Choosing Love above Liberty – Part 3 of 4

The past few days, we’ve been working our way through the apostle’s instruction concerning Christian liberty in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, exploring eight reasons to choose loving our fellow believers in Christ above the selfish exercise of our own liberties. The first two reasons include the recognition that choosing liberty over love is a demonstration of arrogance, while the choice of love is selfless, like Christ. The next two reasons we thought about were the biblical principles of love for God being evidenced by love for fellow believers and the foundational truth that we belong to, and exist for, God. Today, let’s look at two more reasons the apostle chose love above liberty.

REASON 5: Because not all believers are mature (vv. 7-10) – “However not all men have this knowledge,” that is, not all of the Christians in Corinth understood that an idol really is not a god at all. “But some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.” Some did not fully understand there was really no god behind the idols. For them it was a part of idol worship that could not be dismissed.

Verse eight is probably another of their arguments to Paul: “But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat.” Paul agreed. Jesus also agreed, “do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated?” (Matt 15:17). At other times Paul taught that food contains no spiritual value. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude” (1 Tim. 4:4). But even though that is true it is sometimes better for us to limit our freedom for the sake of love for our brethren.

Paul agreed with the strong by acknowledging that meat previously offered to idols was just meat, but he also warned them to be careful since in the eating of that meat they might offend a brother who did not see it that way. “But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” “Liberty” (exousia) refers to rights or authority. In other words, “the careless exercise of ‘this freedom of yours to do whatever you please without restraint’ can become a stumbling block.” Leon Morris defines stumbling block this way, “a stone in the pathway, an obstacle, something that trips one up and makes progress difficult…[he then applies it] What one person sees as right may well be quite wrong for another.” That is not situational ethics, but a simple recognition that what is not a sin problem for one believer may very well be for another.

“For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?” If we choose to exercise our liberty, but someone sees us and, therefore, concludes there is nothing wrong and goes ahead and sins against his conscience, the thing that our weaker brother’s conscience is tender toward actually becomes the very thing that causes his conscience to be defiled.  If the insensitive exercise of our liberty was responsible for strengthening him to do that which his conscience condemned then we too have sinned.  “Paul is not saying that those who are weak take offense but rather that those who are strong give offense…Paul, therefore, alerts the freedom-loving Corinthians to demonstrate love by not offending their fellow church members.” [Kistemaker]. Paul’s problem is not with the weak person (scolding him to “grow up”); his problem is with the strong who is inconsiderate of the weak.

REASON 6: Because liberty may ruin the lives of others (v. 11) – “Through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined.” Through the exercise of one’s liberty a weaker brother can be ruined, i.e. led into spiritual disaster. The present tense indicates this is what was going on in Corinth and it is what Paul wrote to correct. Paul was concerned about spiritual destruction and stunted growth.  He was also concerned that some may be returning to their former sinful ways. For this reason he exhorted them to choose love.”  Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles (Rom. 14:20). “Biblical love challenges us to surrender our rights to personal freedom so that we do not tear down the work of God in someone else’s life.”

Look at the powerful way verse eleven ends: “the brother for whose sake Christ died.” He chose the word brother, a very affectionate term, to emphasize the importance of relationship.  Relationship is more important than rights. Think of it. This is a brother that Christ died for. Paul’s reasoning is this: Christ chose the path of love by offering Himself for that brother. How can we choose anything less?

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