Lesson 7 February 8 - 14
Food for Thought About Idols

Read For This Week's Study: 1 Cor. 8; 10:14-11:1.

Memory Text:  "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak" (1 Corinthians 8:9).

Key Thought:  Our actions may seem appropriate and ethical. However, as Christians, we are held accountable for the influence our actions have on others.

Sabbath Afternoon February 7

ARE WE REALLY ACCOUNTABLE FOR OTHERS? One writer has described our age As "obsessively individualistic" and full of "raging individualism."  He expands: "My pleasures, my likes and dislikes, my gratification rule the day. Forget about the future--the children and the grandchildren--forget about who will pay later, forget about rules, and forget about God. Don't get in my way! If it feels good to me, I want it, and I want it now, and I'm gonna get it."-William Johnsson, The Fragmenting of Adventism (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press, 1995), pp. 24, 28.

To such times as ours, Paul's counsel to the Corinthians that we will study this week comes as shocking news. Even though I know I am right, and even thought I do what is right, I may be sinning against Christ! Not only must I keep my own conscience clear, I must watch with care lest my "right" actions harm the spiritual commitment of others.  Sobering words, indeed, for an age such as ours!    

Sunday February 8

FOOD OFFERED TO IDOLS (1 Cor. 8:1-11:1).

Take a few minutes to survey 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1.  What are its major sections?  What recurring themes do you observe in this section of the epistle?  

Paul begins this section by dealing with two issues: 1. Should Christians eat food that had been part of a sacrifice? (8:1-8); and 2. Should Christians participate in festive meals held in temples dedicated to idol worship? (1 Cor. 8:9-13). He builds a forceful argument that love for others should exert a major influence on our behavior. He supports this by citing his own example (1 Corinthians 9; compare 10:31-11:1). Following a section in which he corrects inappropriate views of baptism and the Lord's Supper (10:1-13; discussed in Lesson 8), Paul concludes by revisiting the two issues regarding idols and food. First he discusses participating in feasts in idol temples (10:14-22), then eating food offered to an idol (10:23-11:1).

Once again, the Corinthians posed questions to which Paul responded. Judging from 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and 10:14-30, what questions did they ask?  What questions would you have asked if you were in their place?  

To understand the questions of the Corinthians, we must not that the worship of false gods was an integral part of social and commercial life. In an age where superstition was the rule, such worship extended to every sphere of life. The usual diet would not have included meat that was reserved for special events--weddings, funerals, public festivals, gatherings of associations or clubs, and feasts hosted in the temples. Most available meat had, therefore, been part of a sacrificial offering to a pagan deity. At such rites, only a token portion was burned, the remainder going to priests and others who sold what they did not need to the "meat market" (1 Cor. 10:25, NIV).

What ethical dilemmas are you facing? On what basis do you intend to resolve them? What sources of help are available to you in resolving them? If you have resolved an ethical dilemma in your life, come prepared to share with your class how you arrived at resolution.  

Monday February 9

MEALS AND MARKETS (1 Cor. 8:1-9; 10:23-30).

Where does Paul envision that a Christian might confront the issue of food offered to idols? 1 Cor. 10:25, 27.  

Paul understands that Corinthian Christians will confront the issue both in the markets and in the homes of unbelievers. A passage from Plutarch (A.D. 46-120) helps us to imagine the latter. Plutarch lived close to Corinth, and he records the following account of a private dinner: "Ariston's cook made a hit with the dinner guests not only because of his general skill, but because the cock he set before the diners, though it had just been slaughtered as a sacrifice to Heracles, was as tender as if it had been a day old."--Quoted in Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, St. Paul's Corinth, p. 101.

In these settings, what does Paul say should be the Christian's reaction? 1 Cor. 8:1-9; 10:23-30 (compare Rom. 14:13-23). Explain the rationale for his view.   

Since idols are "nothing in the world" (1 Cor. 8:4, KJV), meat offered to them is not really tainted by anything. So, in both the case of meat purchased at the market and that of a meal at the home of an unbeliever, Paul advocates a "don't ask" policy. But one must also consider the influence of one's actions on others. Paul suggests that this should figure in one's actions if, in the course of the meal, someone reveals that the meat had been part of a sacrifice.

In these passages, Paul displays a high regard for the conscience. He concludes that we should not lead one to violate his or her conscience, even when the conscience is over-sensitized or ill-informed. He further concludes that if a person's conscience instructs "No" on a morally neutral matter, it should be followed. To go against the conscience would be wrong. While the standard on which the conscience is based may need enlightening, Paul is eager to guard against breaching the conscience.  

In this context the issue of not asking refers, as we have seen, to food offered to idols; however, it is still appropriate to ask whether the meat is clean or unclean if the occasion necessitates it.

