1 Corinthians Chapter 8: Agape Love edifieth, Meat Offered to Idols, Stumbling BrethrenFeb 13th, 2010 | By admin | Category: 1 & 2 Corinthians, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)
1 Corinthians Chapter 8: Agape Love edifieth, Meat Offered to Idols, Stumbling Brethren
1 Cor. 8:1 Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.
A letter had previously been sent to Paul, asking for his advice on several matters (1 Cor. 7:1).
Paul was now considering the question of eating meat offered to idols.
What did Paul mean when he said, “We know that we all have knowledge”? After reading the chapter, we find that the knowledge everyone possessed was the knowledge there was but one true living God and His Son, Jesus Christ.
“Knowledge puffeth up, but charity [love] edifieth.” Unfortunately, this portion of verse 1 is sometimes used out of context to minimize the importance of having an accurate knowledge of the truth. It is said that knowledge is not important but that grace and character are all important. To make such a statement is not in harmony with Scripture.
Those who decry too much study of the Bible and doctrine say it is not edifying; they claim that the main thing is love for God and Christ. Only in this First Epistle to the Corinthians did Paul give knowledge a negative value. Several times Paul spoke about how knowledge puffs up and promotes conceit, pride, and vainglory, but this epistle is the only place where he does this. In all of his other epistles, Paul spoke of knowledge favorably, saying it is desirable and essential for growing in grace. Even in the next epistle, his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul spoke very favorably about knowledge. The problem being addressed in this first epistle is that the Corinthians’ use of knowledge had a deleterious and damaging effect.
Knowledge by itself can be injurious, whereas “charity edifieth”; that is, love builds up and is constructive. The words “puffeth up” indicate that knowledge can be harmful. Knowledge is damaging to those who give it too high an emphasis and then belittle love. The proper use of knowledge is that it expands and love fills in the expanded area. Each step of knowledge is to be followed by a step of grace.
Incidentally, Paul purposely did not refer to Acts 15:19,20, “Wherefore my sentence is … that we write unto them [Gentile Christians], that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.” It is startling that he did not say, “At their first council, the apostles commanded to refrain from eating meat offered to idols and to abstain from fornication,” yet he addressed both topics in this first epistle. Paul had a reason for not mentioning the council. The apostles James and Peter simply issued a decree that the Jews were not to lay any burden on Gentile Christians except this added commandment of abstaining from fornication and not eating blood, things strangled, and meat offered to idols. In contrast, Paul spoke to the Corinthians as an apostle—this was his responsibility, for he had started the class at Corinth. He gave the reasons for abstaining, whereas the others just gave the commandment. He gave the philosophy behind the dangers of the supposed Christian liberty. The point is that if we love Christ and God, we must discipline and modify that liberty under certain circumstances.
In introducing the subject of their eating meat offered to idols, Paul first said, “We all agree that there is only one God.” Then he added (verse 4), “[Therefore,] an idol is nothing.” He was showing cause and effect.
Comment: The contrast is given between knowledge and love, but here knowledge is limited to the issue of eating meat offered to idols. The point was that the Corinthians’ knowledge was not properly applied or mingled with love.
Comment: “Love” not properly understood and based on knowledge does not edify, and it can actually tear down.
Reply: Yes, love has to be based on knowledge. The statement is sometimes made that love is based on justice—that we must be just before we can be generous (loving)—but knowledge is necessary to know whether the feelings we are exercising are really love in the first place. As Jesus said, “If we love those who love us, what reward do we have?” (Matt. 5:46 paraphrase). There are all kinds of love and feelings of affection to one degree or another—family love, friendship love, conjugal love, etc.—but God’s love is according to knowledge.
Comment: In Reprint No. 3144, “Knowledge Puffeth Up; But Love Buildeth Up,” the statement was made that the Apostle “points out the advantage of measuring oneself by growth in love, rather than by growth merely in knowledge—though, of course, to be great in both knowledge and love would be the ideal condition.”
Comment: Love is not understood by many because of their lack of knowledge of God’s Word.
As with the child who needs to be corrected, love can be severe and harsh for his own good. And love has its ultimate reward.
