Christian Liberty Must Not Violate Christian Love – 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

These matters are sometimes called doubtful areas. They are specific issues of Christian conduct where believers debate whether it is appropriate or not to participate. The issues will vary by culture and by generation; but the principles regarding how to address them remain the same. In this chapter we must look beyond the particular area of controversy ("Is it OK for Christians to eat meat offered to idols?") to glean the controlling principles that we must apply to our issues today. Paul is not talking about areas of doctrinal or theological controversy here – issues over which denominations have taken various stands. These are practical areas of Christian living. In our context of liberty-dominated thinking there don’t seem to be as many of these questionable issues as in past generations.

  • Can Christians go trick-or-treating on Halloween?
  • Is it OK for Christian teenagers to go to a school dance function?
  • Can believers drink alcohol? What types? In what contexts?

But these issues, instead of staying small, can rise up to be very divisive in a church.



  1. (:1A) Specific Doubtful Issue Introduced – Eating meat possibly offered to idols: "Now concerning things sacrificed to idols"
    1. For us today it would be range of different issues; same principles will apply. Cf. Acts 15:28-29 This was a major issue in the early church.
    2. 1 Timothy 1:5 "But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith."

Boyer: Some considered such food defiled. They not only refused to eat themselves, but were offended by those who did eat. Others considered meat in the category of "morally indifferent things" and claimed Christian liberty. They considered it right to do so and went ahead.

  1. (:1B-2) Knowledge Alone Just Promotes Pride
    1. Sarcastic Retort – Everybody is a know-it-all in their natural pride: "we know that we all have knowledge"

Boyer: Paul is making reference to some of their own claims, even quoting their very words, when he says, "We know that we all have knowledge." He does so a bit sarcastically, for in verse 7 he says that they did not all have this knowledge.

    1. Ultimate Goal is Love, not Knowledge for its own sake
      1. "Knowledge makes arrogant" — puffs up
      2. "but love edifies" — builds up

Stedman: knowledge creates pride; it makes you feel superior. You only have to listen to some of the arguments waged in this regard today to see how true that is. It does not make any difference which side you are on, on the liberty side or the restricted side, knowledge tends to create a sense of pride.

    1. Self Deception in This Area is Prevalent – True Knowledge vs False Knowledge: "If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know."
      1. At best, our knowledge is incomplete and limited to our finite view.
  1. (:3) Test of Whether Love has been the Goal of Your Knowledge — Do you love God? (with accompanying Word of Assurance): "but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him"

Stedman: If you love God you are responding to the love of God for you. That is the appeal of the apostle everywhere. Do not try to force yourself to think of somebody else. Give yourself to reviewing what God has already done for you. Think of the thousand times a day he has manifested love and concern and faithfulness for you. It will begin to make you feel humbly grateful. When you do this you will then be able to recognize that other people need to be treated with patience as God treats you. You will begin to be more understanding of their point of view. Therefore, the key to the carrying out of this kind of exhortation is that you learn to love God because he has loved you.


  1. (:4A) Specific Issue Repeated: "Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols,"
    1. Paul gets back to the issue he had raised in 8:1
  2. (:4b) Two Things Believers Know with Certainty
    1. Idols Don’t Exist: "we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world"
      1. No reality behind the physical image that man has created
    2. Other Gods Don’t Exist: "and that there is no God but one."
      1. Epistemology: How do believers know what they know? Why doesn’t everyone have this knowledge?
  3. (:5-6) Uniqueness of the One True God
    1. (:5) Not Negated by the Existence of Lesser Demonic Powers: "For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords"
    2. (:6) Known Personally by All Believers
      1. One God the Father: "yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him;"
      2. One Lord Jesus Christ: "and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him."


  1. (:7) Believers Vary in Their Level of Knowledge and Background – Making some more vulnerable in the area under consideration: "However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled."
  2. (:8) Spirituality is Not the Issue: "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."
  3. (:9-13) Sensitivity to Our Fellow Believers is the Issue
    1. (:9) Liberty Requires Caution – Understand the Impact on Fellow Believers: "But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak."
    2. (:10-12) The Non-Moral Issue for You Can Become a Sin Issue for Your Fellow Believer – and Therefore a Sin Issue for You: "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 so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ."
    3. (:13) Liberty Must be Restrained to Protect Fellow Believers: "Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble."

