Message # 33 | 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1 | February 12, 2017


This morning, let’s start near the end. 1 Corinthians 10:31 outlines for us the primary goal. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This establishes our primary purpose at any point in our lives. What Paul does here in this passage is apply this primary goal to the context of food offered to idols.

Before we jump into food offered to idols, let’s not forget what it means to glorify God. God is glorified when his character is put on display. Therefore, I can personally glorify God by reflecting or declaring his character – personally putting his character on display. The physical created world reflects God’s power, creativity, etc., but mankind has a unique ability above the rest of creation. We can reproduce, in a small way, the attributes of God. The ocean can reflect God’s power and beauty, but it cannot reproduce love. The rocks reflect in a small way the sturdy foundation we experience in God, but they cannot reproduce and extend grace to someone. Humanity can.  Unlike the rest of creation, we were created in the image of God. We possess a personality, creativity, and a will. These can uniquely be used to reflect outward the character of God.

There is no arena in life in which we cannot strive to reflect God’s character to those we are around. When we do we are glorifying God. The specific context in which Paul is addressing these believers is in reference to eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. We can draw from this discussion five supporting pillars for how to glorify God in the context of Christian liberty issues.

Five practical principles to guide your God-glorifying liberty

Assess whether or not the action is helpful or edifying.

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up” (1 Cor 10:23).  You may be experiencing a bit of déjà vu as we read these phrases. Or, maybe you recollect that these nearly identical phrases were as well back in chapter six. “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything” (1 Cor 6:12). Nearly identical but not identical. If you were able to quickly look at both phrases you would quickly see that the one main distinction is that in the second phrase, Paul tells us that “not all things build up” (10:23) which is different than “I will not be dominated by anything” (6:12).

Let’s first consider those similarities and be reminded of their meaning. These statements, “all things are lawful,” were likely Corinthian statements that Paul was addressing. They may as well sound a little Pauline. Being freed from the law was a truth that would have been passionate on the heart of Paul. For freedom Christ has set us free (Gal 5:1). You are not under the law but under grace (Rom 6:14). We are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive (Rom 7:6).[1] But as any of us can do and probably all of us have done, we take certain truths in scripture and we overlook others.  While the Corinthian believers embraced the idea of freedom, they failed to follow the important principle Paul taught immediately after his statement in Galatians. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13). Paul had inevitably taught these truths over and over to them, but they took them and used them as a theological excuse to license what God had forbidden. They had developed the theology that “all things are lawful.” Paul confronts this.

Not all things are helpful. Even if Paul were to grant that in some way “all things are lawful,” it remains true that all things are not helpful. The word symphero includes the idea of something being profitable, beneficial, or helpful.[2] There are two ways in which “not all things are helpful.” (1) Not all things are helpful to the individual. (2) More importantly, not all things are helpful to the community. Paul likely had a corporate or community focus in his response.

Not all things build up. Paul’s second response in this chapter, different than in chapter six, is that while all things may be lawful (in some sense), not all things build up. Literally, οἰκοδομέω, refers to constructing a house or temple, some kind of building. The opposite concept would be to destroy or tear down. Peter takes this literal sense and works it into an analogy, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). This figurative use of the word refers to “the process of spiritual growth and development of the spiritual community and each member within it . . . as imparting strength and courage to someone to do what is right (1TH 5.11).”[3]

Application question. Let me offer a question for the sake of application. When was the last time you did or did not do something, not because you had the liberty to do it, but because you were purposefully trying to build up someone else? You either chose to not do something because it would not have built up someone else or you chose to do something because you knew it would build them up? The first pillar of God glorifying Christian liberty is to consider whether or not your action will be helpful and build up, yes you, but more importantly others.

Consider the needs of others more important than your own.

The second pillar Paul establishes for us is found in verse 24. “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Cor 10:24). This pillar kind of goes hand in hand with the first pillar. It’s possible, grammatically and even logically, to conclude from the first pillar that there are things that are lawful for you but you shouldn’t do them because they don’t build you up. You may have individualized the concept and not thought it was referring to building others up. If we limited build up to just ourselves, this verse broadens that out to others around us. Seek for the good of your neighbor.

