Idol Meats and Stumbling Blocks

4.10.23 Devo Image

“But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.”—1 Corinthians 8:7–13 (NIV)

You may be asking yourself, “Meat sacrificed to idols . . . how is this relevant to me today?” Well, let’s find out!

Some context: The meat offered to idols at pagan temples was usually divided into three portions. The first portion was burnt in honor of the god, the second was given to the person to take home and eat, and the third to the priest. If the priest didn’t want to eat his portion, he sold it at the temple restaurant or meat market. 

So, the question the Corinthians had for Paul was simple: Could they eat meat purchased at the temple market? And why would they want to do that? Because meat served or sold at the temple was cheaper, and we all love a good deal! But it goes beyond this, because what if a believer is served meat sacrificed to idols when they’re a guest somewhere

Well, Paul’s answer to this question is multi-faceted and nuanced. First, he makes it clear that idols are nothing; they’re not real. Zeus was no more real than Gandalf, Batman, or Darth Vader. So, a believer who understands that idols aren’t real, that only the Lord is the true God of the universe, knows that food sacrificed to idols is food sacrificed to nothing—it’s just food. If you’re mature enough to see and understand this, and your conscience not be affected at all, then there’s no issue. 

HOWEVER, if someone is less mature and doesn’t really understand this or truly has a moral issue with the practice, the J.B. PHILLIPS translation says it this way: “Their delicate conscience is thereby injured.” So, out of love, which builds up, and not knowledge, which puffs up (even good, true knowledge), Paul directs the mature believer to not be the cause of someone else’s stumbling, of someone doing something that goes against their conscience at their present level in their faith. This is why Paul says, “If what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” 

So, how does this apply to us? What kind of music do you listen to? What do you watch? Do you still go to Disney, Target, or Starbucks? Maybe your conscience is perfectly clear to listen to secular music, watch the Harry Potter films, go to Disney, or frequent Starbucks because you know that in order to avoid doing business with someone whose values are contrary to yours “you would have to leave this world” (1 Corinthians 5:10 NIV). If that’s you, cool! But if it’s not, if you feel you’re sinning by supporting a business or caused to stumble by going to a bar or watching certain movies, that’s okay, too. 

The point here is that you shouldn’t do something that may be a stumbling block to a believer who doesn’t see things the same as you. If your friend is caused to stumble by going to a bar or has an issue with shopping at Target or watching a certain type of movie, don’t suggest these things when you’re with them! Don’t expose them to something that would injure their conscience and cause them guilt or shame. Your rights or knowledge doesn’t supersede your obligation to love your brothers and sisters.

Pause: What does this passage teach us about how we’re to approach issues that others may struggle with?

Practice: Connect with some of your Christian friends and ask them about their views on some of the things we covered today. Find out the things that impact their conscience so you know not to become a stumbling block to them, and vice versa. 

Pray: Father, help me to honor You in every way. Help me to not become a stumbling block to anyone and instead, in love for You and them, make me a stepping stone so they may grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus! Amen.

About the Author

Danny Saavedra

Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.