As Christians, we are free in Christ to engage in social practices and customs that are not sinful or specifically forbidden by biblical commands. Yet, there are numerous areas of life that are not specifically forbidden in Scripture where the overruling principle of love will prompt a mature saint to refrain from engaging in such things. And the reason why we will refrain from engaging in any of those things are:
(1) for the sake of not hindering the growth of our younger or weaker brothers and sisters in Christ,
(2) for the sake of our witness of Christ before those who have yet to come to faith in Christ.
There are two extremes that we need to be aware of in those areas not specifically forbidden in Scripture.
One extreme is license: the license camp says that if the Bible does not prohibit a particular practice or clearly label it as sin, then there is freedom under grace to participate in it. For this camp, Christian freedom is absolute and without restriction. Personal preference and “feelings” become the determining factor of whether or not I can engage in this freedom. This “freedom” that is totally self centered and independent of it’s impact on others inevitably grieves the Holy Spirit, hinders a weaker saints growth in Christ and in many cases sends a wrong message of what the gospel is all about.
The other extreme is legalism: the legalism camp says that whatever issues are taboo for me, must be taboo for everyone else in the body of Christ. The legalists approach to Christian living turns everything into an elaborate set do and don’t rules. Thus, their personal convictions on any given subject becomes the expectation and 11th commandment for the rest of the body of Christ.
It should be noted that both the license and legalistic believer are self centered and self-ruled and lack any sensitivity or regard for the opposite convictions of others. Obviously, the Bible does not teach either license or legalism as the pathway to Christian freedom. Christian freedom in Christ is always “limited” by Biblical principles and how it impacts others. In Scripture, the principle of Christian liberty is always tied in with Christian responsibility towards others.
Let me make 3 things perfectly clear:
For the sake of Christ and the furtherance of His gospel, the issue of Christian freedom within the body of Christ and as an ambassador of Jesus Christ in a lost world is never a matter of personal preference without regard for the adverse impact it may have on others.
No Christian can participate in anything that is clearly called sin in Scripture and call it liberty.
I have to say that I am baffled and deeply concerned over the pictures, postings and comments made by Christians on Facebook that violate the principles of love and Christian maturity spoken of in 1 Corinthians 8.
As we saw last week, Paul had perfect freedom to eat meat offered to idols. He knew that there was only one true God and that idols were nothing. Eating meat offered to them was neither right nor wrong. But not all believers felt that way. A person who had a weak conscience due to their past believed that the meat was defiled by the idol, and therefore it was off limits.
Romans 14.6 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.
So who is right? How was Paul going to address these opposite views that existed in Corinth? Let’s listen beloved, for the same principles apply to us today in 2015.
Romans 14.1-4 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
Remember that the Corinthians prided themselves on knowledge. Paul told them that Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. He is going to tell them and us this morning that the Christian life isn’t about how much you know, but about how much you love. The opposite of love is selfishness.
8.7 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.
The weak Christians in Corinth felt it was a sin to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Because of their upbringing, earlier habits, or former lifestyle, the weak still believed that they were in some way participating in idol worship by eating the meat.
Paul uses the term “conscience” 8 times in the Corinthian letters. The conscience refers to that moral inner sense of what is appropriate or inappropriate (Acts 23:1). It has been said that our conscience is God’s doorkeeper that was placed within us to keep us out of the areas we don’t belong in. Some of these precious saints in Corinth had consciences that could not grasp the nothingness of idols. Their weak conscience would not permit them to eat food offered to an idol.
Although eating meat offered to idols was not a threat to the true God, and although eating meat offered to idols wouldn’t affect some saints personally, what the body of Christ needed to be aware of was the fact that their indulgence in their liberty of eating this meat was having a confusing and adverse affect on those weaker saints who did not have that conviction.
8.8 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.
Neither eating meat nor not eating meat will make us more acceptable to God. A believer would not be more holy or better if he or she ate meat. Nor would a believer be closer to God if he or she did not eat meat. Basically speaking, food does not bring us closer to God or keep us from God.
Romans 14.17 The kingdom of God is not meat nor drink, but righteousness, peace and joy in The Holy Ghost.
Hebrews 13.9 Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.
There were those legalists in Paul’s day that were making what you ate or did not eat a matter of salvation. In Phil 3.9, Paul said that their belly had become their god.
8.9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
The admonition to take heed (take care) reminds us that The Lord Jesus Christ’s interest in the weaker brother’s walk is greater than His interest in you exercising your personal freedom.
When knowledge is not filtered through the unselfish standard of the love of God and sensitivity towards others, the exercising of that liberty is unloving and a stumbling block in the weak Christian’s walk with God.
