1 Corinthians 8:7-13. 7 However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
“To live is Christ” says that to sin against a brother or sister in Christ is to sin against Christ himself. But in Corinth, how exactly were the “strong” Christians sinning against the “weak” Christians?
If you are causing a brother or sister to violate their own conscience, you are causing them to sin.
But what is the conscience? The conscience is what tells us the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. It is a level of self-awareness that knows what is good or bad for your own mind and heart. More importantly, for the Christian, the conscience is that part of you that experiences your union with Christ. Your conscience tells you what union with Christ should or should not look like in your day to day life.
But your conscience is not the voice of God. It is not the Holy Spirit. And it’s not even always correct. It’s not infallible. That’s what Paul is saying. Those that won’t eat the meat sacrificed to idols aren’t the ones who are correct. They are the ones who are weak. They are the ones who are still learning. They are still on the journey of finding freedom in Christ. But at this point in the journey they truly believe that eating meat offered to idols would violate their union with Christ. Whereas the strong believe that union with Christ frees them to eat that same meat.
The last thing the “strong,” “meat eaters,” with “knowledge” should do is violate another Christian’s journey of self-awareness because their self is united to Christ and Christ is taking them on a unique journey. A journey that you are on as well. And there’s no room for pride on this journey.
The irony of the situation in Corinth (and probably in your church too) is that the strong actually have the right answers- idols are fake gods and there is only one God (see 8:4). But the right answers have made them unloving and even destructive. The strong see knowledge as a position to be held, rather than a journey to be on. Basically they are saying to the weak that “you need to be like us.” Paul says that if the strong, by their eating of the pagan temple meat, entice the weak to do the same thing, the weak are destroyed (v.11) in their conscience. You have not progressed them in their journey. You have set them back. And that is a sin against Christ. Yikes.
The meat is neutral (v.8). And yes you are free. But your freedom is bounded by love. It must be or it is not true freedom; it will devolve into the bondage of the self. Love always builds up (8:1). It encourages. It progresses other’s faith within the confines of their existing conscience. Can the conscience be changed? Sure. But this must happen gently and over time with lots of listening and guiding by the Spirit’s love.
Obeying your conscience is a fundamental part of the Christian life. Even though it can be wrong, a Christian has to be able to live before God with a clear conscience. Otherwise their life is full of guilt. If we are ever going to learn to love each other we must resist the temptation to convince others of our positions and practices, our ideas and arguments, and instead we must learn to be weak for the sake of the weak.
1 Corinthians 9:22. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
“To live is Christ” is to love with Christ’s love. The love of Christ is greater than our conscience. The conscience can be wrong. But Christ’s love is always true, always pure, and always available. We must teach others to trust Christ’s love as our guide within knowledge. Love moves us along through learning. We are learning to be free in Christ, but Love even supersedes freedom. Love says even though I can do it, if it hurts you, I will not do it. This is the sacrifice that the life of Christ in us both empowers and demands.
Do you find yourself making demands or trying to convince the “weaker” Christians rather than letting them live within their own conscience? Can you see how union with Christ isn’t just about freedom, but about love as guide to that freedom? Is being “spiritual” for you more about knowledge than about love? How can meditating on your union with Christ bring about this love? Are you open to having your own conscience challenged and expanded? What might Christ be challenging your conscience on today?