I once heard that food placed before the dead in the ways of ancestor worship is tasteless and bland. (e.g. This is from someone who works at a memorial home in the context of food sacrificed to the dead – placed in front of the coffin.)
I do not know whether the food was cooked bland since it’s not intended to be consumed by the living but just put there to display OR the food was ‘symbolically’ consumed by the spirits which then made them tasteless. Now this latter possibility makes me think – I would not want to eat such kinds of foods.
This custom of food sacrificed to idols or ancestral worship does not happen only in today’s Chinoy context. It was the same in the days of the Corinthian church. In fact there was such strong disagreement on this issue – to eat or not to eat food sacrificed to idols that Paul had to write an entire chapter to teach them what to do. Read 1 Corinthians 8.
Principle 1: To eat or not to eat depending on your own belief or conscience. (vv. 4-7)
There are two schools of thoughts:
1) Eat: vv. 4-6
We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
2) Not to eat: v. 7
But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.
Principle 2: v. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
This issue of whether to eat or not to eat food sacrificed to idols is not a doctrinal issue. A doctrinal issue is one that affects our understanding of God, His Word, about Jesus , His salvation, and our relationship with God.
Eating or not eating such foods or whatever foods will not make us know God more or less. It is not a sin to eat such foods nor is it a sacrificial or meritorious act not to eat… or vice versa. We are not sinning if we do not eat nor are we gaining any reward if we do.
Principle 3: v. 9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
When I eat because I believe that it is alright to do so and it is my right to eat as I want, yet someone who does not believe or think the same way as I do, eats the food against his conscience, then I am causing him to do wrong – to do something that he thinks is not right. I am causing him to sin. Then it is better that I do not eat at all.
I have a buddhist friend who eats only veggies on certain months and days of the year. She likes to cook and treats us at her home.
One time, she wanted to treat me coz I treated her before. You know this Hokkien idiom of ‘Han tsi hey oh.’ literal translation: I give you sweet potato, you give me taro. And so she insisted on treating me to snack after our dance class. But that day, she’s vegan. I said I will eat whatever she’s eating. And that’s what we did. We shared some food according to her diet.
While this is not exactly about food sacrificed to idols, the principle remains: Eating – for others. 😉😋🤪 In my example, I was with an unbeliever. I should not be critical of her eating habits. It is about respect.
With believers, we need also to respect one another – each according to his/her own thinking and habits. We do not judge or look down – thinking we are more knowledgeable than others. Read 1 Cor. 8:1-3
Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.
Bottom line: Love builds up. Whatever we do, we need to do with love.
Knowledge (self-righteousness) puffs up – it’s like blowing air up your behind – it’s empty air. Those who think they know it all do not know that they still have more to know and learn about.
Principle 4: Let love motivate us and not self-righteousness.
To eat or not to eat… it does not matter. What matters is whether we eat or not eat – according to how we love our neighbour.