This passage in many ways is very similar to Romans 14. Because of this, I want to put more of my focus on the first few verses and how it relates to the rest of the passage.
Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God. (1-3)
Paul was dealing here with a situation in which some of the Corinthian Christians were bothered by other believers eating meat offered to idols. They felt it would be wrong to do so, and as Paul wrote in Romans 14,
The man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)
But there were others in the Corinthian church who knew that eating such meat had no effect on their spiritual life, that Jesus had in fact said that all foods were clean (Mark 7:19)
The problem was that knowledge led to pride, and that pride led them to flaunt their freedom in front of their weaker (in faith) brothers and eat this meat that was sacrificed to idols.
This in turn was leading some of the brothers to break their conscience and eat this meat too. And because they weren’t eating from faith, they were sinning.
And so Paul really gets on these Corinthians who were causing their brothers to fall. He told them, “Yes, you know that eating food offered to idols is okay because the idols are nothing and are not real gods.”
But Paul tells them,
The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. (2)
What is Paul saying? I think he’s saying it’s not enough to just have knowledge. You also have to know how to wield that knowledge. And if you don’t know how to wield that knowledge, then your knowledge is incomplete.”
How are we to wield the knowledge we have? With love.
Paul tells the Corinthians,
Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. (1)
Knowledge in itself can be a source of pride. “I know! You don’t.”
It is that kind of pride that often leads people to argue theological issues that go round and round but never go anywhere. Even worse, it’s the kind of pride that causes people to look down on and judge other people. And it’s the kind of pride that causes division in the church and tears it apart.
That’s what was happening in the Corinthian church. And so Paul reminds them, “Your ‘knowledge’ is not what pleases God. It’s what you do with that knowledge. Are you building people up with that knowledge? Or are you tearing them down?”
Paul concludes by saying,
But the man who loves God is known by God. (3)
How do we know if a person truly loves God? John tells us in his first epistle:
Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (I John 4:21)
That’s exactly what the Corinthians weren’t doing. They were using their knowledge not to build people up, but to tear them down by eating meat sacrificed to idols in front of their weaker brothers. The result?
So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. (11)
And Paul warns them,
When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. (12)
Paul then shows them how their knowledge should lead them to act in the current situation.
Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall. (13)
How about you? How do you wield the knowledge you have? Do you use it to puff yourself up, while destroying your brother or sister? Or do you use it to build them up?