Christian Freedom and the Weak Brother - Part 5 (series: Lessons on 1 Corinthians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Paul is using himself as an example: Wherefore if meat makes my brother to offend I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. Paul here offers his own views and feelings or tells them how he would act, in order to show them how they should act in these circumstances. He does not say that he will never eat again because this would eventually destroy him; and for him to commit a heinous sin, to prevent the sin and fall of a brother is definitely wrong. Such evil acts must not be done in order that good may come of it. But, though it was necessary to eat, it was not necessary to eat meat. And therefore, rather than encouraging a brother to sin, he would abstain from meat for as long as he lived, and live exclusively on vegetables and fruit. He had such a high regard for the soul of his brother that he would willingly deny himself in a matter of liberty, and abstain from eating any particular food, which he might have lawfully eaten and might like to eat, rather than lay a stumbling-block in a weak brother's path, and present him with an opportunity to sin, by following his example, without it being clear in his mind, whether it was lawful or not. Note, we should be very careful not to do anything that could cause a brother to stumble and fall, though the act may be innocent in itself. Liberty is valuable, and can even be enjoyable, but the weakness of a brother should persuade us to relinquish it. We must not rigorously claim nor use our own rights, to hurt and ruin of a brother's soul, and at the same time injure our Redeemer, who died for him.

he will eat no flesh while the world standeth,
True believers should be willing and anxious to practice self-denial when it brings glory to God and strength to a weaker brother, but we should never compromise or surrender one iota of truth to please someone who is prejudiced and bigoted. Jesus should be our example of self-denial, since he denied Himself heaven, his glory as God the Son, and the companionship of God the Father and the Holy Spirit, and much, much more; and he did it for you and me. If we are led by the Holy Spirit, we can and will know when we are doing the right thing concerning our habits, and things that might cause a weak brother to be offended or to stumble.

The glorious thing about Christianity is that we have the Holy Spirit within us; the divine nature of God; He leads us into paths of right living to the glory of God. I like to think that He is as close to me as my breath. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God,” and he that believes on Jesus shall not be confounded or confused. When we seek the will of God concerning the habits of life—stewardship or anything else that has to do with our Christian testimony—He will lead us by the Holy Spirit; and “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7; KJV).

It would be utterly impossible for us to please everyone, and that is not what Paul has in mind. He is writing to the Spiritually minded believers in Corinth concerning those who were truly born again, saved from paganism and idolatry, and yet they had not grown spiritually to the place where they could appreciate Christian liberty.
Paul willingly followed his own advice, stating that if what he ate would make another Christian sin; he would never eat meat again. Strong believers can restrict their freedoms for the sake of others.

lest I make my brother to offend.
The conscience of the weak Christian is easily defiled (see v. 7), wounded (see v. 12), and offended (v.13). For this reason, the stronger saints must defer to the weaker saints and do nothing that would harm them. It might not harm a mature saint to share a feast in an idolatrous temple, but it might harm his weaker brother. First Corinthians 8.10 warns that the immature believer might decide to imitate his stronger brother and thus be led into sin.

In summary, Paul stressed the priority of brotherly love. He did not demand that the knowledgeable relinquish their rights, but he illustrated how he would apply the principle to himself. Paul did not want anyone to fall (see v. 9) but to be “built up” (see v. 1), and knowledge governed by love accomplished that.

As a final note to this chapter, it should be understood that Paul did not say that a knowledgeable Christian must abandon his freedom to the ignorant prejudice of a “spiritual bigot. The weak brother (see v.11) was one who followed the example of another Christian, not one who grumbled and coerced that knowledgeable Christian into a particular behavioral pattern. Also, it was unlikely that Paul saw this weak brother as permanently shackling the freedom of the knowledgeable Christian. The weak brother was no omnipresent phantom, but an individual who was to be taught so that he too could enjoy his freedom. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal 5:1; KJV).

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