God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 8:1-3 meat sacrificed to idols
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, February 16, 2023
8 Now about meat sacrificed to idols, we know that all of us possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone thinks that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But anyone who loves God is known by God.
What was meat sacrificed to idols? After a pagan slaughtered an animal as a sacrifice to the gods, he was permitted to eat some of the meat from the altar as it was cooked there, as was the pagan priest who officiated. The rest of the animal’s meat was sold (the pagan temple was itself the local butcher shop). Pagans would never use the word Paul uses here, which is eidolothytos (εἰδωλόθυτος). They would have said hierothytos (ἱερόθυτος), “meat offered as a sacrifice” (see 1 Corinthians 10:28), and Paul’s use of “to an idol” would probably have offended a pagan. Only a Christian or a Jew would use such a word, but we use it correctly because this is an illustration of a First Commandment sin in a pagan.
The question Paul is answering is: Can a Christian eat meat that has been sacrificed to Zeus? Based on Paul’s words, it would seem that the Corinthians had already made up their minds that they could, in fact, eat such slaughtered meat without offending God. But Paul wants to walk through this answer and see whether it is correct. One the one hand, it might be. But on the other hand, it might not.
Right away Paul talks about “knowledge.” Knowledge here is the knowledge that an idol is really nothing. There is no such thing as a deity apart from the triune God. So a goat sacrificed to Zeus or Athena has not really been offered to an actual deity any more than a goat offered to my High School baseball trophy would be in any way offered to a deity. But such knowledge makes a person feel “puffed up,” unwilling to listen to any other point of view. The person puffed up with such “knowledge” suddenly has no time for anyone else to speak or to say anything at all. His “knowledge” says to him: Anyone who disagrees with me is just plain wrong.
So Paul turns from knowledge to love. If Paul had said something like, “But I have a superior knowledge,” he would only have escalated an argument. But moving away from knowledge to love, he avoids the argument and shows where our motivation comes from when applying any knowledge that we have. It begins with our love for God, which is the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37), and continues with loving our neighbor, the second command (Matthew 22:39). In this way Paul shows that “If anyone thinks that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.” Knowledge without love is no more Christian than meat sacrificed to Zeus. So one way we show our love for God is the way we show our love for our neighbor.
And more than that: “Anyone who loves God is known by God.” In this sentence, “love” (agapáō, ἀγαπάω) is the kind of love a Christian has, modeling God’s love (John 3:16). It places the other person first in their affections, and it is a selfless love. The Christian who loves his neighbor is showing his love for God at the same time that he is showing his love for his neighbor. And, Paul says, this shows that the Christian “is known by God.” This is another reminder that God loved us and chose us in eternity before he created the world. “I have chosen you from all the clans of the earth” (Amos 3:20). Having been chosen by God, and having been made into the new Christian man by God, we begin new every day, and again and again all day and day after day. The ancient desert monk Arsenius prayed daily: “Help me, Lord, that I may begin to live for you.” For when we serve the Lord, “to stand still on the way to God is to go backwards, and to advance is always to begin again” (Luther). “When a man has finished, he is just beginning, and when he stops, he will be at a loss” (Sirach 18:7). This is why such “knowledge” can be a danger and a hindrance, since it tends to close off or veer from the path of love. And love is the path God would have us walk with him, not ignorant of knowledge, and indeed growing daily in knowledge, but letting knowledge take its place in our lives alongside reason as a tool and a servant and not as the master. Love must preside in our hearts, just as “God presides in the great assembly” (Psalm 82:1).
By saying “Anyone who loves God is known by God,” Paul is also pointing us to the true meaning of the First Commandment. This is summarized best by Luther: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Even above knowledge, above reason, above our sinful opinions, and most especially above our sinful desires, urges, and arrogance. We love God above all, and show it in our devotion to him and in our service to one another. Let us begin this service once more today as we should every day.
Pastor Timothy Smith