Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that an idol has no real existence, and there is no God but one…However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone see you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brother and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, less I make my brother stumble. (II Corinthians 8:4,7-12)
In this passage Paul is addressing a serious issue — causing a brother to stumble. The particular situation the Corinthians and others in the early church faced was the practice of eating food that had been offered to an idol. It seems that it was not uncommon to go to a temple and purchase meat that previously had been offered to an idol and eat it in the idol’s temple.
Remember that these early Christians lived in a polytheistic culture — one in which many believed in the existence of many gods. Most of us today in our culture have a hard time relating to this. But travel around the world and you will see it. Hinduism alone boasts of having over 300 million gods. You can go to many places and see temples to various gods and see people bowing before these gods. It is a sad picture.
So here is the situation. One of the immature believers passes by a temple and sees another believer, for whom he has great respect, eating food that was offered to an idol. His conscience is weak. In his mind these idols affect him still. He sees the mature believer partaking and although his conscience is weak, he decides to eat also. Later his conscience is stricken. Thus, the mature believer caused the immature believer to stumble. Therefore Paul writes, “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (v. 9). And he goes on to write, “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (v. 13). But then comes the real clincher, “Thus sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ” (v. 12). This then becomes a very serious matter. The sin is not just against the weaker brother, but it is also against Christ!
What are the practices in our lives that may be stumbling blocks for others? It most likely is not eating food offered to idols (although my appetite at times may be one of my idols!). We must avoid any practices, though we have freedom to do them, that may become a hindrance, a poor witness to unbelievers.
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evil-doers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God in the day of visitation. (I Peter 2:12)
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