We Know That Food Is Not an Issue with God
But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. (8:8–12)
The third truth with which Paul agreed was that eating or not eating food has no spiritual significance in itself. Neither act will commend us to God. Commend (paristēmi) means “to place near, bring beside, present to.” Neither eating or not eating food will bring us closer to God or make us approved by Him. The general point is that doing things not forbidden by God has no significance in our relationship to Him. They are spiritually neutral. Food is an excellent illustration of that fact.
Common sense and concern for the bodies God has given us should make us careful about what and how much we eat. Gluttony is harmful and eating foods to which we are allergic is harmful. No sensible, mature person will do those things. But, in itself, eating or not eating certain foods has absolutely no spiritual significance. Jesus made it plain that “there is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man” (Mark 7:15). The Lord’s command to Peter to “kill and eat” was both figurative, referring to accepting Gentiles, and literal, referring to eating food previously considered ceremonially unclean (Acts 10:10–16; cf. v. 28). And Paul told Timothy to receive all food with thankfulness (1 Tim. 4:4).
Food makes no difference for food’s sake, for ceremony’s sake, or for God’s sake. But it can make a great difference for the sake of the conscience of some of His children. What would not otherwise be wrong for us becomes wrong if it is a stumbling block to the weak. Obviously, some Corinthian believers could not handle such liberty; it would pull them down into the pit from which they had been delivered. If an immature brother sees us doing something that bothers his conscience, his spiritual life is harmed. We should never influence a fellow Christian to do anything that the Holy Spirit, through that person’s conscience, is protecting him from.
A mature believer rightly sees no harm for himself in dining in an idol’s temple in some family or community event. He does not accept the pagan beliefs or participate in the pagan practices, but he can associate with pagan people because he is spiritually strong; he has spiritual knowledge.
But if a Christian who has a conscience that is weak sees a mature believer eating in the temple, the weak brother is likely to be tempted to go against his own conscience and to eat in the temple himself. That could be dangerous to him, causing him to go against his own conscience. Consequently, through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. Ruined has the idea of “to come to sin.” We cause that person to sin by leading him into a situation he cannot handle.
It is never right to cause another believer to violate his conscience. To do so runs the risk of ruining a brother for whose sake Christ died (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 1:18–19). Our Christian liberty must never be used at the expense of a Christian brother or sister who has been redeemed at such a price.
The voice of a Christian’s conscience is the instrument of the Holy Spirit. If a believer’s conscience is weak it is because he is spiritually weak and immature, not because the leading of his conscience is weak. Conscience is God’s doorkeeper to keep us out of places where we could be harmed. As we mature, conscience allows us to go more places and to do more things because we will have more spiritual strength and better spiritual judgment.
A small child is not allowed to play with sharp tools, to go into the street, or to go where there are dangerous machines or electrical appliances. The restrictions are gradually removed as he grows older and learns for himself what is dangerous and what is not.
God confines His spiritual children by conscience. As they grow in knowledge and maturity the limits of conscience are expanded. We should never expand our actions and habits before our conscience permits it. And we should never encourage, either directly or indirectly, anyone else to do that. By sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Causing a brother to stumble is more than an offense against him; it is an offense against our Lord. That is a strong warning. Surely no believer would desire to sin against Christ.
We should be eager to limit our liberty at any time and to any degree in order to help a fellow believer—a brother whom we should love, and a precious soul for whom Christ died.
Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble. (8:13)
Paul restates the principle he has been explaining. In regard to doubtful things a Christian’s first concern should not be to exercise his liberty to the limit but to care about the welfare of his brother in Christ. Paul set the example. He would never eat meat again, or do anything else his own conscience allowed him to do, if that would cause his brother to stumble.
In deciding about whether or not to participate in any behavior that is doubtful, the following principles make a good checklist to follow.
Excess. Is the activity or habit necessary, or is it merely an extra that is not really important? Is it perhaps only an encumbrance that we should willingly give up (Heb. 12:1)?
Expediency. “All things are lawful for me,” Paul says, “but not all things are profitable,” or expedient (1 Cor. 6:12). Is what I want to do helpful and useful, or only desirable?
Emulation. “The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6). If we are doing what Christ would do, our action not only is permissible but good and right.
Example. Are we setting the right example for others, especially for weaker brothers and sisters? If we emulate Christ, others will be able to emulate us, to follow our example (1 Tim. 4:12).
Evangelism. Is my testimony going to be helped or hindered? Will unbelievers be drawn to Christ or turned away from Him by what I am doing? Will it help me conduct myself “with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity” (Col. 4:5)?
Edification. Will I be built up and matured in Christ; will I become spiritually stronger? “All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (1 Cor. 10:23).