Let me explain what is meant by stumbling block. A “stumbling block” is not an act that offends a person; it is an act that leads a fellow believer into what is sin for him or her. A stumbling block is not just anything that causes someone to be offended. It is not a stumbling block for a man to have long hair and a ponytail, if the people who are offended by this are not thereby tempted to have a ponytail themselves, and in so doing violate their conscience. It cannot be a stumbling block when a woman is offended at a man’s beard, unless she is tempted to grow a beard and in doing so would violate her conscience.
The acid test of the new birth in 1 John is love.
1 John 2.9-11 He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.
8.10 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;
Emboldened- In verse 10, Paul employs a word that is translated “strengthened” in the NASB; “encouraging,” J. B. Phillips).
Paul seldom uses the word in this negative sense. It is most often positively used with the meaning “edified” or “built up.” What Paul is saying here is that eating idol-meat is reverse edification. It builds up or strengthens others, encouraging them or emboldening them to sin.
Paul has just said in verse 1 “edifies” (the same root word). Eating idol meat so as to encourage a weaker brother to sin is not walking in love! It is, instead, putting a stumbling block in his path (verse 9).
Romans 14.14,15 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
8.11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
The “knowledge” that Paul is referring to here in verse 10 goes back to 8:1-4.
Strong believers know that there is only one God (8:4).
Weak believers are influenced by their past.
Thus, strong believers are to act lovingly toward other believers, even weak ones, superstitious ones, legalistic ones, ascetic ones, or baby ones!
By partaking in an activity I may have the freedom to enjoy, I can potentially “ruin” my brother. Paul does not mean ultimate spiritual destruction, for he calls this man a “brother, for whose sake Christ died.” The destruction for the weak brother is that he may be emboldened or tempted to revert to his old pagan ways.
More important than the knowledge that I am free to do this or that is the realization that my liberty could adversely affect my weaker brother.
The selflessness of Jesus Christ is the example for every saint in the body of Christ to follow. If Jesus Christ loved this brother with a weaker conscience so much that He was willing to give up His exalted rights and even His life (Phil. 2:6, 8), surely, the more mature believer would gladly give up his right to eat such meat for the glory of God.
8.12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
Think this through Koinonia. Before you say, “I’ll do what I want, go where I want, eat what I want, post on Facebook what I want,” you need to realize that if, flaunting my liberty is knowingly causing my weaker brother to stumble, I sin not only against him but against Christ. That is a very serious matter.
How much does Jesus identify with His bride?
Acts 9.4 Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
Matthew 25.40 Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these, ye have done it unto Me.
Luke 17.1,2 It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.
So here is the conclusion; the practical application
8.13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
Paul would write in Romans 14.21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.
Paul is willing to deny himself of any personal freedom, if he knew that his conduct was likely to be the occasion of leading others into sin or throw their walk with Christ into a tailspin.
Paul was motivated by the love of God for his fellow believers. He would rather set aside a liberty permanently rather than indulge himself if he knew that it would impede a fellow believers growth in Christ or embolden a weaker believer to be tempted to fall back into his or her sinful past.
The highest principle governing my choice in disputable matters is denial of self and love for a fellow believer who might disagree with me on that issue.
Romans 14.19,20 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. For meat destroy not the work of God.
A legitimate question
Must I limit my liberty for someone who considers himself or herself a spiritual policeman and is a legalist? No. Paul is talking about an action that might cause a weaker brother to stumble. He is not talking about engaging in a legitimate liberty that simply makes a pharisaical Christian frown. Much of what Jesus did caused the legalistic Pharisees to frown. If we governed our entire lives by the frowns we receive from legalistic Christians, we’d be living in spiritual straightjackets.
God does not ask us to give up our liberty to please the unappeasable legalist. But if a weak brother is sincerely trying to grow, he or she deserves every sacrifice we might make. The actions of a mature saints must never be a hindrance to the spiritual progress of those who are weak.
In this passage there are 2 great principles that are eternally valid.
Nothing ought to be judged solely from the point of view of knowledge; everything ought to be judged from the point of view of love. There is always a certain danger in knowledge. Head knowledge tends to make a man arrogant and feel superior and look down unsympathetically on the man who is not as far advanced as him. Knowledge of that kind is not true knowledge. The exercise of our Christian liberty should always be guided by selfless and considerate love for our fellow man, not by the thought of our own superior knowledge.
This leads to the greatest truth of all. No man has any right to indulge in a pleasure or to demand a liberty that may be the downfall of someone else. An individual may have the strength of mind and will to keep that personal liberty in its proper place. That liberty may be safe enough for him and God in the privacy of his own home. But when it comes to exercising any Christian liberty in public, we cannot only be thinking about ourselves, but about the weaker or new convert to Christ. Know this beloved, any indulgence of Christian liberty which may be the ruin of someone else’s walk or a hindrance to someone coming to the saving knowledge od Jesus Christ is not a pleasure but a sin.55