God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 8:7-8 A weak conscience
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, February 20, 2023
7 But not everyone has this knowledge. Some are so accustomed to idols that they eat meat thinking it really was sacrificed to an idol. Since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 Food does not bring us closer to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.
If you recall, we’ve been reading Paul’s response to the Corinthian question: What about meat that’s been sacrificed to an idol? Is it okay for a Christian to eat this meat? Paul mentioned that the Corinthians had knowledge about it: they understood that there’s really no such thing as a false god, and if the Christian understands this, then he or she may eat the meat (local butcher shops were usually also pagan shrines). And the kosher Jewish butchers of Judea did not export frozen hamburger to Greece.
So much for the elementary answer. But Paul wants the Corinthians to dig a little deeper into their own hearts: When you, who are strong, do this, you hurt the weak. You think (and you are proud of it) that you can do this thing, which truly is not forbidden by God, but if you do it in front of another Christian who is still bothered by it, and in his weaker faith thinks that it really has been sacrificed to an idol, then he might be led astray into what he believes to be pagan worship! This is what Paul means when he says, “it is defiled.” The meat, whatever the food may be, and its eating (which should be with thanks to God) is defiled as if it gives thanks to Zeus or Apollo.
Luther explains: The stronger brother ought to be upholding and strengthening the weaker, “or if they cannot strengthen them because of their weakness, they ought for the sake of love to become weak with them and abstain with them so that faith may be preserved within the bounds of conscience. For although all things are lawful for them, yet for the sake of the brother’s salvation a person ought not to make a show of his liberty. For it is better that one openly deprive himself of his own liberty than that his weak brother perish.”
We could spend a very long time discussing idolatry and its pitfalls. But I will try to be brief: Idols are not just objects of stone and wood. They are also objects of the mind and the heart, things one fears, loves, and honors above God. The apostle Paul did not object to being carried across the sea in a ship that had the figurehead of Castor and Pollux, which the heathen called “the twin gods” (Acts 28:11). And our early astronauts, most of whom were Christians, did not object to riding aloft on rockets named for gods like Mercury, Gemini (the same twin gods) and Apollo. But the strong Christian will take the spiritual state of his weak brothers and sisters into account when there is something that may cause offense (we will talk more about this as the chapter draws to a close, and again in chapter 10).
The conscience of the weaker brother or sister in Christ must concern us. Am I leading him into a sin? There is a difference between this and simply annoying someone who would prefer that things are done their way, but the matter of offense (true offense as opposed to just being offended) is the subject of the next verses.
For now, verse 8 should especially concern us: “Food does not bring us closer to God,” by which Paul means that eating food that is no longer forbidden does not please God anymore than fasting or sticking to food that was formerly considered to be preferred (because it was clean). I may eat a quail for my dinner, but ever since Noah stepped off the ark, quail was on the menu (Genesis 9:3). I may eat apples and pears, but they have been on the menu since the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1:30)f. Now, much more recently, pork and rabbit are on the menu, too. But no matter what I eat, it is my faith, not my diet, that must concern me. God permits pork and bacon, but these things are not especially blessed. They are only permitted. So Paul wants us to understand that we are no better off if we eat any particular food; God is not more pleased with us when we eat what once was forbidden but now is permitted, and therefore there is no spiritual advantage to doing so.
At the center of all this is our attitude toward God. We should give him thanks for what we have, and let that be our greatest concern. The pagans are condemned because they do not (Romans 1:21). The constant example of Israel’s leaders (2 Chronicles 7:3,6; Nehemiah 12:40; Daniel 6:10) and more especially from Jesus (Matthew 14:19) and the apostles (Acts 27:35) is to give God thanks, not only for what we eat, but for everything (Ephesians 5:20). Especially we thank God that we have a place with him in heaven (Colossians 1:12) through the blood of Jesus our Lord.
Give thanks to the Lord,
Call on his name,
Make known among the nations what he has done.
Pastor Timothy Smith