Reply: Jesus was rewarded because he loved righteousness and hated iniquity (Psa. 45:7; Heb. 1:9). His intensity of feeling and purpose were properly focused according to knowledge. While we are to govern our actions by conscience, the conscience needs to be instructed and regulated by Scripture. In other words, conscience is not just a matter of emotion and feeling. Paul said strong meat belongs to those who have ”their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14). Those who do not exercise their senses will not be able to discriminate between good and evil.
A lot of our thinking is askew because it is based on emotion and feeling. Each one of us personally has to adjust, for our definition of “love” must square with God’s definition. Surely we would not do a lot of things that God has done if it were a matter of our feelings. God had Jesus crucified—a sobering question is, Would we have done so? God saw that in the long run, the Crucifixion was both for the everlasting welfare of Jesus himself—for the honor to which he would be exalted—and for the redemption of mankind.
Where principle and judgment are involved, decisions have to be made according to knowledge, not feelings, because all of us are abnormal and fallen in judgment to start with. Everything about us is warped. Along another line, we must know how to pray; that is, knowing how to pray requires knowledge. We try, to the best of our ability and by God’s grace, to have the spirit of a sound mind as we grow older in the truth (2 Tim. 1:7). As stated in the Reprint article, love and knowledge go together, hand in hand. Or we could say that love and justice are related; justice comes first, and love operates based on justice. To love properly requires instruction and knowledge from God’s Word. We will progress into perfect love, and thus eventually reach the mark of perfect love, if we are rightly exercised. Thus growing in love is one thing, and the attainment of perfect love is another.
1 Cor. 8:2 And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.
Paul was speaking not against spiritual knowledge or maturity of thought but against knowledge as an accumulation of facts. To be a walking dictionary does not mean one is that spiritual, unless of course the knowledge has been laboriously acquired over many years of study. Certainly that kind of knowledge would be to the credit of the individual. It is the use of knowledge and understanding that is important. Discretion, discernment, and judgment are using knowledge in a constructive sense so that one is not just parroting a lot of facts. “If any man [in Corinth] think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing.” Paul was addressing the Corinthian brethren. Generally speaking, he did not talk this way in the other epistles. Many of the brethren in Corinth had a Grecian background, and knowledge was the weakness of the Greeks. The problem of the Jewish Christians in Corinth was the Law of Moses. Evidently, some in the class were brilliant speakers and thinkers but not when it came to Christian principles and precepts.
Comment: If any man has confidence in his own human wisdom, he really knows nothing.
1 Cor. 8:3 But if any man love God, the same is known of him.
What bearing does verse 3 have on verse 2?
Comment: Those who really love God keep His commandments. As the Apostle John said, “Hereby we do know that we know him [God], if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3).
Another point on Paul’s mind, which will come out later, is that a person can love God, but how do we, as spectators, know that the individual loves God? We may underestimate the merit and worth of another Christian because we are looking at the exterior. Paul was leading up to the fact that Christ died for all of the brethren in the class. Where each one stood with the Lord—and even ourselves—is a question mark, for one must be faithful unto death. Verse 3 can be paraphrased, “If any man loves God, God knows the individual and is dealing with him.”
1 Cor. 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.
Verse 4 states the real issue that Paul was addressing in chapter 8: the eating of things that are sacrificed unto idols. The Corinthian brethren wanted to know, Should we buy and/or eat meat offered to idols?
Verse 4 is tied in with verse 1. The Corinthian brethren all had knowledge (gnosis) that there is only one God and that an idol is nothing, but what should they do with that knowledge? The problems with an idol were as follows: The idol, or statue, was supposed to represent the unseen presence of a spirit being. The spirit being and the idol were a fake, but what was behind the idol and the god it supposedly represented was very real—demons and demon worship.
Gentile Christians in Corinth had been so imbued with the various practices and associations of idol worship that they were having a difficult time extricating themselves, especially because they had a false idea of another subject, namely, Christian liberty. One end of the spectrum is liberty, and the other extreme is license. We should fight for spiritual liberty to maintain our integrity, but liberty can be used in an abusive sense as license. License is liberty without any accompanying knowledge and understanding. The problem in society today is that there is no dividing line between right and wrong. The Bible gives us that dividing line, so if people do not believe the Bible is strictly the Word of God, there is an immense gray area, which is really a “fog” that prevents discernment of right and wrong. Because the Gentile Christians in Corinth had a past culture in their blood, they were continuing to do things from which they should have refrained. Initially, when they first got the truth, their conduct and thinking were purer in the simplicity of the gospel. If we examine our own lives when we first came into the truth and how we responded, we are amazed at how the Lord helped us to overcome certain past practices. We sang songs with fervor and rejoiced in the truth, and it is this love that can get tarnished over a period of time. To keep the fervency of spirit and love is a battle. We must discipline ourselves and not just go with the current. If we relax, we will go downstream.
