Christian Freedom and the Weak Brother - Part 2 (series: Lessons on 1 Corinthians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.

But take heed lest by any means
This is Paul’s reply to the argument of the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 8:8, who were in favor of eating meat offered to idols. Essentially, he is saying, “Though all that you say is true, that a man is neither morally better nor worse for eating meat or refraining from it; yet the grand principle to be observed is, to always conduct yourself in a manner that ensures you will not injure your brethren. You may attend feasts frequently where things offered to idols are served since you are under the conviction that an idol is nothing and that you may eat those things innocently, but this liberty of yours could become a means of seriously offending a weak brother who does not have your knowledge. Or you may persuade one who respects you for your superior knowledge to partake of these things, though his conscience and personal belief is that an idol is something, and he may conclude, that since you partake of such things, he may safely partake of the same things. He does not have your superior information on this point, and consequently, he eats to honor the idol, what you eat as a common meal.

Many of the Corinthian Christians, were recently won over from paganism, and they still had lingering impressions of the genuineness of idol gods; and, besides those, there were many who came from a Jewish background whose entire lives and training were absolutely incompatible with any kind of indulgence regarding meat offered to idols. For both classes, it was against their conscience to eat such things; consequently by eating they sin against their conscience. You should be careful that your brother is not led into sin by anything you may do. This is a general principle that is to regulate Christian conduct in all matters that are in themselves neither good nor bad.

this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
The term liberty (Gr exousia) may be translated, “authority” or “lawful right.” “This liberty (or power) of yours” is a reference here to the liberty or power to eat the meat that was offered in sacrifice to idols (see 1 Corinthians 8:8). Those who Paul dubbed “stronger” Christians had this power which is in itself lawful. A man may have a right to do a thing, but it may not be prudent or wise to exercise it, since by doing so a “weak” brother may be tempted to sin: “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another” (Gal 5:13; KJV).
It is considered significant that here Paul made no reference whatsoever to that so-called Council in Jerusalem which had directed all Christians to "abstain from things sacrificed to idols" (Acts 15:29). In my opinion, he did not mention it here because Paul's own authority was sufficient to teach God's will on this subject; his authority and understanding of God's true will was, in fact, the means of correcting the Council itself. Dummelow thought that Paul believed "The Corinthians would be more influenced by argument than by an appeal to authority, seeing they prided themselves on their wisdom"; but the conviction expressed here is that Paul did not feel that any word from the Council could have added anything whatever to his own authority. However, as Dummelow said, "Paul said nothing inconsistent" with the judgment of the Council.

A “Stumbling-block” signifies anything that causes us to fall, or become ensnared; and, applied to morals, it means anything by which we fall into sin, or by which we are ensnared. The word is used in the same sense in Luke 17:1; Romans 14:13; 1 John 2:10. Here the thought is that we should not be a stumbling block that leads others to sin and to abandon their Christian profession. Beware that this liberty of yours does not become a stumbling block to those who are weak. Because if anyone sees you (you who knows that an idol is nothing) eating in an idol's temple, would not the conscience of him who is weak be encouraged to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge the weak brother, for whom Christ died may suffer the pain of guilt. But when you sin against the brethren in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, for fear that I will make my brother stumble.

“To them that are weak” stands for those professing Christians who are not fully informed or instructed in regard to the true nature of idolatry, and who still may have superstitious regard for the gods whom their fathers worshipped. Paul says, "You Corinthian Christians who say you have knowledge are claiming your rights; what about the rights of the weak brother?" Because of your knowledge, will some weak brother, for whom Christ died, perish? "God hath not given people knowledge that they thereby should be a means to harm and to destroy, but to do good, and to save others; it is a most absurd thing for any to use their knowledge, therefore, to the destruction of others." (Poole)

Now it is not a question of it being right or wrong to eat meat. It is a concern for others. You have the liberty to eat the meat if you want to. But what about your concern for others? You have the knowledge, but what about your love? Do you have a love for your weak brother? Are you concerned about how this will affect him?

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;
For if any man see thee which hast knowledge

Paul has instructed the Corinthian believers that mere eating and drinking had nothing in them that was either virtuous or criminal, nothing that could make them better or worse, nothing that was either pleasing nor displeasing to God: Meat commendeth us not to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we eat not are we the worse (1 Corinthians 8:8). It looks as if some of the Corinthians made a benefit out of their eating what had been offered to idols, and even applied it to eating in their idol temples because it plainly showed that they thought the idols were nothing. But eating and drinking are in themselves indifferent actions. It matters little what we eat. What goes into the man neither purifies nor defiles. Meat offered to idols may in itself be as proper for food as anything else; and skimpy eating, or not eating at all, has nothing of value in it.

Note, It is a mistake to think that making a distinction between foods will make any difference between men in God's opinion. Eating this food, and forbidding that food does nothing to commend a person to God.

“For if any man” is not just any person at all; not one that has equal knowledge of the true God, and who are well-known for their proficiency in Spiritual things, and can with a good conscience take the same liberty; but any Christian brother who is ignorant and weak in the faith, that does not have a good understanding of the doctrine of Christian liberty, the real nature of idol worship, or anyone who might eventually become a Christian. You will be looked up to as an example. You will be presumed to be partaking of this feast in honor of the idol. You will thus encourage him, and he will partake of it against his conscience, which you do without any pangs of conscience; namely, to eat meats offered to idols.

Paul may be using sarcasm here to make a point, since the question that comes to mind is “What kind of "knowledge" did any Corinthian have that could justify him sitting down in the degrading festival held in an idol's temple?” Many of these functions were often accompanied by shameful depravity. Paul did not go off the point here to point out that spiritual damage was almost certain to be sustained even by those who professed to have "knowledge" (or experience) of the damage which can be done by sitting down to participate in a banquet in the temple of an idol, especially in a place like Corinth. Paul's foremost concern was the damage to the weak brother and the wound inflicted upon the body of Christ which is the church. As Macknight said, "Paul could not have meant that they had a right to eat of the sacrifices in the idol's temple." Although he passed over it here, Paul returned in 1 Cor. 10:15-21 "to talk about the other side of the question which concerns the danger to which the strong believer exposed himself." "To recline at a banquet in the temple of Poseidon or Aphrodite, especially in such a place as Corinth, was certainly an extravagant assertion of their right to Christian liberty.

sit at meat in the idol's temple,
This addresses the feast, where, it seems, after the sacrifice to the idol was over, a feast was made of what was left, and friends were invited to partake of it; and some of them were members of the Corinthian church, who to show their Christian liberty, and because they thought it was perfectly all right to go into the idol temple while the sacrificial feast was in progress and feast on the meat that was served there after the sacrifices had been killed and offered, because to them an idol was nothing. Undoubtedly, some of these Christians had been attending these sacrificial feasts in the idol temple for some time. They were well-known there and were able to go and sit down at these feasts publicly, without anyone questioning their faith in idols, or why they were there. They could take part in the feasts because they looked upon such meats as not being any different from common food.

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