1 Corinthians 10:23-33 – Should I or Shouldn’t I?

Translation and Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 10 May 2009


19. So what am I saying?

            That a thing sacrificed idolatrously is anything, or that an idol is anything?

            20. Rather that what the nations are sacrificing is to demons; they are not sacrificing to God – and I’m not willing for y’all to become partners of the demons.

            21. Y’all are not able to drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons.

            Y’all are not able to partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

            22. Or shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than Him!

23. “All things are permissible,” but not all things bear together.

“All things are permissible,” but not all things build up.

24. No one should continue to seek what is for himself, but rather what is for the other.

25. Y’all should continue to eat everything which is being sold in the market,

            not making a single judgment with regards to the conscience.

            26. For, “The earth is the Lord’s and that which fills her.”

27. If someone of the unbelievers calls you and you wish to go, you should eat anything that is set before you, not making a single judgment with regards to the conscience.

28. But if someone happens to say to you, “This is a temple-sacrifice!” stop eating –

            on account of that informant and his conscience.

            29. Now, by the conscience, I’m speaking not of your own, but rather than of the other man,

                        for why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience?

            30. As for me, if by grace I partake, why should I be slandered over what I am giving thanks for!

31. Therefore, whether y’all are eating, whether y’all are drinking, whatever you do,

            continue to do all things to God’s glory.

            32. Become un-spectacular, both to Jews and to Greeks and to the church of God,

                        33. just as I myself also am pleasing all men in all things,

            not seeking the bearing together of myself but rather that of the many,

            in order that they might be saved.



Last Sunday at our church fellowship meal, after you loaded your plate with all those yummy foods and desserts, what went through your mind as you left the serving line and looked out over the tables? For most of us, we thought about who we wanted to sit with. There is something instinctive about the connection between fellowship and sharing a meal.


Last week we looked at fellowship between man and God demonstrated through the Lord’s supper.

This week, we’re going to look at what promotes fellowship between one human and another, and that also includes eating meals together.


But the immediate question for the church in Corinth was that the church was divided over whether or not they could eat meat sacrificed to idols, so they were not eating together and therefore were not experiencing the fellowship they should have as a church.


Lowell Bliss, a resident of Manhattan, KS, who has served on the mission field in India described how this plays out even among Christians in modern-day India: Each family has a god that they worship in India, and there are many different gods to choose from. It is customary to go to the temple of your particular god and bring a box of crackers or some kind of food. The priest at the temple will offer a blessing over the food and maybe touch the idol with it and hand it back. This blessed food is called “Prasad.” The worshipper takes the Prasad home and shares it with their family. Often if they are feeling sociable, they’ll carry some of the food over to their neighbors and share a snack while shooting the breeze in conversation. So when Lowell’s neighbor came over with a box of crackers to chat he was faced with a question, “Should I as a Christian missionary eat this Prasad that has been offered to an idol and chat with my Hindu neighbor, or should I refuse the food that my neighbor is offering?”


Suppose a new convert to Christianity was with Lowell at his house to be discipled when the Hindu neighbor came over with his box of crackers. The new Christian turns to Lowell with a horrified look and says, “Sahib, that food has been offered to an idol!” or suppose the Hindu neighbor himself brings it up, “I have just offered this food to the goddess Durga at her temple. I want you to have some so that she will protect you from evil, too!” What’s a Christian to do?


There are several principles that Paul brings out in vs. 23-33 to help the Corinthians and all Christians after them to decide, “Should I or shouldn’t I?”


I)        Don’t get involved in fellowship with demons (vs. 20-22)

A)    We saw last week that demons are real and that worship not directed to God is directed to them. (v.20)

B)    Fellowship with demons or false Gods excludes us from fellowship with God (v.21).

1.      I have an acquaintance who was involved in Satanic ceremonies as a kid and became a Christian as a young adult. But whenever the Lord’s Supper was set up, she would get such a violent stomach ache that she could not take Communion; she was doubled up with pain. Only after the elders of the church prayed for her deliverance from this demonic influence was she able for the first time to take the bread and the cup. You can’t have fellowship with the table of demons and the Lord’s table.

2.      But it’s not usually Satan worship that people in our country struggle with. Much more common is:

(a)    a passion for certain sports that take us out of church on Sunday mornings,

(b)   or driven-ness to work or study that lands you in the office or the library on the Lord’s Day,

(c)    or addiction to entertainment late on Saturday night.
When I was in High School, I could tell who had been up late watching Saturday Night Live because they were the ones who slept through Sunday school!

