Faith’s Audience

By James Cornwell

A Reading from 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

1 Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3 but anyone who loves God is known by him.

4 Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as in fact there are many gods and many lords — 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

7 It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11 So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12 But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

Meditation

St. Paul extols us to exercise prudence and restraint in our liberty as Christians. Concerning food sacrificed to idols, on the one hand, he suggests that, because idols have no real existence, there is no harm in consuming food that had been offered to non-entities. Nevertheless, he cautions against reckless abuse of this liberty, noting that there are some who may misconstrue it. Rather than seeing it as a declaration that such idols are false, they may see in this behavior a tacit acceptance of the surrounding culture’s belief that eating food offered to idols is important. When the person they observe is a public Christian, it may cause them to think that it is acceptable — even necessary — to eat food offered to idols. Thus, acting on the powerlessness of idols may, ironically, cause other Christians to engage in idolatry.

Our society is littered with idols of a different type these days: consumer products, diets, various spiritual practices, political movements, “thought leaders,” politicians. Each of these idols promises ultimate fulfillment or participation in something divine: join us, do as we do, support our cause, and you can transcend yourself, and all you do will prosper.

Now it is true that we worship a God who transcends all these “gods” of our day, and, indeed, participation in these various earthly movements may be acceptable or even good or necessary if done in the right spirit. But too often we Christians throw ourselves into pursuit of these earthly idols with little attention to who may be watching. If we behave as though these things are ultimate, even if we know they are not, others may learn the wrong lesson from our actions, which certainly speak louder than our knowledge.

So take heed that each of our actions attests to the ultimate kingship of Christ, even as we make our way prudently among the lords and powers of this world.

James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their seven children.

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