt with their questions about marriage and singleness, Paul then addressed the questions Corinthian Christians had regarding eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. 1 Corinthians 8-10 gives a lot of attention to these things offered to idols.
In this case, it was meat that was offered to idols. In the Roman world, the meat offered on pagan altars was usually divided into three portions. One portion was burnt in honor of the god, one portion was given to the worshipper to take home and eat, and the third portion went to the priest. At a busy temple, a lot of meat came to the priests. They often sold the meat they didn’t eat, either at a restaurant at the temple or a take-away meat market at the temple. In addition, the meat served and sold at the temple was generally cheaper. Then, as well as now, people loved a bargain (including Christians).
The whole issue of buying, eating, and serving meat that was offered to idols raised many questions for the Corinthian Christians.
– As I Christian, can I eat at the restaurant at a pagan temple?
– As I Christian, can I purchase and eat meat purchased at the temple meat market?
– As I Christian, if I am served meat as a guest at someone’s home, should I ask if it came from the pagan temple before I eat it?
These were sometimes complicated and controversial subjects among the Christians in Corinth. While most of us don’t deal directly with the issue meat offered to idols, there are many places where the practices and thinking of the world around us are a challenge for believers.
Pay attention to how Paul first addressed these issues. Instead of talking about food, Paul first spoke of the principles of knowledge and love. Christian behavior is founded on love, not knowledge; and the goal of the Christian life is not knowledge, but love.
Both knowledge and love make something grow. In the way Paul meant it here, knowledge often leads to swelling pride. Love often leads to growing in grace and the likeness of Jesus. The difference between puffs up and edifies is striking; it is the difference between a bubble and a building. Some Christians grow, others just swell.
Here is a great starting point for controversial subjects, those that relate to Christian holiness: recognize that when it comes to getting along in God’s family, love is more important than knowledge. The “love-them-all” honors God more than the “know-it-all,” especially when we mean real love, not mere unoffensive niceness.
Don’t be afraid of controversy, but make sure to lead with love – real love, not superficial niceness.