C)    Participating in the worship of false Gods provokes God to violently jealous anger (v.22)

D)    For this reason, Paul taught in chapter 8 that it was a bad idea for a Christian to show up in an idol’s temple and eat there, even if the Christian went into it knowing that the idol was not the true God and knowing that there was nothing physically different between the meat served at that idolatrous feast and the meat served anywhere else.

II)      All things are lawful (vs. 23-27)

A)    Same principle from Paul’s treatment of sexual relationships in Ch 6-7 (quoted from 6:12)

B)    All things are lawful/permissible, in other words, you have authority to use anything in this world -

C)    as long as you use it for God’s purposes according to God’s guidelines (for instance, worshipping demons is not lawful - v.21)

D)    v.26 says to eat anything you want because “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”

1.      Paul quotes from the Psalms (24:1; 50:12; 89:1) to make this point.

2.      When God created the world, everything He made He called Good, so no thing on this earth is intrinsically bad.

3.      Not even sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll! – Each has a context in which it is very good.
For instance, the right kind of drug applied carefully to a sick person can be a wonderful gift of God for healing.

E)     The command to eat whatever is sold in the market is reminiscent of one of God’s first commands to mankind when He placed the man in the garden of Eden “full of all kinds of trees that were beautiful to look at and good for food” and said with a very emphatic command, “Eat! Eat from any tree in the garden…” (Gen. 2:16) Later God told Noah (Gen 9:3) “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; like the green plants, I give you everything.”

1.      Mark 7:18 [Jesus said to His disciples] “’Don’t you understand, that what ever from outside goes into the man cannot defile him?’ … This He said, making all meats clean.”

2.      1 Tim. 4:1 “Now the Spirit says expressly, that in later times some will fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons… 3) forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by them that believe and know the truth. 4) For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, as long as it is received with thanksgiving...”

3.      Rom 14:14 “I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself... 20) Don’t upset the work of God over meat... All things indeed are clean…”

F)     So for the Corinthians as they consider whether or not to eat meat sacrificed to idols, there should be no questions of conscience about whether or not any particular kind of food was off-limits. The question should not be, “Is it kosher?” It should not even be, “Has this meat in the marked been sacrificed to idols before?” It’s an irrelevant question. “The earth is the Lord’s” and “all things are lawful.”

G)    Note, however, that this meat is not in the idol’s temple, it is in the market. The Greek word Paul uses here is a borrow-word from the Latin Makellum - food market. [Hand out pictures of ancient Roman marketplaces.] The significance of this location is that the meat is no longer of any religious significance. It is no longer in a pagan worship ceremony; it is now being sold in the public marketplace. There are no longer any implied associations with demons.

H)    In fact, as v. 27 states, if a non-believing friend asks you over for dinner at his house or at a restaurant [again, not at the idol’s temple itself] and serves you a steak, don’t ask if it had been sacrificed to an idol, just go ahead and eat it!

I)       This follows Jesus’ command in Luke 10:8 when He was preparing His 70 disciples for a mission trip. He said, “Eat whatever they set before you.”

J)       I’ve been reading Neil Anderson’s account of his Bible translation work in Papua New Guinea to my family recently, and he has a great story in his book entitled In Search of the Source (p.24) about eating what’s put in front of you:
“Apusi Ali had… another mystery-wrapped leaf bag tied in vine. He opened it up and spread it out. There, writhing and squirming, was a great pile of brown-headed, two-inch-long, white sago grubs… Apusi Ali started scooping the grubs by the handful and funneling them into a bamboo tube, banging it down to pack them in. He plugged the open end with a piece of specially folded banana leaf and laid the tube across the logs to cook… I knew it was time to turn my attention elsewhere. Anywhere. Though I set my gaze at the farthest end of the shelter, with the corner of my eye I was still aware of Apusi Ali turning his bamboo tube of steaming grubs from side to side. Doing my best to avoid betraying any interest in this at all, I was still aware of his reaching back and tearing off a piece of banana leaf. I looked the other way. Still, I knew it when he laid the leaf out, took the bamboo tube off the fire, opened the top, and plopped the contents out in a big pile. Then, in spite of my fine performance of treating this activity like it wasn't happening at all, Apusi Ali, with the delight of a child at a birthday party, gingerly lifted the leaf by the corners and placed it squarely down in my lap. Looking at me with a big smile he said, "Eat them, they're good! Suddenly the whole shelter became silent… I looked down at the pile in my lap and up again. In the half-light of the place, all I could see were eyes and gleaming brown faces catching the fire's glow. Finally, as calmly as I could, I said, "I don't know this food. How do you eat it?" "Let me show you," Apusi Ali said. He picked up one of the thick, hot larvae and held it up to his mouth. Feigning to take a few tentative nibbles, he said, "You don't do it like this! That is the wrong way to eat sago grubs." Then, scooping up a great handful, he said, "This is the way to eat them," and he thrust the whole batch into his mouth. He chewed, then he swallowed. As he swallowed, I did too, though my mouth was dry… I took a handful of the grubs, almost like Apusi Ali had done, inserted them in my mouth and chomped down. As I chewed, everybody watched. I chewed for a long time, mouth closed, expression steady and finally they began to slip down my throat. As I finished, Hotere leaned across the fire and asked, "Felere? Are they good?"