Chestnut: We create Christian community when we restrict our freedom for the sake of others


  1. What are some of the practical areas of life that you would classify as debatable or questionable – where Christians would have different convictions on what is permissible?
  2. How can you tell whether your pursuit of Christian knowledge and doctrine really has love as its goal and outcome? How can you tell whether you are truly loving God?
  3. Is there some area where you might have a weak conscience?? Or some area where you might look with contempt upon a believer who engages in that practice?
  4. When have you willingly chosen to restrain your Christian liberty out of consideration for your brother or sister in the Lord?


Stedman: What’s Behind Your Influence?
"How much should I let other people’s views control my actions?" That is, "Must I limit my liberty by the narrower, more restricted views of other Christians?" . . . The question arose among the Christians: "If a Christian eats meat offered to an idol is he not participating in some way in the worship of that idol?" . . .

Therefore, we are to consider our influence upon others, and weigh the fact that what we want to do may not be very important at all, compared with the possible danger to another’s spiritual life. This certainly has a bearing on how we act in public, on whether we are willing to flaunt our freedom in somebody else’s face.

Doug Goins: The Loving Limitation of Liberty
In Corinth most of the meat that was sold in the public meat markets came from sacrificial animals that had been slaughtered in ceremonies at pagan temples. So the questions these Corinthians had were as follows: Did these rituals somehow automatically taint the meat? Could Christians buy it from those markets for their use at home? Could they eat it if it was offered to them at non-Christian friends’ homes? And what about the various social events that were regularly scheduled in the banquet halls of the temples? These were the best banqueting places. So if you were invited to a party or a club meeting or a wedding, were you free to participate and eat the food that was served there? What if you were invited by your non-Christian friends to some sort of a ritual in the temple that was overtly pagan? Were you free to participate in something like that? And the immediate concern of these Christians in Corinth was this: If a Christian ate meat offered to an idol, wasn’t he participating in some way in the sinful worship of that idol? Some of the Corinthian believers said that the meat was tainted by its idolatrous identification, and it was a sin to eat it. Some of the believers said it wasn’t. . .

Think about our love relationship with the Lord. He doesn’t ignore us, look down on us, or criticize our immaturity or ignorance. No, he patiently and lovingly brings us along through the process of growing in maturity. So my gratitude to him for first loving me is what frees me to love the other person who may be struggling because they’re not where I am in my understanding of certain truth. What Paul wants us to see clearly is that agape love is far more important in the big picture than knowledge or theological sophistication. . .

These new Christians struggled with issues stemming from two things: their past and their conscience. Because of association with idols in the past, every new contact triggered the memory of the former connection. The phrase "being accustomed to" refers to habitual ways of thinking and believing. Old habits are hard to break. Paul calls it weakness, and he’s going to make the point that the weakness of a brother or sister must be lovingly considered in all of our relationships. . .

Paul is asking the more mature, knowledgeable Christian, the one who is secure in his freedom in Christ, to substitute for his own knowledge of what is right and wrong, love for the less mature Christian who is insecure about his standing in Christ. More than any other writer in the New Testament, Paul taught Christians to celebrate the freedom that they found in Christ. But in these verses, he is saying that no Christian has a right to exercise his or her freedom in a way that undermines the faith of a weaker brother or sister, somebody who is less mature in their walk with the Lord. Love understands the sinful consequences of deliberately ignoring a weaker Christian’s sensitivities. Forcing my freedom onto a believer whose conscience is not yet as strong as mine not only undermines his Christian growth, but violates the body of Christ, of which we are both a part. And Paul goes on to say that such an offense against a weaker Christian is a sin against the Lord Jesus who lives inside that brother. So instead of proving myself to be strong spiritually, I’ve transgressed the law of love. My Christian freedom must never be used at the expense of a brother or sister who has been redeemed at the great price of the death of the Savior. . .

Paul’s whole point in chapter 8 is that as Christians we’re meant to act on the basis of love and not stand on our supposed superior knowledge. It’s true that idols are not gods, that food is a matter of indifference to the Lord, and by implication we are free to eat and drink what we like. But the universal spiritual principle is that knowledge has to be tempered by love for the weaker brother or sister who will be harmed if we act on this knowledge with indifference or insensitivity. To put it another way, we don’t have to have our rights. We also have the right not to exercise them for the sake of love. What a tremendous freedom and wonderful privilege we have to choose to lovingly limit our liberty.

