In our study of 1 Corinthians chapter eight, we will look at the reason why we, as Christians, do not participate in many of the things that others do.
"Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God." NIV translation
The believers in Corinth had written Paul asking him about eating meat that had been offered to idols. In this city there were pagan temples and the people brought their choice animals to the temple as sacrifices. After they were presented to these false gods, the meat would be sold in the shops for food. If you wanted the finest of meats, then, you would go to these shops and buy the meat that had been offered. The people had asked Paul whether this was allowed or not. He begins his answer by reminding us that love is superior to knowledge and, as Christians, we should be governed by love and not by knowledge.
"So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live." NIV translation
Paul explains that we, as mature Christians, understand that idols and these false gods are nothing at all. We know that there is one God who created all things and one Lord which is His Son Jesus Christ.
"But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled." NIV translation
Even though we may understand that idols are really nothing, there are those who do not have that knowledge. In their mind, the idols are something and so food that is given to them should not be touched.
"But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do." NIV translation
We see that the greater knowledge is the fact that our actions do not bring holiness. It is Jesus' action on our behalf that brings holiness to our lives. This same principle applies to many "grey areas" in our lives. There are many who feel superior because of the fact that they do not take part in many of the things around them. These "holier than thou" people do not understand the principle that our holiness is in Christ and not in our own actions.
"Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge." NIV translation
This liberty that we have in Christ should be limited by our love for our fellow brothers in Christ. We are free to do anything but willingly don't in order to avoid leading these brothers to do something that they feel is wrong. A more modern example is the drinking of alcohol. In Christ, I am free to enjoy a cold beer on a hot day but, because I am in Christ and know what alcohol can do to a life, I do not drink. My drinking could lead less mature Christians who struggle with a drinking problem to get drunk and to draw away from Jesus Christ.
"When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall." NIV translation
We willingly limit our freedom in Christ for the benefit of our weaker brothers in the faith. That is the definition of love as we see in 1 John 3:16. We could also go a step further and educate the weaker brother by explaining grace and the freedom that we have because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. In doing so, we can remove some of the chains of religion that have our brothers bound and keep them from enjoying their freedom in Christ.