K)    The principle that all things are lawful applies to anything today – your friends invite you to go hunting or go skinny-dipping or drink a beer or go to a rock concert.

1.      You can recognize that there is nothing intrinsically evil about anything that God has not called evil.

2.      Your evaluation of whether you should or shouldn’t, needs to be based on other criteria, such as, “Is this activity part of the worship of a false god? Is it fellowship with demons?

3.      If the activity involves lewdness, drunkenness, wanton destruction of God’s creation, or filthy speech, then it probably fails the first test and will probably fail the next test as well:

III)    Edify other people (v.23-24, 28-29)

A)    Paul uses three phrases to speak of considering others in vs. 23-24:

1.      “not all things are expedient/helpful/profitable/beneficial/lit. bear together”

(a)    Paul just used this word back in chapter 7 to describe how his advice on singleness and marriage could benefit the church. He wrote, “32. Now, I want you to be free from cares. The unmarried man cares about the things of the Lord – how he may please the Lord... 35. I am saying this toward the bearing together of your own selves… toward your good order and good service in the Lord...”

(b)   So in evaluating whether or not to engage in an activity or use an item, we should ask ourselves, “Will this carry me forward in a lifetime of unity with God and His people? Is this the kind of thing that would be a good foundation to build on, or will this bring brokenness, disunity, disappointment, and disqualification from the race of faith?”

2.      “not all things edify/build up/are constructive”

(a)    Paul has also used this word recently in chapter 8: “1. Now concerning the things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.”

(b)   This is a very different way of thinking than the world’s way of thinking:

(i)     Most people around us evaluate things existentially, “Will it be fun? Is it exciting? Will I enjoy it? Will I get into trouble?”

(ii)   God tells us here in v.23 that we should instead ask, “Does this build me up [in stature and in favor with God and man]? Will this edify everybody in my church fellowship?”

(c)    This is essentially turning from our immediate selfish interests and seeking to meet God’s interests with consideration for the interests of other people.

3.       (v.24) “seek what is for the other/the other’s well-being/the good of others”

(a)    “No one should seek what is for himself” does not, by the way, mean neglecting your personal needs any more than Lev. 19:18 “love your neighbor as yourself” means to hate yourself. It just means don’t be self-centered.

(b)   Rom 15:1 “We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2) Let each one of us please his neighbor for that which is good, unto edifying. 3) For Christ also pleased not himself; but, as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached You [God] fell upon me.’”

(c)    Becoming a poor Jewish boy, then getting roughed up by soldiers and hung on a cross was not pleasant for Jesus, but His life was not centered around making Himself feel good; He suffered because He wanted to bring well-being to us by enduring the punishment we deserve for our sin and offering fellowship with God to us through Himself.

B)    Now we are given an example of a case in which a restraint upon our Christian liberty could help and build up someone else – vs. 28-29

1.      The scenario is that a non-Christian has invited you to a meal at his house, but someone at the table says, “This meat has been used in a temple sacrifice [to idols].”

2.      Paul says in this case to “stop eating.”

3.      Why?

(a)    v. 28 “for the sake of that informant”

(b)   and v.29 for the sake of the other person’s conscience

(c)    If that other person is your non-Christian host, he might recognize the incompatibility of Christianity and idolatry and he might be testing you to see if you will compromise with idolatry. In that case, refusing to compromise on his terms and not eating that meat will uphold the integrity of Christianity to him.

