Two thousand years ago, idolatry was common. There were temples dedicated to false gods. A common practice was to offer food as a sacrifice to these gods. After the sacrifice was offered, the sacrificer was actually allowed to eat the sacrificed food, if it was a certain type of food for a certain sacrifice.
Fast forward to 1 Corinthians 8. Here, Paul addresses the controversy of food offered to idols. The problem is some disciples thought it was okay to eat food sacrificed to false gods; other disciples didn't. Paul, to quench the debate, wrote to the church of Corinth, "Now, concerning food offered to false gods: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes people arrogant, but love builds them up. Those who think they know something still have a lot to learn. But if they love God, they are known by God." Paul doesn't actually address the topic at hand here. Instead, he confronts their thinking process. By saying, "Knowledge makes people arrogant, but love builds them up," he's saying that whatever they chose to do, it should be out of love; it should be for the purpose of building others up. Paul futher expounds,"Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled." The Bible tells us to "live above reproach," which means we're supposed to make decisions that can't be doubted or misinterpreted. Our motivations should be based off love, not knowledge. Our decisions should strive to benefit others by building them others, not by demanding our rights.
To put it in modern language, compare the situation to drinking. Some Christians think it's okay to drink; others think it's sinful. The Bible actually says it's okay to drink. There's nothing sinful about drinking. The the sin happens when you get drunk. That's the line the sand: we have the right to drink, as long as we don't get drunk. But 1 Corinthians 6:12 says, "“Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything." So while it may be my right to drink, it may not be beneficial. In fact, I know it isn't good; I'm under age! But for those who can legally drink, it seems okay to drink- as long as you're strong enough to not get drunk. Why? Everything is permissible for me- but I will not be mastered by anything. Getting drunk leads to becoming an alcoholic, which is becoming slave to the drink. We can be slaves to anything: porn, sex, money, power, popularity, drugs, cigarretes, alcohol. But the only way to God is by becoming His slave. Jesus said, "“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other." We cannot serve both God and His enemy.
Did you know the apostle Paul constantly denied his own rights? When he traveled on mission trips, he refused to be a free-loader. He toiled day and night making tents and doing other work to pay for his own room-and-board and his own food. Why? Why not take advantage of the local church, eat their food, use their beds? The greed must've told Paul, "Sure, the church is poor and there are more needy people than me, but I'm the key note speaker of the week! I'm more important than them. I deserve this!" But Paul denied his flesh and worked. He wrote in 2 Thessalonians 3, "We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow."
1 Corinthians 8:9-13 says, "Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall." That self-sacrificial love, the denial of personal right, is the pathway to love.