Here is a passage that is more often abused than used correctly:
“Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.
However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But 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? For 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.
Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.” (1 Cor 8:4-13)
In this passage, Paul is addressing the correct use of knowledge (also called wisdom). The correct use of knowledge is aways guided by love (1 Cor 8:1), as in, to serve others. In many cases we have freedoms in Christ, liberty if you will. However, sometimes we forgo our liberty for the sake of another. This is the essence of Christian living. After all, it was Jesus Himself who said that the whole law was summed up in two commandments, the first being “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND. (Matt 22:37) and the second being “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF (Matt 22:39). The first commandment really sums up the whole law, but the second commandment sums up how the Christian can express the first law toward the world. Paul expands on this in Galatians 5:13 “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
Translation: Liberty is first and foremost for the benefit of others.
That said, I’ve noticed in my life as a Christian that many people use this fact like a weapon…no, like a terrorist.
To explain what I mean, let me explain what the ‘weaker brother” (a la 1 Cor 8, quoted above) is NOT:
- He is not someone who understands Christian liberty. The weaker brother is still thinking of his faith as a list of things to avoid doing, rather than having been freed to pursue the desires of the indwelling Spirit.
- He is someone who does not trust in the sufficiency of God’s Word. Likely he knows that he has freedom, but insists on being narrower than the Bible.
- He is not someone who fully grasps the Biblical process of holiness. This person is often under the notion that things do something to you, rather than seeing the heart as a sinful user of things.
- He is not someone who is offended. The ‘weaker brother’ is someone who is tempted. The idea here is not that we avoid doing things that make others upset. The idea is that this person thinks that a particular behavior is sinful and is tempted to defy his conscience because he sees you do it. (For more on this, please get to know the entire book of Colossians.)
- He does not use outrage as a tool. Here’s the kicker, people play the ‘weaker brother card’ all the time because they ARE narrower than the Bible and they want to force you to be just as narrow. These people will eventually control the church with their legalism if left unchecked. This was PRECISELY the case in Galatians. In Galatians 2:4, Paul refers to a similar false teaching he’d just dealt with in Jerusalem, “But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.”
So how do we deal with these kind of liberty-squashing terrorists? In the name of love, we have to be careful not to disregard objections we may face. I suggest the following:
- DO strive to discern between the one who is tempted and the one who is offended. The one who is tempted will often say nothing.
- DON’T force the issue, ever.
- DO be sensitive to the conscience of the one who struggles with what is free to him as a Christian.
- DO try and help him embrace his liberty at another time, so that he might be free of self-inflicted bondage and enjoy his liberties.