“Pitfalls” ( 1 Corinthians 8: 3, NEB ) by Carley Evans

“This ‘knowledge’ of yours is utter disaster to the weak, the brother for whom Christ died. In thus sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience, you sin against Christ,” writes Paul to those in Corinth who ‘have knowledge’ that they have ‘liberty’ to eat foods consecrated to idols. (1 Corinthians 8:11-12) Paul writes, “Be careful that this liberty of yours does not become a pitfall for the weak.” (1 Corinthians 8:10)

Why is it fine for one person to ‘eat foods consecrated to idols’ while being sinful for another? The answer is the level of knowledge. The ‘stronger’ Christian knows that there is no false god; the false god does not exist except in the minds of its worshipers. Therefore the food being consecrated remains food; there is no change in its composition. There is no power in its sacrifice.  The ‘weaker’ Christian has faith, but his knowledge is less. He does not fully understand that the food has no value to the idol; that the idol has no power. Perhaps he has grown up sacrificing to idols. His conscience is pricked when he is “emboldened to eat food consecrated to a heathen deity;” therefore, when he eats, he sins. Paul therefore says, “If food be the downfall of my brother, I will never eat meat any more, for I will not be the cause of my brother’s downfall.” (1 Corinthians 8:13)

To the Romans, Paul writes: “If a man is weak in his faith you must accept him without attempting to settle doubtful matters. For instance, one man will have faith enough to eat all kinds of food, while the weaker man eats only vegetables. The man who eats must not hold in contempt the man who does not, and he who does not eat must not pass judgment on the one who does; for God has accepted him. Who are you to pass judgment on someone else’s servant? Whether he stands or falls is his own Master’s business; and stand he will, because His Master has power to enable him to stand.” (Romans 14:1-4)

And, he says: “As a Christian, nothing is impure in itself; only, if a man considers a particular thing impure, then to him it is impure. If your brother is outraged by what you eat, then your conduct is no longer guided by love. Do not by your eating bring disaster to a man for whom Christ died! What for you is a good thing must not become an occasion for slanderous talk.” (Romans 14:14-16)

Paul tells the stronger and weaker brothers not to argue with one another over “doubtful matters,” not to condemn one another. But, he particularly tells the stronger brother to avoid offending the weaker brother’s conscience, which may lead him to an action which he considers ‘impure’ and perhaps thrust him into sin. “If you have a clear conviction, apply it to yourself in the sight of God. Happy is the man who can make his decision with a clear conscience! But a man who has doubts is guilty if he eats, because his action does not arise from his conviction, and anything which does not arise from conviction [faith] is sin.” (Romans 14:22-23)

“If a man loves, he is acknowledged by God.” (1 Corinthians 8:3)

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