1 Cor. 8:5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
1 Cor. 8:6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
Corinth was in Greece, and false gods were worshipped in Greek mythology—gods in heaven and gods on earth. In fact, fallen angels, who came down here to earth and had children, are given different names in mythology (Gen. 6:1-4). In addition, the pope and other religious leaders are reverenced and recognized abnormally.
In other words, those who “are called gods [Greek theos] … in heaven” are mighty (though fallen) spirit beings, and those who “are called gods … in earth” are judges, etc. Paul was pointing out the singleness of worship that belongs to God. As the commandment states, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me [Jehovah]” (Exod. 20:3). The Gentile world had many “gods,” even Caesar, for example. In addition, Gentiles were immersed in worshipping idols— different personalities, both male (gods) and female (goddesses). To the Jews, idol worship was repugnant because of their background in the Law. The Corinthian ecclesia, being a mixture of Gentiles and Jews, had a problem because of the culture of the Gentiles in idol worship.
Comment: Verse 5 in the Amplified reads, “For although there may be so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many of them, both of gods and of lords and masters.”
Two prepositions in verse 6 need correcting, as follows: “There is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in [for] him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by [on account of or for] whom are all things, and we by him.”
First, we will consider the change of “by” to “on account of.” God is the Creator of all beings, worlds, etc. However, because the Bible translators were Trinitarian, their rendering of the prepositions reflects this influence. Moreover, Vine’s, word studies, and concordances are all colored with the Trinitarian viewpoint. According to their reasoning, if the prepositions, as used here, accompany a pronoun that is in the genitive or accusative case, that determines the significance. To a certain extent, that is true, but there are exceptions. Similarly, the English language has many exceptions in preposition usage.
The expression “we by him [that is, Jesus]” is limited to the Gospel Age as far as the Church is concerned. In this context, “all things” pertain to the Christian, for surely Paul was not referring to all nature, planets, other beings, etc. In the Gospel Age, no man can approach God except through Jesus, who is High Priest, Master, Lord, King, and Advocate. The term “all things” is modified many places in Scripture to mean “all things in the context being discussed.”
1 Cor. 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.
1 Cor. 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.
In verse 8, Paul was saying, “This issue is not about the meat itself, for meat offered to idols is not poisoned. It will taste just as good, has the same nutritional value, and is not polluted in a biological sense.” He was trying to eliminate this type of thinking, which was used by libertarians, because the real problem was along another line, as stated in verse 7. “There is not in every man [Christian] the knowledge that libertarians are taking.” In other words, the libertarians were correct in their reasoning about the meat, but having truth per se was not the answer to the problem with the Corinthian brethren. And what was that problem? It was the weak conscience of others. However, if the meat was dedicated to some god in the presence of a Christian, to then eat the meat would be a stench to God. The Christian should realize that in such an obvious case, to eat the meat would be wrong.
The peripheral practice of the meat being sold in the market needed to be addressed. Not all Christians had discretionary knowledge, including those who pridefully thought they had 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.” One Christian might say, “There is nothing wrong in eating meat offered to idols. The meat is available nearby, and it is reasonably priced.” However, another brother who did not have as wide a range of understanding and knowledge might also eat, but in doing so, his conscience was being affected. As Paul showed, the erosion of conscience is dangerous, for it is difficult to recover from any damage that is done. “Their conscience being weak is defiled.”
1 Cor. 8:9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
Paul continued to talk about those whose conscience was weak. To put a stumbling block before another person is a serious matter, for we influence others by our behavior, or conduct, as well as by our lifestyle and talking. Paul suggested that the liberty is real but that the Christian has to curb his liberty and not use it carelessly.
Comment: With the issue of a weak conscience, we should be particularly aware of the newly consecrated. In time, the conscience becomes more educated through the Word of God, but we could easily stumble a babe in Christ through carelessness.