(d)   If that other person is a Christian guest also at the dinner whose conscience is telling him that it is wrong to eat that meat, this is not the right time & place to give him a lesson on the revocation of the Mosaic food laws. If you make a big deal about the do’s and don’ts of food at this dinner, your non-Christian host might conclude that Christianity is all about outward behaviours of what you can and cannot do. Instead, this is the time to let your Christian brother know that his conscience is a valuable ally and that it is wise to heed what your conscience is saying. Don’t encourage him to violate his conscience by going ahead and eating the meat after he has expressed the objections of his conscience. You can always take that brother out for lunch the next day and train his conscience with the “earth-is-the-Lord’s-and-everything-in-it” lesson. But not now.

(e)    By not eating, you are edifying the conscience of your Christian brother and of your host, putting their spiritual well-being above the pleasure you would get from eating that juicy steak.

(f)    This does not mean, however, that you have to kowtow to an older believer who bullies other Christians into following a bunch of man-made rules. I think this passage is speaking about dealing with someone who has an honest scruple and who can learn from you.

4.      Application: Say you’re browsing for videos with a non-Christian neighbor. They just love this one video and they recommend it to you. Then they say apologetically, “Well, it does have some language and there is a sex scene…” There’s a cue that my neighbor’s conscience recognizes an incompatibility between my Christian faith and that movie. It will reinforce the integrity of Christianity for me to pass over that movie and get something else. (It will also probably be more edifying to me and my family.)

IV)  “Do all to the glory of God” (v.30-31)

A)    v.29b “Why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience?”

1.      This question is interpreted differently by different people:

(a)    One commentator I read suggested that Paul is repeating a question that had been posed to him by the Corinthians and that his reply is in v. 31. I’m not sure I agree.

(b)   John Calvin took it to mean that if we set restraints upon ourselves for the sake of our brothers, we remain free because we have chosen our own course of action.

(c)    I prefer Gordon Clark’s comment that we will always be judged by others, so we ought to avoid unnecessary offences what would cause them to judge us unfavorably.

2.      Whatever the case, the word “WHY” is a key consideration. When you decide upon a course of action, why should you choose that course of action? If you can say that you chose it because you believed it would glorify God more than any other course of action, you’re probably on track.

B)    “by grace I partake… I am giving thanks” (v.30)

1.      If you can also thank God for what you are eating/listening to/watching/doing, and aren’t embarrassed to bring it up in His presence, then, again, you are probably on track.

2.      It was apparently common to use the phrase from Psalm 24 as a blessing over food, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that fills her.”

3.      So here is Paul saying grace over the food and eating with thanks in his heart toward God for His provision. Is there anything wrong with this? No!

4.      1 Tim. 4:3 “…God created [food] to be received with thanksgiving”

5.      Rom 14:6 “…He who eats, eats unto the Lord, for he gives God thanks…”

C)    v.31 so whether you eat or drink or whatever you do…

1.      Col 3:17 “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

2.      Glorifying God should be the ruling motive in the Christian’s life (ATR).

D)    APPLICATION: If the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, then alcohol is not intrinsically evil. So in regards to whether or not to drink wine with my supper on Saturday, the question is, “Why would I want to do such a thing?”

1.      If the answer is that I want to find comfort in getting drunk, or that I like to make a point to my fuddy-duddy friends, or even just that I like the taste, then my motivation is wrong, because I’m not doing it to the glory of God.

2.      If, however my main motivation is to follow the recommendations of God’s word, to set apart the Sabbath day as holy with special food, to train my family to be moderate around a substance about which the Bible warns us to be careful, and to rejoice before Him with thanksgiving, then I am doing it for the glory of God.

3.      But again, it’s not just about me and God – although my relationship with God holds first place and is mentioned first by Paul here; I also have to consider the other people around me:

V)    “Become un-spectacular/give no offense/do not cause anyone to stumble” (v.32)

A)     The Greek text here says that we should become a-pro-skop-oi: literally “not-before-view-ers” The word picture is of a non-Christian Jew or Greek or even a Christian brother or sister trying to look at God, but they can’t see God because you keep stepping in front of their line of sight so that it is blocked by your presence.

B)    Rom. 14:13b “…let no man put a stumblingblock in his brother's way, or an occasion of falling.”

C)    Is it worth being slandered/denounced/having evil spoken of you just to maintain your liberty?

