The Weaker-Believer Principle

Through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died.

–1 Corinthians 8:11

The mature Christians in the church at Corinth made a second argument about eating meat offered to idols–they said there is nothing sinful about food. Look at 1 Corinthians 8:8: “Food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do eat, nor the better if we do eat.” They were right–there is nothing about food that is inherently sinful. Jesus said the same thing in Mark 7:15: “There is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.” The things we eat or drink may be harmful, but they are not inherently sinful. And Paul said there is nothing about abstaining or partaking of food that commends you or condemns you before God.

However, notice what God does care about: “Take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?” (1 Corinthians 8:9-10). To understand this verse, you need to imagine quotation marks around “Will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?” Paul was parroting the argument of those mature Christians. They were saying, “If a weaker Christian sees us eating this meat, his conscience will be strengthened–he will understand the freedom he has in Christ.” No, Paul said, that is not what would happen. Instead, that new Christian’s conscience would be defiled. He would lose his sensitivity to God’s leading, and he would more easily fall back into his old way of life.

Look at verses 11-12: “Through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.” We are all part of the body of Christ–we are all connected to one another and to Christ, the head. So to hurt another believer is to sin against Christ.

Paul concluded, “If food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble” (v. 13). I need to clarify something here. Paul was saying we need to gauge our behavior by how a weaker believer responds. But in the church today there are some professional “weaker believers” who just love to object to what other believers do. That is not a weaker believer; that is a cranky critic. A weaker believer is somebody who imitates our behavior even though their conscience tells them otherwise. Our freedom ends when it hurts another brother or sister in Christ.

Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Meat Market Christianity” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2011.

Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org.

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