Christian Freedom and the Weak Brother - Part 4 (series: Lessons on 1 Corinthians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Note, Those whom Christ hath redeemed with his most precious blood should be very precious and dear to us. If he had such compassion for them that He would die for them, so that they would not perish, we should have enough compassion for them that we would deny ourselves, for their sakes, in various instances, and not use our liberty to hurt them, to cause them to stumble, or cause their ruin. That man has very little of the spirit of the Redeemer who would allow his brother to perish, before he would curtail his liberty, in any respect. Anyone who has the Spirit of Christ in him will love those whom Christ loved, to the extent that they are willing to die for them; promote their spiritual and eternal warfare, and shun everything that would unnecessarily grieve them, and do nothing that might cause them to stumble, or fall into sin.

12 But when ye sin so against the brethren and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.

But when ye sin so against the brethren,
The subject has not changed; we are still focused on sitting at meat in an idol's temple, which we now know violates the new commandment of love; by which saints are required to love one another as brethren, and to be careful to do nothing that may wound one another's peace and comfort, since it is incumbent upon them to love and serve one another.

Whatever is done to the church, even by one of its weakest and most insignificant members (those that men regard as insignificant), is done to Christ. Paul learned this on the Damascus road, and he never forgot it because Jesus spoke to him there: “…Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 9:5; KJV). How was Paul persecuting Jesus? He was arresting Christians, putting them in Jail, and even consenting to their death, though the Lord had said, what you do to the least of these, you are also doing it to me.

The problem that Paul addresses in this passage is, Was it right to override the conscience of young and weak Christians by indulging your appetite for meat? A million times NO! To do so was an unmitigated sin against the Redeemer himself. Paul did not require the support of any opinions from Jerusalem to add weight to such a decree. This principle is eternally binding, forever true, and as wide in its application as men’s desire to indulge their craving for self-gratification.

This verse is designed by the Holy Spirit to further show the wickedness of causing others to sin, and especially the evilness which might arise from partaking of the meat offered in sacrifice to idols. The word “sin” is used here in the sense of injuring, offending and leading into sin. You violate the law which requires you to love your brethren and to seek their wellbeing, and as a result, you sin against them. But it does not stop there, because all sin is ultimately against God.

Christians are bound to do right towards all.

And wound their weak conscience,
The word “wound” (tuptontev), as it is used here, is to be understood to mean smiting, beating, injuring: literally, "smite their conscience; it being (at this time) in a weak state." It makes the cruelty of the act even worse since it is committed on the weak, just as if one were to strike an invalid. Wounding their conscience is similar to striking with the fist, a rod, or a whip. The conscience is sensitive to a blow like that; it is akin to a slap on the face.

Their consciences are ill-informed, therefore they are said to be “weak.” They do not have the knowledge that you have. And by your conduct, they are led farther into the error of believing that the idol is something, and is to be honored. And their conscience is more and more perverted and oppressed more and more with a sense of guilt until at last they are led into sin.
But, why is the brother who will not eat the meat sacrificed to an idol considered weak? Many Christians would consider such a one to be the "stronger" Christian. But Paul is not speaking about being weak or strong in regard to self-control, but in regard to knowledge. He is a novice because he does not have sufficient understanding of Almighty God and the danger of idol worship.

Note, Injuries done to Christians are injuries to Christ, especially to babes in Christ, to weak Christians; and most of all, it causes a guilty conscience: wounding their consciences is wounding Christ. He takes particular care of the lambs of His flock: He gathers them in his arm and carries them in his bosom, Isaiah 60:11. Strong Christians should be very careful to avoid doing anything that will offend weak ones, or lay a stumbling-block in their way. Shall we be void of compassion for those to whom Christ has shown so much?

As mentioned before: it is contrary to the law of love to wound a brother, and if that brother is weak in knowledge the sin is made worse; what greater cruelty can there be, than to strike or beat, as the word “wound” signifies, a sick and frail man? And greater still to strike and wound his conscience than any part of his body; because a wounded spirit is unbearable without divine aid and influence. And what serves most to enhance the crime and guilt is his knowledge, the knowledge that made him dare to eat; the knowledge that an idol was nothing, might be the means of destroying the weak brother by leading him into idolatry.

ye sin against Christ.
“Ye sin against Christ” because:
1) Christ has commanded you to love them, seek their wellbeing and not to lead them into sin; but instead, you use your liberty to influence the weak brother to go against his conscience (and thereby wound their weak conscience). 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; which is actually to sin against Christ.
2) They are so intimately united to Christ, that to offend them is the same as offending Him; to injure the members of His body is the same as injuring the Head; by destroying their souls you bring pain to his heart and injure his cause. Jesus said, “He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me” (Luke 10:16; KJV).
3) By sending to hell, through your bad example, a soul for whom the Lord Jesus shed his blood, you defeat the gracious intentions of his sacrificial death. Paul diligently strove to evoke a feeling of tenderness in those conceited brethren who boasted of their "knowledge." The two words repeatedly stressed in the passage are weak (5 times) and BROTHER (4 times). "These should have evoked tenderness and love, but instead, they only received the callous disregard that comes from misguided knowledge." That's why, if you, being a “stronger brother” should entice another brother to sin, then in effect, “Ye sin against Christ.” This truth is derived from two facts. First, and foremost, the stronger brother has enticed a weaker brother to sin against the Savior who died for him. Secondly, Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Jesus loved this weak brother so much that He was willing to die for him. There is such a close union between the Lord and those who know and love Him that He feels great sympathy for them so that what is done to or against one of His, Christ considers it as done to him. Many in Corinth were overlooking that fact. Jesus had said to Saul that he was persecuting him when he persecuted his disciples (see Acts 9:5). I wonder if Paul knew the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:40, "ye did it unto me.”

Something for us to think about: Shall we sin against Christ who suffered for us? Shall we try to defeat his gracious plans, and help to ruin those whom he died to save?

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.

Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend,
Here “offend” means to stumble and fall. Love, in this case, would demand that the practice of eating of meat offered as a sacrifice to an idol, be given up. The principle applies to many things. Some Christians can, perhaps, go to the theater, or dance, or attend the fairs and carnivals of our day, where the races and the rides are the main attractions, or even drink wine or beer, without feeling any guilt over doing it; others cannot. Yet we have the example of the “strong Christian” influencing the “weak Christian” to engage in the same things, and consequently, that example will lead them to spiritual death. The Christian principle that applies in this situation is the rule of love, that is, "If eating meat, or going to the theater, or going to a dance, or attending the fair, or drinking wine or beer, causes my brother to offend his conscience, I will not do these things while the world standeth." Paul will go over this same principle again in chapter 10, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not” (1 Cor. 10:23). There is no point in arguing about whether something is right or wrong. It is a question of the effect upon the weak brother. It is not a question of knowledge. All things are lawful for me. The liberty of the Christian is not pinned down by legality. He is not circumscribed by rules of conduct. His liberty is limited by love. His motivation should be not to offend the brother but to be a blessing to him. That is how to determine Christian conduct. That is the motivation for Christian conduct. My knowledge can tell me that it is perfectly all right for me to do something, but my love for the weak brother will keep me from doing it.

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