Concerning Things Offered to Idols (1 Corinthians 81) - Using Knowledge Morally to Build Up Others

Concerning Things Offered to Idols (1 Corinthians 8:1) – Using Knowledge Morally to Build Up Others

In 1 Corinthians 8:1 Paul writes, “Now concerning things offered to idols: we know that all of us possess knowledge. This knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” We must understand the differences between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is like guns, money, and food in that it’s amoral (it’s simply information), but knowledge can be used in moral and immoral ways. This chapter reveals some ways the Corinthian used knowledge immorally, but could use it morally. The Corinthians were asking, “Should they eat meat sacrificed to idols?” But the chapter isn’t primarily about food or days of the week. Primarily the chapter teaches that we should use our knowledge morally in a loving way that builds up others.

Sermon Lessons for Concerning Things Offered to Idols

  • Lesson 1: Knowledge is ____________, but the way we use it is __________.
  • Lesson 2: ____________ __________________ doesn’t always mean determining who’s right and wrong (1 Cor 8:4-8; Rom 14:5).
  • Lesson 3: ___________________ is the absence of __________________ (Rom 11:25; 1 Cor 12:1; 2 Cor 1:8; 1 Thes 4:13).
  • Lesson 4: Knowledge is used (Part I) morally when combined ________ ________ (1 Cor 8:1; Eph 4:15; Phil 1:9).

Family Worship Guide for Concerning Things Offered to Idols

  • Day 1: Read 1 Cor 8 and discuss: Is knowledge moral, immoral, or amoral? Why? List some things that are moral, immoral, and amoral. Who are some people in history and in the Bible who used knowledge morally. What about immorally? Describe the situation in Corinth with meat sacrificed to idols and what the two sides believed.
  • Day 2: Read Rom 14, 1 Cor 12:1; 2 Cor 1:8, 1 Thes 4:13 and discuss: What does it mean that some people had “weak consciences”? Is this a criticism of them? Why or why not? Would you or wouldn’t you eat the meat sacrificed to idols? Why or why not? How should you treat people who do the opposite of you? Why?
  • Day 3: Read 1 Cor 8, Eph 4:15, Phil 1:9 and discuss: What does it mean to be ignorant? Should we always share knowledge with people? Why or why not? What makes someone a guest versus a pest? How do we know when we should or shouldn’t share our knowledge with others? What are some essentials? What are some nonessentials? What does it mean to combine knowledge with love? What does it look like when love is combined with knowledge? What about when it isn’t?

Sermon Notes for Concerning Things Offered to Idols

This morning we’ll be in 1 Corinthians 8.

The title of the sermon, on verses 1-8, is, “Using Knowledge Morally.”

The title of next Sunday’s sermon, on verses 9-13, is, “Using Knowledge Immorally.”

Last Sunday I shared that I wanted to begin a series on wisdom to help us navigate through trials and difficult circumstances.

I think we must understand the differences between knowledge and wisdom…and there’s no better place – at least in my opinion – to understand knowledge than 1 Corinthians 8.

Let me begin w/ a question, and I’ll give you a moment to think about the answer before I ask you to raise your hand…

Is knowledge itself:

  • Moral
  • Immoral
  • Or amoral

The answer brings us to Lesson 1…

Lesson 1: knowledge is amoral, but the way we use it is moral.

Many things are amoral, but the ways we use them are moral and immoral. For example:

  • Money is amoral, but the way we spend it is moral or immoral.
  • Guns are amoral, but the ways we use them are moral and immoral.
  • Food is amoral, but our relationship to it is moral. God doesn’t care what we eat, but He cares how much we eat b/c gluttony is a sin and He expects us to have self-control.

Similarly, knowledge is amoral, in that it’s simply information. But what we do w/ knowledge is moral and immoral. In other words, knowledge can be used in moral and immoral ways.

Here are some examples of moral uses of knowledge:

  • Jacob Perkins used his knowledge of mechanical engineering to invent refrigeration.
  • The Wright Brothers used their knowledge of aviation to develop human flight.
  • Tim Berners-Lee used his knowledge of computer programming to develop the World Wide Web.
  • Isaac Newton used his knowledge of astronomy to promote creationism.

These people used the knowledge they acquired in moral ways that benefited humanity.

Other people have used their knowledge in immoral ways:

  • Genghis Khan used his knowledge of politics and war to lead a Mongol horde that killed millions of people.
  • Karl Marx used his knowledge of law and philosophy to try to destroy capitalism and create a classless, communist society.
  • Margaret Sanger used her knowledge of reproduction to establish organizations that evolved into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
  • Richard Dawkins has used his knowledge of biology to promote atheism and the theory of evolution.

In this chapter we’re going to see some other ways knowledge can be used morally and immorally.

