Christian Freedom and the Weak Brother - Part 3 (series: Lessons on 1 Corinthians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

As noted in 8.1 (“Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.”), this would not have been an uncommon occurrence, since most social and cultural events happened in the temples. And it is not strange that one professing the knowledge of the true God would enter one of those temples? And it is not surprising that Christians would eat there. But by all this, we may see that the knowledge the Corinthians boasted about had very little depth in things purely spiritual.

There are many interesting theories in the rabbinical writings concerning entering idol temples and eating there, and even worshipping there, providing the mind is on the true God.
Perhaps the man of knowledge, mentioned by the apostle, was one of those who possessed an opportunistic conscience that could accommodate him to all circumstances; he could be a heathen without and a Christian within, and vice versa, as circumstances might require.

Note: the usual position taken when eating was to recline on a low couch, which was just slightly higher than the table with the food on it.

shall not the conscience of him that is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;
The subject here is the person with a weak conscience, who is not clearly instructed in the doctrine of Christian liberty, or who still regards the idol with superstitious feelings, and consequently, he still has some doubts about whether it is lawful to eat meats that had been offered in sacrifice to an idol, imagining them to be polluted by the idol (see v. 7). The problem, in this case, is that he has violated his conscience, and has sinned. He observed a Christian brother, who was well-known for his exceptional knowledge of spiritual things, sit at a table in the idol temple and eat meat that was first offered in sacrifice to an idol; which would lead him to believe that his brother was honoring the idol. This will have an effect on the weak brother (not weak in self-control, but in regard to knowledge); the apostle said it will “embolden” him to eat the same thing. “Emboldened” means literally, "built up" or “edified;” the sense is ironic; edification should build up to righteousness. But here, one is edified or built up to sin. You ought to have built up your brother in good: but by your example, your building him up is emboldening him to violate his conscience. To influence the weak brother to go against his conscience (and thereby wound their weak conscience) is actually to sin against Christ. The Corinthian Christians who were abusing their liberty might have been thinking it was a small matter to offend their weak brothers, but they did not understand they were offending Christ.

The reason many of us who are in Christian service does not do certain things is so that we do not offend others. Let me give an illustration. There was a time when I drank alcoholic beverages; mainly beer. I would indulge myself almost every weekend, but when I was saved, I gave up drinking. Years later, I was working for a large company, and one day a man I knew very well, quit to go to a new job. A party was held in a local bar to say “goodbye” to him, and everyone seemed to be going. At first, I thought I would attend but would drink coke instead of beer; but what would people think who saw me there, since I was a Christian and it was common knowledge. Well, I wished the man well after work, instead of going to the bar, and I am glad I did. And I found that no one even noticed I was not there; alcohol can cloud a person’s mind so they are not very observant. The imperative is "If the stronger brother publicly exercises his right to eat meat sacrificed to idols, he, in effect, encourages him which is weak … to eat those things which are offered, which would wound his weak conscience, destroy his peace, and distress his soul." Paul wrote: “And he that doubteth is damned if he eats because he eateth not of faith: for
whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23; KJV).

The conduct of stronger believers is not to be decided by what they feel is their better insight into the Scriptures or what they think would strengthen those weaker ones. Rather it should be decided by love and sensitivity. Paul was pointing out how the stronger believers ought to use their freedom in public—the situation he described here was very public. If these strong believers ate meat that had been offered to idols in the privacy of their own homes, because they knew that such meat was not tainted in any way, they could do so with liberty and without concern for the scruples of the weaker believers. Strong Christians ought to, at times, restrain their freedom for the sake of the weak, but they need not come into bondage to the consciences of weak believers.

11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?

And through thy knowledge
Another way to say this is “And because of your knowledge.” It was his “knowledge” of the true God and because he knew that an idol was nothing and that there could be no real danger of falling into idolatry from partaking of the meat offered in sacrifice to an idol, which made him dare to eat. You see, we operate on a different principle. It is not a question of an activity being right or wrong. It is a question of its effect on that weak brother or upon your neighbor. You see, knowledge, after all, is a very dangerous thing.

shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
“The weak brother” refers to 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. These words of Paul contain an increase in the seriousness of the sin such persons are guilty of, who are the means, by their example, of ensnaring weak minds and causing them to stumble and fall, and even in some sense to perish.

Is Paul implying that this weak brother could lose his salvation? No. This is tantamount to what he says in Romans 14:23, “he that doubteth is damned if he eats.” In other words, he is to be brought under the sure judgment of God for his sin. In the most extreme application of this principle, it would involve sinning unto death: “If you see another believer committing a sin that doesn't lead to death, you should pray that God would give that person life. This is true for those who commit sins that don't lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I'm not telling you to pray about that…Every kind of wrongdoing is sin, yet there are sins that don't lead to death.” (1 John 5:16-17; GW).

The expression “For whom Christ died” is a matter-of-fact. It is true that Christ died to secure this man’s salvation, but speaking more to the point; He did so to put away his sin. That’s why; if you, being a “stronger brother” should entice another brother to sin, then in effect, “Ye sin against Christ” (see v. 12). There is great power and sadness in these words. Shall we, for the sake of eating one kind of food rather than another, endanger the salvation of those for whom the eternal Son of God laid down his life? Has this “weak” brother been taught by your conduct that there was no harm in eating meat that has been offered to idols, so that he grieves the Spirit of God; his mind becomes darkened again, his heart hardened; and, as a result, he slides back into idolatry, dies in it, and so finally he perishes. So we learn that a man may perish for whom Christ died. If a man, for whom Christ died, turns back to idolatry from Christianity, and he dies in idolatry, he cannot go to heaven; then a man for whom Christ died may perish everlastingly.

This was hard for some to swallow; you might say it was a hand grenade detonated in the faces of the "knowledge" group in Corinth. The word "knowledge" throughout this chapter belongs in quotations; because it certainly was not knowledge, but rather the most incompetent ignorance that would approve of behavior capable of murdering an immortal soul. That school of interpreters held on to the impossibility of apostasy on the part of believers, and they struggled to soften the impact of "perisheth." Barns said of this verse; "No one who has been truly converted will apostatize and be destroyed." Johnson declared this refers "to bodily perishing, not eternal perishing"; but he did not explain how eating meat against one's conscience could kill him! As Wesley put it, regarding "he that is weak perisheth": “He is from that moment in the way of perdition ... if this state continues and becomes aggravated, as is inevitable in such cases, eternal perdition is the end of it.” Leon Morris' words regarding the last clause of this verse are beautiful. He wrote: “The last clause could hardly be more forcible in its appeal; every word tells; "the brother," not a mere stranger; "for the sake of whom" precisely to rescue him from destruction; "Christ," no less than he; "died," no less than that!" It is abundantly clear from scripture and has been clearly stated by the Savior that no one who has been truly converted will apostatize and be destroyed. “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28; KJV).

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