Commentary on Titus and Jude

 January 10, 2013
Commentary on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe
Topic #7: Questions Concerning Christian Freedom, 1 Corinthians 8.1-11.1

 

 

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 a 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 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.

When a believer feels in his heart he is doing something wrong, his act itself is wrong on the ground that he is wounding his God-given conscience. Yet when that same believer grows in grace and spirituality, and he receives more light by studying the Word of God, the very thing that once wounded his conscience, may not do so, and therefore to him it would not be wrong. A conscience that is defiled (or hurt) cripples spiritual enjoyment, and hinders communion with God. A believer with a wounded conscience cannot have complete joy, nor can he enjoy an abundant life.

Now Paul lays down a great principle:

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.

But meat commendeth us not to God:
This is likely the opinion expressed by the Corinthian Christians, or by those who supported eating the meat offered in sacrifice to idols. The implication here is that, "Religion has a more spiritual nature and a greater significance than a mere regard for circumstances like these; God looks at the heart. He is interested in the motivation, and the thoughts behind the actions of men. The ridiculous circumstance of eating meat, or abstaining from it, cannot make a man better or worse in the sight of a holy God. The acceptable worship of God does not depend on such things. It is too spiritual, too deep, and too important to be connected with what a man eats. And therefore, the inference is, "it cannot be a matter of much importance whether a man eats the meat offered in sacrifice to idols, or he abstains from it." To this argument the apostle gives his reply in verses 9-13 that, although this might be true, there is another consideration, and it is very important; it might be that eating meat that has been offered to idols, may induce weaker brethren to sin, and that would then become a matter of great importance in the sight of God, as it should be in the sight of all true Christians. You may remember that Simon Peter had trouble with this. He had been brought up to consider certain things unclean according to the Mosaic Law. When the sheet came down from heaven in his vision and the Lord told Peter to arise and eat, Peter refused. He said, “… Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean” (Acts 10:14). (He calls Him Lord at the same time that he is failing to obey Him.) Then the Lord said, “… What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (Acts 10:15). In other words, God is no longer making the distinction between the clean and the unclean animals. That is in the past. Now we can eat any animal that we wish to eat.

Down in San Antonio, Texas, they can eat rattlesnake meat. Now if you are going to have rattlesnake for dinner, please don’t invite me to come over. This has nothing to do with religious scruples, but it has a lot to do with a weak stomach.

Paul has stated a great principle here. Meat does not commend you to God. You may do as you please in such matters. This is the liberty that a believer has.

The word "commendeth" (paristhsi) means to recommend someone as worthy of confidence, notice, kindness, etc.: to commend a friend to another; and here it means to recommend to the favor of God. But God does not regard this as a matter of importance. He does not make his favor depend on unimportant circumstances like this.

It seems as if the Romans were having a problem similar to that which was troubling the Corinthian believers, since Paul spoke of a related matter with them—“…He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks” (Romans 14:6; KJV). He that eateth is the Gentile Christian, who freely eats all kinds of meat—“For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs” (Romans 14:2; KJV). He eateth to the Lord; because he believes that God does not forbid it; and because he desires, by doing it, to glorify God—“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31; KJV). To eat to the Lord, in this case, is to do it believing that it is his will. In all other cases, it is to do it feeling that we receive our food from him; giving thanks for his goodness, and desiring to be strengthened, so that we may do what He commands. He giveth God thanks  means that it is our duty to give God thanks at our meals for our food. It shows that it was the practice of the early Christians, and that it has the commendation of the apostle. It was also uniformly done by the Jews, and by the Lord Jesus—“And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude” (Matt 14:19; KJV). To the Lord he eateth not means that He abstains from eating because he believes that God requires him to do it, and he does it with a desire to obey and honor him. And giveth God thanks: the Jew thanked God for the law, and for the kindness he had conferred on him by giving him more light than he had given to the Gentiles. It was because of this privilege that they esteemed themselves so very highly, and the converted Jews would, without a doubt, retain this feeling; thinking themselves as specially favored by God, since they have a unique acquaintance with the law of God.

