Striving for Unity — 1 Corinthians Chapter 8: Disagreements, Freedom, and Stumbling

By Jenny Fulton

“You don’t have all the facts,” says one. “If you did, you’d obviously see things my way.”

“No, I have all the information,” says the other. “It’s you who are mistaken. Once I explain it to you, I’m sure you’ll agree with me.

“I’m right. You’re wrong.”

“No, I’m right and you’re wrong.”

“Paul!”

While the above dialogue could easily fit into the context of today, it was also, apparently, a trait of the Corinthian church many years ago.

After addressing questions about marriage and singleness, Paul moved on to the next issue the Corinthians wrote to him about: “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols…” And then he began to answer their question by talking about something that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with idols: “we know that we all have knowledge.”

What does having knowledge have to do with whether or not to eat meat sacrificed to an idol?

This is what I think: I think Paul began this way in order to put everyone on the same level. He rightly assumed everyone had knowledge that led them to their particular viewpoint. Nobody had arrived at their perspective and opinion from a place of being ignorant or uninformed. They all had information and understanding to back-up and support their stance on the issue.

Therefore, having knowledge isn’t enough to settle an argument. Plus, “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Knowledge without love leads to arrogance. Those who argue with knowledge but without love are more likely to take on a superiority complex that leads them to believe their greater knowledge makes them better than everyone else and establishes them as being beyond correction. There can be no consensus when one or both members of an argument believe themselves to be superior and beyond correction. This type of mentality and argument tears people down with the intent of bringing shame and unworthiness to those who think differently.

In contrast, love edifies – it seeks to build up and bring the other to a place of strength. Discussing your point of view from a place of humility, love, and concern is a completely different and more uplifting way of working through disagreements.

“Love edifies” – 1 Corinthians 8:1. Love seeks to build up and bring others to a place of strength. #heartsoulmind #BibleStudy #love

Verse 2: “If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.[1]

Even the expert the who possesses the most earthly knowledge in a given subject doesn’t know everything. Compared to God, that expert knows as little as everyone else. Indeed, the one who professes to know everything and who uses that knowledge to belittle and/or control others is missing an essential piece of knowledge: God cares far less about our knowledge than He does about our love.  “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.[2]” In contrast, the one who loves God is known/chosen/cared for by God. Making decisions from a heart that loves God and desires to please Him is far more valuable in God’s eyes than making decisions from place of flawless information and logic without love.

Now, ideally we should possess and operate out of both, but love should always take the lead.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ve broken down and summarized the rest of the chapter by its subject matter.

The Topic: Having established the foundation for the debate, Paul gets to the issue itself. “Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols[3]

The background: In many ancient cultures, including Corinth, people would make sacrifices to their chosen god or goddess and then eat the cooked meat with others in a restaurant or feast type setting. Sometimes, the meat from those sacrifices would make its way to the market where it would be bought and served in someone’s home.

The arguments: While some thought eating meat that had been sacrificed to an idol equated to participating in the pagan ritual, others thought it was fine to partake of it since the idols weren’t real and therefore the ritual meant nothing, especially since the ceremony for it was over.

Paul’s Response:

  • The idols aren’t real
  • Even though there are many that call themselves gods (such as the demons),
  • For the Christian, there is only one God, “the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.[4]
  • Some people grew up thinking the idols were other strong powerful beings (gods); they learned to think of eating the meat sacrificed to them as serving and worshipping this other god; therefore, when they ate that kind of meat they felt like they were sinning.
  • Our status before God and our spiritual maturity is not determined by the food we eat.

Who Was Right? In a sense, both groups were. It was a sin for the one who believed it to be a sin to partake of the meat sacrificed to idols. For the one who didn’t believe the sacrifices carried any significance, it wasn’t a sin for them to partake of the meat as long as they didn’t cause others to stumble by eating it in their presence.

The guiding principle: Be careful that your freedom doesn’t become a stumbling block for someone else.

Contextual scenario: If someone who thought eating the meat was a sin saw you eating the meat, it would encourage them to do so, even though they would still believe they were sinning. In their understanding, it would, in essence, persuade them to train their minds into thinking it is OK to sin and to partake of or engage in something even if they feel it’s wrong.

Sample Modern day application: If someone believes it’s a sin to drink alcohol, don’t drink alcohol in their presence so that they won’t be encouraged to do that which they think is sinful.

Take-Aways

Note that in this chapter, Paul is directly speaking to a behavior he clearly says isn’t a sin but because of upbringing and understanding may be thought to be one. Therefore, our application of this principle should apply only to those cases in which the behavior clearly isn’t a sin God speaks out against but because of personal background, upbringing, and understanding may be thought to be one.

Guidelines for dealing with conflicts of this nature

  • Respect the fact that in any disagreement, both sides have their legitimate reasons for believing and behaving as they do.
  • Discuss disagreements from a place of love with a desire to build the other person up, not from a desire to put them to shame with your superior knowledge.
  • The Christian who (rightly) believes it’s permissible to engage in a certain action should give up that right for the sake of the one who thinks it’s a sin when that person is around or is likely to see them engaging in such.
  • The Christian who is convinced that such an action is a sin should refrain from engaging in it and, as much as they are able, exercise understanding, humility and respect toward those who believe otherwise. For example, because of the way I grew up (in a conservative church), I have certain standards of modesty for myself and my girls in the clothes I choose to wear and the clothes I allow them to wear. However, I understand that not every woman adheres to my standards or finds them necessary. Therefore, I withhold condemnation against women whose clothing choices don’t precisely mirror what I would choose.  

United or Divided?

In light of the overall theme of 1 Corinthians and Paul’s call to unity, 

Things That Divide Us

  • Exercising intellectual elitism and superiority over others
  • Pushing or pressuring someone who believes a given action is a sin to engage in that behavior anyway
  • Flaunting such freedoms in front of someone who believes them to be sins
  • Passing harsh judgment and condemnation against someone who engages in behavior that our upbringing and understanding declares to our conscience is wrong.

Things that Unite Us

  • Approaching disagreements from a place of love and a desire to build others up
  • Interacting lovingly and respectfully with those who operate from a different understanding
  • Giving up our spiritual freedoms in the presence of and out of love for those who believe our freedom to be sin
  • Exercising understanding and withholding judgment against those whose freedoms don’t mirror our own

What Do You Think?

  • What stands out to you from this passage?
  • What modern day application do you see from the principle Paul establishes?

In this Series

Introduction

The Church in Acts 18

Overview: A Prominent City

Chapter 1: Where Unity Begins

Chapter 2: In Demonstration of the Spirit

Chapter 3: “Let No One Boast in Men”

Chapter 4: Traits of a Godly Servant Leader

Chapter 5: Addressing Immorality in the Church

Chapter 6: Concerning Lawsuits and the Body

Chapter 7: Married or Single?

Chapter 8: Disagreements, Freedom, and Stumbling

Chapter 9: Equally Allowable Differences

Women, Join In!

For the last few months, the book of 1 Corinthians has weighed heavy upon my heart. In May, I joined a women’s online fellowship site, Bloom.com, and decided to lead a Bible study on this book. These musings are a summary of my findings and the relevance/application I see surrounding us today. If you’re a woman and would like to participate in the study, head on over to www.Bloom.com and join the 1 Corinthians Bible Study group where you’ll find study guides to follow and discussion threads to participate in. 

_ _ _

*Image by SnapwireSnaps from Pixabay


[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 8:2–3.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 13:2.

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 8:4.

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 8:6.

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