Commentary by Walter Albritton

July 9, 2006


Loving People is More Important than Personal Privilege


1 Corinthians 8:1-13


Key Verse: “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. – 1 Corinthians 8:8-9

          In the days of Saint Paul pagan gods were plentiful and there was much ignorance concerning these false gods. It was a way of life to make sacrificial meat offerings to the gods. So as ordinary people turned from false gods to the true and living God, they believed it was wrong to eat meat that had been dedicated to pagan gods. The Jerusalem Council even advised Christians to “abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols” (Acts 15:29).

          Other Christians disagreed. Christ had made them free so they believed they were now free to ignore such superstitious beliefs about food. After all, if these false gods did not exist, what difference would it make to eat meat dedicated to idols?

          This was yet another of the problems that plagued the church in Corinth and one for which Paul offered them guidance. His counsel was helpful to them in the first century and it is helpful to us in our day.

          Essentially Paul put love first. Loving people is always more important than exercising personal privilege. If the use of our liberty causes a weaker brother or sister to stumble, then we have put a stumbling block in their pathway. That, Paul says, we should refuse to do out of love for those who are weaker.

          Paul reminds the Corinthians that even though pagan gods do not exist, there are Christians who are not yet aware of this knowledge. They still believe that meat dedicated to idols is defiled. So out of love for those who are weak, refrain from eating such meat.

          This is not a casual matter for Paul. Weak believers may be “destroyed” by the wrong example of fellow believers. Christ died for these weak believers and if we by our example cause them to stumble, we sin against Christ – a serious offense, and one we should not take lightly.

          Paul’s counsel may be a little clearer in another translation. The following, from the New Living Translation, seems crystal clear:

         But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we live for him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life. 7 However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated. 8 It's true that we can't win God's approval by what we eat. We don't lose anything if we don't eat it, and we don't gain anything if we do.
       9 But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.10 For if others see you—with your "superior knowledge"—eating in the temple of an idol, won't they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol?

          11 So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. 12 And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. 13 So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don't want to cause another believer to stumble.

          Jesus also warned that there are serious consequences for causing others to stumble:

          But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea (Matthew 18:6).

          Our example is a precious gift of God. We can use it to express our love for others. Consider the drinking of alcoholic beverages, for example. God will not send people to hell for drinking alcohol. Yet a grandfather may refuse to drink alcohol because he loves his grandchildren. He does not want to risk having one of them follow his example and become an alcoholic. The same analogy can be used with the decision not to buy lottery tickets. Our example may save some person from an addiction to gambling.

          When we put loving others first, it makes personal decisions much easer to make. We will use our freedom to benefit others and never to harm them. Loving others is more important than exercising personal privilege.

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