The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the church at Corinth, dealt with many issues that had become a barrier to both church and individual growth among the community of believers. It was a time when there was much discord among the brethren about what was legal and what was not after the sin-debt had been paid at Calvary, sealed by the resurrection and ascension of the Messiah. Now ruled by the higher law of love, the Jewish dietary laws often became stumbling blocks to true fellowship among believers.
The more I consider this discussion by Paul, the more I realize that there’s a much bigger lesson in the Apostle’s words than whether or not it is now okay to eat meat or disregard any of the other dietary laws under the old covenant. Take a moment and read the passage for yourself:
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1)
This passage is full of rabbit trails we could take into an array of discussion topics. However, I want to focus on one theme that seems to stand out amidst the backdrop of freedom we have in Christ.
“Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” (v. 24)
This is sacrificial love. This is brotherly love. This is denying personal rights or preferences so others (weaker or less mature believers) might not be offended. This is how Paul lived his life as he invited the brethren to imitate him as he imitated Christ (c.11 v.1).
In essence, the message Paul wanted to convey is this: “I love the weaker brother.” He was willing to give up things that were perfectly fine out of deference and love for a weaker brother–someone for whom this was a struggle. He was perfectly willing not to eat meat because he sought the good of his neighbor (v.24). Paul was willing to give up things that were perfectly fine out of deference and love for a weaker brother—someone for whom this was a struggle.1
Love the Weaker Brother
We may not readily recognize the fact that we, as believers, may unknowingly offend others. We may indeed play a part in shutting down their receptivity to Truth or hinder their willingness to mature because we do or say things that offend a weaker brother. [Note: We’re talking about fellow-believers, not unbelievers.] Here are some simple examples I’ve heard people say that, more or less, put me in my place (so to speak) and stopped any conversation from continuing:
- “I’m a Christian and I won’t eat in a restaurant that serves alcohol.”
- “I won’t go to a theater. If the Lord returns I don’t want to be found watching a movie!”
- “I don’t believe Christian women should wear pants.”
- “If you take off the makeup, your prayers might be answered.”
Actually, I could go on and on, but you get the picture. The people who said these things never meant to offend me; I’m sure they meant to help me … I really believe that! But they never once took into account what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 10. Their conscientious objection to certain things fed an ego or pride in their ability to conform to what they felt was required of them by God (right or wrong). As well-meaning as they may have been while perhaps trying to take the situation as a teaching moment, they instead put themselves in a place of judgment, climbing up on a pedestal looking down on me because I didn’t share their personal disciplines. The outcome was that this weaker ‘brother’ felt even weaker and defeated in attempts to grow in Christian maturity.
Earlier in his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul said: “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (8:13)
You see, Paul wasn’t so much about preaching for or against eating meat. His focus was the heart of the offender and the offended one. Paul wanted to build up, not tear down. He wanted to encourage those who were trying to follow the law of Christ. By not bringing offense to the weaker brother, Paul paved the way for a much deeper and more meaningful mentoring or discipleship relationship with him.
Who would you rather encounter as a young believer? A believer like Paul who didn’t bring condemnation but instead would deny himself in order that the young Christian wouldn’t be offended? Or, a critical or judgmental teacher who demanded you adopt his personal convictions as your own in order to grow like him? The answer is pretty easy, isn’t it?
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5;14)
©Jan Ross 2018
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1Michael S. Heiser, PhD. Naked Bible Podcast Transcript, Episode 195, p. 15.