Comment: In the past, when Catholics were forbidden to eat meat on Fridays, we would be sinning if we invited some of that faith to our home for dinner and then deliberately served meat on that day of the week.
Reply: Yes, we would be showing a lack of charity toward others. However, if a Catholic came in unannounced, or uninvited, while we eating meat on a Friday, we could continue to eat and try to explain why.
1 Cor. 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;
Verse 10 is saying, “If someone sees a consecrated brother eating meat in an idol’s temple, won’t that act weaken the conscience of the other individual?” What would be a comparable situation today? How would one “eat meat” in an “idol’s temple”? Obviously, one who is consecrated would not kneel at an altar in a nominal Church and take communion. Therefore, “eating meat” in an “idol’s temple” would be slightly different today. In Paul’s time, a temple was a large structure that was more like a complex, having other facilities both in the building and in the court. Today some churches have a parish house that is adjacent to, but separate from, the church proper. People who are not identified with the communion of that belief might feel freer to eat a supper at the parish house than in the church where the service is going on. And under certain circumstances, a brother could feel that it would be quite all right to eat there, since the parish house is not the church proper.
Notice that the Apostle Paul did not just say, “To eat meat in an idol’s temple is absolutely wrong.” He did not reject the matter outright because to do so would not have been the right answer. Paul felt that while under certain circumstances, eating meat in an idol’s temple might be permissible, it was not advisable. However, although eating meat in an idol’s temple could be done without violating one’s own conscience or even a principle, how the eating might affect the conscience of others was the issue. In other words, one should not use his liberty as a stumbling block to others.
To get meat in the old days was a problem. In the marketplace, one could sit in the temple complex. The tenth chapter of 1 Corinthians supplies more information.
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.
“Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.
“Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: “For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. “If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. “But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that showed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof:
“Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?” (1 Cor. 10:23-29)
While we might have liberty to do certain things by the way we reason on a subject—while the action might be permissible—we should consider whether doing so would injure others. The tense in the King James in chapters 8 and 10 should be changed, the thought being “meat which previously had been offered to an idol.”
If we understand history correctly, people brought food offerings to these heathen temples, just as the Jews did to the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple. Agricultural products, as well as meat, were brought to offer to the god that was being worshipped. The priesthood collected all of the food offerings, and when they received an overabundance, they sold it in the public market (the open marketplace, the “shambles”) and brought back the revenue. This solution was practical, for it eliminated storage and spoilage problems. All kinds of meat were being sold in the public market, so Paul advised Christians not to ask the source of the meat. For example, the brethren did not have to ask, “Did this meat come from the temple or from a private farmer?” The same is true today. If we go to a supermarket, we do not ask where the meat came from. However, if we saw the meat or other food actually being offered at an altar, then to eat it would be too flagrant, even if the individual knew the god was false. By not asking questions about the source of the meat, one’s own conscience was not violated.
The advice was to buy without asking. Today the goods could even be stolen, but again, one should not ask. To get into that kind of scrutiny on every item, questioning the background and character, would prevent one from earning a livelihood. Paul was saying, “Do not question or ask the source of (1) the meat sold in the open marketplace or (2) the meat served in someone’s home.” The same principle applies to paying taxes. The Christian is not morally responsible if the government uses a portion of the tax money to make war munitions.
However, if a person comes around asking the Christian to buy a war bond or to pay a particular tax or to make an investment that is directly related to war or something immoral, the answer would be no. Also, in general living and in places of employment, we should not be policemen and ask a lot of questions, for we would find a lot of things amiss, and we have enough problems in our Christian walk.
Chapters 8 and 10 discuss the same issue: eating meat offered to idols. In between, in chapter 9, with Paul’s tremendous breadth of knowledge, he talked about all kinds of subjects that were related, even though “idols” were not specifically mentioned. However, Paul never lost his trend of thought, so in chapter 10, he again picked up the same theme. Altogether, the Christian is given the perspective to properly judge certain matters. On some things, we should be very strict, and on other things, we should wink the eye and not investigate too closely— according to what the Bible says on any subject. Otherwise, we would just be following a general rule that is to our liking and applying it to everything. We would be letting the flesh do the choosing, being strict where we should be liberal, and liberal where we should be strict.
Q: If a Christian did defile his conscience, what would be the punishment?
