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1 Corinthians 8:1-13 Study Guide: When You're 100% Right and 100% Wrong

Community Group Study Guide — When You’re 100% Right and 100% Wrong
1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Main idea:
The Corinthians were talented, smart and skilled people, but they lacked love. Paul tells us that often knowledge puffs up but love builds up and when faced with the choice we should choose to build up rather than do things that increase our pride. The example he gives is eating food sacrificed to idols and how they were free to eat the meat because idols are “nothing” but it caused others to stumble. What we learn from this passage is that we can be fully right, but also wrong at the same time because what we are doing is not done in love. 

Study Information:
The issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols feels foreign to us, but the key issue is that there were practical things that were pulling people back into living their old life; one such activity was a matter of conscience around eating meat from the pagan temples. We have various things in our lives that may be freedoms for some, but off limits for us because of the connection it has with our old life and things that used to be struggles for us. To understand the meat sacrificed to idols you have to realize that the temples would often sell cuts of meat that were offered to the various pagan gods and some historians note that this meat was often some of the best in town. Other scholars think that it would have been practically impossible to find meat for sale that had not been somehow linked to these temples and that some of the poor may only have a chance to eat meat at these sorts of festivals. Is it wrong for a Christian to eat meat that was associated with idol worship? The Corinthians were divided over this and formed into two parties. One camp said “these idols are nothing” and the other says “by doing this you’re worshipping demons and causing me to stumble”. Does the Christian have freedom to buy the nice cut of steak or is it wrong? This specific example is given to us to help us think through how our beliefs and actions may impact others and help us to pursue love for one another in laying down our freedoms (1 Corinthians 9:1-23). 

“Knowledge puffs up, love builds up”
1 Corinthians 8:1-7
Paul begins by referring to the party in the church who is ok with eating meat sacrificed to idols and he quotes them as saying “all of us possess knowledge.” They are referring to knowing that these idols are nothing and that there is only one God. For them this “knowledge” allows them to eat meat sacrificed to the idols, but Paul confronts the heart attitude behind it when he corrects them,“knowledge puffs up but love builds up”. Paul is telling us that our knowledge of theology should be match with proportionate love for other believers in our church community. Later on Paul will correct the party in the church that was abstaining from eating because it seems like they were finding their commendation or approval in what they ate or did not eat (1 Corinthians 8:8). The group that was not considering their brother or sister in Christ was wrong, but so was the group that found their approval through what they ate. With that said though, Paul cares more about correcting the unloving attitude the led to pride and “knowledge” without considering love of neighbor.

This group that said “these idols are nothing” had really sound theology. There is one God and one path to salvation and reconciliation through faith in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 8:6). Idols throughout the Hebrew Bible are called lifeless, dumb and worthless to explain to us how meaningless it is to worship something that ultimately has no power. Moreover this group claimed their Christian freedom. They were not bound by rules or regulations prohibiting them from partaking in this kind of food. They were buying the meat in what would appear to have been a market stand or a butcher shop. Sure, gentile Christians are warned to not fall back into their former lives, but the scripture would say this is an area of Christian freedom. Their theology was sound, however, this theology was not working its way deep into their hearts and they used their knowledge to justify their actions rather than have it shape their actions. If your actions can cause a brother or sister in Christ to stumble or be offended (whom Paul calls “the weak” in our passage), is it right?

Many of us do not like the answer but Paul concludes verse 13 with “I would never eat meat again if it caused my brother/sister to stumble.” Paul tells us that laying down our rights to love one another is the correct call, even if it is difficult. How does he get there?

Being fully right and fully wrong a the same time
1 Corinthians 8:7-13
We should be aware of each other’s stumbling blocks, which are ways people can be led back into destructive sin patterns. This only happens when we are humble, care about other people’s lives and are in deep community with our church. 

For the Corinthians, “the weak” are offended or led to stumble because of their former association with idols. We know theologically speaking that what we eat will neither commend us to God or disqualify us, which is their core issue here. However, it seems that the weak person is “destroyed” by these actions (1 Corinthians 8:11). We can argue about whether they should be more theologically thick skinned or not as sensitive, but Paul wants us to understand that this is not just some minor issue, and the heart attitude of love for one another should cause us to not just ignore it or place the blame back on them. 

“The weak” today likely do not struggle with food sacrificed to idols, but it could be some past sin issue that they’ve had victory over and could be led back into. One common application with this passage is alcohol consumption because it is a freedom in scripture yet a very real addictive struggle for many. However, we can think of other areas too like consumerism and greed; we may not consider how our clothing, cars or lifestyles may impact others who find unhealthy identity in those things. It could be struggle with sinful eating patterns or the use of words that lead to gossip or corrupt talk. The point Paul is making is that what could be a freedom to us can be a struggle for someone else. This does not mean that we are fully bound by everyone else’s conscience, but it does mean that we put into practice verse 9 which says “take care that this right of yours does not become a stumbling block for someone else.” Steps we can take to help prevent this from happening would be to think about how our theological beliefs inform our practice. You can be 100% right theologically but you apply it selfishly and therefore are 100% wrong at the same time. Likewise, a good step forward would be to get to know people in the church at a deeper level. You do not know how you may unintentionally lead someone to stumble if you do not know their story and the life that God has redeemed them from. Finally, be willing to lay down your rights or freedoms. Paul gives us a powerful example of his willingness to not eat meat if it would cause someone around him to stumble; is there something in your life so dear to you that you would not give it up if it caused someone around you to stumble? If so, that thing may not be a freedom you have in Christ, but rather an idol that is controlling you. None of these application steps are simple, but each of them lead to deeper unity in the body of Christ as we consider others’ interests more important than our own. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:

Read 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

What is the significance of eating meat sacrificed to idols? Which side of the argument is theological “right” and how was that side being unloving?

What are some freedoms we have in Christ that could be a stumbling block for someone else in our church community? Are we called to lay down that freedom or right each and every time or is there a way to pursue that freedom with a love that builds up?

This study guide gave three applications: purse humility, care about others around you and strive for deeper community in the church. What are some other steps we can take to make sure we are not unintentionally setting up stumbling blocks for others? 

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