Balancing Our Freedom with Responsibility: Looking back at 1 Corinthians 8-10 and Food Sacrificed to Idols

We’ve now closed out a section that seeks to talk about Christian freedom in the context of our responsibility to our neighbors. The conversation started with food offered to idols, talked of Paul’s right to be financially supported, and now has circled back to food and idols. Paul at times gives a statement that is clear, along the lines of “you can eat the food.” But that principle then has its exceptions. So as we read it, and this is especially true if we are only reading little bits at a time and not keeping the larger movements in our mind, it can be confusing because Paul will say, “Yes, but no, but yes, but no.”

To lean heavily again on Ken Bailey’s commentary, since he puts its so clearly in review, these last chapters tell us four things, and I’ll paraphrase:

  1. Eating meat offered to idols and eating in these temple-restaurants is OK. But it is only acceptable if you’re mature in your faith so as to understand that these idols are nothing, and as long as no one that doesn’t see things that way sees you. After all, you don’t, by expressing your freedom, want to cause anyone to stumble. (1 Cor 8)
  2. But what about eating and drinking not only at a temple-restaurant, but actually as part of an idol worship service? Well, Paul is clear cut on this one. No. That would be participating with demons. (First half of 1 Cor 10)
  3. Back to the food, if you buy it from the market, then you’re fine eating it at home, for the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. (1 Cor 10:25-26)
  4. If you’re at the home of an unbeliever, then eat up and don’t ask questions. But again, like in 1 Corinthians 8, be careful of your witness. If someone tells you that the food is offered to idols, presumably because of their concern about the issue, then don’t eat–not for your conscience but for the other. (1 Cor 10:28)1

The issue is not so much the food itself. Rather it is the witness we are making by eating it. While it may be a fine piece of food and it is the believers right to eat it, as long as the proper understanding is present, the more important element is how we can best love and serve our neighbors. If that means sacrificing a right, then so be it.

  1. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, 291-292. ↩

To Eat or Not to Eat? The Question of 1 Corinthians 10

Dinner Plate

In reading 1 Corinthians 10:23-30, I found Ken Bailey’s commentary, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, very helpful. He again brings to focus the cultural writing style of Paul that differs from our own. We often put the point of greatest emphasis at the end, while Paul repeatedly in his letter puts it right in the center of his argument. Because of that, it can be a bit confusing. Here is Bailey on this passage, with the numbers in parentheses corresponding to the points Paul makes in the order they are found in Scripture:

This order confuses the modern reader. We are accustomed to:

On the one hand:

(1) Think of others and try to be helpful. (7) Don’t offend people. (2) Eat (or don’t eat) the meat you buy in the market for it is the Lord’s. (6) Do so to the glory of God. (3) At a meal in a pagan’s home eat whatever they serve you. (5) You are a free person, give thanks and eat.

But on the other hand:

(4) If someone whispers to you “This is idol meat, I am sure you would want to know,” then do not eat (out of respect for his or her conscience, no your conscience).[1]

Knowing the style in which Paul writes helps us to understand this section much better. It is easy to read it as though he is going back and forth, saying two things at once. But much of that is because we assume his argument builds linearly and concludes at the end. But his central emphasis, as it has been in past chapters, is seeking to love others and seek their good, rather than express our own rights or freedoms.

  1. Ken Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, 285. ↩

Daniel’s Diet

How could I give this up?
How could I give this up?

First off-apologies for my absence from posting. I usually post during the week, but I have been ill since Monday afternoon. I may still be a carrier, but such things do not transmit via the internet. You should be safe.

In reading the first chapter I was reminded of something I had heard of a while back that some churches were doing (and there is even a book associated with it), that is the “Daniel Diet.” I’ve seen it also called the Daniel Plan, the Daniel Fast, etc. Upon reading this passage folks thought, “why not?” So churches and other groups have tried it.

While I cannot attest to its health benefits I like the idea of seeing something in Scripture–something simple–and trying to do it. We sometimes can see something simple, turn it into something complicated, change it in all sorts of ways as we try to translate it from centuries ago to today’s culture, and in the end it is something altogether different.

We do at times need to do such translations. For example, not many of us are tempted to set up wooden totems devoted to foreign gods within our homes, but we are just as susceptible to idolatry today as God’s people were in the past. On the other hand we sometimes make things over complicated like when Jesus tells us to love our neighbor. Surely we learn from that story that we can’t exclude people. Neighbor can be applied to anyone. Yet neighbor still does mean those people who live right next to you. In all of our attempts to understand “love your neighbor” we sometimes neglect our next door neighbor.

So I like the simple approach to the Daniel diet. I may not agree with all of its tenets*, although there probably is variety among the different types, but they’re trying it. They see something do-able and do it.

This may not be the thing for you, but what else does Daniel do that we could imitate? Prayer three times a day? I think that is simple, do-able, beneficial. How about a Daniel Diet of Prayer? Three square meals of time talking with God? I bet that’ll do our body good.

*In just a brief reading I saw one sight equating the mind to emotion, which I don’t think is right.