Let me give you the background to understand these verses since we’re jumping into the middle of this epistle…

1 Corinthians is mostly a collection of questions Paul answered for the Corinthian believers.

In chapter 8 he deals w/ a question that was dividing the church: “Should they eat meat sacrificed to idols?”

Here’s how this predicament developed…

The Greeks and Romans were polytheistic, which means they believed in many gods, and they were polydemonistic, which means they believed in many demons and evil spirits.

They believed the evil spirits would try to invade human bodies by attaching themselves to food before it was eaten, and the only way the evil spirits could be removed from the food was to sacrifice it to idols.

So food sacrificed to idols had two purposes:

  1. First, to gain favor with the idol it was sacrificed to
  2. Second, to cleanse the food from demonic contamination.

When the animal was sacrificed, some of it was burned on the altar…usually the fat b/c it put off the most smoke. The meat that was not burned on the altar was served at wicked, pagan feasts.

But sometimes all the meat wasn’t consumed, and so the rest of it was sold in the temple.

Since there was no refrigeration in those days the meat had to be consumed quickly, which meant it went right from being used in the worship of an idol to possibly sitting on the table of a believer.

Here’s something else that makes this even more interesting…

Since the meat that was sacrificed to idols wasn’t as attractive as meat that was NOT sacrificed to idols, it was offered at a lower price.

This led to two locations for meat to be sold:

  • There was the market where the meat that wasn’t sacrificed to idols was offered at regular prices.
  • There was the temple where the meat sacrificed to idols was offered at lower prices.

Believers found themselves in two different groups.

The first group is in verses 4-6. Look there w/ me…

1 Corinthians 8:4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

Notice Paul used the used the words we and us b/c he was in this first group. He knew better than anyone that idols aren’t real, and there’s only one God.

This first group would say…

“Demons don’t inhabit food, so we don’t have to worry about them contaminating it. Idols aren’t real – there’s no being named Zeus, or Hermes, or Mars – so whatever is offered to idols isn’t really offered to anything. I can go in an idol’s temple to buy meat, because it’s no different than any other meat except that it’s cheaper, which basically means I’m being a good steward of my finances if I buy it.”

This is the first group.

The second group is in verse 7

1 Corinthians 8:7 However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.

There were Jews and Gentiles in this second group:

  • The Jews thought idolatry was the worst sin, so they would have nothing to do w/ this meat b/c it had been sacrificed to idols. Plus, to buy it they’d have to go into an idol’s temple, and what godly Jew could do that w/ a good conscience?
  • There were Gentiles who were new believers, which means some of them had been worshiping idols at these temples recently; therefore, they wanted to stay far away from the temples and the meat sacrificed at them b/c it reminded them of their previous pagan lives and demonic worship.

This second group would say…

“I don’t want anything to do w/ meat sacrificed to idols, and no believer should have anything to do w/ it. You could give it to me for free and I wouldn’t take it, and anyone who would is sinning.”

One more point about the second group…

In verse 7 notice Paul said they had weak consciences.

Unfortunately, some believers will say people:

  • People weak conscience are less mature
  • People with strong consciences are more mature

But this isn’t true.

Having a weak conscience:

  • Isn’t a compliment or a criticism
  • It is isn’t a reflection of spiritual maturity or immaturity.
  • It’s as amoral as food, money, guns, or knowledge.

To be perfectly clear, believers aren’t better or worse if they have strong or weak consciences.

Now let me explain something so you can appreciate how interesting this situation is…

In Paul’s day there was no printing press or photocopier, so when one of his letters reached a church the pastor would stand before his congregation and read it aloud.

Meat sacrificed to idols doesn’t sound like a big deal to us, but it was such a big deal to the Corinthians that because it was causing division in their church. In other words, there were people on both sides w/ very strong feelings.

And what do they want when Paul’s letter arrives?

  • They want Paul to side w/ them against the other side.
  • They want Paul to say they’re right and the other side is wrong.
  • Maybe they even want Paul to compliment them and rebuke the others.

So when the pastor is sharing the letter and he reads the words of verse 1Now concerning food offered to idols,” you can be sure everyone sat up a little straighter and thought: “Here it is. I’ve been waiting for this. Tell us we’re right, and give it to those people who are wrong!”

Now one question before we read what Paul says…

Which group are you in?

  • Raise your hand if you would eat the meat sacrificed to idols.
  • Raise your hand if you wouldn’t eat the meat sacrificed to idols.

When I went over this w/ my family, I asked my kids, and most of them said they would not eat.

Even when I told them the Apostle Paul – one of the greatest men to ever live – was in the first group, they still said they wouldn’t eat.

Me personally: I’m always looking for a good deal, so I’d eat.

