In yesterday’s lesson we saw that Paul urged the Corinthians to consider their brothers and sisters in Christ in how they used their freedom. Does this mean that nobody can ever eat meat that has been offered to an idol? No, Paul has just said he does not mean that. I am also certain he does not mean that these weaker brethren can use their weakness as a club over those who regard this as a matter of freedom in the Lord. If that were the case it would be a way of using a rear door back to legalism. You may say, “Well, I’m free.” Yes, you are. But, what if a brother thinks I ought not to be free? Since he is my brother in the Lord, do I have to give up my freedom? Do I have to begin to live under a whole lot of rules that say, “You mustn’t do this or that?” Paul is not saying that.
What he says in verse 9 is to be careful that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. He is not saying that you can never exercise your freedom. As a matter of fact, if you were to ask Paul, I am sure he would say, “I would like to see everyone free of these things. I’d like you to forget these matters that are basically matters of indifference and get onto the far more important business of serving the Lord.” But as a pastor, he knows people. He knows that there are genuinely weak brothers, people for whom this is a real problem. Perhaps someday it won’t be a problem for them. Maybe they will grow and mature. But at that moment, they were weak and this really was a problem for them. So Paul says, “If you really love them and you find yourself in that situation, then you had better act not as an island which says, ‘What I do matters to me and no one else,’ because it is not true. You must begin to conduct yourself in such a way that you have not your freedom at heart, but your brother’s spiritual well-being.”
He makes two interesting points. First, when he talks about this issue of freedom, I think what he has in mind is the example of Christ. Paul could well have written the second chapter of Philippians here, pointing out how the Lord Jesus, though he had all the prerogatives of the Godhead, did not count it as something that was his right and that he should maintain at all cost. No, he willingly yielded those things, laid them aside in order that he could take on the form of a human being and die on the cross in order to save us. That is our example. In today’s terms, I am sure Paul would say, “Given what the Lord Jesus Christ did for you, is it really too big a deal for you to give up doing something for the sake of your brother or sister in the Lord?” I’m not saying you should do that all the time. Hopefully you are in a situation where that is not even necessary. But if your actions do involve somebody else, what sacrifice is too big if you really know God? Why not love your brother? That is far more important than for you to exercise your liberty.
Secondly, Paul spells out a category that I almost wish he hadn’t. In verse 13 he says, “If what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again so that I will not cause him to fall.” I wish he had said he’d put it on hold for six months, or a year or two. But what Paul wants is for us to see how this really works. If necessary, if what I am doing is really hurting somebody else, I’ve got to be willing to give up that thing, which I think is my right, in this area of indifference. And I must be willing to give it up, not just for six months, but forever if that is what is necessary to do so that somebody else might grow.