Day 10

Food Offered to Idols

from the 1 & 2 Corinthians reading plan

1 Corinthians 8:1-13, John 10:14, 2 Timothy 2:14-19

BY Guest Writer

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, John 10:14, 2 Timothy 2:14-19

I love the phrase “read the room.” I distinctly remember the first time it became a phrase our friend group started to use. We were hanging out, reacting to a situation that had not gone the way I’d hoped it would. Some folks in the room were making light-hearted remarks, and I started glowering at them. READ THE ROOM, I thought, not even bothering to veil my frustration. I was hurting, and they didn’t see it. The words might not have been directed at me, but I was intensely vulnerable.

Paul is helping the Corinthians navigate a similar sort of tension in this passage. Someone has asked Paul a question: Is it okay for Christians to eat meat that has been previously sacrificed to pagan idols? In Corinth at the time, most meat available had been used as part of temple sacrifices. So Corinthian Christians were wondering if it was okay to eat that meat, whether they purchased it in a market or were dining with non-Christian friends.

Paul’s answer is pretty straightforward. Basically, if you’re asking this question because you’re a Christian, then you know that idols are nothing, so it would be totally fine because “all things are from him, and we exist for him” (1 Corinthians 8:6). But it’s not really about you, Paul explains. “Not everyone has this knowledge,” he says, so “be careful that this right of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block for the weak” (vv. 7,9). The warning Paul gives here isn’t about eating meat; it’s about how knowledge leads to pride and a feeling of superiority over weaker brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s about reading the room.

For some new Christians, eating meat that had been sacrificed to an idol would have been difficult. Paul says it could “wound their weak conscience,” which is a sin against Christ (v.12). If Christians who were still a bit unsteady in their faith saw more mature Christians eating sacrificed meat, it could cause confusion. Those who had been tempted to pray to pagan idols in the past might be tempted to see the meat as something more than it was, while to more mature, discerning eyes, it was just meat.

Paul gives the Corinthians, and us, a basic template for answering this and similar questions: put others first. Let your conscience be guided by whatever is best for your brother or sister in Christ. Throughout 1 Corinthians, Paul makes this point that we are to act in love, care for others, and live in the freedom of Christ that allows us to put others first.

“Read the room” is a sarcastic, modern phrase that reminds us that there are others present. Paul is much more winsome, but no less pointed, in reminding more mature Christians that there are new believers watching, learning from them. This reminder is poignant for me as well. I’m often tempted to be sarcastic, to push the boundaries of humor, or cross other lines that might be confusing for non-believers or new Christians.

But putting my witness to Christ first and caring for those around me requires that I live differently. It requires that I always read the room, and know that how I act, speak, and treat others reflects my identity in Jesus. Paul says that if meat were to cause a brother to stumble, he would never eat meat again. I pray for that sense of discernment in my own life. I long for a careful, caring heart like Paul’s and, even more so, for a heart like Christ’s.


Melanie Rainer is a bookworm from birth who makes her days writing, editing and reading in Nashville, where she also joyfully serves as the editor of Kids Read Truth. She has an M.A. in Theological Studies from Covenant Seminary, spends as much time as she can in the kitchen, and can’t wait until her two daughters are old enough to read Anne of Green Gables.

Post Comments (56)

56 thoughts on "Food Offered to Idols"

  1. Shelby says:

    This reminds me of at work, people gathered for a Ramadan feast and invited people for the feast. I enjoyed seeing others gather in ‘fellowship’ but I did not eat as it was for Ramadan. They were nice and said, ‘we offer this to our Christian friends since we all believe.’ Although a very nice gesture, I did not eat because I believe it Jesus’ resurrection. Subtle message but I picked up on it.

  2. Rachel Hilliard says:

    I truly am enjoying this study! This is great stuff!

  3. Renae Pearson says:

    I e always thought of this in terms of physical things and figured I didn’t have much trouble giving up wine or rap music for someone else’s conscience, but the principle goes beyond that into being able to read others and respond in whatever way necessary for unity. Even when there’s unspoken conflict that needs to be addressed. That fits more closely with the passage about leaving your gift at the altar and going to be reconciled to your brother.

  4. Jessica McCreary says:


  5. Claire says:

    I have three young children, three very new Christians. This is a powerful reminder that it’s not just people out in the world watching me, but also those closest to my heart. I want to be the best possible example for them as they start their own walk with Christ.

    1. Kaitlyn C. says:

      Love this- thankful that you pointed out this truth!

    2. Rowena Salter says:

      This hits a lot closer to home than I would have expected. I still regard myself as a new Christian, still learning (as I have never been baptised), but I have believed for a while now and have a baby girl of my own now. She will be following the example from me growing up and I do want her to know the Lord. Thank you Claire!

  6. Steph C. says:

    “The warning Paul gives here isn’t about eating meat; it’s about how knowledge leads to pride and a feeling of superiority over weaker brothers and sisters in Christ. ” – Wow, so good. I feel like cussing/swearing has become the 21st century’s equivalent of eating meat sacrificed to idols. Scripture doesn’t explicitly say that it’s a sin to use profanity, but a mature believer understands the nuances in refraining from “unwholesome speech” (Eph 4:29) and ensuring our tongues are “seasoned with salt” (Col 4:6) and all the other Biblical accounts of being careful with what comes out of our mouths. Nonetheless, just like eating meat sacrificed to false idols, swearing is such a stumbling block to new believers, non-believers and sometimes even fellow mature believers, too. I love how alive and relevant the Word is.

    1. Melanie says:

      This is what this passage makes me think of, too! I think it relates well to the previous chapter where Paul says everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial, and that other passage in Ephesians about using our words for the benefit of the listener. I need to remember these things often because a certain amount of swearing doesn’t bother me, but I know it could hurt my witness if I’m not thinking of others first.

    2. Amber Sugg says:

      You’re so right! Cussing or saying things that push the envelope has become so prevalent even in Christian circles. It makes me sad. We’ve tried so hard not to be ‘legalistic’ that we’ve missed parts of the Bible that do speak against certain things.

  7. Brianna Foshie says:

    Reading this a day late but it’s still resonating with me. I pray I can learn to put others before myself as to help them grow in the Lord.

  8. Lauren Griffith says:

    How convicting is this? Knowledge is great but when it leads to pride it’s no good. I want others to know that I’m close to Jesus by how I act, interact with them, and what comes out of my mouth. Sometimes we’re our own stumbling block! I’m thankful for this reading and glad to have started the day with this fresh reminder.

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