1 Corinthians chapter 8

When Rights Become Wrong

“But God [does] care when you use your freedom carelessly in a way that leads a Christian still vulnerable to those old associations to be thrown off track. – Vs 9 MSG

“I’m free in Christ!”

That’s a wonderful statement that any believer in Christ should be able to make. We are free. Free from slavery to sin. Free to live a new life. Free from having to try to earn favor with God through our own feeble attempts at keeping some impossible set of rules. Jesus Himself said, “So if the son sets you free, you will be really free” (John 8:36 NET). So we really are free. But with that freedom comes a degree of responsibility. Because of our faith in Christ, we have been made aware of certain truths we didn’t know before. We have knowledge of certain realities we didn’t know before. We know we can’t earn our way into heaven. We know there is only one true God. We know that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to God except through Him (John 14:6). We know we are saved by grace through faith any not according to our works so that none of us can take credit for it (Ephesians 2:8-9). We know we are not defiled by what we eat, but by what we say and do (Matthew 15:11). But Paul says that all this knowledge can end up making us arrogant and prideful. Especially when it comes to how we act around those brothers and sisters who don’t know as much as we do. Knowledge puffs up. Love builds up.

Love trumps knowledge. Knowing all the things listed above is great, but is we allow that knowledge to get in the way of our love for our fellow believer, we have missed the point. Not everyone who attends church with us shares the same degree of knowledge or spiritual insight. There are new believers who bring to the table some immature beliefs and worldly viewpoints. They may bring inaccurate doctrine or teaching from a previous church relationship. They may bring a hodge-podge of religious and psychological input that is unbiblical, but in their mind it is real. We may have the desire to correct them, but Paul seems to be calling us to love them first. He is dealing with practical issues of faith. In his day it was the believers freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols. The logic went like this: Since God is the only god,  idols are nothing more than man-made objects. Therefore the meat that was sacrificed to them was not polluted or unclean, because that god did not exist to begin with. So Christians were free to buy this meat from the priests who ran the temples to those gods. Their knowledge of the truth gave certain believers in the Corinthian church the freedom to eat this meat with a clear conscience.

But there were others in their fellowship who did not have the same level of knowledge. They had come to Christ out of a pagan background, having at one time worshiped those false gods. They had eaten that meat sacrificed to an idol. Now that they were Christians, they felt compelled to leave all that behind. They wanted nothing to do with their former way of life, including buying and eating meat sacrificed in the temple of their former god. Now they saw their fellow believers doing just that. They were confused. They were torn. And because of the actions of their more knowledgeable brothers, they were stumbling – falling back into their old habits and wrestling with their old beliefs. This is where Paul draws the line on our rights or freedoms. He says, “But you must be careful with this freedom of yours. Do not cause a brother or sister with a weaker conscience to stumble” (Vs 9 NLT). Sure, these more mature believers were free to eat that meat. That was not the point. The point was that their love for their weaker brother should outweigh their right to take advantage of low-priced, high-quality meat. Did they have a responsibility to share their knowledge of the truth with their weaker brothers? Yes. But until they did, they had a responsibility to love them in their ignorance. Otherwise, “… because of your superior knowledge, a weak Christian, for whom Christ died, will be destroyed” (Vs 11 NLT). Knowledge puffs up. Love builds up. Knowledge can lead to pride. Love leads to sacrifice. You can be right and oh so wrong. To stand for our rights and to cause a brother to fall at the same time is sin. Paul makes it clear. May we have the attitude that Paul had. “If what I eat is going to make another Christian sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live––for I don’t want to make another Christian stumble” (Vs 13 NLT).

Father, thank You for the freedoms I have in You. Thank You for the rights and privileges that are mine because of my relationship with Jesus Christ. But may I never allow my freedoms to become a stumbling-block to another brother in Christ. I want my love for them to far outweigh my love for my own rights. May I learn to give up everything in order that they might not fall into sin because of me. Open my eyes and help me see where my freedoms might be causing another believer to sin against his or her conscience. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

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