12 But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:12–13, NKJV)
Paul has just described imperiling the soul of a Christian with a weak conscience. We have sinned against Christ if, by using our liberty, we embolden a brother with a weak conscience to violate his conscience. A liberty is not our excuse to use it regardless of whether it persuades another to violate his conscience. Paul applied this principle to eating food previously offered to an idol, but the principle continues to have application today. For example, a Jew who is converted to Christ may have a conscience against working on Saturday, not because it is forbidden by Christ, but because his conscience has been trained to be guilty for doing that. If I use my liberty to work on Saturday in a way that emboldens this brother to violate his conscience, then I have sinned against Christ. The solution is for me not to work on Saturday if, by doing so, the weak brother is prompted to violate his conscience. (Remember we are discussing liberties – the right to do something. We are not discussing things Christ has obligated us to do.) Paul would forego eating meat so that his brother would not stumble. Like Paul, we must use our personal liberties in ways so that we do not become stumbling blocks to others.
9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? 11 And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? (1 Corinthians 8:9-11, NKJV)
A liberty granted us by the Lord does not mean we must always use it. Indeed, whether or not to use a liberty is regulated by how its use impacts the faith of others. Its use it regulated by love (v. 1). (Paul will apply this principle to himself in 1 Corinthians 8:13 and 9:14-23). Today’s passage warns us not to have a boastful approach to a liberty that diminishes another person’s conscience toward that liberty while elevating ourselves above him (because his conscience is weak toward the liberty). For example, we must not say, “I have this liberty and I am going to use it regardless of how it affects others.” We become a stumbling block (cause of offence) when using our liberty emboldens one with a weak conscience to participate in that liberty (in violation of his conscience). This is how our liberty contributes to another person’s sin. Such a display of arrogant knowledge disregards the soul of another, and is exactly what Paul warned against in verses 1-3 of this chapter. Beware, lest your knowledge (and the liberty it affords) causes a brother to perish.
7 However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. (1 Corinthians 8:7–8, NKJV)
Paul addresses the situation of Christians who had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,” yet their conscience had been trained to honor the idol as real (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9). Their conscience toward eating things offered to an idol was weak (that is, it was not yet developed and trained according to the truth that there is only one God, v. 7). If they were to eat things offered to an idol (even though an idol is nothing, and even though food does not commend us or condemn us to God, v. 8), their conscience would be defiled. We rightly conclude from this passage that violating one’s conscience defiles it. Even though the conscience is not our standard of truth and error, we must not disregard it, violate it and thereby sear its ability to operate (1 Timothy 4:2). A seared conscience is unresponsive and cannot be trained by a knowledge of the truth. Therefore, we must not violate our conscience, including when it has not been fully trained by the truth. Instead, let us continue to grow in knowledge of God’s will and training our conscience toward the true God with it.
1 Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. 2 And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him. (1 Corinthians 8:1–3, NKJV)
The next subject about which the Corinthians questioned the apostle was “things offered to idols” (that is, eating things that had been offered to idols, 1 Cor. 8:4, 10). Paul will explain that while we all know an idol is nothing and that there is but one true God, the consciences of some Christians were weak, informing them that the idol was still somehow consequential (1 Cor. 8:7). Rather than arrogantly dismissed them, their weak consciences were to be considered when deciding whether to use one’s personal liberty and eat things that had been offered to idols (1 Cor. 8:7-13). You see, knowledge, standing alone, invites arrogance (v. 1). Knowledge tends to inflate one’s opinion of himself. Humility, not pride, must inform and animate our knowledge (v. 2). We have not yet acquired the knowledge we ought to have if we view ourselves sufficient and superior in knowledge to others. Our goal is to be known by God, not to flaunt and force what we know upon others (v. 3). These principles inform our use of personal liberties. Paul’s call to combine knowledge with humility is needed whenever we are tempted to elevate ourselves above others (Romans 13:8-10).
31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. (1 Corinthians 10:31–33, NKJV)
The apostle Paul refused to contribute to someone else’s sin. The word “offense” in verse 32 means “not led into sin” – Paul would not lead someone into sin. He would forego his own personal liberty so that his influence would not lead any one to violate their weak conscience (1 Corinthians 10:27-31). Christians should not say, “Since I have the liberty (right) to do something, I will do it regardless of what your conscience lets you do.” Such an attitude may embolden the one with a weak conscience toward the liberty to violate itself, which would be sin (Romans 14:23). One’s use of a personal liberty must not be more important than glorifying God and saving a soul. We sin against Christ when we press a personal liberty to the point of causing someone to the sin against their weak conscience (1 Corinthians 8:10-12). Do you forego liberties in order to save souls, or do you seek your own personal benefit first? Surely this is one way we deny ourselves in order to follow Jesus (Luke 9:23).
5 Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, 6 from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm. (1 Timothy 1:5–7, NKJV)
To faithfully teach the gospel one must first be willing to be taught (see 2 Timothy 2:2). Commitment to the commands of God produce love from a pure heart, a good conscience and sincere faith. Love for God, for truth, and for others compels us to learn God’s word before trying to teach it. Desire to teach the gospel without having a knowledge of it may well result in leading a person astray from the very truth he desires to teach. Like zeal without knowledge, desire to teach that is not fettered to knowing the truth produces vain, yet confidently asserted babbling, instead of “godly edification which is in faith” (1 Timothy 1:4). Take time to study and learn God’s word. Examine your motive for desiring to be a teacher of the word. Is it “love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith?” And remember, faithful teachers never stop studying to learn and know the truth they teach.
22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:22–23, NKJV)
The personal “faith” of which Paul speaks here, is one’s personal confidence (trust) of conscience to participate in a God-approved liberty. Paul adds a warning not to violate one’s conscience in using these liberties: “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin” (v. 23). His exhortation and warning about one’s conscience and God-allowed liberties agrees with his earlier statement, “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). Today’s passage is not at all suggesting that every person decides for himself what is sin, and what is not. God sets that standard, and when we violate it, we sin (John 17:17; 1 John 3:4; Romans 3:23). Before we engage in an activity, we must be sure from Scripture that it has God’s approval (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). In matters of liberty (a God-allowed, but not compulsory, action), our conscience must be clear. We must not violate our conscience in these liberties, nor force our conscience upon others (Romans 14:13-16).