Here’s what I can tell you…

It doesn’t matter which group you’re in.

You’re not better or worse, or more mature or less mature, or more spiritual or less spiritual, if you’re in one group instead of the other.

And this isn’t my opinion. Look at verse 8

1 Corinthians 8:8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.

I don’t want to go on a big detour here, so I’ll make this short: this is one of the many New Testament verses stating food is like knowledge: it’s amoral or spiritually neutral.

The main point is this…

Neither group is better or worse if they do or don’t eat meat sacrificed to idols. This means Paul didn’t say who’s right or wrong…and this brings us to Lesson 2…

Lesson 2: having knowledge doesn’t always mean determining who’s right and wrong.

Notice what Paul didn’t do:

  • He didn’t side w/ anyone…
  • He didn’t commend one side or rebuke the other.
  • He didn’t tell anyone to straighten out the others

And this isn’t the only time Paul responded in this way that I’m sure frustrated many people!

Some of you probably know 1 Corinthians 8 is similar to Romans 14:

  • In 1 Corinthians 8 they were arguing about meat sacrificed to idols
  • In Romans 14 they were arguing about food and days of the week

I’m guessing the Romans were also waiting to hear from Paul so they could be told they were right and others were wrong, but listen to what he said…

Romans 14:5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

This is another instance of Paul not saying who’s right and wrong…and probably leaving some people disappointed.

And here’s the question…

Why didn’t he?

Because these are minor issues, or nonessentials…and when it comes to minor issues, or nonessentials, we can disagree.

And what does it mean to disagree?

It means allowing people to remain ignorant…not forcing your knowledge on them.

This isn’t my opinion. This is exactly what the text demonstrates!

Notice something…

In verse 7 Paul said not all possess this knowledge.

What knowledge?

  • The knowledge that the idols are nothing.
  • The knowledge that they can eat the meat sacrificed to them.

Since these people didn’t have knowledge of these things – biblically speaking – we would say they’re…what?


You’re almost reluctant to say it, b/c the word has such a negative connotation in English. Nobody wants to be called ignorant. If someone said you’re ignorant, you’d probably feel insulted.

But in Scripture, Paul told people they were ignorant, and they weren’t insulted, b/c it simply means they didn’t know.

The words not all possess this knowledge is a concise definition of ignorance: not possessing knowledge

We almost think of ignorance as the opposite of wisdom, but foolishness is the opposite of wisdom.

The opposite of ignorance is knowledgeable…and this brings us to Lesson 3…

Lesson 3: ignorance is the absence of knowledge.

Throughout Scripture, when people were ignorant, Paul gave them knowledge so they wouldn’t remain ignorant.

Listen to these verses:

  • Romans 11:25 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery – so then he explained the mystery to them.
  • 1 Corinthians 12:1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant – so then he taught them about spiritual gifts.
  • 2 Corinthians 1:8 For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia – so then he explained their trouble.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep. Then he explained what happened to those who fell asleep.

There were many times people were ignorant and Paul cured them of their ignorance by giving them knowledge…but in this case he didn’t!

Notice something:

  • In verse 7 – regarding the second group – he said not all possess this knowledge.
  • In verse 1 – regarding the first group – he said Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “ALL OF US POSSESS KNOWLEDGE.”

What knowledge did the first group have?

The knowledge Paul described in verses 4-6 that:

  • False gods – or idols – are nothing.
  • The meat sacrificed to them can be eaten.

Basically they had the knowledge the second didn’t have, or that the second group was ignorant of.

Considering Paul shared knowledge with people many times when they were ignorant, what would you expect Paul to say to the first group?

You need to straighten them out! Give them the knowledge they need. Don’t let them walk around in ignorance.”

But Paul didn’t tell the first group to share their knowledge w/ the second group.

In other words, he told the knowledgeable people to allow the ignorant people to remain ignorant.

This is what we see:

  • Sometimes Paul shared knowledge w/ people so they wouldn’t remain ignorant
  • Other times he didn’t share knowledge w/ people, so they could remain ignorant, or as he said in Romans 14:5 so they could remain fully convinced in [their] own [minds]

If we follow Paul’s example:

  • Sometimes we should share knowledge w/ people
  • Sometimes we should allow them to remain ignorant.

The obvious question is: how do know when to take each approach?

I’ll give you two encouragements…

First, strive to be a guest versus a pest:

  • Guests are invited
  • Pests are not invited
  • If people ask for your thoughts, you’ve been invited, and you can share as a guest
  • If people don’t ask for your thoughts, you haven’t been invited, but if you share anyway, you’ll be a pest

Consider whether people want to hear your thoughts on nonessentials or amoral issues.