Zeisler: Liberty, Limits and Love
Be free!, and Be careful! Be free, because there is only one God; be careful, because the wicked one is the force behind idolatry. . .

In our freedom we must be willing to forfeit our rights for the sake of others. We must not exercise our freedom at the expense of others who do not know better yet, those who still fear idols. If our freedom to indulge in what they consider forbidden inclines them to fall under the influence of idols once more, then we of course should deny ourselves. Now you do not have to agree with them. In fact you had better not agree with them. What you are doing rather is giving up your rights for their sake. Choose to act in love, not in arrogance.

Deffinbaugh: The Great Divorce – Separating Truth from Love
While Paul initially appears to grant the premise that eating meat offered to idols is a matter of liberty in chapter 8, this same permissiveness is not found at the end of Paul’s argument on the subject.

14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say. 16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? 19 What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we? (1 Corinthians 10:14-22). . .

What Paul allows to stand initially in his argument, he may eventually prove to be wrong. This is the case in 1 Corinthians 8-10. In chapter 8, he allows those Corinthians who view themselves as being more spiritual than others to retain this false notion momentarily. But by the end of chapter 10, those who think they have the liberty to eat meat offered to idols are shown up for what they are. The "weaker brethren" of chapter 8 seem to be the "stronger brethren" in chapter 10. Those supposedly "weaker brethren" who refrained from eating meat offered to idols were not only in compliance with the decree of the Jerusalem Council, but with the teaching of Paul. . .

Christians are not to boast in knowing, but to rejoice in being known by God, and this is the result of loving God (verse 3). When Jesus sent His disciples out to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God, they returned, rejoicing over the mighty works God had accomplished through them. Jesus gently corrected them saying, "… do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven" (Luke 10:20). Here, Paul tells Christians that they should not rejoice in knowing, but in being known by God. Salvation surpasses any sheepskin (diploma) we will ever obtain. Moreover, the way that we are known by God is not because of our knowledge, but because of the love which God has produced within us for Himself. Once again, love takes priority over knowledge. What a humbling truth Paul has put before these all-knowing, stronger saints. If knowledge was the most important thing of all, and if they knew more than others, than they were the spiritual elite. But they have sought to excel in a category which is subordinate to love . . .

While neither eating meat nor abstaining from it changes my spiritual status, what I do with this meat can have a great impact on my brother. If something is a true liberty, I can partake of it in good conscience, just as I can abstain from it in good conscience, for I am not doing what I believe to be wrong. But a truly weaker brother does not have the same liberty. He does not see eating this meat as a liberty, but as a sin. If he views me as the stronger brother, then what I do is an example for him to follow. If I am more spiritual by eating idol-meat, then my weaker brother assumes he will be more spiritual for following my example. But since his conscience is not clear with respect to idol-meat, eating of it will be a sin for him.

Pastor Thomas Leake: Not Legalism, Not Liberty, But Love

New section introduced by peri de. Disagreements and squabbles should have been minor issues. Believers need to focus on the major doctrines of the faith. Little things should remain little things:

– Can we use drums in the worship service?
– Can the wife of the pastor wear pants?
– What movies are acceptable for the believers to watch?
– How to celebrate or not celebrate different holidays

Such matters don’t matter all that much. God gives us a lot of latitude and freedom.
Caution to libertines: Don’t love your freedom more than you love Christ and the brethren.
Caution to legalists: Don’t orient your relationship to Christ and your fellow believers around structure, rules, regulations where everything has to be spelled out in black and white. Otherwise you can’t help judging one another, despising one another… etc. These issues, while small, have the potential to divide churches.

Understand the Historical Situation:
There were many pagan gods, idols, etc. Food that was brought to the temple to be offered up in worship to these pagan gods was divided into 3 parts:

– one part given back to the worshipper
– one part burned in the temple
– one part given to the temple priest for their use – they had so much they endedup selling some of that back in the marketplace

You also had the problem of being invited over to a dinner or feast where the origin of the meat served might be in question. Or you might be attending some larger function held in a pagan temple hall. Christians responded strongly with different reactions.

