I Corinthians 8. The Weaker Brother.

Key Notes: Eating meat offered to an idol is debatable. Legalism? Caring for the other Christian's conscience.

This lesson follows the overview of I Corinthians 8–10. Having covered the main theme, we will now look at the text in more detail, a chapter at a time.

8:1 Paul sees the Corinthians inflating themselves with pride because of their knowledge. In contrast, he will provoke them to love that builds up the other person. In chapters 1–4 Paul compares worldly wisdom with spiritual understanding, and prefers spiritual understanding. Loving God and being known of Him is crucial.

The best test of true knowledge is knowing what we do not know. Paul has given us an axiom that has universal application. It is well known among people with advanced degrees. A physician who does not know what he does not know is in trouble. Guessing may lead to consequences that are crippling or fatal.

8:4–6 He begins by agreeing with them that the idol has no real existence. There is but One God and One Lord, Jesus Christ who is all in all to us. Note that Paul affirms monotheism but at the same time speaks of the Trinity. “Lord” is another title for God.

8:7–13 Not everyone knows what the elite of the Corinthian church know. For one weak in faith, seeing a mature Christian eating in the idol’s temple, is seeing a Christian worshiping the idol, since eating is part of the sacrifical ceremony. If the weak in faith is emboldened to do the same, he may fall back into idolatry and be destroyed. [Paul appears to admit the possibility of losing one’s salvation.]   To sin against the weak is to sin against Christ, Who died for him. If that is the case, Paul may become a vegletarian, to protect the weak from stumbling.

Paul takes up the question of the strong and the weak again in Rom. 14–15:3.

“Legalism” came up in our discussion. Why should my spiritual freedom by constrained by someone else’s hang-ups? Paul, reading our minds, makes freedom the next topic in ICor. 9.

Legalism has two definitions.
A formal definition is “the theory that a man by doing good works or obeying the law earns and merits his salvation.” (Baker’s Dictionary of Christian Ethics. C.F.H. Henry; Baker,’73).

The popular definition of legalism is the imposition of rules not found in Scripture by a church or other religious group. These are rules covering doubtful or secondary moral issues.

•Law minus Gospel is found in Judaism or Islam. That is true legalism.
•Law plus Gospel is seen in Catholicism. Much of Catholic practice is legalistic.
•Gospel plus Law characterizes Evangelicalism. The Law informs the behavior of the saved person.
•Gospel  minus Law is called antinomian Christianity, It is free of legalism in the popular sense, and may declare itself exempt from basic Christian moral rules. It is an error.

A “seeker church” will not discuss rules. It emphasizes popular issues in preaching, provides restaurant or coffee-bar and may teach ball-room dancing. It is concerned with attracting the non-believer. Catholics traditionally have promoted bingo parties, carnivals and  bazaars.

In contrast, a fortress-style church with a concern for the moral purity of its members is very likely to have rules. The rules may be detailed and burdensome; makeup and jewelry forbidden; slacks for men only; regular church attendance required. Social controls may require a a permission to marry. Such rules drive off seekers. They also lead young people to react and leave the church, sometimes never to return. (Note that people who reject “it” -- the system, the hierarchy,  Christian religion--were probably not in the Kingdom to begin with. Christianity is about Christ, a Person, not an “it”. )

Although the specter of legalism comes up at this point in I Corinthians, the conscience of the weak (chapter 8) is the focus. The warning against offending the weak has been shrugged off with impatience by the Christian church in recent years. Why should we be bound by picky people who "can’t do this and can’t do that"? They should grow up. We’re here! Get used to it!

Jesus said “…whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fasted around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matt.18:6

There are some simple ways in which we can cater to the other person’s conscience regarding food.
*If some of our guests are vegetarian, we will make a vegetarian meal which they can enjoy.
*If some guests are struggling with obesity, we cannot serve truffles or a chocolate fudge cake.
*If there is an alcoholic in the group, wine or even non-alcoholic beer should be omitted.
[On the other hand, if we are invited to a Japanese home for a traditional dinner, and a thimble of hot rice wine (sake) is set before us without comment, we should not refuse.]

*In our church community, card-playing was frowned on because of the specter of gambling.. We pulled down the living room shades and played Rook. Going to the movies was also frowned on. If we went at all,  it was in another city where we were not known so as not to offend the weak.

“Scripture has a high view of the sacredness of conscience. Conscience is not infallible; it needs to be taught. But though consciences have to be educated, they are never to be violated, even when they are wrong.” (Authentic Christianity. J.Stott; Edit. T. Dudley-Smith;  IVP,’95. p.231.)

Paul says Love is the guiding principle in dealing with the other person’s conscience. What do you think?