And this brings a little balance to the discussion…

If we’re asked – or invited – about our liberties and freedoms we should be willing to answer those questions and explain why we believe the way we do. If we’re a guest our answer might help a brother or sister in Christ.

I’ve learned a lot in my Christian life from wise people God has put around me. I appreciate when they’ve been patient w/ me and taken time to answer my questions. It’s helped me grow in my faith.

And this leads us to the second encouragement…

Consider what is:

  • Essential, or moral, or spiritual
  • Versus nonessential, or amoral, or non-spiritual

If you look at the times Paul said, “I do not want you to be ignorant,” he was dealing essentials, or hills to die on, or important things for people to know.

But in 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14 Paul was dealing w/ food and days of the week.

Since these are nonessentials, it’s only important for people to be fully convinced in their own minds.

Some years ago Dave Zumstein shared something w/ me that didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but since then I’ve realized how true it is…

He said, “The problem w/ essentials and nonessentials, is people don’t agree what’s essential versus nonessential.”

Can you see why this is problematic?

I said we shouldn’t try to share w/ people if something is a nonessential, but if some people think it is an essential they are going to try to share w/ people who think it’s a nonessential, probably don’t want to listen to them, and it usually causes problems:

  • The people who think it’s a nonessential are going to be annoyed by the people who keep trying to share w/ them…when they didn’t ask…which means they think the people talking to them are pests.
  • The people who think it’s an essential are going to be annoyed by the people who think it’s a nonessential and therefore don’t want to have to keep listening to them talk about the same thing…again…and again.

So we should consider two things…

First, have I already talked to someone about something? If I talk to them about it again, I’m almost guaranteed to be a pest.

Second, this is important to me, but is it important to others, and most importantly is it important to God?

Up to this point, here’s what we can see…

It’s not about who’s right and wrong, and it’s not about making sure we share our knowledge w/ everyone around us.

So what is it about?

I’m glad you asked.

Look back at verse 1

1 Corinthians 8:1 Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.

Notice the words love builds up. You could say this is what it’s about.

Paul tells the knowledgeable people to use their knowledge in moral, loving ways that build up…and this brings us to Lesson 4…

Lesson 4: knowledge is used (part 1) morally when combined with love.

You might notice there’s no Part II, b/c that’s in next week’s sermon.

Here’s the famous quote…

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.”

Listen to the way verse 1 reads in the Amplified Bible…

1 Corinthians 8:1 Now about food sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge [concerning this]. Knowledge [alone – in other words: knowledge without love] makes [people self-righteously] arrogant, but love [that unselfishly seeks the best for others] builds up and encourages others to grow [in wisdom].

To use knowledge morally it must be combined w/ love.

Both are bad:

  • It’s bad to have knowledge without love
  • It’s bad to have love without knowledge.

Paul made this point:

  • He talked about combining truth – or knowledge – w/ love, such as: Ephesians 4:15 Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
  • He talked about combining love w/ knowledge: Phil 1:9 It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment

Some of the Corinthians had knowledge, but they didn’t have love:

  • They should’ve used their knowledge to build each other up.
  • Because they lacked love, they used their knowledge to tear each other down.

When we say the right thing – or we share knowledge – but we lack love, we say it harshly.

And when we say the right thing the wrong way, it becomes the wrong thing…I’ve learned this the hard way.

Years ago I was driving in a car w/ three friends. I mention we were in a car so you can picture an environment that prevents anyone from getting up and walking away from the conversation.

We began a discussion that escalated to a disagreement, then a debate, then an argument, and then a quarrel. One of the individuals said something, and I thought two things:

  1. That is articulate, absolutely true, and very convincing.
  2. He said that very harshly and unlovingly.

He was right, but he was wrong. Nobody spoke the rest of the car ride.

1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14 aren’t primarily about food or days of the week. You can take away from both chapters that it doesn’t matter what you eat, and that no day is better than another day, but that’s not what the chapters are primarily about.

Primarily they’re about this:

  1. First, we should use our knowledge morally, which means using it in a loving way that builds up others…this is what we talked about this morning.
  2. Second, we shouldn’t use our knowledge in an immoral way that tears down others…and we’ll talk about this more next week.

Let me conclude w/ this…

It looks like Paul didn’t say who’s right and who’s wrong…but he did:

  • The people who are right are those who use their knowledge in loving ways that build up. If Paul is going to commend and compliment anyone it’s these people.
  • The people who are wrong are those who use their knowledge in obnoxious, unloving ways that tear others down. If Paul is going to condemn and criticize anyone it’s these people.  

In other words, the side that’s right is the side that’s loving toward those w/ different opinions. The side that’s wrong is the side that’s unloving toward those w/ different opinions.

Let’s pray.

Do you have a question or thought? If so, please let me know. I do my best to respond to each comment.

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