the weblog of Alan Knox

Relationship is more important than being right

Posted by on May 18, 2009 in discipleship, scripture | 12 comments

Last week, as I was reading Matthew 18, I noticed that Jesus says to receive other believers (“little children” – Matt 18:5). He also says to not despise other believers (Matt 18:10). But, how far do we take his instructions to receive and to not despise other believers?

While I was thinking about this passage and this question, I was reminded of 1 Corinthians 8. In this passage, Paul responds to a question that the Corinthians had apparently asked him concerning food sacrificed to idols.

Remember that at this time, some people worshiped their gods by offering food at their gods’ temples. They would then eat that food as an act of worship. (Even the Jews ate some of the meat that they sacrificed to God as a meal.) Thus, some Christians associated eating “sacrificed food” with false worship. Other Christians believed there was nothing wrong with eating “sacrificed food” because there were no other gods.

Paul begins by reminding the Corinthians that the idols were not gods at all – that there was only one God:

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth- as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”- yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Corinthians 8:4-6 ESV)

Thus, according to Paul, those Christians who said there were no other gods were correct. When food was sacrificed to idols, it was still ordinary food; there was nothing wrong with eating this food. In fact, he states clearly that neither eating that food nor refusing to eat that food helps someone draw closer to God: “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do”. (1 Corinthians 8:8 ESV)

But, also according to Paul, there are more important things than being “right”. Instead of demanding their right to eat food sacrificed to idols, Paul says it is more important that they consider their brothers and sisters in Christ. If exercising their “right” offends their brother or causes their sister to go against her conviction, then they should not exercise their right.

Paul writes:

But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 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? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. (1 Corinthians 8:9-11 ESV)

The next thing that Paul says is extremely important – it demonstrates just how important relationships are to God:

Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:12-13 ESV)

Did you catch that? If eating food sacrificed to idols (which is nothing, according to Paul), causes my brother or sister to go against their conscience, then I have sinned. I have not only sinned against my brother or sister, I have sinned against Christ.

Paul goes on to say that if eating meat sacrificed to idols causes someone to stumble, then he would never eat meat again.

If nothing else, this passage demonstrates just how important relationships are to God. According to Paul, it is more important for us to think about our brother and sister, to keep them from going against their own conscience, not what WE think is right or wrong, or even what is actually right or wrong. Once again, Paul says that we must think about other people, not about ourselves.

Note, Paul does not tell us to be right. He does not tell us to prove ourselves right. He does not tell us to at least make sure we are right regardless of what other people do. He tells us to act according to the other believer’s conscience.

Do you care about people that much? Would rather give up your own rights than cause a brother or sister to go against their own conscience? Or, would you prefer to prove that you are right and your brother or sister is wrong?

When we accept other brothers and sisters, we also accept the responsibility to considering their convictions and not causing them to stumble. When we do not despise other believers, we also do not despise their personal convictions, but give up our rights for their benefit.


12 Comments

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  1. 5-18-2009

    If only I could walk in this consistently…….

    Rom 15:7 -Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.

    It is a struggle to put old ways aside.

  2. 5-18-2009

    I appreciate this post, Alan. It is definitely truth we need the Lord to bring us into. I do believe when we are coming to understand the nature of God’s love and how Christ is the Teacher… everything changes. Jesus said, “They will know you are my disciples if you love one another.”

  3. 5-18-2009

    Alan, — I think you hit at the heart of what the gospel is. It’s about relationships restored. Our relationship with God and with each other.

    To not show love for our brother or sister, and thus to Christ, is to deny the gospel(Matt. 25:42-45) — like Peter in Galatians. And to show love to our brothers and sisters (as ddflowers said) is to uphold the gospel and show ourselves to truly be disciples of Jesus. (John 13:31-35). This is Christian witness. This is evangelism.

    Alan said: “When we accept other brothers and sisters, we also accept the responsibility to considering their convictions and not causing them to stumble.”

    This demands that we know one another and actually get involved in each others lives, doesn’t it.