A: The punishment becomes automatic in that the repeated violation of conscience becomes a habit, which in turn leads to a destination. A violation of conscience is more damaging to our character than making a mistake. As an illustration, there are various kinds of wounds. We get scratches and bruises, but the more serious injuries that are deeper and internal are harder to cure and require a physician. Spiritually speaking, we are sorry for certain things that are superficial injuries. We tell the Lord that we are sorry we made a mistake and that we will try to do better the next time. However, for a more serious matter, definite steps have to be taken.
Q: Would our relationship to the nominal Church be a parallel tie-in today? Are there certain circumstances where we might enter a nominal Church and other times when we should not?
Comment: The Pastor stated that if we have no one to fellowship with, we could go to the nominal Church under certain conditions. To do so would be better than having no spiritual fellowship at all.
Q: But what are those conditions? Would the circumstance have to be where we are free to express our own opinion? One who is sitting in a pew listening to a minister give a sermon in a tight format does not have that liberty.
A: If we are ever in a circumstance where we would go into a nominal Church, we should attend a Bible study or a testimony meeting where there is opportunity to question or speak.
Q: But that would be on a regular basis. What about occasional attendance if someone in our own family were a member of the nominal Church? Where would we draw the line according to Scripture? The Pastor wrote that we should not be afraid to enter a nominal Church, but how could regular attendance ever be satisfactory under any condition?
A: One would choose a Bible study where there is communication. One should be able to question the leader of the study, point out inconsistencies in question form, etc. “If you say so-and- so, wouldn’t that mean such and such?” Only a minority of the church membership would attend a Bible study. Similarly in our midst, the more serious-minded brethren attend regular weekly meetings, not the gatherings with more social benefits. The earnest ones are more interested in knowing about the Bible.
Attending a Bible study would be an opportunity to give a witness. Then, when the witness is not received, it would be time to withdraw. The Apostle Paul went to the synagogue to witness, even after the nominal Jewish house was left desolate, being cast off. If the message was received, he stayed there for perhaps a few weeks. When persecution arose, he left the Jewish sector and went to the Gentiles. After a while, the persecution got so great, he could no longer go to the synagogue.
When people brought individual offerings to God in the Jewish dispensation, they could sometimes eat the remaining part of the animal after giving the priest the right shoulder and the breast. And facilities were even provided for the meat to be eaten in the Temple court. The distinction is that the meat was offered to God, not to idols. A special part of the animal was put on the altar for God, and the fire that consumed the sacrifice represented His acceptance, His eating of that which was offered. That was the proper thinking, for the ordinance was written by Jehovah, the one true God. Satan copies God and Jesus in many, many ways, and so heathen religions did the same things but made the offerings to idols, to demons. They had vulgar bacchanalian services right in the heathen temples and prostitution by the vestal virgins. God had the services in their purity, with the animals depicting holy things, but the degrading services in the heathen temples were like going to a party. Of course the false priesthood got the revenues and took advantage of the people financially. Therefore, for a Christian to sit and eat meat in the idol’s temple was entirely wrong, for it made him a participant. He was right in the devil’s house, eating the food.
On the one hand, if a Christian received meat indirectly—from friend or relative, for example— Paul’s advice was to eat the meat and not ask any questions. That way the conscience of neither the donor nor the Christian would be affected. Once the Christian asked where the meat came from, if the source was the temple or its precincts, then the meat could not be eaten. On the other hand, if a Christian is invited to someone’s home and a toast is given contrary to conscience, the Christian should not participate in the toast.
1 Cor. 8:11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
1 Cor. 8:12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
1 Cor. 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.
“Through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish.” Verse 11 is strong and shows the seriousness of violating conscience. It is not just merely that we could weaken the conscience of our brother by eating meat offered to idols, but causing him to go against his conscience could make him “perish,” that is, go into Second Death. Sinning against conscience, which means one is starting to go downhill, is different—and more serious—than a fault that one might commit through other circumstances. One could recover more easily from a fault depending on the nature of the transgression, but a transgression of conscience, which seems on the surface to be relatively minor, is difficult to reverse. Consider verse 10 again: “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?” Notice that here the emphasis of perishing is put not on the one doing the eating but on the danger to the weak brother who sees the stronger brother eating meat in the idol’s temple. Paul condemned the stronger brother not from the standpoint of saying how utterly wrong he was in his action but from the following standpoint. While the stronger brother might, with impunity, eat meat offered to idols and not violate his own conscience, doing so could hurt the weaker one by emboldening him to also eat. In other words, the weaker brother would eat because of the example of the stronger brother, but the weaker brother would not be eating based on scriptural knowledge, whereas the stronger brother knows the idol is nothing and does not affect the meat one iota.