for neither, if we eat, are we the better;
Food is neutral—it is neither good nor evil, regardless of whether or not it has been offered in a temple to a pagan idol. There would be nothing inherently wrong with eating such meat because food has nothing to do with a person’s relationship with God—it cannot bring us nearer to God, nor can it take us farther away. Therefore it is merely a matter of indifference. Yet because it is merely a matter of indifference, Paul said, the stronger believers should not push the weak but, instead, be willing to love the weak. These “strong” believers (as opposed to those Paul described as “weak”) knew Scripture and stood strong on God’s commands and prohibitions, but were free from minor, legalistic constraints. Yet they must be careful…that the exercise of [their] freedom does not become a stumblingblock to the weak. Since it does not matter what kind of food believers eat, the strong believers should live on the side of love for the weaker believers.

What we eat is important to us, because it effects our health, but it is not important to God “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17; KJV). The Jews made a distinction between different kinds of animals, calling some “clean,” and others “unclean,” and they were forbidden to eat the meat of those that were unclean, but it was a matter of conscience for the Jewish converts. Moses did not prescribe any particular drink or prohibit any, but the Nazarites abstained from wine and all kinds of strong liquors; and it is not improbable that the Jews had invented some distinctions on this subject which they judged to be of importance. Hence, it is said in Colossians 2:16, "Let no man judge you in meat or in drink."

neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.
By “worse” the apostle does not mean worldly things, but, as he has said before, spiritual things; true grace and piety, which are not an iota less; nor are such persons, diminished in the love and favor of God. In a sense, it was absolutely immaterial where the meat came from, whether sacrificed to idols or not; because salvation is simply not a matter of diet at all. Christ took away all prohibitions, "making all meats clean"—“And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him…Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?” (Mark 7:18-19; KJV); and Paul himself wrote that "every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, etc." (1 Timothy 4:4); but for a Christian who had not learned such vital truth, and who considered it sinful to eat certain things, it was definitely a sin for him to do so. In the situation at Corinth, therefore, it was not a question of determining what was right or wrong, merely in the abstract sense.

“Are we the worse” means Do we have less or Do we lack moral worth. In Acts 15:29, the Jerusalem Council sent a letter commanding some churches to (among other things) abstain from things offered to idols. But Paul's discussion of the issue here does not contradict what the Jerusalem council decided in Acts 15. Instead, it shows that the council's decision was not intended to be a rule or directive for all the church all the time; it was a temporary necessity, meant to advance the cause of the gospel among Jews.

Our refusal to eat does not cause God to think any more of us, nor any less; and by like token, if we eat we gain no advantage with God, nor do we bring about any disadvantage with him. Eating meats or not eating meats does not affect our spirituality. It will not bring the blessings of God upon us, not cause God not to bless us. It is the condition of the heart that counts with God. If the heart is right and we walk uprightly, no good thing will he withhold from us. No one is less spiritual for abstaining from meat sacrificed to idols. This is the very point where most stumble in issues relevant to Christian liberty (such as movies, drinking, music, or television): assuming that one stance or another is evidence of greater or lesser spirituality.

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 insures 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 stumblingblock 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 a 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 love for your weak brother? Are you concerned 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.

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 do 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 “good bye” to him, and everyone seemed to be going. At first, I thought I would attend, but would drink a 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 eat, 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 a 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 eat.” 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).

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 stumbling, 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.

Paul is using himself as an example: Wherefore if meat make 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 vegatables 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 grumble 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).

 

Do you have any questions or comments?

 After a severe blizzard, a father called home to check on his family. The teenage son answered the phone and the father could hear the TV blaring in the background. The dad asked, “Where’s your mother?” The teen explained, “She’s outside shoveling snow.” The father admonished his son for letting his mother work outside while he watched TV inside. He gruffly asked, “Why aren’t you out there helping her?” The teen answered, “Because Grandma’s using the other shovel.”

Reminisce Extra, April 1994, p. 60

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