How can we avoid "defiling" or "wounding" someone's conscience? To what extent are we responsible for the integrity of others? In our carelessness, we may become an offense to a brother's or sister's conscience. How may we, in loving and understanding ways, remedy such a hurtful situation?  

Tuesday February 10

TEMPLE BANQUETS (1 Cor. 8:9-13; 10:14-22).

Where else did Corinthian Christians face the issue of food offered to idols? 1 Cor. 8:20; 10:14-22.  

The reality of these texts is seen in a surviving invitation to a feast in honor of the god Serapis: "Chaeremon [the host] invites you to dinner at the banquet of our Lord Serapis in the Serapeum [the temple to Serapis] tomorrow, the fifteenth, at the ninth hour." Can you imagine receiving such an invitation? How would you respond? What if the event happened to be "the social event of the year"?

Our ability to appreciate the issue is also aided by excavations at Corinth. Asclepias, the Greek god of healing, was worshiped at his temple in Corinth, the Asclepion. The Asclepion was situated in a pleasant spot with a spacious courtyard and a swimming pool. Serving as a kind of health club and social center, it boasted three dining rooms. Imagine the temptation a "weak" church member would face if invited to celebrate, for example, the marriage of a pagan relative there, especially if it was know that other Christians (the "strong") participated in such feasts! (See Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, St. Paul's Corinth, pp. 161-167.)

In Paul's view, is it a sin to eat meat offered to idols in such a setting? 1 Cor. 8:1,12. What rationale does he give for this view?  

Paul is not interested in how our behavior impacts God in isolation from how it affects our fellow believers. He weds the vertical dimension of our relationship with God to the horizontal dimension of our relationships with others.

"Christianity demands that your right shall not lead others astray, that it shall not do violence to that most sacred and delicate thing-- a human conscience."--F. W. Robertson quoted in Ralph P. Martin, Understanding the New Testament: 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians (Philadelphia and New York: A. J. Holman, 1978) p. 27.

What are some attitudes or behaviors that you may have in living your Christian life that may intentionally or unintentionally hinder another's spiritual growth?   

What relationship exists between your self-denial and another person's spiritual development?   

Wednesday February 11

IDOLS AND IDOLATRY (Isa. 44:9-21; 1 Cor. 10:14-22).

Review Isaiah's treatment of idolatry. Isa. 44:9-21.  

Like Paul, Isaiah recognized that idol worship has a numbing spiritual effect. "A deluded heart misleads him [the idolater]; he cannot save himself, or say, 'Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?'" (Isa. 44:20, NIV)

What arguments does Paul employ against participation in pagan temple feasts? 1 Cor. 10:14-22.     

In partaking of the Lord's Supper, Christians share together in Christ the "one bread" reflecting the "one body" we form. Likewise, the Old Testament sacrifices were meals with great significance. By participating, the Israelites became "partners in the altar" (1 Cor. 10:18, NRSV). Paul argues that the same is true of idol feasts. However, participating in such a feast does not make one a participant in an idol, itself a nonentity. Rather, such involvement creates "partners with demons" (verse 20, NRSV).

How does the New Testament encourage us to broaden our understanding of idolatry? Col. 3:5; Rev. 2:14-20. What are some other forms of idolatry that we encounter in our modern world?  

"Many who bear the name of Christians are serving other God. . . Our Creator demands our supreme devotion, our first allegiance. Anything which tends to abate our love for God, or to interfere with the service due Him, becomes thereby an idol."--SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 2, pp. 1011, 1012.

"The idols of the heathen stood between them and their God, obscuring God from their vision. Thus it is today. By the cunning deception of Satan false theories are made a power to rob God. Man's spiritual understanding is darkened by Satan's sophistry. Instead of religion's making men meek and lowly in heart, it works to make them religious zealots, exacting and hard-spirited because their ideas are not met. There religious ideas do not lead the soul to humble, fervent trust in God."--Manuscript Releases, vol.12, p. 221.

What modern activities or ideas that seem nonthreatening may, in fact, make us "partners with demons"?  

Thursday February 12

THE WEAK AND THE STRONG (1 Cor 8:1-13; 10:14-30).

Who are "the strong"? 1 Cor. 8:1-6; 10:14-30.   

The strong possess accurate knowledge about the nonexistence of idols. But they are acting on this knowledge in ways that are misleading to others. They deserve an "A" in Bible doctrines, but an "F" in practical godliness. The "strong," however, are weaker than they think! Based on an inaccurate understanding of the Lord's Supper and baptism (see Lesson 8), they believe themselves invincible and able to participate in temple feasts.

There are two types of "strong" church members implied in Paul's treatment. The "weak strong" succumb to the beguiling power of their knowledge and act out what they "know" to be right, to the detriment of others. The "strong strong," on the other hand, can refrain from behaviors that, while not necessarily wrong, could lead someone else astray.

