"Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up" (8:1) This sentence is the controlling thought in chapter 8. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing and when we allow our perceived or presumed superior information to give us feelings of superiority or standing we will find ourselves doing things that actually hurt others. The issue in chapter 8 is whether or not it is permitted to eat food offered to idols. This is not an issue that modern Americans have to deal with on any regular basis -- though there are still many places in the world where this is still played out. In Corinth, where many gods are worshiped openly and where most religious expressions involved some form of ritual sacrifice it is a major issue. Many commentators have noted that most of the meat sold in the public markets of Corinth came from the altars of various temples. The priests would take the sacrificed meat and sell it on the open market to help finance the temple (a perfectly acceptable practice in most of the ancient religions). Many of the dining establishments in Corinth would be feasting places for various gods and goddesses as well -- and eating in them was common practice.
Because of this practice of selling meat offered to idols on the open market, one could never be sure if the rib eye steak or other dinner entree that was purchased in the market came from pagan temples or not. For most of us this is not an issue. As Paul notes -- no idol in the world really exists -- we recognize that the idol is nothing and that the god or goddess perceived behind the idol is nothing. Therefore the food offered there is not contaminated in any way. This knowledge gives us a sense of superiority over those who have scruples about eating meat that was offered to the idol. In a multi-religious culture where many gods are worshiped openly and in the church where nearly all of the members grew up in the temple/idol culture there are going to be many people who will not be able to get beyond where the meat came from. Not to mention the difficulty of having left the temple religion for faith in Christ and then seeing your fellow believer back at the pagan feasts.
Paul's solution is unique. He suggests that we who perceive ourselves to be strong should give up our "rights" so as not to cause spiritual difficulty for those who are "weaker". In this case weaker means those who are still struggling with leaving the older idol/temple traditions and practices.
Imagine. What if ever choice for freedom I made, was made considering the impact (good or bad) that it might have on those around me. . . what if building others up out ranked my own personal pleasure or freedom? Remember knowledge puffs up but love builds up . . .