The apostle Paul was fully aware that others studied and imitated his example, so he was very careful about how he appeared to the members of the church. I Corinthians 8:9-13 contains a fine example of his circumspect living.
The overall subject of this passage is meat offered to idols. After sacrificing an animal in the temples, the pagan priests often sold the surplus meat to local merchants, who included it along with other meat at his stall in the marketplace. Some felt that meat was meat, and since there is only one true God, the meat offered to a man-made image was perfectly fine to eat. Others who were new in the faith or more sensitive to issues of spiritual contamination, believed that to eat such meat placed them in fellowship with—and they were thus defiled by—the false god, a demon, to which it had been offered.
Verse 10 shows that some Christians would even eat meat in the pagan temple! The new or sensitive Christian, seeing this—and perhaps having recently rejected that false religion—would suffer a weakening of his conscience or his faith. In an extreme case, he might even return to his paganism and be lost (verse 11)!
Paul, however, provides the correct example in verses 12-13. Notice the apostle's starting point: Such a sin against a brother in Christ is a sin against Christ Himself! It is that serious! However "legal" eating the meat might be under God's law, the more important point is that the effect of one's actions on a brother's character takes precedence. Paul's conclusion, then, is that he would never even give the appearance of sin if it would harm a brother in the faith.
Is this not the love of God in action? God's love manifests itself in thoughts, words, and deeds of care and concern for our brethren (I John 4:7-11, 21-5:1). It should be our motivation in walking circumspectly, setting a right example and never giving even a hint of evil in our way of life. If we do these things, to our amazement we will prove to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world!
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Abstaining From Evil
Notice that no mention is made of clean or unclean. Paul is speaking of clean meats offered to idols, for some of the pagan deities were offered bullocks, sheep, goats, chickens, doves, and other clean animals, the remainder of which would be offered for sale in the market. His main subject is not clean and unclean, but being sensitive to a brother's conscience.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Clean and Unclean Meats
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing 1 Corinthians 8:9:
1 Corinthians 8:9-13