Question: "What does it mean to give glory to God whether you eat or drink (1 Corinthians 10:31)?"
Answer: In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul instructs the Corinthian believers, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
In this verse, Paul is speaking to believers in the Greek city of Corinth under the Roman Empire. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul addresses the topic of how the Corinthian Christians were to relate to idolatry around them in a polytheistic Greco-Roman society. In all they did, even eat and drink, they were to glorify God.
In the time of Paul, much of the meat sold in Corinthian markets had been ritually sacrificed to idols. Temples were hubs of social and economic activity as well as worship, so eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols could be seen as partaking in idolatry.
In 1 Corinthians 10:14, Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” Paul then compares taking part in an idolatrous feast to taking part in the Lord’s Table: eating meat from idols connects one to the idols, and partaking in the bread and wine of communion connects the believer with Christ. The Corinthian believers were to take care to separate themselves from the sinful aspects of their culture: “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons” (1 Corinthians 10:21).
Paul acknowledges that idols are not real gods (1 Corinthians 10:19–20). Therefore, it is acceptable to “eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience” (verse 25; cf. 1 Timothy 4:4–5).
In 1 Corinthians 10:23–30, Paul builds an argument to his conclusion in verse 31. Christians may eat the meat sacrificed to idols without qualms, knowing that idols are false and that all good things come from God; however, they also need to consider whether doing so will affect the conscience and faith of others: “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (verse 24). Some Christians may feel tempted to conform to the patterns of the world through eating the meat or might feel they are still participating in idolatry, and their conscience is damaged. Because of this, Paul advises discernment and deference. As believers eat and drink, they must do all to the glory of God; that is, they must eat and drink in a way that will not cause problems for other believers.
This leads to Paul’s concluding statement, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:31–33).
More succinctly, in 1 Corinthians 8:13, Paul explains, “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
So, when Paul talks about eating and drinking to the glory of God, he isn’t talking about praying before meals. Nor is he emphasizing how even the smallest things in our lives should be dedicated to God—that truth is taught in other verses (see Colossians 3:17). Rather, 1 Corinthians 10:31 highlights using discernment when exercising freedom in Christ. Love dictates that all Christians make allowances for their weaker brothers. And having the “right” to do something does not mean we are free to do it in every circumstance, regardless of its effects on others.
In 1 Corinthians 10:23, Paul explores the nuance between freedom from the law and glorifying God: “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.” In this passage, Paul makes the point that liberty is limited by love. We should not cause other Christians to stumble through exercising our “rights.” We should avoid activities that may not cause problems for us but will cause temptation or worry others. We can give glory to God whether we eat or drink or whatever we do by keeping the good of others in mind when exercising our freedom in Christ.