Meats Offered to Idols, 1 Corinthians 8:4-6
Paul is dealing with an issue that would fall in a category that we might call the “gray area.” “Gray area” things are issues that the Bible does not specifically prohibit or permit. The things that are gray areas for us are significantly different than things that fell into the gray area for the first century church at Corinth.
However, the principles, determining what we are to do, have not changed. Let us then listen carefully to what Paul had to say to these Corinthians about how to deal with “meat offered to idols.” Then, we must apply the principles to us and the 21st century church situation.
Paul returned to the subject at hand in verse 4. He delayed writing directly about meats offered to idols because before dealing with the issue as presented in the Corinthian letter, Paul needed to state an important principle. In short, Paul pointed out to us the importance of mixing knowledge with love. He said that knowledge alone “puffed up” but knowledge mixed with love “built up.” The latter makes a permanent and positive change in the lives of people.
In verse 4, Paul picks up the subject again. “Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one.”
This is Theology 101, idols do not represent real gods. In making this statement, Paul agreed with the writers of the Old Testament. For example, the 115th Psalm says, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, But to Your name give glory, because of Your mercy, because of Your truth. Why should the Gentiles say, ‘So where is their God?’ But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; Eyes they have, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear; noses they have, but they do not smell; they have hands, but they do not handle; feet they have, but they do not walk; nor do they mutter through their throat. Those who make them are like them; so is everyone who trusts in them.” While the idolaters don’t know about our God because He is in heaven and rules everything, they construct their gods and they can do nothing. They are not real. Although idols are not really gods at all, there is more to this story as we will learn in 1 Corinthians 10.
The second thing the Corinthians rested upon was “there is no other God but one.” No doubt from his boyhood Paul had been taught the Shema Yisrael in Deuteronomy 6.4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”
There were many who claimed to be gods. From the beginning of time, most intelligent people recognized that there had to be someone who made all of what we see. They sought to worship this unseen divine being or beings by creating physical representations of these gods and worshipping them. This is where the false gods came from.
Verse 5 causes us to stop and scratch our heads. What did Paul mean here? “For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords.” Paul started to qualify the two premises the Corinthians are using to justify their liberty to go to the idol temples and eat. While the gods represented by the idols did not really exist, the false gods did exist in the minds of the idol worshippers. This did not mean that the Corinthians must acknowledge them or serve them.
This meant some who had come out of idolatry could still struggle with this truth. False gods may have existence in these believers’ minds. Learning to live in the freedom that is in Christ can take time.
Having introduced a dimension to this discussion that the Corinthians had not considered, Paul began to draw out the significance of what they claimed to know. In verse 6 Paul wrote, “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.”
The Corinthian believers claimed they believed there was and is one God. Confessing this reality had some important implications. While Paul agreed there is only one God, he pointed out two of the three persons of the Godhead. God the Father is a personal God with whom we have a relationship. God the Son is the Savior through whom we have this relationship.
If God is our Father, He has responsibilities toward us in this relationship. He loves us, protects us, provides for us. We sing about these incredible realities. However, if we believe that God is our Father, we also have responsibilities toward Him. God carried on a conversation with re-established but still rebellious Israel in Malachi 1:6. “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence? Says the LORD of hosts.”
Since we know God the Father, we know that God is the source of our very existence, “of whom are all things.” All of us are His because He made us. If He made all things, it only follows that He has a purpose for making them. Paul adds, “and we for Him.” Life is not without purpose or direction. We are here for a reason. What is the reason for our lives? We were created to glorify God, and to do His will. Do we recognize this actively every moment of our lives?
Then Paul pointed at our Lord Jesus, the Son of God. “And one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.” Although some would claim Paul does not specifically call the Lord Jesus God, Paul obviously assumed Jesus is God. The Lord Jesus is the One through whom God the Father created and redeemed. Through Christ’s work the world existed. Paul adds, “and we through Him.” In short, we owe everything to Him. Our very spiritual existence and fellowship with God is through Him. There is no other way of drawing near to God and having Him draw near to us. If we recognize this reality, it should have a profound effect upon our actions.
Lord willing, next time we will look at how Paul worked out these implications in the lives of the Corinthians who argued about their rights. But before we close, let us think a little bit about what this means in our lives.
First, notice that true theology is not just theoretical. If we really believe in the God of the Bible, then what we know will change the way we live. If we know that God is omnipresent, then we know that there is nowhere that we can escape His presence. If we recognize He is omniscient, we know that He knows all of our thoughts before we think them. If we know He is omnipotent, we know that no problem we have is too difficult for Him to handle.
Second, if we recognize God created us with a purpose and we know Him as our Father, we will want to accomplish that purpose in our lives no matter the cost to us.
Where are we in this? Do we recognize the practical implications of our theology? Are we living them out in our lives?