  4. 5-18-2009

    Alan, that is an encouragement and a challenge on many different levels! We so often live the Christian life as individuals, thinking “if others have a problem with my convictions, then they can just get over it … they need to become more mature in their walk with God!” This is clearly the wrong attitude.
    According to Phil. 2:3, we are to esteem others better than ourselves, not the other way around. I believe a lot of it comes down to whether we will act out of love for others, or selfish PRIDE (which God hates, by the way).

  5. 5-18-2009

    wow I never heard it explained like that… very powerful…as I read, I really felt it was a wonderful application/example of what love is or should look like….

    yet at the same time, is this only applicable in one direction?

    I mean…I am assuming that Paul was referring to situations where we had to ‘higher our standard’ to align ourselves with our friend’s conscience so they wouldn’t stumble with their own conscience…. ex: even if we don’t care about drinking wine at dinner, our friends do so we don’t drink when we dine with them.

    but is this applicable in the opposite way as well?

    or does it only call the person with ‘lower’ standard to higher theirs?

    I hate using those words, ‘standards, higher, lower’….

    but I don’t know how else to describe what I’m saying.

    paul is not saying to sacrifice our conscience for others is he?

    I don’t know… I got myself all jumbled…

    did that make any sense?

  6. 5-18-2009

    Jack,

    Yes, the Romans passage is a great parallel to this. And, I agree, I wish I could walk this way consistently.

    David,

    “Love” is all encompassing… I still don’t understand “love” and the expanse of love, but I’m trying to put myself in a position to learn.

    Wade,

    You asked, “This demands that we know one another and actually get involved in each others lives, doesn’t it.” Yes! Exactly!

    Jon,

    I was thinking of Philippians 2:13 as well. It is so difficult to consistently consider others as better than myself.

    Randi Jo,

    You’ve asked a very good question. I asked someone that I respect that same question recently, and we both concluded that we should always treat the other as “the weaker brother or sister” – not as a way to look down on them, but as a reminder that we should always think the other’s opinion as being more important than our own – especially in view of their spiritual well-being.

    -Alan

  7. 5-19-2009

    I don’t think you can be a slave to everyone without offending someone. That someone will most likely be your brother.

    My question is this: Does this apply to teaching as well? Should a teacher use sarcasm to help prove his point at the risk of offending his brother?

    I apologize for not being as eager to agree. I realize it may be considered offensive.

  8. 5-19-2009

    Anonymous,

    Stephanie?

    Actually, yes it does include that, in the sense that if I know that it offends you, then I will attempt to not use sarcasm.

    -Alan

  9. 11-8-2012

    The ‘offense’ or stumbling Paul has in mind in 1 Cor. 8 is persuading (causing, leading) a brother “to eat” against his conscience. This goes beyond one Christian complaining to another, “your choice ‘offends’ me,” apart from any temptation or intention of sharing in the objectionable activity.

    There are two sides to this coin: (1) not drawing weaker brethren into activities which go against their conscience; (2) not judging stronger brethren, who choose to do things from which we refrain, as ‘sinning.’ Romans 14:3-4 speaks to both.

    Christian charity goes beyond this (i.e., influencing someone to do what bothers their conscience), of course, as in your example of avoiding sarcasm when we know it agitates another brother or sister in the Lord. Love seeks to edify (stronger to weaker in view in this instance). And love also bears with others (weaker to stronger in this instance).

  10. 11-8-2012

    Rick,

    You’re right. It’s not about being offended, but being encouraged to sin. There’s a big difference.

    -Alan

  11. 11-8-2012

    I wonder, if you know that your brother is a teatotaller and you are not, is it considered “causing your brother to stumble” if you have a glass of wine when you go out to dinner or when hosting them in your own home? We have experienced extremes where this sort if thing is concerned. I always question whether or no we are more concerned with offending our brother by imbibing in their presence or perhaps the issue is being more concerned with what they think of us…
    Thoughts anyone?

  12. 11-8-2012

    Gen,

    I think that “causing a brother/sister to stumble” is much more than that person being offended by something. It’s about doing something that causes another brother/sister to sin (based on their own conscience). So, there may be some brothers/sisters who would be caused to stumble if we were to drink alcoholic beverages in their presence. But, others are just “offended”… I think it’s good for us to think about the difference and act accordingly. :)

    -Alan