In this passage the apostle shows in what instances, notwithstanding, Christians might lawfully eat what had been sacrificed to idols. They must not eat it out of religious respect to the idol, nor go into his temple, and hold a feast there, upon what they knew was an idol-sacrifice; nor perhaps out of the temple, if they knew it was a feast held upon a sacrifice, but there were cases wherein they might without sin eat what had been offered. Some such the apostle here enumerates.—But,
I. He gives a caution against abusing our liberty in lawful things. That may be lawful which is not expedient, which will not edify. A Christian must not barely consider what is lawful, but what is expedient, and for the use of edification. A private Christian should do so even in his private conduct. He must not seek his own only, but his neighbour’s wealth. He must be concerned not to hurt his neighbour, nay, he must be concerned to promote his welfare; and must consider how to act so that he may help others, and not hinder them in their holiness, comfort, or salvation. Those who allow themselves in every thing not plainly sinful in itself will often run into what is evil by accident, and do much mischief to others. Every thing lawful in itself to be done is not therefore lawfully done. Circumstances may make that a sin which in itself is none. These must be weighed, and the expediency of an action, and its tendency to edification, must be considered before it be done. Note, The welfare of others, as well as our own convenience, must be consulted in many things we do, if we would do them well.
II. He tells them that what was sold in the shambles they might eat without asking questions. The priest’s share of heathen sacrifices was thus frequently offered for sale, after it had been offered in the temple. Now the apostle tells them they need not be so scrupulous as to ask the butcher in the market whether the meat he sold had been offered to an idol? It was there sold as common food, and as such might be bought and used; for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof (1 Cor. 10:26), and the fruit and products of the earth were designed by him, the great proprietor, for the use and subsistence of mankind, and more especially of his own children and servants. Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer, 1 Tim. 4:4, 5. To the pure all things are pure, Titus 1:15. Note, Though it is sinful to use any food in an idolatrous manner, it is no sin, after such abuse, to apply it, in a holy manner, to its common use.
III. He adds that if they were invited by any heathen acquaintances to a feast, they might go, and eat what was set before them, without asking questions (1 Cor. 10:27), nay, though they knew things sacrificed to idols were served up at such entertainments, as well as sold in the shambles. Note, The apostle does not prohibit their going to a feast upon the invitation of those that believed not. There is a civility owing even to infidels and heathens. Christianity does by no means bind us up from the common offices of humanity, nor allow us an uncourteous behaviour to any of our own kind, however they may differ from us in religious sentiments or practices. And when Christians were invited to feast with infidels they were not to ask needless questions about the food set before them, but eat without scruple. Needless enquiries might perplex their minds and consciences, for which reason they were to be avoided. Any thing fit to be eaten, that was set before them at a common entertainment, they might lawfully eat. And why then should they scrupulously enquire whether what was set before them had been sacrificed? It is to be understood of civil feasting, not religious; for the latter among the heathens was feasting upon their sacrifices, which he had condemned before as a participation in their idolatrous worship. At a common feast they might expect common food; and they needed not to move scruples in their own minds whether what was set before them was otherwise or no. Note, Though Christians should be very careful to know and understand their duty, yet they should not, by needless enquiries, perplex themselves.
IV. Yet, even at such an entertainment, he adds, if any should say it was a thing that had been offered to idols, they should refrain: Eat not, for his sake that showed it, and for conscience’ sake. Whether it were the master of the feast or any of the guests, whether it were spoken in the hearing of all or whispered in the ear, they should refrain for his sake who suggested this to them, whether he were an infidel or an infirm Christian; and for conscience’ sake, out of regard to conscience, that they might show a regard to it in themselves, and keep up a regard to it in others. This he backs with the same reason as the former: For the earth is the Lord’s. There is food enough provided by our common Lord, of which we maya eat without scruple. The same doctrine may be variously improved, as here: “The earth is the Lord’s, therefore you may eat any thing without scruple that is set before you as common food; and yet, because the earth is the Lord’s, eat nothing that will give offence, lay a stumbling-block before others, and encourage some in idolatry, or tempt others to eat when they are not clear in their own mind that it is lawful, and so sin, and wound their own consciences.” Note, Christians should be very cautious of doing what may thus prejudice the consciences of others, and weaken their authority with them, which is by all means to be kept up.
V. He urges them to refrain where they will give offence, while yet he allows it lawful to eat what was set before them as common food, though it had been offered in sacrifice. “Another man’s conscience is no measure to our conduct. What he thinks unlawful is not thereby made unlawful to me, but may be a matter of liberty still; and as long as I own God as a giver of my food, and render him thanks for it, it is very unjust to reproach me for using it.” This must be understood abstracted from the scandal given by eating in the circumstance mentioned. Though some understand it to mean, “Why should I, by using the liberty I have, give occasion to those who are scandalized to speak evil of me?” According to that advice of the apostle (Rom. 14:16), Let not your good be evil spoken of. Note, Christians should take care not to use their liberty to the hurt of others, nor their own reproach.
VI. The apostle takes occasion from this discourse to lay down a rule for Christians’ conduct, and apply it to this particular case (1 Cor. 10:31, 32), namely, that in eating and drinking, and in all we do, we should aim at the glory of God, at pleasing and honouring him. This is the fundamental principle of practical godliness. The great end of all practical religion must direct us where particular and express rules are wanting. Nothing must be done against the glory of God, and the good of our neighbours, connected with it. Nay, the tendency of our behaviour to the common good, and the credit of our holy religion, should give direction to it. And therefore nothing should be done by us to offend any, whether Jew, or Gentile, or the church, 1 Cor. 10:32. The Jews should not be unnecessarily grieved nor prejudiced, who have such an abhorrence of idols that they reckon every thing offered to them thereby defiled, and that it will pollute and render culpable all who partake of it; nor should heathens be countenanced in their idolatry by any behaviour of ours, which they may construe as homage or honour done to their idols; nor young converts from Gentilism take any encouragement from our conduct to retain any veneration for the heathen gods and worship, which they have renounced: nor should we do any thing that may be a means to pervert any members of the church from their Christian profession or practice. Our own humour and appetite must not determine our practice, but the honour of God and the good and edification of the church. We should not so much consult our own pleasure and interest as the advancement of the kingdom of God among men. Note, A Christian should be a man devoted to God, and of a public spirit.
VII. He presses all upon them by his own example: Even as I please all men (or study to do it) in all things (that I lawfully can), not seeking my own profit, but that of many, that they may be saved, 1 Cor. 10:33. Note, A preacher may press his advice home with boldness and authority when he can enforce it with his own example. He is most likely to promote a public spirit in others who can give evidence of it in himself. And it is highly commendable in a minister to neglect his own advantage that he may promote the salvation of his hearers. This shows that he has a spirit suitable to his function. It is a station for public usefulness, and can never be faithfully discharged by a man of a narrow spirit and selfish principles.