Making Extra-Biblical Rules; An Introduction to Legalism

When Christians today talk about sin, they are not talking about food sacrificed to idols like they were when the Apostle Paul talked to the church in Corinth.

The church in Corinth was struggling with the question of whether or not to eat the meat that others had offered up as a sacrifice to their false gods.

Paul takes the opportunity to address the fact that in reality their are no other gods, just idols that men have created. While at the same time he alludes to other areas of conscience where some feel that something may be wrong but scripture does not strictly forbid.

In the case of those living in Corinth this was a big deal because before Paul planted a church there many of these people used to partake in the eating of meat that was sacrificed to to their false gods.

Citizens of Corinth weren’t regular meat eaters, when they had the chance to eat meat, they would take it. When Paul came in and told them the good news of Jesus Christ and taught them not to worship anyone other than the God of the Bible many of them chose to abstain from eating meat altogether for fear that it was a sin.

It was at this time that eating meat became the controversial issue of the time. To eat meat, or not to eat meat. Paul writes the church in an effort to settle the matter but he doesn’t do it in a way that most of them would have expected.

Now regarding your question about food that has been offered to idols. Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.
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Paul says we all possess the knowledge needed to discern whether or not eating meat is wrong. He goes on to say that it isn’t necessarily knowledge that we need in this case, it’s love.

Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.

Seems like Paul couldn’t resist the temptation to take a little jab at the pride of the Corinthians.

But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes. So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God. There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many Lords. But for us, There is one God, the Father, by whom all things were created, and for whom we live. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created, and through whom we live.

So Paul says here that people can make up as many gods as they wish, there will only ever be one God and even when people make sacrifices to another god its not really a sacrifice at all. For Christians who know that there is only one God, they should make that the priority and not the much lesser issue of eating meat.

However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated.

For some of the new converts to Christianity who saw the eating of meat as a form of worship to their previous false gods, they didn’t want to eat meat at all. They felt by eating the meat they were in violation of Paul’s teaching about idolatry. So out of caution they chose to abstain.

It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do.

Paul is making it strikingly clear here that we do not gain approval or disapproval by what may or may not enter our bodies as food.

But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.

We have the freedom to eat meat Paul says, it’s not so much the eating of meat that’s the problem, it’s that some perceive the eating of meat to be a problem. For those that think eating meat is wrong, then it’s wrong for them. For those that don’t think it’s wrong, then it’s not wrong for them.

For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol?

Even if you know for a fact because of your “superior knowledge” that eating meat is not wrong, you shouldn’t eat meat while in the presence of someone who thinks it is. Because if they see you doing it, they’ll want to do it as well and since this is an issue for them and they don’t want to for fear of let’s say… overeating or something, then don’t do it and cause them to stumble.

So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.
1 Corinthians 8:1-13 NLT

Since you are wise enough to know that there may be others who struggle with the issue, you should not engage in the activity either. For if you do and it causes another to stumble Paul says it is a sin against Christ because that person thinks it is a sin. Even though it wouldn’t be a sin if you were to do it when they weren’t around.

In essence what Paul is saying is that sometimes we meet people who think something is a sin, even though the Bible makes no mention of it being a sin. In these cases we should go along with them just for the sake of not causing them to sin.

A good example of this teaching in today’s world is alcohol. Many Christians think it is a sin to consume even an ounce of alcohol, on the flip side there are also many who think it isn’t, as long as it’s controlled. (That’s me)

When I come across a person who believes alcohol consumption to be a sin, then perhaps it is better that I don’t consume alcohol for however long it is that I am in that persons presence.

That person may be a recovering alcoholic, he may have had episodes in the past where consuming alcohol led to some less than appropriate behavior, I don’t know. What I know is they feel it is a sin, and when I am around them, it is. (I have failed at this, just so you know)

Even though I have a good understanding of Scripture that says alcohol in moderation is not a sin, the person I’m spending time with may not have such understanding and therefore while in his or her presence no alcohol shall be consumed. (I fail at this as well)

In Paul’s day it was meat, today it is one of many, no matter what the issue is we must treat it and the person with which holds the issue, with love. Sometimes it’s not the knowledge of sin that is most important, it is the love for the person who could stumble that is most important.

I say all of this in preface to the next several posts wherein I will talk about legalism and it’s effects on Christians today.

Thanks so much for spending this time with me, please click share, it only takes the stroke of a finger and it could be the one thing that someone needs to give their life to Jesus.

Until next time…

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