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1 Corinthians 8:11–13

“Sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ” (v. 12).

Knowing what is right is essential for pleasing the Lord. After all, God has revealed objective standards of right and wrong in His law, and we must know this law if we are to live according to His ethical standards (Deut. 6:6–9). However, simply knowing the facts of what is right and wrong is insufficient, for we must know how to apply this knowledge correctly. It is possible to know the facts of a matter but then to draw the wrong conclusions from it. We have seen this in 1 Corinthians 8:1–10. The Corinthian believers knew key truths such as that pagan gods have no real existence as gods and that food in itself does not commend us to God. However, they wrongly applied this knowledge, believing that these facts meant that they could take part in the meals in pagan temples without any harm.

Paul has focused on the wrongness of this conclusion because of its violation of the Christian’s duty to love other believers. Not every believer in Corinth understood deep down that false gods are not actual deities, so to see other “stronger” believers taking part in the meals of pagan worship caused these “weaker” believers to believe that they were actually serving divine beings. Their consciences’ being violated, the weak believers fell back into intentional idolatry. Since the worship of false gods cuts one off from salvation (1 Cor. 6:9–10), nothing could be more unloving. Paul emphasizes this point again in today’s passage, noting that by the “knowledge” of the stronger Corinthians, they were destroying brothers for whom Christ died (8:11). Thus, the Apostle exhorts believers not to rashly apply their knowledge of the truth but to consider other believers before they act. We are always to operate under the awareness that Jesus paid the ultimate price to save us and our brothers and sisters in the Lord. That remembrance should generate in us a love that looks out for their best interests just as Christ looked out for our best interests in dying to save us.

When we cause others to stumble, we sin not only against them but against Jesus Himself, as Paul notes in 8:12. The early church father John Chrysostom explains the meaning of this verse well. “Those who would wound a weak conscience sin against Christ. He considers the concerns of his servants to be his own. Those who are wounded make up his own body. These people are destroying the work which Christ built up by his own blood.”

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Paul will have more to say about eating at pagan temples and about the consciences of weaker brothers in 1 Corinthians 10. For now, let us note that our general approach to other believers should be to do what is most loving and what is best for them. We should think before we act, taking care to ensure that we are doing what is loving according to God’s Word.

For Further Study
  • Jeremiah 23:32
  • Mark 9:42
  • 1 Timothy 1:5
  • 1 John 2:10

Knowing When to Eat

Paul’s True Apostleship

Keep Reading Luther on Trial: The Diet of Worms

From the April 2021 Issue
Apr 2021 Issue