The Expository Files



The Considerate Christian

1 Corinthians 8:1


     In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he addressed their numerous problems that were, in short, due to their spiritual immaturity (1st Cor. 3:1-3). One of the issues he addressed was the eating of “things offered to idols” (1st Cor. 8:1ff). The first thing he noted in this was that simple knowledge of what was ‘right’ was not all that was necessary regarding the matter; knowledge may have caused them to be ‘sure’ they were ‘right,’ but it did nothing to edify their weaker brethren who did not have that knowledge. They needed to know the truth, yes, but they also needed to consider their brethren and act out of love — not just knowledge. 

     To address the matter at hand, Paul took the time to explain that idols really were “nothing in the world” (v. 4) because, as the psalmist noted, they “have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes they have, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear; noses they have, but they do not smell; they have hands, but they do not handle; feet they have, but they do not walk; nor do they mutter through their throat” (Psa. 115:5-7). There is only one real, true and living God (vv. 4-6). 

     Paul also took the time to note what was happening at Corinth, and what should have been happening. First, some were eating with the knowledge that the food had been offered to idols, yet did so against their own conscience because they saw it as defiled food (v. 7). The reality, to God, is that our food is not what commends us to God (v. 8). The problem, though, is that if we eat, or if someone compels us to eat. something we do not conscientiously approve, we “wound [our] conscience” and “sin against Christ” (vv. 9-12). Paul’s solution was simple: Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (v. 13). One brother should not assert his liberty if it offends another and causes him or her to stumble. 

     From this portion of Paul’s letter to these troubled brethren, we can learn some important lessons about how we should treat one another as brethren, especially in matters of disagreement. 

     First, Act With Love, Not Just Knowledge. Today, we may still occasionally run into situations where the weak conscience of some are not considered by others and they are led to do things which their conscience tells them they should not. In such cases, the solution is to not just act with our 'knowledge' but with love toward all. Consider how God dealt with man; though God knew that man would sin even before he was created, what did He do? Did He act on that 'knowledge' or did He act with love? We thank God that He acted out of love, for it was that love that sent His Son to die for our sins (John 3:16) and the love of Christ for man [not His knowledge of what He would suffer] that led Him to the cross (Eph. 5:2). If this is how God dealt with us, how should we then act towards others? We do not have to ask, for God tells us we should walk in love as Christ, and forgive as God forgave us (Eph. 4:32)! 

     Though our nation promotes individual ‘rights’ as the primary issue in much of life, in spiritual matters, individual rights are actually secondary. To be a faithful disciple demands, first of all, that we set aside our own will as Christ was willing to do the Father's will to the very end (cf. Matt. 26:39). Among fellow believers — our brethren — we should not then act without love and begin selfishly demanding we be able to practice what we are free to do when it overruns the conscience of others. Rights become secondary in the spiritual life of the faithful, but that is to be expected as we seek to pattern our lives after the Master. 

     Our goal, as brethren, should be seeking the way we might edify one another, not destroy! Once, when Jesus was passing through a Samaritan village and was snubbed, James and John wanted to call down fire on the village (Luke 9:51-54). It was then that Jesus rebuked them, saying, You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them (vv. 55, 56). In the same sense, should we not be more concerned with saving the souls of our brethren rather than seeking our rights to the point we are willing to destroy them? Paul reminded the Romans [also in the context of offending the weaker brethren] that we should “pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (Rom. 14:19), and, “We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (15:1). 

     Secondly, Consider Others Before Self. The solution then is the same for many problems today: a lot less selfishness and a lot more self-sacrifice. We know this is the preferred path because love must be our primary motivation for what we say and do, and love, as defined by God through the words of Paul, “does not insist on its own way” (1st Cor. 13:5). When we have issues among brethren where one seeks to exercise his or her liberty and it negatively affects a brother or sister, love must be the motivating factor in the decision to refrain for the sake of the other, and we must be willing to sacrifice our rights for the sake of others. 

     This, of course, means we must consider others' interests. Selfishness thinks of no one else, but love moves us to look around and think about others, notice what they do, know their desires and interests, and act on their behalf for good. Paul urges us to “esteem others better than” yourself and that every brother should “look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phlp. 2:3, 4). That is love! 

     This also means we must be willing to make sacrifices. What it all came down to for the Corinthians and what it comes down to for us is that we must all be willing to make sacrifices of unimportant things for the sake of others — ‘unimportant’ being our own desires and even our own liberties. Nothing is more important than a soul and we cannot trade our liberty for the soul of a brother! If Jesus was willing to sacrifice Himself (Rom. 15:3), are our liberties too much to ask?


By Steven Harper
From Expository Files 20.7; July 2013