Responding to a Weak Conscience

The Lord’s church is a diverse place. Jesus has always sought for unity among His people. He prayed for it in John 17. Paul called on Christians to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:3). Yet we know that there is great diversity. Does that mean there must be disunity? It depends on the nature of the diversity. Some distinctions among Christians may be beneficial. Some may not need to create disunity.  Young – Old, experienced – new, different social backgrounds, different traditions, different levels of faith.

Paul encourages Christians at Corinthto recognize the differing levels of faith or consciences that exist among them. He encourages them to not allow these differences to bring disunity. In order for unity to prevail Christians must learn to respond properly to the weak conscience of their brothers and sisters. I Corinthians 8 is synopsis of the proper response:

  • Question at hand:  eating meats sacrifice to idols
  • Idol offerings were divided into three parts. One part was burned on an altar as the sacrifice proper. The second part was given as payment to the priests who served at the temple, and the remaining part was kept by the offerer. Because of the large number of offerings, the priests were not able to eat all of their portion, and they sold in the marketplace what they did not need. That meat was highly valued because it was cleansed of evil spirits, and was thus the meat served at feasts and to guests.
  • The meat was associated with pagan gods and goddesses, having been part of an offering to them, and it was associated with the superstition that it had once been contaminated by evil spirits.
  • It was almost impossible for a believer who had any personal contact with Gentiles to avoid facing the question of eating idol sacrifices. Most social occasions, including weddings, involved pagan worship of some sort, and a great many of the festivities were held in temples. Idol food was always served. If a relative was getting married, or a long-time friend was giving a banquet, a Christian either had to make excuses for not attending — which he could not do indefinitely — or he had to eat food that he knew had been part of an idol offering
  • Some Christians refused to eat the meat. They failed to understand their freedom, and were thus weaker in conscience than others who ate.
  • In answer to the specific question about eating food offered to idols, Paul gives a general and universal principle that can be applied to all doubtful behavior. Take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (8:9). He states and explains the principle in chapter 8.   Before we exercise our Christian liberty in a given area not forbidden by Scripture, we should consider how it will affect others, especially our fellow believers.

 

  1. Weak vs. Strong – What is the difference between a strong and weak conscience?
  2. Knowledge: 1 Cor 8:7 “However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled”   Paul acknowledges that some Christians have more knowledge than others, & thereby have stronger faith. Knowledge is not equal to faith, but knowledge of God’s word can strengthen faith by erasing doubt and fear.  Romans 10:17 – faith comes by hearing.
  3. But Paul is quick to warn that knowledge can be dangerous:
  • because it can produce pride & arrogance. (puffs up , v. 1)
  • It is incomplete in all of us (v. 2)
  • Love transcends knowledge, and defines our relationship to God. (v. 3)

1. Paul would never teach that knowledge was unimportant or unnecessary. He often called for Christians to grow in knowledge and understand what the will of the Lord is.

2.  But knowledge of what is right or wrong is not all that matters. Our practice cannot be determined by knowledge (even biblical knowledge) alone. Consider some other criteria that God demands:

  • 1 Corinthians 6:12All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:2424 Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:31Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
  1. A weak conscience results from an immature faith:  Some Christians had not been weaned from the previous influences – Romans 14:1-2 Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. (paganism in 1 Cor. 8, Judaism in Rom. 14).

a.  The weak brother is likely to be over scrupulous or legalistic, or troubled by his conscience over matters of liberty. He may display doubt about his conduct and the conduct of others.

b.  The weak conscience is a spiritual liability, not a strength. It cannot be used to manipulate the activities of other Christians. Some weak Christians display their over scrupulous attitude as though it were proof of spirituality. It is precisely the opposite.

  1. A strong conscience recognizes the truth & sees the liberty to eat. 1 Cor 8:8 “But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.”  But he cannot allow his strength (knowledge) to become a stumblingblock to the weaker conscience. Paul principle applies.

 

  1. The Strong & Weak Conscience Coexist in Love. There were some inCorinthwho did not have sufficient knowledge to be strong in faith. Paul challenged the stronger Christians to solve the problem by having enough love to remain in fellowship.
    1. Some Christians were strong enough to eat conscientiously. Knowledge provided liberty here – there was nothing in an idol – it wasn’t really God.  Their argument to eat was based upon this knowledge.  1 Cor 8:4-6 Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. 5For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), 6yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.
    2. Although their doctrine was correct, they were not making the proper application. Paul reminds them of additional consideration: “not all men (brothers) have this knowledge.” (v. 7) Some new Christians may have been so repulsed from the thought of going back that they could not eat conscientiously. They could not divorce the idol from the meat. If they followed the example of the knowledgeable Christians, and ate anyway they defiled their conscience. (v. 7)
    3. Paul gave some important guidelines to fellowship that have applications today in God’s diverse church.
      1. To the weakdo not violate (defile – soil or stain) your conscience“for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. (1 Cor 8:7) Paul says in Rom 14:22-23 “Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.
      2. To the Strong Do not allow your liberty to become a stumblingblock to the weak.  If the weak brother sees you eating in an idol’s temple, he may be emboldened to violate his own consciousness and eat what he is opposed to eating.
  • 1 Corinthians 8:9-129 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? 11 And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? 12 But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
  1. Love is the main ingredient.  Without love, even efforts that seem to promote spiritual goals become useless, and even detrimental. 1 Cor 13:1-3 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
    1. Paul makes a personal application of these principles to himself.. 1 Cor 8:13 “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble”. What are you willing to give up forever in order to protect the conscience of your brother?  – a cherished tradition, a time honored way of fulfilling a command?
    2. Paul’s convincing argument rests on the spiritual value of the cross. 1 Cor 8:11 “And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died”  Jesus sacrificed every liberty to redeem even the weakest brother. It was possible because of love.

 

Conclusion:  The Lord’s church is a diverse group of unified people because they love each other. You can be a part of that group by being “in Christ”. It will unite you with all others, both weak and strong, who are also in Christ.

You can only be in Christ by being baptized into Christ. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus   Gal 3:26-28.