Different Greek words for neighbor. There are a couple of different Greek words that are translated neighbor in the New Testament. One of them is plesion and refers to people who you would be considered close to, nearby, a companion or fellow countryman. The second Greek word used is heteros and carries a bit of a different meaning than the other. It emphasizes someone who is different than you, distinct in kind to you. Therefore when it tells you to seek the good of your neighbor, it is telling you to seek to do good, not to the person who is like you and agrees with you, but instead the person who is different than you and has different opinions than you.

This brief word study along with the following context would indicate that this sensitivity is not just towards other believers but as well to unbelievers. The concern is not only for the interests of other believers, but as well for unbelievers. We are building up other believers and we are evangelizing unbelievers. Either way, their needs are to be more important than our own.

This is a predominant theology throughout Paul’s epistles. In Philippians he writes, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:4). Paul goes on to say that Christ offered us an example of this when he “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:7). Later in 1 Corinthians, Paul writes about how love “does not insist on its own way” (1 Cor 13:5). In Romans, “none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself” (Rom 14:7) and “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Rom 14:7). “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).

Let liberty guide you not legalism.

“Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience (1 Cor 10:25–27).

The context of meat sacrificed to idols.[4]  The following historical details are drawn from Ben Witherington’s discussion on “Making a Sacrifice” in the Tyndale Bulletin.[5] Ancient temples were in many ways different than the modern church in that primarily the religious rites were performed outside the temple itself. Inside the temple you might find a main room in which would be the statue of a god. “Usually there would be nothing else in the room except for maybe an incense altar. When a Roman wanted to secure the good will of a god, he would make a vow, usually written on a wax or possibly a lead tablet, and would go to the temple to arrange a time . . . when he could come and have a sacrifice offered on his behalf” (243).

The day of the sacrifice, the Roman would come to the temple, attach the tablet to the god, and offer a prayer. Following this ritual, he would most likely go out in front of the temple where a sacrifice would be made. The sacrificial animal would be led to an altar on which a fire had been prepared.

The worshipper would normally invite family and friends to the sacrifice, not least because there would be a good deal of meat to be eaten up, and only the most wealthy of Romans had meat as a regular part of their diet. It was a luxury item, for the most part. The common person during the Empire only had meat at the occasional festival or public sacrifice, and so for this reason too a sacrifice was a special occasion for a family. (244)

Following the sacrifice, the animal would be dismembered. The organs would be cut into pieces and placed on the altar. Normally, the rest of the meat was quickly cooked in the temple kitchen. The priests and staff would receive a portion of the meat, but family and friends would consume the rest in a dining room that was next to the temple.

It is of course true enough that these temple dining rooms were the restaurants of antiquity, where friends might be publicly invited to dine, and in the case of the wealthy this may have happened with some regularity. But it is doubtful that a person invited to a meal which followed such a sacrifice would ever have seen it as a purely secular venture. (245)

You may wonder why this matters. It is this context that provides a setting for what Acts 15 condemns. It is there that the disciples in Jerusalem determined to tell the Gentile believers that they didn’t need to conform to the law, but they did tell them to “abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:20).  A few verses they write a letter that reads, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:28–29).

The disciples commanded the Gentile believers to “abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols.” Even Paul, earlier in 1 Corinthians says that he “will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (1 Cor 8:13). Let’s take it a step further and look in Revelation 2. The church in Pergamum is condemned for eating “food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality” (Rev 2:14). The church in Thyatira is condemned for tolerating Jezebel who taught and seduced believers “to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols” (Rev 2:20).

How then does Paul say in 1 Corinthians, “eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience” (1 Cor 10:25)? The answer is found in the meaning of two different Greek words. There is one Greek word that is used in every passage except for 1 Corinthians 10.

