If asked about what sort of questions have been presented to me over the years, I would have to say it would be questions having to do with the will of God. Within that there is a special category of questions about knowing the will of God in doubtful situations. This special category differs from questions about God’s will in things like career choices. When you talk about a job, generally speaking, it’s not a doubtful situation. You might have doubt about what you should do, but in the long run, it does not make a lot of difference whether you take a job with Company A or Company B. There is not much resting on that in terms of your Christian witness and testimony. But there are areas in which questions arise as to our witness and testimony. We wonder what we should do in those areas. Should we take a stand? If we do, some people will understand us, but others will misunderstand us. What should we do?
We wish that the Bible were clearer than it is. But the Bible is not written to specific individuals. Neither is it a book of rules. There are indeed some rules in it, but when we are talking about this matter of doubtful situations, the Bible does what the Bible should do. God treats us like the adult human beings he’s made us. The Bible does not give easy rules so that you can get off the hook simply by looking up your particular problem or question in the index. Rather, it lays down principles by which, if we are serious about the Christian life, we should live.
This is what Paul deals with in 1 Corinthians. In chapter 8 and portions of 9 and 10, Paul addresses a matter that really is what we would call a doubtful situation. The problem the Corinthians faced had to do with whether a Christian could lawfully, before God, eat meat that had been sacrificed to one of the heathen idols. It is helpful to know something about the system of sacrifice in Paul’s time. The sacrifices were always part of worship in the ancient world, in the pagan religions as well as in Judaism. It was by this system that the temples, priests, and priestesses were supported. It was a simple system. When a worshiper came to offer a sacrifice, it would be divided into three parts. One part would be sacrificed to the priest, one part would be sacrificed and burned on the altar, and the last part would be sold in the market place. The part of the sacrifice that went to the priests became food for the priesthood. The part of the sacrifice that was sold in the marketplace produced currency for buying other things. Thus, generally speaking, the sacrificial system supported the religious establishment of the ancient world. This meant that meat that had been sacrificed and dedicated to pagan gods would be sold and purchased just as openly in the marketplace as meat that had not been.
The question then was, could a Christian buy meat that had been offered to idols? An additional complication – a matter addressed later in the letter – came when meat was purchased by a pagan family that then invited a Christian family to dinner. Imagine if a Christian family were to sit at the table while the pagan family said, “Please have some of this wonderful roast. We know it is a good one because it was sacrificed to Zeus.” What was the Christian going to do at that point? Should he choke down a bite and politely say, “My, this certainly does taste good?” You see the problem.