5. The Problem of Meat (I Corinthians 8:1-11:1)




Messy Church Series
  • The local church has had problems from her inception. The local church is about people from all different background trying to discover unity in Christ and enjoy an amazing fellowship with one another through the Spirit's power. But, it is not automatic nor is it easy. In many ways it is very messy. Yet, God promises that His church will overcome and even the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. In the local church is the personification of the Lord Savior Jesus Christ. He will insure that the local church will flourish into eternity.
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance - What are the central ideas of this text?
    • We have been chosen by and Jesus to belong to Him. – John 10:27-29
    • As Jesus' children, we are part of His flock. – Matthew 16:18; John 17:20-23
    • As Jesus' flock, we have a responsibility of love to the flock and to the world. – Ephesians 4:3, 15 & 16, 29; 5:15-21; I Peter 2:9-12
  • Implications - What questions should the listener be asking?
    • What does it mean to you in your every day life that you were chosen by Jesus and now belong to Him? 
    • What does it mean to you in your every day life to be a part of His flock?
    • What is your responsibility of love toward the flock and toward the world, and how should that change your every day life in terms of what you do and what you do not do?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide 
  • Interpretation - What is the text telling/showing us?
    • What appears to have been the attitude of the Corinthians that posed the question about food offered to idols? 
    • What did those Corinthians think they knew?  
    • What had those Corinthians missed (i.e., What did they not really know?)
    • What does freedom in Christ mean?  How does that freedom play out in the life and culture of the Corinthians?
    • What are the principles Paul teaches the Corinthians about the food offered to idols?  
    • What did Paul mean by writing about his rights as an Apostle?  In other words, how does what he wrote on that subject tie in to what he wrote about food offered to idols?
    • How did Paul in his life apply the principles he espouses in these chapters?
    • What were the failures (sins) of the Israelites to which Paul refers, and why are they warnings to the Corinthians?
    • Should the Corinthians eat meat offered to idols?  If so when and why?  When should the Corinthians not eat meat offered to idols?
  • Implementation - What should the listeners response be?
    • We aren't faced with the issue of meat offered to idols in our western culture today? What issues to face us that are similar to the meat offered to idols issue? 
    • How might we act in respect to cultural issues facing us that might cause our brother or sister to stumble? 
    • What does it mean for our freedom to become a stumbling block?  
    • In what ways must we exercise self-restraint with regard to our actions?
    • Read chapter 10, verses 23-24.  How do they speak to you in your life?  How might you apply that verse in your life?
    • How should our actions be ordered with regard to unbelievers as it relates to the gospel? What is the desired (and prayed for) result?
    • What cultural activities might be said to be those in which the demons seek to wreak evil on unsuspecting individuals?  Why should we avoid such activities?
Sermon Teaching Notes (as compiled by Pastor Dick Murphy)
  • Investigation - What's generally going on in this area of scripture?
Paul had responded to the correspondence from the Corinthians concerning marriage in chapter 7. In chapters 8 through 10, Paul responds to their question about food sacrificed to idols. As we will see, Paul's answer does not so much address the question head-on, but deals with the issue of the “liberty” of one who is in Christ and the relationship of believers to one another. In so doing, Paul sets out several principles that informed the situation of the Corinthians as well as those of all believers as they wrestle with how they should interact with the culture in which they live as well as with their fellow believers.

We must again remember that the Corinthians were saved out of a pagan culture in which it is hard for us to realize “how thoroughly idolatry and pagan sacrifices permeated all levels of Greek and Roman Society.” (I Corinthians, W. Harold Mare, in Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol 10, Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed., Zondervan 1977, @ p. 238) There were multiple temples to gods in Corinth, including temples to Apollo, Athena, Poseidon, Hera, Aphrodite, Heracles, Hermes, Jupiter (Zeus), Asklepios, Isis and Serapis (Egyption gods), and Demeter. These temples were of various sizes, from small to very large and even famous (Apollo), and many had so-called “dining rooms” for the holding of feasts in connection with the gods, as well as public and private parties. In this way, the temples can be compared to present day restaurants.

When it came to offerings of meat to a particular god, typically one-third was burned in the sacrifice, one-third was given to the priest(s), and one-third was given to the offeror. If the priest(s) did not take his/her/their portion, it was sold at the public markets. Those who bought such meat were generally the well-to-do, as the poor could not afford meat. Indeed, the poor would be most likely to eat meat only at feast or celebration times in connection with the gods. Thus, the issue of “meat offered to idols” was an issue in the Corinthian church. In respect to such meat, it seems that it was only some of the Corinthians – the more well-to-do believers – who apparently asserted that eating such “spiritually tainted” meat (tainted because it had been offered to pagan gods), was permissable because they knew that the gods were not real, and there was only One God, and that therefore the meat was neither impure or tainted.

