By Robert Halsey Pine
“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up…Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘no idol in the world really exists,’ and that ‘there is no God but one’…So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.” (1 Corinthians 8:1-13 NRSV).
St. Paul is counseling the faithful regarding giving weaker Christians the wrong impression. In their confidence of knowing the one God, some of the Corinthians had eaten sacrifices made to idols with all the confidence that it was in no way giving credence to the idols. In fact, they thought of it as a way of showing their knowledge of the one God and the confidence against false gods that it gave them. Paul warned them that their weaker brothers and sisters might interpret their actions as confirming the idol gods.
From birth, we are great observers of what other people do and how they act. Sometimes we imitate others and sometimes we avoid another’s type of behavior. If we are fortunate enough to be able to discern as to good and bad behavior, life is easier. If we have difficulty separating types of behavior, we are in for a difficult journey. Not everyone has this ability to discern behavior. Christ died for us in our weakness to know right from wrong, good from evil. We must all share in the confidence that Paul passes to us: “Anyone who loves God is known by him.”
While we are all sinners, many brothers and sisters have more difficulty understanding right from wrong than others. Many are easily influenced in one direction or another in matters of good and evil. Those who have a more secure knowledge of good and evil and right and wrong must take care not to send the wrong message to weaker brothers and sisters through a knowledge and confidence that allows tip-toeing on the edge of sin. Those who are weak are watching those who are secure, so there is a responsibility that the spiritually confident must have lest they lead their weaker brothers and sisters down the wrong path.
If I find myself in company or in situations that are not what I think God would approve of, I must be careful. Even if my faith is strong enough to control the situation, what message might I be sending to others? If I find myself in such a situation or in such company, I should strive to change that environment in such a way that the weak can see my example whether they are in the situation with me or just observing. There must be a sense of sacrifice in us so that we may do as Paul did in saying, “Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.”
Robert Halsey Pine was born at Newark, Ohio in 1943. He is a graduate of Northeastern University and completed the program of Theological Education by Extension: Education for Ministry, School of Theology, the University of the South.