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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Now About Food Sacrificed To Idols

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

 

Published in honor of Rev. Jerry Reiter’s 93rd birthday celebrated in Heaven, Monday 01/29/2024. Originally delivered Sunday 02/01/2015.

 

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

 

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

 

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

 

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

1 Cor. 8:1–13

 

In 1994, “Health” magazine carried a report on pizza consumption in the White House. It was based on a study done by Domino’s Pizza. After noticing that nighttime pizza orders at the Central Intelligence Agency and the White House soared when a crisis was brewing, Domino’s began keeping closer tabs on deliveries to these two addresses. In the first year of Bill Clinton’s administration, pizza orders to the White House were 31% higher than they were during George Bush’s highest year – 1990. On days when Hillary was on an announced trip out of town, pizza orders to the White House went up an average of 18%. I’m not sure what that means, but draw your own conclusion. 😊

 

On the other end of the country, Domino’s California pizza franchises had over 100 requests for after-midnight deliveries to fat farms and health spas. Sounds like people are cheating, doesn’t it? I don’t know what relevance these figures have for us, except to emphasize what an important role food plays in our lives. Food is important; not only for keeping us alive, but also as a source of pleasure and an aid to fellowship. What do we in the church do after baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals? We get together to eat!

 

Food is a source of a lot of our nation’s income – not only for farmers, but also for grocery stores and restaurants of all kinds. And then there’s the diet industry, because in this land of plenty most of us eat too much! There’s no doubt about it: food has an important place in our lives.

 

And food was important to the early church, too. We read that they had their meals together. And their most important ceremony, other than baptism, was the sacred meal of the Lord’s Supper. But food was also the source of one of their conflicts.

 

Many of the early Christians had been pagans. They had offered sacrifices to idols before giving their life to Christ. And most of their friends and relatives were still pagans. Suppose they were a guest in a friend’s home, and the friend served meat that had been offered in sacrifice to a pagan god. Should the Christian abstain from eating the meat? Or was it okay to eat it? This was a serious issue in the early church. They didn’t live in a land like ours where most of our neighbors are at least nominally Christian. The pagan faith of the Roman Empire had so many corrupt practices that it was important for Christians to set themselves clearly apart. So they asked, should they accept the hospitality of their pagan neighbors by eating food that had been offered to idols?

 

Paul clearly considered the question, on the surface, to be a non-issue. After all, idols have no real existence, so offering them sacrifices was an illusion in the first place. It’s like people who follow astrology – most of us don’t consider it a threat to the Christian faith. But Paul recognized that some early followers were confused when they saw fellow Christians eating food that had been offered to idols. To them it seemed to endorse idol worship. So when Paul saw their confusion, he vowed to abstain from such meat rather than lead these new converts astray.

 

So, our text is telling us that we have a responsibility for one another. We have a responsibility for the whole world; but our first responsibility is to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Within the church family, there are different levels of spiritual maturity. And there are many differences in our life experiences. Some of us have lived relatively pain-free lives. Others of us hurt – in one way or another – every day we live. If we’re to be the Body of Christ, we need to put ourselves in other people’s shoes.

 

When God first created the world, it was a place of perfect harmony. But sin spoiled the beauty and peace that God had created. And there are a lot of people whose beauty and peace have been spoiled. And many of them are to be found in church pews – or on church membership lists. Those of us who have been more fortunate in our Christian walk have a responsibility for our hurting brothers and sisters. This is why no church can afford to be torn by conflict. When we get caught up in trying to resolve our own internal conflicts, we can’t minister to those who need us to listen to them, encourage them, and help them. So, Paul reminds us that we have a responsibility for one another.

 

And he also tells us that our Christian love for one another may require some sacrifice. Speaking to the issue of eating meat that’s been sacrificed to idols, Paul explains that there’s nothing actually wrong with eating it, but if seeing him eat this meat causes a weaker person to stumble, then he won’t eat it. Paul didn’t want to be a stumbling block for others.

 

Translate that our world today. Is it wrong to smoke? How about if you’re with someone with emphysema, and they’re trying to quit smoking? Is it wrong to have a drink with dinner? How about if you’re dining with someone who can’t drink just one or two without “falling off the wagon”? Is it wrong to buy a lottery ticket, play poker, or put two dollars on a horse’s nose? How about if you’re influencing someone who can’t stop gambling once they start? Is it wrong to eat cake or candy? How about if you’re eating with a person who’s a diabetic with a sweet tooth? I’m sure you can think of many more examples of situations where our Christian love for on another may require some sacrifice.

 

Of course, this approach to life is completely out of step  with the world around us. There the attitude is, “If my lifestyle offends you, get used to it!” Sacrificial living? Living to keep from offending a weaker brother or sister? It’s a foreign notion in today’s world.

 

But we’re not to be of this world. We’re to be in the world, but not of the world. Do we think we can have faith in our Lord, without sacrificing a little bit of who we are, and what we like, for the good of others? No way! We have a responsibility for one another. And if that means we may have to make sacrifices from time to time, so be it! If it means that we may have to sacrifice a little of our liberty, so that others won’t be confused about our commitment to Christ, so be it!

 

After all, Christ made a far greater sacrifice for us. That’s the crux of the matter. When we take responsibility for others, we’re only doing what we ask Christ to do for us. When we make sacrifices for others, we only do what Christ has already done for us.

 

There’s a story of an artist named Steinberg and a gypsy girl. He would have this girl sit for him in his studio. She also watched him paint his masterpiece, “Christ on the Cross.” One day she said to him, “He must have been a very wicked man to be nailed to a cross like that.” “No,” said the painter. “On the contrary, He was a very good man. The best man who ever lived. He died for others.” The little girl looked up at him and asked, “Did He die for you?” Steinberg was not a Christian, but the gypsy girl’s question touched his heart, and he did become a believer.

 

The sacrifices that Jesus Christ made for us has moved millions through the centuries. Has it moved you? Then you don’t mind me saying that we have a responsibility for one another. And sometimes that responsibility may require sacrifice on our part. For we do have a responsibility for one another.

 

Amen

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