WITHERINGTON. I will argue below that εἰδωλόθυτον in all its 1st century AD occurrences means an animal sacrificed in the presence of an idol and eaten in the temple precincts. It does not refer to a sacrifice which has come from the temple and is eaten elsewhere, for which the Christian sources rather use the term ἱερόθυτον. In fact in all the 1st century AD references the association of εἰδωλόθυτον specifically with temples and eating seems very likely and is made clear by the context of these references in one way or another.[6]

This is as well seen in the context. Consider Acts. We may at times be tempted to see the four prohibitions as separate things, yet taken together they outline well what would happen within the temple worship – sacrifice to idols, strangulation, blood, and sexual immorality. Even in Revelation eating food sacrificed to idols is accompanied by sexual immorality. 1 Corinthians 8 clearly states, “if anyone sees you . . . in an idol’s temple” (1 Cor 8:10).

What was prohibited in Acts and condemned in Revelation was being part of the temple sacrifice and eating with others in the temple dining hall. On the other hand, eating meat that had been sold in the market place is the discussion that Paul is having in 1 Corinthians 10. It is explicit in the passage, “eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising question” (1 Cor 10:25). This context is the meat market not the temple dining hall.

Let’s go back and read the passage once again and consider the point. “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience (1 Cor 10:25–27).

It is our natural tendency to be legalistic. We like setting up boundaries and walls in which we feel safe. We feel like if we stay within these boundaries God is pleased with us. Therefore it makes sense that the believers would have struggled with knowing where the boundaries are in reference to eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. “The disciples told us to not eat meat sacrificed to idols. I don’t know if the meat in the market has been sacrificed to idols. I better ask. I don’t know if the meat offered to me at my unbelieving friends home had been sacrificed to idols, I better not participate or I better ask. You know what, it might be easier if I just withdraw from all my friends that might eat meat sacrificed to idols.  That way I’ll be safe.” And all of a sudden, we sit back and begin to marvel at our holiness. This is legalism. We think we are acquiring God’s favor through our righteous acts. On the other hand, Paul desires to direct these confused believers to live in freedom with reasonable boundaries. He tells them, just buy your meat at the market, don’t worry about it. If you go to a friend’s house and they offer you meat, just eat it. Don’t worry about it. But, there’s another pillar offered to balance this freedom.

Let the conscience of others limit your liberty.

“But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? (1 Cor 10:28–30).

The context. This would have likely been in a home, not in a temple. The statement would have been odd in the context of a temple. Of course the food being eaten in a temple dining area would have been sacrificed to idols. Eating in the context of the temple is what Acts 15 had prohibited. This was most likely referring to eating in someone’s home. In this home, someone questions whether or not you should be eating the food because they were aware that it had been sacrificed to an idol. The fact that this individual says something implies that it may be an area of conviction for them – either it is a believer that doesn’t think it is appropriate or it’s an unbeliever that thinks Christians don’t eat meat sacrificed to an idol. Either way, for the sake of their conscience, Paul exhorts them not to eat it.

Other’s conscience above my liberty. What then is the principle we draw from this – since none of us are likely going to someone’s home that’s offering idol meat? While I may have the liberty to do something, someone else’s conscience is more important than my liberty. If I come to understand that my actions, free as I may be to do them, are truly leading someone else to stumble into sin, I should be willing to limit my liberty. John MacArthur writes, “We are to modify our actions for the sake of others, but we are not to modify our consciences. The legalism of a weaker brother should not make us legalistic, only gracious.”[7]

It might be easy for us to struggle with this. Are we always surrendering our liberties? When can we be part of something that we know is acceptable? The context indicates that while we are to be willing to surrender our rights for the sake of another’s conscience, this is to be done only when the situation calls for it. Paul did not expect the Corinthian believers (or you) to give up your rights entirely.

We are not to leave the society in which we live. There is an additional implication to make in this passage. Paul assumes that believers were still interacting with their unbelieving friends, family, and neighbors. We can tend to withdraw so much that we would never be in a situation like this. In the same way that Jesus was known for eating with the tax collectors and sinners, we should be involved in the lives of others around us with the intent of being a reflection of Christ to them.

