I might have organized a debate if I’d been given the question that Paul was given.
It seems that the church in Corinth wanted to know what the right thing to do about meat that had been sacrificed to idols. (1 Cor 8:1-3)
In those days, the pagans would kill animals before the gods, to try to placate their unpredictable nature so they didn’t do something bad to the people. Then the meat was sold in the markets at a greatly-reduced price.
The question for Christians was this: could they buy and eat this meat? There had been debate within the church and so they asked Paul.
Those who said “No” argued that they wanted nothing to do with false gods and would not eat the meat. When they ate the meat, they thought about the false gods and felt defiled.
Those who said “yes” argued that false gods were just that: false. There was no god but the true God. Something that didn’t exist couldn’t defile the meat.
Who was right? That’s what the church wanted to know.
But while I’d be organizing the debate, Paul re-defined it. In verse 1, he revealed his viewpoint: “Love builds up.”
That might seem like an odd answer to the question. Paul started talking about knowledge and love instead of just answering the question.
Well, the Corinthians wanted knowledge all right. They wanted a straight answer: “yes” or “no” on the meat thing.
By verse 3, Paul had returned to his point: want to be known by God? Then love others.
Since that wasn’t even what the Corinthians had asked, his answer undoubtedly puzzled them. And us.
And we may wonder what meat in the first century has to do with us.
But we’ll look at this some more tomorrow, because it has a huge impact for us today.