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.
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.