Christian Freedom and the Weak Brother - Part 1 (series: Lessons on 1 Corinthians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

January 10, 2013

Commentary on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe


Lesson 7.2: Christian Freedom and the Weak Brother
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 8.7-13

1 Cor 8.7-13 (KJV)
7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.
9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;
11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
12 But when ye sin so against the brethren and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

Introduction
The Corinthians were divided over the question of whether it was permissible to eat meat that had been previously offered to an idol. Paul agreed with those who thought it was permissible since idols were nothing as far as having any real power. However, he urged the more mature believers to avoid offending those whose conscience was bothered by the practice. They should relate to those weaker believers on the basis of love, not on the basis of their superior knowledge—“Welcome people who are weak in faith, but don't get into an argument over differences of opinion” (Romans 14:1; GW). The bottom line was that they were to be a help, rather than a hindrance, to these less mature Christians.

Commentary

7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.

Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge:
Moffatt’s New Testament version has rendered the verse thus: “But remember, it is not everyone who has this 'knowledge.' Some who have hitherto been accustomed to idols eat the food as food which has been really offered to an idol, and so their weaker conscience is contaminated” (1 Cor 8:7; MOFF). The great mass of the heathen world did regard the dumb idols as the proper objects of worship and supposed that they were inhabited by invisible spirits. Barnes declared that "Although the more intelligent heathen put no confidence in them, yet the effect of the great masses was the same as if they had had a real existence." But here the apostle is not speaking about Heathens, who know little or nothing of the one true God, and of the one Lord Jesus; he is speaking of most Christians, who understood these things, but there were still some who did not. They knew that an idol was nothing, since they knew that an idol was not God, and had no true deity in it and that it was not a true representation of God, since no one had ever seen God; nevertheless, they imagined that it had an influence upon food that was offered to it, which defiled it, and rendered it unclean, so that it should not be eaten. And since there were such uninformed persons that were so ignorant and weak, it became necessary for those who had more knowledge to take care not to lay stumblingblocks in their way; that is, not to eat meat which might have been offered to idols.

This is said in reference to what was said in 1 Corinthians 8.4: “As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world and that there is none other God but one.” Though they were converts to Christianity, they were not entirely cured of their heathen opinions and superstitious feelings, since they retained a certain respect for the idols they had worshipped before. Note, “Weak Christians may be ignorant, or they may be confused in their understanding of even the simple truths of Christianity.” Paul was aware that there were those that had turned from heathenism to Christianity among the Corinthians, who seemed to have retained respect for their idols that lead them to believe that the idol did have an effect on the sacrifice. When they had an opportunity to eat meat offered to an idol they ate it, in order to testify to their abhorrence of idolatry; but because their conscience was weak, it was defiled-They felt guilty; that they were made foul, dirty, or unclean; polluted; tainted; debased.

for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol;
There

were some persons among the believers in Corinth, even at that very time, who, though they had been converted from Heathenism to Christianity, retained the opinion that an idol god has a real existence; and that his blessing should be sought, and his wrath be avoided, and that there was something in an idol, though they did not know what it was, that defiled meats offered to it, and made them unlawful to be eaten. It is not to be supposed that converted men would regard idols as the only God; but they might suppose that some invisible spirit was present with the idol or that they were intermediate beings, good or bad angels, and that it was proper to seek their favor or avert their wrath, by sacrifice. We are to bear in mind that the heathen were exceedingly ignorant; and that their former notions and superstitious feelings about the gods whom their fathers worshipped, and whom they had adored, would stay with them for quite a while, after their conversion to Christianity. However, through the influence of other believers who regarded idols as having no power, they were prevailed upon to eat meat, that they thought had received some virtue from an idol; and as a consequence, they regretted that they ate it, and their conscience, being weak, was defiled.

And their conscience being weak is defiled.
Why is their conscience considered weak? Not because their conscience doesn't work. Indeed, it does work – in fact, it over-works. A weak conscience is one which either regards as wrong what is in fact not wrong or one which is ambiguous and unsure in its judgments. According to the Scriptures, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23); therefore, whatever a person does, which he thinks is wrong, whether it is wrong or not, is a sin to that person. New Christians may be unenlightened on the subject of idols, and consequently, their conscience may not be sufficiently clear and strong enough to overcome all their former prejudices and superstitious feelings; for that reason, they may not be able to act as if an idol were nothing. Therefore, the person, who eats an idol-sacrifice, and he is uncertain whether it is right or not, defiles his conscience. There was another class of believers who defiled their conscience when they ate out of respect for the idol since they imagined that it had something divine in it, and so they committed idolatry: while the object of the gospel was to turn men away from dumb idols to the living God. They were weak in their understanding because they were not thoroughly apprised of the worthlessness of idols; and, while they ate what was sacrificed to them out of respect for them, they fell victim to the guilt of idolatry, and so they were guilty of polluting themselves.

The conscience is said to be defiled, either when it approves of or takes pleasure in sin, or when it is burdened by a sense of guilt. The latter form of pollution is the one intended here. The person who acts in this way feels guilty and is really guilty. “Defiled” means polluted, desecrated, contaminated and damaged; and when the conscience is defiled, any true spiritual life becomes impossible. A person can be lead into sin by participating in idolatry, and when he has an awareness of his sin, his conscience becomes infected with guilt and ultimately produces the deep and painful conviction of guilt.

However, if they ate it, and at the time they were unaware that it had been offered to idols, their conscience would not be defiled. But, if they were aware of what it was, and did not have the knowledge other Corinthians boasted about, namely, that an idol is nothing and can therefore neither pollute nor sanctify meats, then by eating the meat they sin against their conscience (compare to Romans 14:15-23). It was on the ground of Christian practicality, not to create a stumbling block for "weak" brethren, that the Jerusalem decree against partaking of such meats was passed (See Acts 15:1-29).

The weak ones, the babes in Christ, the carnal Christians, these were the ones who were offended by the meat offered to idols. They did not have the knowledge. Their consciences bothered them. So they criticized the others who felt at liberty to eat the meat.

May I say that we still find the same thing today. We have people who call themselves separated Christians. They think they are being very spiritual when, actually, they are revealing that they don’t have the knowledge they should have. They are the ones who say you can’t do this and that. They are the ones who are offended at Christians who use their Christian liberty. They are like the Christians at Corinth who were offended when they were served meat offered to idols and said, “Oh, no, we are separated. We won’t touch that meat.” That kind of separation is not due to spirituality; it is due to ignorance.

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