Are we ‘MISUSING’ our LIBERTY in CHRIST? “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. But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak…But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Cor. 8: 8-9, 12-13)
One of the greatest blessings that we enjoy as God’s children is the freedom that Christ provides us through Him. We are no longer enslaved in the shackles and bondages of sin and death. When we know Christ personally, we know the truth (John 14:6); and this knowledge provides us freedom: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). However, even though we are free to walk in the liberty through Christ, we have to be very careful that we should never misuse the liberty that we have received. This is the concern that Apostle Paul had when he wrote this epistle to the believers at Corinth.
In the first-century Corinthian church, eating the meat that was sacrificed to idols proved to be a hotly debated issue (v. 1). Since this matter was not clear cut and had not been explicitly stated in the scriptures, Paul offered a different perspective in this matter by appealing to our conscience. Paul argued that food and drink do not determine our relationship to God (v. 8). Since there is no such thing as an idol, the meat offered to idols was inconsequential (vv. 4–6). Furthermore, even our Lord Jesus had stated that the food that goes inside does not defile us: "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man" (Matt. 15:11). From that point of view, Christian believers should be able to eat and enjoy whatever food they want!
However, questionable practices may affect our outer relationships with fellow believers or unbelievers (v. 9). We sin against God and our brother (or, sister) in Christ when we put a stumbling block before him or her. This is the very opposite of what Jesus has called us to do (see Matt. 22:37–39). As members of the family of God, we should not put stumbling blocks but rather be loving neighbors. Our Christian faith has a public responsibility as well. Even through our freedom through Christ frees us to do what we please, but God’s love requires us to ask questions of conscience about our choices. This may include everything from what we eat, to where we live, with whom we work with, what we do with our money and time—almost everything that we do outside affecting others (vv. 10–13). We need utmost discretion to determine how our choices affect those around us. It’s not enough to follow Christ just in our hearts; we also need to follow Him in our consciences and lead by example!
In other words, Paul exhorted the strong believers to show love to the weaker ones by refraining from offending them. In the same lines this is what S. L. Johnson writes: “In the first place the passage does not refer to legalists desirous of imposing their narrow-minded scruples on others. Such are not weak brethren, but willful brethren desirous of glorying in the subjection of others to their tenets. This is tyranny, and Christianity must always be on guard against this. In the second place, it should be noted in this verse that the decision to follow the path of love rests with Paul, not with the weak. The strong are to yield to love’s appeal voluntarily, not because the weak demand it, legalists always demand subjection to their laws.”
Overall, Apostle Paul provides us with a general guideline for our ethical decision making and provides us with three questions to ask ourselves: (a) Will our action cause another brother/sister to stumble (v. 13)? (b) Will our action edify us personally (10:23)? (c) Will our action glorify God (10:31)? We can use the help of these three questions to make an informed decision supplemented by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Let us understand that sin against a brother or sister is a sin against Christ (v. 12). Christian liberty must always be exercised in love with a view to strengthening others (see 10:28-30). We should be very careful to examine all our actions in the light of their effect on others, and to refrain from doing anything that would cause a brother or sister to be offended.
There are many things today in the Christian life, which, while not forbidden in the word of God, would yet cause needless offense to weaker Christians. While we might have the right to participate in them, a greater right is to forego that right for the spiritual welfare of those we love in Christ, our fellow-believers. Let us adhere to the basic principle of love: seek the good of others above one’s own (10:24, 33; 13:5; Phil. 2:4). Today, let us examine ourselves to determine if we are misusing our liberty in Christ!