We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.Romans 15:1-2
Oh no. Come on Paul! I thought you had finished this topic now and we were moving on to another chapter and a new topic. No Bible Gemer, you have been told already that the chapter breaks of Scripture have often been put in the wrong place. So make sure you connect up all the parts of the discussion by following across chapter boundaries just in the case the discussion is continuing, as it is in this case. It is clear that Paul is really keen to discuss this topic. He just doesn’t seem to want to let it go.
Now let’s take some time to consider the weaker brother and the stronger brother as Paul uses these terms.
- In 1 Corinthians 8:9-13 Paul discusses the concept of the weak and strong brother on either side of the debate about food.
- 1 Corinthians 8:9 But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.
- 1 Corinthians 8:10 For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol?
- 1 Corinthians 8:11 So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed.
- 1 Corinthians 8:12 And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ.
- 1 Corinthians 8:13 So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.
It may surprise you to see who he calls weak and who he calls strong. It is also interesting to see that Paul gives advice to the strong and asks the “strong” to soften their stand for the sake of the weak. Not the other way around. A principle that we would do well to heed. Paul refers to those who are free to eat anything as the strong ones and those who are limited by their doctrine in what they eat, the weak ones. But then you will notice the ironic use of the term strong with the translation above of “superior knowledge”. Does he really mean they have superior knowledge or is he referring only to their belief that they have superior knowledge?
“The strong” is the one who is free to eat whatever he likes and is not bound by the prohibitions of Judaism nor the sensitivities to the influence or the threat of the other religions and food sacrificed to idols etc. But notice then that the burden is put on the strong brother. It is not to the weak brother that Paul appeals to change his stance for the stronger brother. It is the reverse in fact. This makes perfect sense. Firstly the one who feels they are free to do anything ought to be free and strong enough to care for the weaker brother and change their stand in order to be considerate and sensitive to the one who is bound by their conscience. In all his input Paul is asking for sensitivity to be given to one another and especially for us to be considerate to those who are sensitive to the issues about which the strong one may feel a degree of freedom. Thus the strong one is in the position to be considerate whereas the weaker one is less able to do that.
Paul seems to indicate that the “strong believer” is indeed right in their stand. Paul would personally agree with them on their stand that no food is unclean in and of itself. He is saying the “strong” are in the position to compromise for the sake of the weaker brother. Does this mean the person in the strong position should always bow to the opinion of those in the weaker position? No, not at all. That would mean we would have to live constantly according to the legalistic stand of others. But he is saying there are times for the good of the body of Christ that the strong one ought to be able to forego their position of strength to show strength in matters of love and sensitivity. After all, only the strong can do that. The brother in the weaker position is not able to do that.
This is difficult to hear if the focus is the argument and me defending my position. But if the focus is the body and preservation of unity then it is a matter of showing love and sensitivity. If one can gain that perspective one can continue to “be strong” for the sake of unity.
I learned that in an Indonesian Muslim village from “simple” village people. But I won’t force another Ian story on you. If you want to know the details simply ask me and I will tell you.
Just because you’re smart does not mean that the other guy is stupid.Anon
Be not angry that you can’t make others as you wish them to be, since you can’t make yourself as you wish to be.Thomas á Kempis