Observe others who have a Christ honoring balance.

We come to our final pillar. We’ve considered (1) whether or not the action is helpful and edifying. (2) We’ve considered the needs of others as more important than our own. (3) We’ve been directed by liberty not legalism, but (4) we aren’t allowing our liberty to trump someone else’s conscience (for that moment). What more is there? Paul offers one more pillar.

Just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Cor 10:33–11:1).

Paul offered himself as an example for the believers to follow. We may struggle with this a little bit. We may wonder how Paul could be so bold as to tell others to imitate him. As for anyone else, outside of Paul to say this, well that seems just inappropriate. But should we?

Paul doesn’t limit imitation to just himself. He writes in Philippians, “keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Phil 3:17). He uses a plural in a couple other passages. “You became imitators of us” (1 Thess 1:6). “Brothers, become imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 2:14). “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us” (2 Thess 3:7-9).

CORTEZ. Life is complex and its challenges legion. A variety of godly models stands a better chance of giving you something to imitate across a range of difficult circumstances than any single model possibly could.  Imitating me might be good. Imitating us will always be better.”[8]

So, we’ve probably come to the point where we are fine with Paul commanding others to imitate him, but how does that transfer over to us by means of application? Are we to tell others to imitate us? (1)  Everyone imitates someone.  We are influenced by the people around us.  We observe them and consider whether or not their actions are worthy of emulation.  This is just a reality.  We all imitate people. (2)  We all want models to follow or imitate.  We may not want to always be following someone, but there are a lot of moments in our lives in which we wish there was a model to follow.  We struggle knowing how to respond in a given circumstance and we wish we could observe someone else do it. Or we call someone who has already gone through it and we ask them for advice . . . Why?  Because, at times, we all want a model to follow. (3)  Offering yourself as an example doesn’t demand that you think you have everything figured out or don’t have areas of weakness.  Paul was quick to refer to himself as the “chiefest of sinners.”  Obviously there were areas in which we shouldn’t follow his example, but there were a number of areas in which he did offer a helpful and consistent example to follow.  (4) While we may never tell people to imitate us, we should all be aspiring to be the kind of people that others could imitate.

CHALLIES. A man who does not feel his pursuit of God is worthy of emulation or a man who knows that he is not imitating Christ is a man who does not meet the biblical requirements of leadership.[9]

D.A. Carson takes it a little further, “Do you ever say to a young Christian, ‘Do you want to know what Christianity is like? Watch me!’ If you never do, you are unbiblical.”[10] So whether or not you ever say, “imitate me” of “follow my example” we should all be aspiring to be the kind of people others could imitate and follow. No one offers a model that anyone should follow all the time, but most of us have the ability to offer a model for someone to follow. Paul limited his statement. Our imitation of Paul is to extend only as far as he is accurately reflecting and imitating Christ.


[1] For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight (Rom 3:20). Creation will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Rom 8:21).

[2] Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 362–363.

[3] Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 278.

[4] Pertinent references. Gal 2:11-14, Acts 15:19-29, 1 Cor 8:1-13, 1 Cor 10:25-30, Rev 2:14, 20. All of these passages use the word εἰδωλόθυτον except for 1 Cor 10:28 which uses ἱερόθυτον

[5] Ben Witherington III, “Not So Idle Thoughts About Eidolothuton,” Tyndale Bulletin 44, no. 2 (1993): 237–54.

[6] Ibid., 240.

[7] John F. MacArthur Jr., 1 Corinthians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 247.

[8] Marc Cortez, “Imitate Me,” Blog, Everyday Theology, (September 30, 2014), Accessed February 9, 2017.

[9] Tim Challies, “Be Imitators of Me,” Challies, October 10, 2006, Accessed February 9, 2017.

[10] D.A. Carson, The Resurrection to His Return: Living Faithfully in the Last Days, Christian Focus.

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