1.      In the case of drinking wine, even if I drank in moderation with a genuine motive to glorify God, there could be another person at the table who sees me drinking and who is distracted by what I’m doing. “Pastor Wilson drinks alcohol that makes you drunk?” And before you know it, there’s a rumor going around that Pastor Wilson gets drunk on Saturday nights.

2.      It may be wise to protect yourself from ignorant slander by not exercising your liberty.

3.      1Cor. 8:13 “Therefore, if food scandalizes my brother, I will never eat meat in this age in order that I might not scandalize my brother.”

D)    Food isn’t the only thing that can cause a scandal. Cross-cultural relationships are full of potentials for distractions. For instance: If I were meeting an Arab to do a Bible study, and I were to walk into the room, drop my Bible on the floor next to my chair, give him the handout paper with my left hand, and sit down and cross my legs with the sole of my shoe facing him, I have just exhibited a lot of disrespect both to him and to God’s word. He will then have to struggle to put aside my cultural faux pas before he can hear my message.

E)     The cross will be offensive enough to an unbeliever. Don’t add to it by having bad breath!

VI)   “Seek the salvation of others” (v.33)

A)    Bottom line: “in order that the many might be saved.”

B)    1 Cor. 9: 19. “For, being free from all men, I enslaved myself to all men in order that I might win the more: 20. so I became to the Jews as a Jew in order that I might win Jews, to those under law as one under law (not being under law myself) in order that I might win those under law, 21. to the lawless, as a lawless one (not being lawless in respect to God, but rather within the law of Christ) in order that I might win the lawless, 22. I became weak to the weak in order that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men always in order that I might save some.”

C)    Paul speaks of “pleasing” people, but that doesn’t mean he was a “people-pleaser!”

1.      People tended to get very displeased around Paul: they mobbed him, whipped him, stoned him, dragged him to court, and jailed him.

2.      He said himself that his goal was to please God rather than man in Gal. 1:10b “if I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ.”

3.      So how did he seek to be pleasing? By getting out of the way of people’s line of sight to God, not bringing up unnecessary offenses, and just giving them the Gospel.

(a)    When Paul got to Rome toward the end of his life, he could honestly say to the Jews there, “I have done nothing against the people or the customs of our fathers” (Acts 28). He scrupulously observed all the Jewish customs so that the gospel would not be hindered among the Jews.

(b)   Among the gentiles he quoted Greek poets and philosophers, carefully observed Roman law, and did his best not to portray Christianity as a set of foreign Jewish customs.

(c)    By preaching the gospel, Paul was seeking the good of people, hoping they would enjoy the blessings of salvation.

D)    When evaluating whether or not to do something, ask yourself, “Will this set more people toward saving faith in Jesus than if I didn’t do it?”

1.      No matter who you are, somebody looks up to you as an example. Non-Christians know you are a Christian and they judge what it means to be a Christian by what they see you do. Younger Christians also look at you to see by your example what Christians should do, and they follow you. In a very real sense, your decisions influence the faith of others.

2.      I’m a father, so I have children who take cues from my example. Last month, a salesman arranged to give a presentation at my house. When I found out at breakfast that a salesman was coming to spend an hour of my time giving me a pitch for something I knew I would not buy, I cracked a joke in front of my family about a prank we could play on the salesman. I knew at the time I shouldn’t have, but I knew that it would get a laugh out of my kids, and I sinfully wanted that attention from them. Well of course, they took my cue and ran with it, wasting about as much time as the salesman would have wasted by discussing their own ideas for pranks. I failed to lead my children toward Jesus and instead got them thinking about things that would have turned that salesman off to the Gospel.


We encounter situations all the time when we need to consider carefully what we should do:

·         Maybe you’re at a reception and someone leans over to tell you that the punch is spiked.

·         Maybe someone hands you a CD and says, “This is God-honoring music; it doesn’t have any rock music”

·         Maybe someone notices a book you’re reading and comments with horror that the author is a follower of the Federal Vision theology.

·         Or maybe you’ll be a missionary some day and run into the situation Lowell Bliss did in India. What did he do? He accepted the Prasad food brought over by well-meaning neighbors, but if he sensed the host was testing him or if there was an Indian Christian with him who would object, he would politely refuse the food.


Whenever you are confronted with the decision, “Should I or shouldn’t I?” Consider these 5 principles:

  1. Will it give you fellowship with God?
  2. Will it glorify God?
  3. Will it edify other people?
  4. Will it be a distraction to other people and get in the way of them placing their faith in Jesus?
  5. Will it help save other people?