1Co 8:8-13 “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 take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. 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; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. 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 stresses again that whether or not meat (food) has been offered to an idol is not the real issue. Eating meat offered to idols just because we can does not prove our faithfulness to God. Flaunting our knowledge that we have liberty to do so does not magnify the Lord. Refusing to eat meat offered to idols does not indicate a weakness in our understanding that God is greater than idols.
The real issue here is whether we are demonstrating proper love and concern for our brethren. Paul warns us to “take heed” or pay close attention not only to what we are doing but also to how it affects those around us. We are not being asked to compromise those things which God commands of us, but rather to be careful about those things we have liberty in that are not necessarily required.
Perhaps we determine that a song does not really teach the gospel truth about God. Since we know what we really believe, we feel free to sing it anyway. It has a really nice melody and moving harmony parts, and it is just a fun musical exercise. We do not stop to consider if we are any better for singing it or any worse for not doing so. Our liberty is such that we feel free to sing it just because it suits us to do so. (I offer this as an example and not as though the focus of these verses was about the soundness of our singing).
We might be tempted to say this example is not about something offered to an idol. However, if we know that it does not represent the truth about God, we certainly can’t claim to be offering it to Him. If we are not offering it to Him, then we must be offering it to man (either ourselves or some other). Paul warns us against changing the glory (even in our minds) of the uncorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man (Rom 1:23).
When a weaker brother or sister sees us engaged in self-serving interests that do not commend us to God, then they may be emboldened to walk that same path of self-serving interest. While we may know the pitfall of our action and be able to avoid becoming ensnared, they may not have that strength of knowledge. They may be emboldened to follow the error that we, in our liberty, can handle and lay aside.
Paul says to take a path that causes a weaker brother to perish (be destroyed to the peace and joy of the truth in Jesus Christ) is sin. It is not just a sin against our brother or sister: it is a sin against Christ. Paul’s attitude was that if the thing does not commend us to God and risks us being a stumbling block to our brother, then we should avoid it as long as there is any risk to our brethren.
May God make our hearts tender toward Him and thereby may we learn to be mindful or how our actions may affect our brothers and sisters in Christ!