God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 8:9-11 A stumbling block to the weak
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, February 21, 2023
9 Take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, a man who has knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, might not his conscience, weak as he is, be propped up to eat meat sacrificed to an idol? 11 And so this weak man is destroyed by your knowledge—the brother for whom Christ died.
Try to imagine what some of the Corinthian Christians were doing. They must have liked to show that they were progressive, on the cutting edge, and exceptionally knowledgeable. They thought that they were as conversant in the gospel as the scribes and Pharisees were in the law. They wanted people to follow their brilliant, super-informed way of behaving like a Christian. In that sense, they were in danger of becoming a Christian reflection of the Pharisees as trend-setters. They wanted to be, as we say today, influencers (or, as they would have said then, philosophers).
When we speak about things that God has neither commanded nor forbidden (adiaphora), there are things things to be considered:
1, When we are free to do a thing (eat certain meats, baptize in a particular way, use a certain form of liturgy when we worship) we would sin if we were to use our liberty to lead a weak brother into sinning against his (erring) conscience (Romans 14:15,20).
2, If a person insists that we abstain from something God has allowed, then we are not obligated to comply.
3, If a person insists that we must do a thing that God has not commanded and support his false view, then we are obligated not to yield to him. For example, Paul did not circumcise Titus when some false brothers insisted that he should (Galatians 2:3-5). Or again, the mode of baptism (such as by immersion), which we avoid when some insist upon it since the manner or washing is nowhere commanded (Mark 7:4). “In such a case,” we state in our confession, “we should not yield to adversaries even in matters of indifference, nor should we tolerate the imposition of such ceremonies on us by adversaries in order to undermine the genuine worship of God and to introduce and confirm their idolatry by force or chicanery. It is written: ‘For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery’ (Galatians 5:1).”
4, If, however, a weak brother or sister was led to something in a particular way in a former church, and only requests that we could allow it even though they understand this doctrine, then we might comply. I myself have done this when asked by a young African (Angolan) sister to be baptized by immersion because her family had been baptized in that way in Africa.
5, This doctrine does not apply when there is only a matter of preference, such as when a certain musical instrument is to be preferred in worship. Such preferences are not subject to leading someone to sin, and therefore it is not a weak conscience that is being dealt with, but perhaps a stubborn head.
6, There are cases when someone might prefer a particular Bible translation, especially an older one such as the King James Version, or in some circles, the older NIV version(s). This is identical with number 3 above when the claim is made (for example) that other translations are in error. However, when there is simply a nostalgia for older phrases, there is also the matter of our loving heart for the young and for those who may not understand the dialect of the translation. Indeed, many phrases in the King James Version mean the opposite in contemporary English to what they seem to imply in the older form of English. God’s Word is a matter of understanding, not of nostalgia. The Roman Catholic Church found that its preference to use only Latin in worship simply did not speak to the worshipers, and the decision of Vatican II in the matter, releasing people from their bondage to Latin, was a good one.
Christ has set us free from any yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1). We stand in his liberty, and we should not entangle ourselves in any kind of theological slavery to someone else’s demands, nor let out liberty be judged by someone else’s conscience. “Why,” Paul says, “should my freedom be judged by another man’s conscience?” (1 Corinthians 10:29).
So we see that this is not a matter of indifference or something to be taken lightly. The matter of adiaphora, if ignored, can do great harm to the church and endanger souls if it is not guarded carefully. It is a matter of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, and of trusting in God above all things.
Pastor Timothy Smith