Who are "the weak"? 1 Cor. 8:7-13; 10:27-29.  

The "weak" earn the title for two reasons. First, the weak church member has a "weak" or oversensitized conscience and thus makes decisions on irrational grounds. Second, "weak" members are "weak" because they succumb too readily to the example of others. While none of the Corinthians had been a Christian for long, the "weak" were probably newer members. Or, at least members who struggled with the pull of their old life. "We cannot underestimate how difficult it must have been for people accustomed to believing in the reality of many gods suddenly to transform those years of deeply entrenched religious conviction into a monotheistic framework."--Clinton E. Arnold, Powers of Darkness, (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1992), p. 95.

These passages invite us to be especially thoughtful of those who are new in the faith and at risk of being drawn once again to harmful former associations and habits. It is the responsibility of their new family members to watch over them. We should refrain from any behavior, however "right," that will strengthen the old life.

Our churches have sometimes appointed "spiritual guardians" for newly baptized members. Paul reminds us that all of us should function in this way. What can you do to encourage a newly baptized member? How would a spiritual partner enhance mutual encouragement and spiritual growth?      

Friday February 13

Further Study:  For additional material from Paul on the theme of worshiping the true God, see Acts 17:16-33, Romans 1:18-32, 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 10.

The issues revolving around idol-food may seem far removed from our time and culture. Ellen White, though, regards these passages as especially appropriate to us:

"Paul urged his brethren to ask themselves what influence their words and deeds would have upon others, and to do nothing, however innocent in itself, that would seem to sanction idolatry, or offend the scruples of those who might be weak in the faith....

"The apostle's words of warning to the Corinthian church are applicable to all time, and are especially adapted to our day. By idolatry he meant not only the worship of idols, but self-serving, love of ease, the gratification of appetite and passion. A mere profession of faith in Christ, a boastful knowledge of the truth, does not make a man a Christian. A religion that seeks only to gratify the eye, the ear, and the taste, or that sanctions, self-indulgence, is not the religion of Christ."--The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 316, 317.


1.  How does Paul's counsel in 1 Corinthians relate to the command against consuming food offered to idols in Acts 15:19-21, 28, 29 and Revelation 2:14, 20?   

2.  Paul seems willing to accept more than one perspective on the issue of food offered to idols. He imagines that the church will harbor both members who believe it appropriate to eat such food and those who do not. On what basis do we distinguish between acceptable diversity and harmful division?  

3.  How can you help your local church or Sabbath School class more effectively serve new members?   

Summary:  Helpful Christian behavior requires both sound information and sensitivity to the spiritual well-being of others. Encouraging those around us, especially those young in the faith, should be a high priority.   

All Are Precious in His Sight
David Ferraro

How large is your church? 50? 100? 500? When was the last time the church held a baptism? Are members talking about enlarging the church?

In Niger [Nee-JAIR], a Muslim country south of the Sahara Desert in the heart of Africa, the church has 54 members--in the entire country!

Sharing the gospel in Niger is difficult. A person who wants to become a Christian faces serious problems. New believers often are treated as lepers, isolated from their families and loved ones. But God is working in Niger, and exciting things are happening.

Adamou lives in a small town 90 miles south of the capital city of Niamey, Niger. He became a Christian in 1988. In 1994 he learned of the Adventist church in Niamey. He contacted Pastor Zakari and requested a visit. The pastor came and began Bible studies with Adamou and some of his friends. Adamou was excited about the message of the Sabbath and other truths he was learning. He joined the Adventist church.

Adamou, like many young people of Niger, had problems finding work. That meant he had lots of time to share his new beliefs with others. He is so successful in stirring up interest in God, that Pastor Zakari established a small company of believers in his village. They meet in a small hut on Sabbath mornings. Several new believers were baptized, and the little group grew to about 13 people. When the pastor visited, he brought great joy--five Bibles, so the believers would not all have to share Adamou's Bible.

Each member of the little congregation has stories of pain and victory. One young man was disowned and faced starvation until the believers gave him a large bag of rice. A young girl, ready to be baptized, is pleading with her father to allow her to become a Christian. But her father, a teacher of the Koran, has threatened to disown her if she identifies with Christians. Still she waits and hopes and prays that he will change his mind.

The believers have outgrown their little hut-church, and the mission is looking for a larger meeting place for them.

The church in Niger is small, but each member is precious in the sight of God. Pray for the Spirit of God to be poured out on the faithful believers in Niger. Pray for Adamou and his outreach efforts, and for the young girl who risks everything to follow the precious truth of God.

David Ferraro is president of the Niger Mission in West Africa.


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