The properties and nutritional value remain the same whether or not the meat is blessed in the name of the idol. However, the weaker brother is defiling his conscience by following the example of the stronger brother. Paul’s advice shows the great responsibility of conduct.
Q: What would be a present-day application for the principle of not eating meat offered to idols lest another brother’s conscience be defiled?
A: In Paul’s day, the setting was the temple complex; a current application might be drinking wine in a restaurant. Some whose conscience would bother them might follow the example of a brother who knew from the Scriptures that he could drink wine. None of the disciples had a troubled conscience when Jesus drank wine because water was scarce and wine was a common beverage. In addition, Timothy was told to take a little wine for his stomach ailment (1 Tim. 5:23). Today some feel, from the standpoint of conscience, that drinking wine is improper, but if they see other brethren drinking wine, they may be emboldened to violate their own conscience. It is wrong to hurt others by using liberty, for violation of conscience is dangerous.
Q: Does the term “weak brother” apply to one who is consecrated?
A: Yes, although to a certain extent, it can have other applications, especially with regard to the public. If we were discovered drinking wine and then backed down, the dissimulation would be considered a tacit admission that we were wrong. But if we were among a worldly or even a nominal Christian element that looked down on drinking wine, it would be wrong for us to drink wine, for we would be lowering the gospel in the eyes of the world. Using our liberty in a way that might adversely affect others is a wrong principle. And of course there are certain circumstances where drinking wine would not bother others, for they do not see it as an issue.
Verse 12 shows the seriousness of defiling another’s conscience: “But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.” Not only is one wounding the weak conscience of another individual, but that wounding may result in the individual’s perishing in Second Death. Moreover, carelessness in the use of liberty makes one impervious to drawing lines between right and wrong—a condition of great danger.
Comment: The same Reprint article, No. 3144, provides other helpful comments. “Love, after securing knowledge and liberty, will look about to see what effect the use of liberty might have upon others…. Love, therefore, would forbid the use of knowledge and liberty if it is perceived that their exercise might work injury to another.… We need to be on guard lest we use our liberty in such a manner as would stumble others weaker than ourselves.” It is a serious crime to stumble a brother or others and hence prevent the latter from becoming brothers or of the household of faith. “Whoever has the spirit of Christ … has already covenanted … to use his liberty, not in the promotion of his fleshly desires, ambitions and appetites; but in self-sacrifice.…” The Apostle does not mean, however, “that the Lord’s people are to favor the mental crotchets of each other in such a manner as would be [to] the general injury of the church [for example, eating no meat at any time or objecting to the singing of hymns].” With regard to the latter point, sometimes the consciences of brethren are so improperly educated that to bow to their wishes would actually hurt the spiritual atmosphere of the ecclesia.
Reply: Yes, this can happen with brethren who are vegetarian. The principle of not eating meat offered to idols can be carried too far, so that we are burdened with the thoughts of others, which may not be proper and would give a wrong meaning to the gospel. They might have us observing the Law, for example.
Q: The Diaglott reads, “And will not the weak brother, on account of whom Christ died, perish by this thy knowledge?” Shouldn’t the weak brother refrain because of his knowledge?
A: Yes, he should refrain, and if he does, at least he is preserving his conscience. For that reason, the Pastor said to never go against conscience, but the conscience needs regulation.
Nevertheless, if knowledge is not sufficient, one should at least obey his conscience.
Comment: The conscience is a control, a standard, a principle, that is set up in the mind of what the Lord’s will is, but sometimes what we think is not the Lord’s will.
Reply: Nevertheless, we should obey for the present, even if later on, we are instructed otherwise and find that our conscience was not properly educated.
Incidentally, where instruction is given on a subject, we would not be limited to the whims and fancies of different brethren, for they would be present to hear scriptural explanations as to why we do or do not do certain things. That situation is a lot different than just acting without the opportunity of knowledge.
We must be especially careful not to violate the conscience of new converts. They should be carefully observed because of their different background and probable lack of scriptural regulation.
