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... for those who are weaker in conscience. Their strength and their knowledge may therefore not be in the building up of their relationship with their brothers and sisters, of their congregations, but may injure them, says Ridderbos.
There are those, he says, who, in their strength can eat food sacrificed to idols, who know that idols are nothing in this world, and that God is the only God, as opposed to those who in their weakened state look at food sacrificed to idols as indeed being sacrificed to idols, and therefore their weakened conscience is defiled. Through the eating of such food their relationship with God is weakened. But, he says, food does not bring us near to God, and it does not matter whether we eat it or not. However, why
eat it if it becomes a stumbling block to those who are weak, and look at you and follow you and does not have the strength in faith and in their bodies to stay close to God? It can be food, but it can be anything else we do, or consume that might be good for one and not the other.
Paul wants to acknowledge the freedom of Christians to live their lives that make them feel comfortable, but he also warns them to be careful in how their liberties and choices they make, may impact the ones who are weak. His focus in Corinthians is about the church as the Body of Christ as we see later in Chapter 12, where the members of the church must lean on one another, and complement each other in their diverse gifts, and in their diversity of gifts and strengths and weaknesses they must build up the
Body of Christ, with Christ as the Head. When they eat or drink, it must be done for the glory of God and in service to the church and one another. They need to be careful, according to 8 verse 9, not to let their exercise of freedom become a stumbling block for the weak, whose weaker conscience might be destroyed by your knowledge, he says. And if they cause their fellow brothers and sisters to stumble, they sin against Christ.
Paul’s theology: Love is better path than knowledge.
In Chapter 8 verse 1 he says, knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. This is essence of Paul’s theology. We see that in 1 Corinthians 13, where he talks about all the things they possess, the knowledge they have, speaking in tongues, having all the gifts of prophecy, having faith like a mountain and more, but without love, all of that is nothing. Knowledge that puffs up, is about one’s own individualistic and selfish interests, that does not build the church. God, he says, is more concerned with the love and respect and care for the weaker one, than all the knowledge they have. 1 Corinthians 13 is the antidote to Chapter 8. It stands in contrast to the ones who are arrogantly living their lives in ways that are damaging to the weaker ones.
Paul is encouraging us as Christians not to be stumbling blocks to the weak but to use our freedom in Christ and our relationship with God, in loving and caring relationship with those who are weak, the downtrodden. We ought to lift others up, not hurt them through our words and actions. If we are stumbling blocks in the lives of others, we become stumbling blocks in the eyes of Christ. We are encouraged to have a conscience that is always humble and considerate of the other, a conscience that is self-aware of how we speak and act, a conscience that is led by the Spirit of Christ, not the spirit driven by self-interest.
Maybe we could spend a little time this month reading and re-reading 1 Corinthians 13, alongside 1 Corinthians 8, and maybe we could reset our lives’ buttons and use the month of February as a month when we seek out moments and opportunities to be there for the other.
May God help and bless us all on our journeys. Amen.