Reading through the Bible together
Here Paul is dealing with varying practices within the Christian faith. Reading this chapter together with 1 Corinthians 8, where he deals with the same issues in the church, it will give us a better understanding of what Paul is teaching. During this time, Christians were asking about food in the market that had been sacrificed to idols and how they should relate to it. There were some who had come out of pagan practices and they would no longer eat food that been sacrificed to idols. Paul urges them not to be weak in faith, because when some ate this food, they had a longing to go back to their former practice of worshiping idols. Others could eat the same food and give no thought to the idols this food had been sacrificed to. Paul encourages those who eat this food to not despise those who do not, and he exhorts those who do not eat this food, not to judge those who do (vs. 3,4).
He also deals with the difference in which some Christians believe in observing the ceremonial feast days while others no longer observe them (see Gal. 4:10). Paul says that everyone should be “fully persuaded in his own mind.” In other words, the issue of food sacrificed to idols and the observance of ceremonial days was not a matter of salvation (vs. 5,6). However, Paul reminds the believer that no man lives to himself and no man dies to himself (v. 7). What we do affects those around us. Then he points out that we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and judged according on our actions, not those of others (vs. 8-12).
Then from here to the end of the chapter, Paul is concerned that those who do eat meat sacrificed to idols will be a stumbling block to those who do not. Paul is personally persuaded that such food is not unclean even if it has been sacrificed to idols. And while he has exhorted both sides not to judge each other, he is concerned that those who are spiritually weak could lose their faith when they see other Christians eating food that has been sacrificed to idols. Based on those concerns, Paul encourages those who are strong in the faith to abstain from eating or drinking anything that would offend a brother to turn him back from following Christ (vs. 21-23).
As can be seen from this chapter, it is not dealing with eating of clean or unclean food as many Christians claim. However, the principles are clear. We should avoid doing anything that would cause those who are new to the faith to go back to what they were doing before they became Christians. This exhortation continues in the next chapter.
Norman McNulty, M.D.
Neurologist, Lawrenceburg, TN, USA