8 With reference to things offered to idols--we are well aware that we all possess knowledge; but knowledge inflates a man, whereas love builds him up. If anyone thinks he has reached a certain stage of knowledge, it is not the kind of knowledge it ought to be. If a man loves God, he is known by God. With regard to food which consists of things offered to idols, we well know that there is nothing in the universe for which an idol stands, and that there is no God but one; and even if the so-called gods do exist, just as there are gods many and lords many, as far as we are concerned, it remains true that there is one God, the Father, from whom all things come and to whom we go; and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came into being and through whom we were re-created. But it is not everyone who has knowledge; but there are some who, even up to now, have been accustomed to regard idols as real, and who still cannot help doing so; the consequence is that, when they eat meat offered to idols, they regard it as eating a real sacrifice, and because their conscience is weak, a stain is left upon it. Food will not commend us to God. If we do not eat it we are none the worse; and if we do eat it we are not specially better. You must take care to see to it that your very liberty does not become a stumbling-block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you, who have knowledge, sitting at meat in the temple of an idol, will the conscience of the weak man not be encouraged to eat things which have been offered to idols, while he still really believes in the reality of the idol and the sacrifice? And so the person who is weak will be ruined by your knowledge, the brother for whom Christ died. If you sin like that against a brother, and if you strike blows like that against his conscience in its weakness, you are sinning against Christ. Therefore, if a thing like food is going to cause my brother to stumble, I will most certainly abstain from eating flesh forever, so that I may not cause my brother to stumble.
We have seen how it was scarcely possible to live in any Greek city and not to come daily up against the problem of what to do about eating meat that had been offered as a sacrifice to idols. There were certain of the Corinthians to whom the matter was no problem. They held that their superior knowledge had taught them that the heathen gods simply did not exist, and that therefore it was possible for a Christian to eat meat that had been offered to idols without a qualm. In reality Paul has two answers to that. One does not come until 1 Corinthians 10:20 . In that passage Paul makes it clear that, although he quite agreed that the heathen gods did not exist, he felt certain that the spirits and the demons did exist and that they were behind the idols and were using them to seduce men from the worship of the true God.
In the present passage he uses a much simpler argument. He says that in Corinth there were men who all their lives, up until now, had really believed in the heathen gods; and these men, simple souls, could not quite rid themselves of a lingering belief that an idol really was something, although it was a false something. Whenever they ate meat offered to idols, they had qualms of conscience. They could not help it; instinctively they felt that it was wrong. So Paul argues that if you say that there is absolutely no harm in eating meat offered to idols you are really hurting and bewildering the conscience of these simple souls. His final argument is that, even if a thing is harmless for you, when it hurts someone else, it must be given up, for a Christian must never do anything which causes his brother to stumble.
In this passage which deals with so remote a thing there are three great principles which are eternally valid.
(i) What is safe for one man may be quite unsafe for another. It has been said, and it is blessedly true, that God has his own secret stairway into every heart; but it is equally true that the devil has his own secret and subtle stairway into every heart. We may be strong enough to resist some temptation, but it may well be that someone else is not. Something may be no temptation whatever to us, but it may be a violent temptation to someone else. Therefore, in considering whether we will or will not do anything, we must think not only of its effect on us, but of its effect on others as well.
(ii) Nothing ought to be judged solely from the point of view of knowledge; everything ought to be judged from the point of view of love. The argument of the advanced Corinthians was that they knew better than to regard an idol as anything; their knowledge had taken them far past that. There is always a certain danger in knowledge. It tends to make a man arrogant and feel superior and look down unsympathetically on the man who is not as far advanced as himself. Knowledge which does that is not true knowledge. But the consciousness of intellectual superiority is a dangerous thing. Our conduct should always be guided not by the thought of our own superior knowledge, but by sympathetic and considerate love for our fellow man. And it may well be that for his sake we must refrain from doing and saying certain otherwise legitimate things.
(iii) This leads to the greatest truth of all. No man has any right to indulge in a pleasure or to demand a liberty which may be the ruination of someone else. He may have the strength of mind and will to keep that pleasure in its proper place; that course of action may be safe enough for him; but he has not only himself to think about, he must think of the weaker brother. An indulgence which may be the ruin of someone else is not a pleasure but a sin.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)