3 Steps to Paul’s Wise Counsel about how to deal with these debatable issues

I. (:1-3) Learn the Value of Love Above Knowledge
Every Christian has doctrinal knowledge about God. But by itself knowledge just puffs up – makes you look important and big – if you don’t have love.
Look at the arrogant, highly educated people in our society. They have too high a view of themselves. They don’t understand their own spiritual blindness.
1 Cor. 13 – study what agape love really is all about
Knowledge which puffs up is not true knowledge. It is really ignorance.
Humility involves understanding your place before God.
The true test of knowing is loving God. (Pres. Tense) God has that special type of knowing relationship with such believers.
1 John 5:2 – Love God and observe His commands
John 15:10, 21
Rest of 1 John passages about loving the brethren
Love is greater than mere knowledge

II. (:4-6) Apply Your Doctrinal Knowledge to the Issue
Learn what is really true about the issue in question. What is the reality. Paul is not saying that knowledge is bad – he spent his life communicating knowledge to others and to us through the Scriptures. Knowledge is necessary. Paul is not throwing knowledge out.
Certainty of Christian knowledge – we know certain things for sure – not we guess or we hope .. but we know
Knowledge is beneficial when it is rightly expressed.
Love (so-called) without doctrinal understanding is useless.

What do we know?
1) There is no such thing as an idol in the world in reality
That is pretty good information to have! The world does not know this. How do we know? Because there is someone who knows and has told us! Revelation from God is the key. Not because we are so smart and have figured anything out. God has spoken!
Go to the one who knows.
The emphasis here is on the nothingness of the idol; there is no god behind those lifeless statues and fancy temples.
Cf. Elijah making fun of the idols of Baal –Is. 44:8-9; Psalm 115; Is. 41:23-24
There’s nobody listening to your prayers!

2) There is no God but one in the real universe
How do we know this? Same way as above. Not through empirical research; not through strictly rational contemplation; but by means of revelations from an ultimate being who knows everything
Deut. 6:4 – people are too proud to receive the testimony of God; don’t let them call you proud for listening to your Creator
1 John 5:9-10 – making God a liar; we can know with certainty
Is. 45:5 – name of God is YHWH, not Allah; He is the only one;
Idols don’t really exist; however you can have a fallen demon spiritual being operating behind the facade of an idol and inspiring false worship
Deut. 10:17 – God is over all the spiritual beings in the universe;
Revelation is superior to science.
Is. 40:18 – you cannot create anything physical that can compare to God; physical matter can’t cause itself; if you don’t exist you can’t start anything or be the source of something; John 5:26; Rom. 11:36
Did God then create evil… if He created everything that exists… Evil is not a thing; but a perversion of a thing; of a twisting of something; evil comes from the moral being that decides to twist a good thing
Look at the switch in prepositions:
– ex = out of
– dia = through or by means of
The Son is not a second source but the means by which all came into being
John 1:1-3; Complicated to try to understand the eternal relationship of the godhead; Col. 1:16; Heb 1:10-12; "Lord" = OT name for the Lord God (kurios)
Christ cannot be created; He eternally proceeds from the Father; Heb. 1:6; John 5:21; Rev. 22:13; no beginning or end
Not all believers understand these difficult truths in the area of Christology
– they think there are still lesser gods existing out there
– they don’t understand certain things about food – create man-made dietary

Laws; Mark 7:18-19; 1 Cor. 6:13; Rom. 14:17
All of this knowledge should help us

III. (:9-13) Put your Knowledge with Love Into Action
(:9) Overall Concern – restrict your liberty because of love
(:10-12) 3 Reasons you need to restrict your liberty in certain circumstances:
– (:10) you don’t want to mess up your brother
– (:11) He is the brother for whom Christ died; Rom. 14:23
– (:12) You would ultimately be sinning against Christ Himself
You must give up your freedoms out of loving consideration for your brother.
(:13) Conclusion to the matter: You don’t want to be a stumbling block to your brother;
Apply these same principles to other issues; you also don’t want to be paralyzed so that your fear of offending everyone prohibits you from doing anything…

Ask 3 Questions:
– How important is this issue to my weaker brother – Will it really mess up his faith?
– How important is my example to that person – this criteria becomes more important as you become a public leader

– Is there a way to help them along with doctrinal knowledge?