In the case of principle, we should have the opportunity to express our reasons. For example, if a brother had to go into a saloon for an entirely innocent reason, such as auditing the books, he should make known the purpose and state that he did not go in for a drink. If we can explain ourselves, we are not fettered. And if we can explain our principles—if there is opportunity for discussion—then we do not violate the conscience of others.
Comment: Since the principle stated earlier is so important, it bears repeating. If we are doing something we know is permissible—such as drinking a little wine—and we receive a surprise visitor who disapproves, we should not dissemble, for doing so would be an admission we are wrong and are guilty. However, with regard to everyday living, if we associated with an element who disapproved of drinking (nominal Christians or otherwise), we should refrain from drinking wine. Not doing so would lower the gospel standard in the eyes of the world. Back to verse 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.” Does verse 13 necessarily mean that Paul was a vegetarian? No! Jesus, our special example, ate and drank, so Christians have that liberty (Matt. 11:19). Paul meant that under this circumstance, he would not eat meat—he would totally abstain—if eating would make a weak brother violate his conscience. Incidentally, we do not believe Paul was a vegetarian, although we cannot prove the statement.
Comment: 1 Timothy 4:4 reads, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving.”
Reply: That text states a principle but does not tell about Paul’s personal habits.
Q: Is the thought in verse 13, “Wherefore, if meat offered to idols make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh under this circumstance while the world standeth”?
A: Yes. Paul was saying, “In my ministry, I am very careful in this matter to make sure that I do not offend any weak brother.” The Corinthians were not to flaunt their knowledge lest they ruin the character of another brother who knew and loved God.
Q: Would a practical example of this principle today be the following? If we were traveling in Israel and entered Dome of the Rock, we should observe the Muslim customs by removing our shoes and the women covering their heads. In other words, we should not desecrate their place of worship in violation of their conscience. For the same reason, a woman’s head and arms should be covered and a skirt worn when going to the Wailing Wall. By permission, we are on the property of others and should respect their customs, generally speaking.
A: That would be the principle for the sake of the conscience of others. We should follow the principle of Paul’s advice where we deem it expedient.
Some brethren who think they are right may try to persuade us to do something that is not scriptural. An example is coercing one to be a vegetarian. However, the tail should not wag the dog. Individuals with a dominant or leading spirit who have warped thinking on some subjects should not be allowed to control the class lest the thinking become “foolish” in the sense that Paul criticized the Galatians. “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?… Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”
(Gal. 3:1,3). If Paul and Peter were here today and their identities were not known, we can be sure there would be a lot of strong talk, and they would not be invited to speak again in many places. They would be invited only to the home of a small number of individuals who felt the thinking was correct. Would the teaching of the apostles be popular if they were in our midst today and spoke the truth? Would they be frequently on the platform? We do not believe so.
Comment: Today the apostles’ message would not be received well from the platform, for even back there, the brethren in Asia forsook the Apostle Paul (2 Tim. 1:15).
The power of Jesus was an essential part of his gospel, for otherwise, the gospel, the candle, would have fizzled and gone out. Jesus had to speak with strength and without fear of the consequences. He even ridiculed the scribes and Pharisees to their faces. If a person is weak in conscience but bold in speaking, so that the tail wags the dog, he is putting the class in bondage. The class should not tolerate the situation for fear of hurting his or her feelings, for the individual’s feelings in such a case would be entirely wrong. Brethren tend to conform because they are so concerned for the individual. As a result, the class may follow for years the policy of someone who is weak in understanding.
Certainly brethren should not allow others to Judaize Christianity. Instead of the Christian’s helping the Jew, the Jew Judaizes the Christian. Consequently, some Christians do everything for Israel—it becomes the gospel of Israel—whereas the gospel is for the Christian, Jew or Gentile. Along another line, many sincere Christians have the distorted gospel of good works—feeding and clothing the poor. If spirituality is lacking for these or other reasons and there is very little understanding of the Bible, we should disassociate ourselves from that group and meet elsewhere to worship more in harmony with the Word.
Incidentally, in the second epistle, Paul changed some of his advice to the Corinthians because by that time, they had developed, even the ones who thought they had knowledge. Formerly they lacked spiritual understanding, but they grew in the interim.
(1979, 1997, and 2001 Studies)