What is the meaning of 1 Corinthians 10:31?
This verse is the conclusion not only to 1 Corinthians 10, but also to a three chapter answer to a question about neat sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 8-10). Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in response to a letter we don’t have from the Corinthians to him.
This letter had questions concerning the issues that Paul writes 1 Corinthians about, responding with answers to those questions. He covers several subjects from divisions in the church to marriage to worship. In the midst of all these subjects, meat sacrificed to idols comes up.
The cheaper meats in the marketplaces in the Roman Empire were cheap because they were “pre-used.” Ceremonies sacrificing different animals went through rituals, and the Christian view to pagan gods, false gods, demons, and idols that don’t really exist. There was a wide variance of beliefs about idols.
Paul stresses that meet sacrificed to idols, then put into meat markets to make more money off of them, were of no real consequence in the Christian faith. They were not a serious violation of belief. Just because you consumed and digested an animal that was previously used to worship idols does not mean that you were supporting that idol or idolatry.
But Paul also raised another issue of matters of conscience and the weaker brother. If a Christian had a problem with meat sacrificed to idols, not coming to the same conclusion that Paul did, it would be a sin to eat this meat in front of that person. It sets a bad example for them and they stumble over the issue.
So Paul’s conclusion to the issue of meat sacrificed to idols occurs in 1 Corinthians 10:23-33. Paul has been using this Corinthian catchphrase (as far as scholars can gather) of, “All things are permissible for me.” As best we know, this may have been a catchphrase for the philosophy that Christians have liberty to do what they wish because they are under God’s grace.
Paul pointed out that Christians are indeed liberated by Christ, but that doesn’t mean we can do anything we want (1 Corinthians 10:23). Christian love calls us to think of others first (1 Corinthians 10:24).
Eating meat in the marketplace, no matter its origins, will not hurt you or cause you to sin (1 Corinthians 10:25). Paul quotes from the Old Testament to show that God owns all things (1 Corinthians 10:26). Just as you don’t need to ask about the origin of the meat at the marketplace, so also don’t ask when you are the guest at another person’s home (1 Corinthians 10:27).
But if it bothers another Christian, use the principle of matters of conscience and the weaker brother (1 Corinthians 10:28-30). If they are talking about it, it’s bothering their conscience. You know that you have Christian liberty but you don’t have to lord it over them.
Finally, Paul concludes with the verse in question (1 Corinthians 10:31). No matter what you decide to do, and what the circumstances may be, glorify God in your decision and action. This can be taken as a wider principle for everything we do. It doesn’t have to involve food and drink. It can be moral decisions and just actions.
Paul is basically saying that our consciences must be clear and we must please God with our decisions and actions. Everything we do should be done as a thought, motive, and intention to please the Lord.
In everything Paul does, as the example set before us, he makes sure not to provoke or offend whatever company he is with (1 Corinthians 10:32). Paul practices what he preaches as he puts the needs of others ahead of his own.