In the Roman world, feasts at temples were a major part of cultural, political, religious, and economic life. Typically, they followed a pattern of sacrifice of an animal at the temple of a particular god, followed by a public banquet at which the sacrificed animals would be consumed as part of the celebration. Clearly whether the followers of Christ in Corinth should participate in these feasts was a point of contention; to abstain might cost them dearly in social connection or economic benefit. On the other hand, doing so might fall under the category of worshipping false idols and therefore posed a risk to their salvation.
Paul weaves a careful path through this—it’s OK to do so, he says, after all, since other gods don’t exist, meat is just meat. It’s not holy or an act of worship. But, he says, not everyone knows this, deep in their hearts. They might have lingering beliefs from before they were Christians, or be struggling with their conscience in conversion. So knowledge isn’t the be-all, end-all here; love is. Paul asks the Corinthians to think first with love, not with their knowledge: will eating at temple banquets hurt your fellow Christian? If so, abstain! Choose love.
Now, we live in a social context pretty far from that of temple banquets, and I haven’t ever had to decide whether or not to eat some meat sacrificed to Jupiter. But choosing love in the face of social norms still seems like pretty good advice to me. It is a form of hospitality, of extending welcome into the family of Christ, helping them stand strong in the ways they struggle to do the right thing. That’s something worth striving for.