(Pictured – A man burning incense and bowing before an idol at the Kun Iam Tong Temple in Macau, China.)
When you ate dinner last night what where you thinking about? Maybe some things like…Does the food taste good? How will I cook it differently next time around? Should I add more salt? Is this good for my diet? Etc. Were you considering if the food was clean or unclean? I’m sure thoughts of pure and impure only crossed your mind if thinking about whether or not it was organic.
If you were a Christian in Asia you might have a different answer. For many of my friends who have families that are unbelievers, determining whether or not the food they eat has been sacrificed to their ancestors prior to the meal is of great importance. The family of one of my friends even specifies, “this food was sacrificed, and these plates over there are for you”. Living in this environment has caused me to look at the scriptures in a new way and it has made some issues come alive. I see the day-to-day struggles new Christians have when dealing with issues like this. Most of these new Christians turn to the scripture for help and follow Paul’s guidance in his letter to the church in Corinth.
(A paper house and car to be burned in honor of the ancestors at the Kun Iam Tong Temple in Macau, China.)
?[8:1] Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.  If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.  But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.  Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.”  For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.  Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.  But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.  For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?  And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died.  Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.  Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Does it surprise you that these struggles are still happening for Christians around the world? I know it surprised me.
What would you do?
Usually, in the Unities States, the idea of purity mainly relates to our bodies. Whether or not you engage in sex before marriage determines whether you are pure or impure. Or was that only my upbringing? For me the idea of purity, prior to living in Asia and relating it to food, always made me cringe. I would begin counting the ways in which I was or wasn’t pure. It became a stumbling block because I thought I could be good enough to be acceptable to God. Abstaining from sex before marriage doesn’t mean you’re perfect, but it will keep you from possible heartache, and disease. We are all sinners, all deserving God’s condemnation. So does this mean that whether or not we have sex doesn’t matter? No. God says that most sins are outward but sexual sins are inward. All sexual activity should be saved for marriage. But God takes our impurity: whether it be sexual or otherwise, and gives us a second chance, and a third, and so on. He forgives us even though we fail him. “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.” 1 Corinthians 6:18
It’s only after many years I’ve come to realize that I was impure all along and that it’s only through Jesus’ blood that I am ever pure in God’s sight.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—” Ephesians 2:4-5
So whether you are sitting down to dinner with food that has been sacrificed to another god or you are crying yourself to sleep at night because you sinned and feel unlovable, please know that God loves you no matter what you’ve done. God loved you when you were formed in your mother’s womb and He loves you now. His love is unfailing.
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:37-39