I Corinthians 8 begins a new section of this letter noted with the opening words “Now about . . .” (you will see this repeated in 7:1; 8:1; 12:1 and 16:1).
Chapters 8-10 deal with food that is offered to idols, which, on the surface, has next to nothing to do with us in 21st century America. But more deeply, it applies to us in a very real way. Ancient Greco-Roman society was very religious. Every trade had its own god, as did every major city. There was tremendous pressure on Christians to at least acknowledge these gods and give them respect – if you were going to fit in popular culture.
The Corinthians maintain that they know these gods are false and “nothing,” and therefore paying them at least a nodding homage is not sinful – they’re just trying to “get along” in the world.
Paul maintains that in giving any credence to these gods at all opens the door to allowing people to believe in their credibility, and Paul says ‘that won’t do.’ Sometimes you have to deprive your own rights in order to avoid a false impression.
In chapter 9, Paul asserts that he has done this in his own personal life. Whereas he has the right to be supported by the churches he serves, he does not use that right so that no one might ever be able to accuse him of ‘ministering for profit.’
The lesson for us is that our ‘rights’ must always be tempered by how the exercise of those rights might adversely affect the spirituality of others.
But don’t miss the point. Sometimes this text is used to keep Christians from behaviors that are not sinful, but which other Christians find “offensive” (they don’t like them). That’s not what Paul had in mind.