Today, I wrap up this 4-part series on Christian liberty. I trust this examination of 8 reasons to choose love above liberty, from 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, has been edifying to your spiritual growth. Here are the apostle’s final two points in his reasoning as to why the road of love is always the best road to choose. If you have not followed this series then please pause and read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
REASON 7: Because wounding a brother’s conscience is equal to sinning against Christ (v. 12) – Paul makes this clear. “Wounding their conscience” means, “striking their conscience that is in a weakened condition.” It is to put something before a weak brother that causes him to stumble. Romans 14:5 teaches that every believer should be “fully convinced in his own mind” what the limits of his freedom are. If his conscience contains doubt then he must not sin against his conscience because “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom 14:23).
It is significant that Paul switched from singular “brother” (v.11) to plural “brethren” (v.12). When liberty is chosen over love it does not only affect individual Christians. It affects the church body as a whole. Therefore, the brother that advocates his liberty over love is actually sinning against the church and, therefore, against Christ. One commentator writes, “The full responsibility for the spiritual health of the brother rests on the shoulders of the person who has knowledge. His inconsiderate conduct constitutes a sin against Christ.” Choosing personal liberty over love for others smacks of an independent spirit, which is an enemy to the unity of God’s church. Jesus rebuked the church in Pergamum because there were some who were leading others to “eat things sacrificed to idols” (Rev 2:14).
I am reluctant to use myself as an illustration, but in this case it is fitting for the sake of clear application. Let me give you an example of how I apply the principles of this passage of Scripture. Though the Scriptures are filled with sober warnings of the dangers of alcohol, nowhere do they explicitly and directly forbid its use in any and all circumstances. Therefore, as a believer in Christ who has been set free, I have liberty to partake of wine or beer or any other alcoholic beverage provided I do so in moderation and I am not controlled by it. But I choose not to. Instead, I have chosen a life of abstinence. Why? Because I love the people whom God has called me to serve. As a pastor and counselor there is untold grief that I have witnessed in the lives of others and families due to bondage to alcohol. Therefore, I have chosen—for the sake of the brethren—to follow the way of love rather than demand my own liberty. If I were to carelessly demand the full use of my rights without consideration of my brother for whom Jesus also died then I would sin against him, against Christ, and against His body. And I will not knowingly do that. I will not take the rock of my rights and throw it into the path of another person’s Christian growth. I affirm what the British Congregationalist, G. Campbell Morgan, wrote,
Knowledge may lead us to do things which in themselves may not be wrong to us, but which may be causing the weak brother for whom Christ died, the unenlightened man, the man who has not received the knowledge that has come to us, it may cause him to misunderstand and stumble. So the ultimate victory of love in the forming of a judgment is the foregoing of a right, and perhaps that is the supreme thing.
REASON 8: Because love esteems others as better than self (v. 13) – Finally, here is Paul’s conclusion of the principle and his own personal position. “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble.” Paul’s personal commitment was “if meat sets off a trap, or baits (skandalizo) my brother and causes him to stumble, then I will never eat it again.” He was willing to forgo his liberty for the rest of his life if it meant the good of his brother would be accomplished. That was not an apostolic call to vegetarianism. It is a model of brotherly love. He obeyed his own words, “you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). Peter taught the same, “do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God” (1 Peter 2:16). Believers are called to assume the posture of a servant. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
When love and humility get married their offspring is servanthood. If we are truly loving one another and esteeming others as better than ourselves then there will be nothing in our lives that we would not be willing to give up for the sake of their spiritual well-being. For the sake of love, which is for the sake of others, let us submit ourselves to the Word of God.
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:13-17).