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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC Weekly, 2005-04-17

Text: 1 Corinthians 10

In some homes, food is offered to idols, ancestors and devils during various festivals of the year. One question that is commonly asked is, "Is it all right for Christians to eat food that has been offered to idols?"

The Christians in Corinth were also troubled with this problem. Paul dealt with the issue in his first epistle to them. It is this epistle that we shall therefore look into. Although times have changed, the principles outlined here remain the same - what applies to them also applies to us.

A. The Sin of Idolatry

It was expressly forbidden and condemned both in the Old Testament and the New Testament: "Turn ye not unto idols, nor make to yourselves molten gods: I am the LORD your God." (Leviticus 19:4); "Thou shalt have none other gods before Me." (Deuteronomy 5:7) "Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen." (1 John 5: 21)

It was this sin that caused God to chastise Israel by sending them into captivity (Jeremiah 16:10-13). Ever since then, Jews have a strong aversion for idols. Idolatry was a very real problem to the Early Church, as most converts were gentiles who were steeped in idol-worship. One of the practices involved in their idol-worship was the offering of food to idols.

An idol is just a powerless object: "We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many) but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we by Him." (1 Corinthians 8:4-6) Hence, the food that is offered to these idols cannot be affected at all by them. Neither can the food, in itself, harm the Christian who eats them. 

However, the danger of food that has been offered to idols lies in its association with the source of all idolatry - Devils. The powers behind all idolatrous practices are against God, evil and deadly: "What say I then? that the idol is anything, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is anything? But I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils." (1 Corinthians 10: 19-21)

Hence, it is impossible for anyone to glorify God by eating what he knows has been offered to idols. The aim of the Christian life is to glorify God: "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31)

B. Christian Liberty

The Bible is clear that there are no food restrictions for the Christian: "But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse." (1 Corinthians 8:8) 

Besides, a Christian prays before eating meals to thank the Lord and to sanctify the food. "For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. (I Timothy 4:4,5) Hence there is no fear of partaking of any kind of food, for God's name has already been invoked to bless and sanctify it.

We need not have to fear also, if we accidentally consume food which we did not know has been offered to idols. The historical situation in the city of Corinth made it extremely difficult for Christians to be totally free from food offered to idols. Part of the food offered found its way to the market ('sham-bles'). These could not be distinguished from "unoffered" food. "Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no questions for conscience sake." (1 Corinthians 10:25)

But this liberty that God has given us about food, must be exercised with discretion, otherwise it may lead to two kinds of sin: spiritual pride, and stumbling weaker brethren. If in some instances, our liberty to eat anything we like can harm ourselves or others, then we should forego our liberty in these instances. To persist is to abuse our liberty.

C. Spiritual Pride

A Christian who has much knowledge is in danger of priding himself in his knowledge: "Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know." (1 Corinthians 8:1,2) Hence, a Christian, proud of his knowledge that food offered to idols cannot harm him, may become so bold as to "show off" his liberty by "sitting at meat in the idol's temple" (1 Corinthians 8:10)!

In 1st Century Corinth, it was customary on sociable occasions, to gather for a meal in a pagan temple. Such gatherings were common social events. Spiritual pride may have led some Corinthian Christians to foolishly join in these events unhesi-tatingly to show their friends how "broad-minded" they are. 

But this is an abuse of knowledge because by doing this one is tempting God. The Bible warns against this: "Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." (1 Corinthians 10:9-12)

Christian liberty is no excuse for us to satisfy our rights and desires. If we become so proud of our liberty as to demand our rights at every instance, or to complain when our rights are denied, we are putting ourselves against God, who gave us this liberty in the first place! If someone says, "I am mature enough to exercise my rights as a Christian. I know what I am doing. I will not fall," he is heading for spiritual disaster!

Let no one flirt around with sin and idolatrous practices on the grounds of Christian liberty. Whenever we are tempted to do so, let us find the nearest way out. "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way of escape, that yekmay be able to bear it. Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry." (1 Corinthians 10:13,14)

Let us take heed also of what the Word of God says about eating things sacrificed unto idols: "I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication." (Revelation 2:14); "Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, !nd to eat things sacrificed unto idols." (Revelation 2:20)

D. Stumbling Weaker Brethren

Another sin behind this whole issue is the way it affects the hearts and consciences of those who see us eating. We are commanded to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:39) and to love one another as Christians, the way Christ has loved us (John 13:34). We should care for the welfare of our brothers in Christ. To cause a brother to stumble is therefore a great sin against Christ: "But take heed least by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; and through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." (I Corinthians 8: 9-13)

Let us learn therefore, to exercise our Christian liberty with love for God and for weaker brethren and with the proper understanding of how to apply God-given knowledge.

"All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth." (1 Corinthians 10:23,24)

What Should the Christian Do?

1. Develop firm convictions ("purpose in your heart" cf. Daniel 1:8) from the Word of God that you will not eat food which you know has been offered to idols. Consider: 

- Does it glorify God?

- Will it stumble a weaker brother by hurting his conscience?

- Is it truly beneficial? 

If you cannot answer these questions satisfactorily, do not eat the food given to you.

2. Make these convictions known to your unsaved family members beforehand. Do not wait till the food is placed before you to spring a surprise on them. If you know that you will face this issue during a coming festival, then start to tell them gently a few weeks before the event.

3. Be prepared to find alternatives to eating the offered food, e.g. eating out, making your own simple meals.

4. Very often, parents recognise that when a person is baptised he or she cannot participate in these feasts. After you are baptised, they will be more willing to make concessions for your faith. So if you have truly received Christ as your Saviour and Lord, get baptised without delay!

5. If someone invites you to his home and offers you food without mentioning that it has been offered to idols (unless it is obvious to you that it has been), eat whatever is given. Do not ask whether it is food offered to idols. "If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake." (1 Corinthians 10:27) But if he mentions that the food has been offered to idols, or if it is obvious to you that the food has been offered, graciously decline to eat it. "But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake" (1 Corinthians 10:28)

6. Finally, pray to the Lord for His wisdom and guidance to enable you to make a successful stand for Him in this matter. Pray also that your whole family may come to know Jesus Christ as their Saviour. Once they are saved, the problem vanishes.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25