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.
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).
But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:25, NKJV)
Apparently some believe that since Christians are under the “law of liberty” they are at liberty to adapt the law of liberty to current cultural norms and expectations. We are told that what worked in the first century to draw people to Christ for salvation is antiquated in the twenty-first century. Such a relativistic view of truth is ready made for this present age, but it is not the nature of the abiding truth of Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:35; John 17:17; 2 Peter 1:3-4). Others say the law of liberty frees us from the regulatory demands of law-keeping (as if the commands of God are burdensome, 1 John 5:3). Yet, James is very clear in saying there is a “law” that one must continue in as a “doer of the work” in order to be blessed. If today’s verse does not say we must keep God’s law, then I must confess ignorance as to what it means! Later, James made it clear that Christians will be judged by the law of liberty: “So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty” (James 2:12). Beware if you use the law of liberty as a license to change and discard the commands of Christ. To do so is to rob yourself of eternal blessings. The law of liberty frees us from sin, not from the restrains of following the law of Christ.
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).
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).
1 Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. (Romans 14:1–3, NKJV)
There are quite a number of folks who try to insert questions of morality and doctrine into Romans 14. For them, “let each be fully convinced in his own mind” (verse 5) means you are at liberty to choose from a variety of studied views on topics of moral and doctrinal import. We can all be united, they say, by letting each one decide what is right for himself and herself on subjects like divorce and remarriage, drinking alcohol, immodest clothing, and many other such things, that, when taught or practiced, constitutes sin in the Scriptures. But, this is not at all the context and application of Romans 14. In this chapter, the items over which conscientious disputes are to cease are matters that, when practiced, do not produce sinful immorality or doctrinal error. We are to receive each other when our scruples of conscience differ over issues of liberty. These are “doubtful things” – not sinful things. If one can put moral and doctrinal differences into Romans 14, then God is made to have already “received” those in immorality and error (v. 3). That, He does not do; and neither must we (2 Jno. 9-11).