So far in our studies of 1 Corinthians we have seen Paul writing extended sections of this epistle to deal with and answer issues that arose in the Corinthian church. In chapters 1-4 he dealt with factions that developed over some of the stronger personalities in the church. In chapters 5-7, moral laxity in the church led him to deal with cases of sexual immorality and the need to glorify God with our bodies whether in singleness or in marriage. Now in chapters 8-14 now, Paul is going to address matters of worship; dealing first negatively, in chapter 8-10 with a condemnation of the idolatrous practices associated with food offerings to pagan gods; and then positively in chapters 11-14 with the proper order of worship of God.
First in chapter 8:1-6, Paul introduces the dispute over food sacrificed to idols by establishing common ground with the Corinthian believers. All Christians agree that there is one God, and that idols have no real existence despite the fact that there are many who consider them ‘gods.’ Monotheism, the conviction that there is one God, defines God’s church and separated it from the pagan Corinthian culture. Monotheism is a doctrinal hill that Paul, like every true Christian, would die on. However, at least initially, rather than taking a rigid theological stance against those in the church who seemed to have freedom to eat idol’s food, Paul in verses 7-13 of chapter 8, considers the potential detrimental effect that this practice might have on fellow believers. He reiterates that the act of Christ’s love, which brings the Christian into God’s family, requires that all in the family respond to others in love, and put others’ interests ahead of their own. As one commentator put it: “Christ died for this person, and you can’t even change your diet?” But the text calls us to so much more than merely a change of diet; as Paul concludes the chapter with a hyperbole expressing just how far he would go to love his brother: “If food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat.”
In chapter 9 Paul goes on to fortify his argument of the lengths one ought to go to love the brethren, with his own example. In verse 1-14, he first establishes his rights as an apostle; rights that he relinquished at great cost to himself, rather than impeding the faith of weaker Christians. He does this, not primarily to defend his status as an apostle, but so that the Corinthians would imitate his example by surrendering their presumed right to eat idol’s food. In verses 19-23, Paul again uses himself as an example in order to motivate the church to an all-consuming concern to preach the Gospel and see others saved!