This idea that we are accountable to and responsible for our brothers and sisters in Christ is costly. I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult enough to watch the words that come out of my mouth, the thoughts that I allow to take up residence in my mind, and the actions I take as they relate to my own personal relationship with God. Now Paul is telling me that I need to consider how those words and thoughts and actions affect you, too?
1 Corinthians 8 and 9 have much to teach us about the freedom and liberty we have in Christ. The issue Paul confronts is eating food that has been sacrificed to idols. The Gentiles who had come to faith were steeped in idol worship before meeting the One True God. Food sold in the markets was often first offered to the idols worshipped by the sellers and it became a matter of conscience for the believing Gentiles to avoid it, so as to honor God. The Jews, on the other hand, knew there were no such things as idols, that all other gods were false. They thought nothing of this; if the meat was good, they didn’t ask questions.
The lesson Paul teaches is that we ought to give up our liberty in Christ if it means we might offend or cause a Christian brother to stumble. If there is a possibility that what we can do freely without conviction might lead to sin in a weaker believer’s mind, heart, or actions, then we are to give up our freedom for their sake. Paul has already alluded to this principle two chapters earlier in the context of the teaching that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 6:12 – All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.
Listen to how Paul says we ought to think about the things that could cause our brother or sister to stumble into sin.
1 Corinthians 8:9-12 – But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
There are still religions that offer food to idols, even in America, but at least in my circle of acquaintances and friends, that’s not the most pressing issue or application of what Paul is teaching us. From my understanding and the convictions God has given me relative to our culture today, this principle hits a bit closer to home – the issue of social drinking.
My husband has been in full-time Christian ministry for the entire 37 years of our marriage, and for most of that, it’s been in the area of pastoring. As a pastor, you get involved in people’s lives. You learn their stories. You see the results of decisions they’ve made, both good and bad, and you become aware of the influences that led them down their particular path. You also spend a lot of time trying to help them recover from those decisions, to walk in the new life of grace and freedom Jesus brings. As a pastor, he’s seen a lot of heartache, devastation, pain, suffering, and sin that addiction brings.
Full disclosure, drinking has never been an issue for me. I was raised in an Independent Baptist Church where all alcohol consumption was considered a sin. As a teenager, I knew kids who drank, but they were never part of my circle of friends. I can honestly say I’ve never even been tempted to drink, even though the opportunity was there. I’d heard the stories of drunk drivers killing or being killed, of marriages that fell apart due to drinking, of teenagers dying in their own vomit because they were drinking from their parent’s stash, of regretful, sad, and often tragic outcomes that were a result of the decision to drink. I never thought the risk of becoming an addict, disappointing my parents, or dealing with God about sinful choices I might make outweighed the temporary pleasure or thrill of drinking. As a young adult, I read Jesus’ words about not drinking the fruit of the vine again until He drank it in the new kingdom with His disciples, and I decided that would be the first time I would drink. As a parent (and now a grandparent) I would never want to influence my children to think that it was okay for them to drink because I did. I’ve never tasted beer or hard liquor; I’ve tasted wine on three occasions – all in the context of communion where real wine was served. (We Baptists stick with grape juice!)
So, I can’t speak about this issue on either the side of the occasional social drink or as an addiction. But I can speak to it from scripture. Alcoholism is a real thing for a lot of people. Drinking is a worldly pleasure, and it often leads people into sin. Every social drinker doesn’t become an alcoholic, but 100% of alcoholics began with one social drink. Drinking a glass of wine in your own home isn’t unbiblical, but I will stand on the conviction that drinking in public is a different story. All around you are weaker brothers and sisters in Christ whose conscious is compromised when they see a mature believer drinking. The body of Christ is filled with recovering addicts who know personally how far drinking can take you down the road of sin, and who very likely still struggle with those desires.
I ask you, is your freedom worth their conscience?
Is your liberty worth their stumble into sin?
This is a personal matter you will have to settle with Jesus. And I know the complexity of this principle. We are not bound by legalism, and there will always be someone around you who struggles with a certain issue that isn’t even on your radar. I can’t know what’s in your heart, and that’s not my role, but the role of the Holy Spirit. Regardless, we can’t ignore scripture. God put this principle in His Word for a reason and it ought to give us all pause to think about how and why we exercise our freedoms in Christ.