1 Corinthians 8

1 Corinthians 8  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 7
THE OPENING WORDS of chapter 8. are really, “Now concerning,” for evidently the Corinthians were perplexed as to the right course to adopt in relation to things offered to idols, and had mentioned the matter in their letter to Paul. No such problems confront us, yet we shall find the instructions laid down of much value, for our guidance in many a problem that does confront us.
Before coming to the point, however, the Apostle puts in parenthetically a word of warning. The Corinthians prided themselves upon their knowledge. Yet knowledge is a small and poor thing compared with love. Knowledge, if by itself, only puffs up, whereas love builds up. Moreover, at best all our knowledge is partial. It has strict limitations. We do not really know anything with a full and absolute knowledge. If we imagine that we do we only show thereby that we as yet know nothing as we ought to know it. Whereas if we love God we can rest assured that we are known of Him. And that is the great thing.
With verse 4 the Apostle commences his instructions. And first of all, what is the truth about the idols themselves? The truth is that they are nothing in the world. Deluded men may venerate these strange objects and treat them as gods, but we know them as but the work of men’s hands, and that there is no other God but one. In thus speaking Paul was not overlooking the fact that demons and their power lay behind the idols, for he alludes to this sinister fact in verses 19 and 20 of chapter 10.
Pagans may venerate many gods and lords, but to us they are nothing. We know but one God and one Lord. There is the Father, the Originator and Source of all, and we are for Him. There is the Lord Jesus, the great Administrator in the Godhead, and all things, ourselves included, are by Him. This being so we may utterly decline to recognize the idols of the heathen in any way, and so treat all meats as alike—whether offered to idols or not.
However, as verse 7 says, this knowledge is by no means the portion of all. There will always be found many in the ranks of believers who are unable to view such matters in the calm, dispassionate light of pure knowledge. They do not rise above their feelings and other subjective impressions. Once these knew that the meat had been so offered, they could not get away from the feelings engendered by it. They had “conscience of the idol” (ch. 8:7) and it troubled them continually. Their conscience was weak, for it was not fortified by that clear and happy knowledge which Paul enjoyed, and being weak it was defiled. How was the situation to be met? What was the stronger believer to do?
The answer is very instructive. The Apostle firmly maintains the freedom of the stronger brother. It really is a fact that meat does not commend us to God. Our practices may differ. Some may eat and some not eat. But there is no advantage in the one, nor is there any coming short in the other. There is neither plus nor minus in the question, as before God.
But as among ourselves, in the Christian circle, there is something to be considered. Apparently some of the Corinthians, strong in their knowledge of the nothingness of idols, went as far as sitting at the meat in the precincts of the idol’s temple. This was carrying their knowledge to a great length, and running the risk of becoming a stumbling-block. Some of the weaker ones might be tempted to copy them, wishing for a larger liberty, and having done so become stricken by an accusing conscience, and perish.
The perishing has nothing to do with the salvation of the soul. It means rather that the weak brother would be put out of action and destroyed as to his spiritual state, and consequently as to his testimony and service, by his weak conscience being wounded. No believer who falls under a cloud, owing to a defiled conscience, is of any use in the wars of the Lord.
Some of us might feel inclined to say, “Oh, but he is after all only a weak brother, and consequently of very little account as a servant or soldier of the Lord.” If we should speak thus we should be guilty of forgetting that he is one of those “for whom Christ died,” (ch. 8:11) and therefore of immeasureable value to Him. This is the true light in which to view our brother. So dear is he that to sin against him is to sin against Christ.
The Apostle never forgot those words, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” (Acts 26:1414And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. (Acts 26:14)). And we must never forget them. The truth enshrined in them confronts us in a number of scriptures. Those who would strike a blow at Christ today, strike at His saints. Those who would serve Christ today, care for and serve His saints. That which is done to even the least of His brethren He will accept as done to Himself. God grant that we may not forget this. Real devotion to Christ is far more truly and effectively expressed by devoted service to His cause and people than by much outpouring of devotional and endearing language, either to Him or concerning Him.
Paul’s own attitude is tersely summed up in the last verse of the chapter. Rather than be a cause of stumbling to his brother he would never eat flesh again. He would practice self-denial, and cut out of his life what was perfectly lawful, with a view to his brother’s good. This is the fruit of divine love being at work. Would to God we had much more of it working in our hearts!
There is one further remark to be made as regards this chapter. Verse 6 is sometimes quoted by those who would deny the deity of the Lord Jesus. They make the point that since “there is but one God, the Father,” (ch. 8:6) and Jesus Christ is spoken of only as “one Lord,” it must be incorrect to speak of Him also as God, even though other scriptures clearly do so.
Without a doubt, in this verse deity is attributed to the Father alone, and dominion as Lord to Jesus alone. It has however been very aptly remarked that, “The deity of Christ can no more be denied because the Father is here called ‘one God,’ than the dominion of the Father can be denied because the Son is called ‘one Lord.’” To this we may add—or the deity and dominion of the Spirit be denied, because He is not mentioned at all.
The fact is, of course, that the Godhead is being presented in contrast with the many gods and lords of the pagan world; and in the Godhead the Son is He who has taken the place of Lord. Read the verse as limited by its context, and there is no real difficulty.