And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.1 Corinthians 8:12(NASB)
While the first few chapters of 1 Corinthians address disorderly behaviour, immorality, and moral negligence within the Church, this middle section addresses some related doctrinal issues. Many believers in Corinth had reverted to spiritual infancy, legalism, or a fear of foolish pagan myths, and much of Paul's first letter bore witness to the spiritual poverty of these carnally minded Christians.
This middle section provides apostolic answers to questions raised by the Corinthian Christians - all of which are relevant today. They concern marriage and celibacy, eating meat offered to idols, and head coverings. They touch on the roles of men and women in the home and within the wider church family, and they also address the issue of appropriate behaviour during the Lord's Supper and the use or abuse of the precious gifts of the Spirit.
For three of these chapters, Paul concentrated on a practice common to the Gentile world of the day - the eating of meat offered to the idols in the many pagan temples that littered the city of Corinth. While the spiritually mature recognised the liberty they enjoyed in Christ... including freedom to eat and drink whatever they chose without being tied to any food laws, Paul recognised that weaker brethren who had renounced their pagan practices, were often confused by this liberty which could cause them to stumble.
The practice at that time was that meat-offerings made to false gods were subsequently sold in the local marketplace. Although the quality of the meat was not affected and false idols have no power over those who consumed it, eating meat offered to idols often caused psychological suffering for new converts... causing them to falter in their faith. "Therefore," Paul writes, "if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so I will not cause my brother to stumble."
Paul was trying to get across that eating meat that had been offered to these false deities was not sinful when carried out by a Christian with a clear conscience and a mature knowledge of their position in Christ... nor did it gain God's favour. Similarly, refraining from eating such meat due to one's conscience did not cause someone to fall from grace, nor did it mean the person who abstained gained God's favour!
The more familiar a believer becomes with Christ's finished work on Calvary the more he understands the freedom that he has in Him. There is no list of rites, rituals, do's or don'ts commanded of us... except to love one another. Indeed, the love we have for one another is often expressed when the needs and feelings of others are considered before our own - for he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law. Love is the fulfilment of the law, for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us all free from the law of sin and death.
There were many practices in those early days of the Church that were perfectly lawful and apparently harmless which could cause another believer to stumble in their faith because of their pagan association... and eating meat offered to idols was one such practice. Sensitivity to the feelings of a brother or sister in Christ is what Paul was promoting here. It is more important to curtail one's own freedom in Christ in order to prevent a weaker brother from faltering in their faith. If the freedom we have in Christ causes someone's faith to flounder or encourages a brother to do something his conscience forbids, it is contrary the law of love.
Being ready and willing to forgo some of the liberty we have in Christ so the faith of a weaker brother is not compromised, is what Paul is teaching. However, it goes deeper than this, for knowingly causing a brother to stumble through an action that may be lawful... becomes a sin in the eyes of God if it causes that brother to stumble. "Take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to a weaker brother," we are warned, "for if someone sees you... who have knowledge of the truth, dining in an idol's temple and sinning like this.. will it not wound his weak conscience? It may even cause him to eat something, against his conscience!"
Paul is saying that although you may know the liberty you have in Christ and have every right to partake in a particular activity, if a weaker brother sees you doing something which he considers to be sinful... because his inner conscience forbids it... then to keep on doing it becomes a sin - because your freedom weakens his faith, rather than building it up.
Paul is arguing that if our greater awareness of our freedom in Christ causes a weaker Christian to stumble in their faith or wounds their fragile conscience, it is not only a sin against that brother but also is sinful in the eyes of God, and dishonours the Lord Who bought us.
The incredible freedom we have in Christ today is the same freedom that believers had in Paul's day, but we must never allow the liberty we have in Him to become a stumbling-block to any of our brothers or sisters in Christ. How important to become increasingly sensitive to the needs of others, especially those that are weak in their faith or vulnerable in their consciences.
May we always consider the needs and vulnerabilities of other believers and be especially aware of those that are struggling with their conscience or faltering in their faith. May we encourage them in their faith, strengthen them in their Christians walk, and never allow the freedom we enjoy in Christ to impact their lives negatively, for the honour and glory of our God and Saviour.
Heavenly Father, thank You for all that You are teaching me from the epistles of Paul and the many lessons I can learn from my Christian brothers and sisters in those early days of the church. May I never become a stumbling-block in the lives of my brothers and sisters in Christ or place an obstacle in their path because of the freedom I have found in You. Thank You that there is nothing in heaven or earth that can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, and may I be sensitive to the Law of the Spirit of life in Him which has freed me from the law of sin and death. Help me to carefully consider the needs and sensitivities of others before my own, for Your greater glory. This I ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.