Exaltation. Will the Lord be lifted up and glorified in what I do? God’s glory and exaltation should be the supreme purpose behind everything we do. “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
9. Take heed that your liberty. He leaves their liberty untouched, but moderates the use of it thus far—that it may not give occasion of stumbling to the weak. And he expressly desires that regard be had to the weak, that is, to those who are not yet thoroughly confirmed in the doctrine of piety, for as they are wont to be regarded with contempt, it is the will and command of the Lord, that regard should be had to them. In the meantime, he hints that strong giants, who may be desirous tyrannically to subject our liberty to their humour, may safely be let alone, because we need not fear giving offence to those who are not drawn into sin through infirmity, but eagerly catch at something to find fault with. What he means by an occasion of stumbling we shall see erelong.
9 But this is precisely the point. If the believer with the weak conscience eats some of that food in the idol temple, in his heart he will be expressing devotion to that idol god. Thus the “powerful insistence” (exousia; NIV, “exercise of … freedom”) of the “knowledge-driven” believer will actually serve as a “stumbling block” to the spiritual development of the believer with the weak conscience. That, Paul says, is a no-no. If we really want to live by the principle of love, we will never let our superior knowledge put a stumbling block in the path of the spiritual growth of a developing Christian.
8:9 / Paul turns directly to those insisting on eating idol meat and issues a strong directive, even an order, in the form of a warning. The niv smoothes the statement, which more literally reads, “See that this right of yours doesn’t become a stumbling block to the weak.” Paul writes to the group in the community that was flaunting its freedom. By insisting on their liberty, they made the exercise of rights their ultimate concern. Paul perceives this insistence to be a threat, for it was self-serving and short-sighted. Nowhere in such exercise of personal freedoms is priority given to others over self. No consensus is sought in such arrangements. So Paul says that when one group’s exercise of freedom or pursuit of rights becomes a scandal to another group’s sensibilities, then the free people should be aware of the problem they are creating. His statement stings; it does not gently raise a hesitation. The force of the statement is so direct that no one should miss Paul’s point.
8:9. Paul responded to this imagined objection, warning them to be careful. He did not dispute the facts; he did not object to the theological perspectives of the knowledgeable ones. Rather, his pastoral concern for those with weak consciences led him to restrain the knowledgeable Corinthians’ behavior. He warned that the freedom enjoyed by those who understood the situation might become a stumbling block to the weak.
Those who understand have freedom, but they also have the responsibility to use that freedom in service to others (Gal. 5:13) and to restrain that freedom when it threatens to damage others. Those who understand sound doctrine must also take into account the weaknesses of others around them. Their knowledge must not overshadow their love for the brethren.
9. But beware that this right of yours not become a hindrance to those who are weak.
With an adversative, Paul indicates that although he agrees with the general sentiment of the quotation (v. 8), he rejects the context in which it is used. In preceding verses (vv. 1–2), he had told the Corinthians that knowledge and love must go hand in hand. Knowledge by itself results in arrogance, but when it is accompanied by love, it edifies. And Paul, discovering an absence of love in the conduct of some Corinthians (compare Rom. 14:15), now registers a pastoral objection.
Paul detects a dangerous attitude that will undermine the unity of the church. He commands the readers to beware of their own conduct. He drafts the phrase this right of yours, in which the pronoun this reflects a trace of his dislike for the apparent haughtiness of some Corinthians (see Luke 15:30). Moreover, this is the second time the word weak occurs in this chapter (see v. 7). If this expression comes not from Paul but from these spiritually strong Corinthians, a measure of arrogance seems obvious. They aggressively claim for themselves the right to Christian liberty.
However, just as knowledge without love produces pride, so freedom without love generates arrogance. The Corinthians have the right to assert their freedom to eat food, for Paul himself teaches that “no food is unclean in itself” (Rom. 14:14). Yet Christian liberty must always be observed in the context of love for one’s neighbor in general and the spiritually weak brother or sister in particular.
The right that a Christian legitimately exercises should never become a hindrance to a fellow believer. Paul uses the word stumbling block to describe a specific obstacle a Christian can place on someone’s pathway. And the hindrance here is eating sacrificial meat, which was an offense to others in the church.
The freedom which a Christian enjoys must always be asserted in the context of serving one another in love (Gal. 5:13). His attitude should not be a hindrance to the weaker members of the church. Paul is not saying that those who are weak take offense but rather that those who are strong give offense. The members who promote their right to be free are exerting undue pressure on those whose conscience restricts them from eating certain kinds of meat. Paul, therefore, alerts the freedom-loving Corinthians to demonstrate love by not offending their fellow church members.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 195–197). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Vol. 1, p. 282). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 332–333). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Soards, M. L. (2011). 1 Corinthians (pp. 177–178). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Pratt, R. L., Jr. (2000). I & II Corinthians (Vol. 7, p. 137). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 18, pp. 272–273). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.