These well-to-do Corinthians included many who were the “nouveau riche” having become such through their commercial interests, and they desired to continue to advance and grow their interests by frequenting the “dinner parties” that were held at the temples where this “meat offered to idols” was eaten. They could do such, they said, because they knew there was nothing sinful about the meat. Perhaps they also encouraged others among the Corinthian believers who were the poorer ones to partake in such feasts. Those poorer Corinthians would otherwise be more averse to this meat because they typically only had access to it at festivals for pagan gods. Hence, this meat issue also had a class distinctions aspect to it: the well-to-do had “knowledge” and the poor did not.

How does Paul address the matter? His response is basically that the issue is not the meat, it is instead a matter of “liberty” (or “freedom”) in Christ and how to exercise that liberty. In these three chapters, Paul responds to the issue in what commentator, Bern Witherington III, calls “combative;” he almost sarcastically treats the Corinthians as baby Christians who should know better but don't, and who need to be spoon-fed God's truth so that they can grow into spiritual maturity. (cf. Hebrews 5:11-14) He enunciates the truth that knowledge does not equal license, nor does it equal power which then gives one rights; instead, love trumps knowledge, and love issues in self-restraint (I Corinthians 10:14 & 15, 23), consideration of other believers before self (I Corinthians 10:17, 24, 32 & 33), and bringing glory to God (I Corinthians 10:31).

In outlining these principles, in chapter 9, Paul uses himself as an example of one who exercises self-sacrificial behavior, not asserting his rights as an apostle (though he clearly has the authority to do so) to be supported, but considering others out of love and supporting himself so that the gospel and spiritual growth in converts would be furthered. In this self-restraint, he does not assert his liberty but rather works hard to avoid unnecessary barriers to the gospel. Hence, he is like a Jew to the Jews (I Corinthians 9:20), to the Gentiles a Gentiles (those not under the law – I Corinthians 9:21), and to those lost who are weak, like them (I Corinthians 9:22); in short, “all things to all people” that by all means he might save some. (I Corinthians 9:22) Paul also gives a warning in chapter 10, verses 1-13 and 18-22, using the example of the experience of the Israelites of the Old Testament and how God dealt with their sin of idolatry and unbelief.

The warning is that how these well-to-do Corinthians are living (in not considering the other believers – the “weak” ones - in their thinking and actions) is really sinful (cf. I Corinthians 8:11 & 12), and God will deal with continued sin. In short, the warning is for them to stop and live in love with their Christian brothers and sisters, considering them first, averting anything that would cause sin in another, also eschewing what clearly is demonic activity in the temples (I Corinthians 10:20 & 21), and doing everything to bring glory to God to the end that people will be saved (I Corinthians 10:31-33) All in all, the message to the Corinthians is very practical and goes far beyond the question they posed. The Apostle underscores that Christian “liberty” goes further than the question of meat offered to idols instead to the relationship one has with God through Christ and with the fellowship of believers of which one is a part.

Simply knowing that a particular activity (e.g., eating meat offered to idols) is not wrong in itself because meat is neither good nor bad but is a gift from the One God (I Corinthians 8:6, 8) is not sufficient grounds to eat the meat, because others may not understand that fully and to them partaking constitutes sin. So, Paul says, in love for your brother or sister, do not eat the meat! The following is how commentator Ben Witherington, III states the matter: Rather, love is the fundamental thing, and it indicates how one's power ought to be used. A Christian's power and authority are to be expressed in and by love. Paul does not see freedom as liberation from obligations or from restraints of interpersonal relationships, which was the common view in some parts of Greco-Roman society and still is today. For Paul, freedom is freedom from sin, from death, from the law, and for service to Christ and his people.

This is what Christians have been saved and empowered for – freedom to do what pleases God, not what pleases self. (Conflict & Community in Corinth, Ben Witherington III, Eerdmans, 1995, @ pp. 196-97) As with his response to the question of marriage, Paul sets forth a counter-cultural approach to living which is based on being a follower of Jesus Christ and under His Lordship. That counter- cultural approach has to to with the reality of being a part of the “called out ones” in assembly with others and responsible to them in love. But that counter-cultural approach also has to do with living in a way so as not to be a stumbling block to believers and unbelievers as well, never getting in the way of the movement and message of the gospel, giving no offense, not seeking ones own advantage but “that of the many, that they may be saved.” (I Corinthians 10:33)