Brother’s Keeper   Leave a comment

Alaska allows motorists to make a right turn when the traffic signal is red—if the way is clear. This gives drivers liberty and keeps traffic moving. At some intersections, however, signs read, “No turn on red.” These corners are exceptions because they are potential danger spots. By turning on red at one of these intersections, a motorist could cause a serious accident.

Similarly, in the Christian life we have been given great freedom, yet there are certain potential danger spots that can cause serious collisions between brothers and sisters in Christ. In 1 Corinthians 8, we have a dangerous intersection concerning meat offered to idols, and the lessons learned here can be extrapolated to our everyday lives in the 2st century.

Paul had perfect freedom to eat meat offered to idols. He knew that there was only one true God and that idols were nothing. Eating meat offered to them was neither right nor wrong. Yet, not all believers felt that way. A person with a weak conscience believed that the meat was defiled by the idol, and therefore it was off limits. Paul recognized the need to take special care, not for his own obedience to God, but if  by eating he would influence such a person to eat, thus violating that person’s conscience. Concern for weaker believers kept him from exercising his liberty.

As Christians, we are free in Christ—free to engage in social practices and customs not specifically forbidden by Biblical commands. Yet, the Holy Spirit may prompt us to refrain from some legitimate practices. Then the principle of love must take precedence over the principle of liberty. A mature Christian will heed the “no turn on red” sign to keep from causing a weaker believer “to have a serious accident.”

In 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Paul explained that we are not only responsible for ourselves but for one another. To put a spin on the words of Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9), Paul would insist, “You are your brother’s keeper.” You do have a responsibility to look out for your brother’s welfare. With this high calling in mind, Paul lays out two principles to guide us.

Recognize that love is more important than freedom (8:1-6).

With regard to food sacrificed to idols, we know that “we all have knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If someone thinks he knows something, he does not yet know to the degree that he needs to know. But if someone loves God, he is known by God. 

With regard then to eating food sacrificed to idols, we know that “an idol in this world is nothing,” and that “there is no God but one.” If after all there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as 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 live, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we live. (1 Corinthians 8:1-3)

Whether Christians should eat meat which had been offered to idols was a pressing question in the church at Corinth. We have some similar issues in the 21st century. Is it permissible for Christians to drink alcohol? Yes. Definitely. Jesus turned water into wine and it was GOOD wine. At that root, we have freedom in Christ. For Paul, however, the more important question was how such issues were dealt with by the church. It had become a matter of pride on both sides of the question, so Paul began at that point.

Dealing with the central issue of all the Corinthian church’s problems, Paul rebuked the Corinthians’ pride and insisted that love trumps knowledge. He began his argument with these words: “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, “we know that we all have knowledge” The phrase “now concerning” clues us into the fact that Paul was once again responding to issues raised by the Corinthians in a previous letter. “We know that we all have knowledge” probably represented another Corinthian slogan. The Corinthians apparently had more slogans than AA does. Some in Corinth were justifying their position by claiming a certain knowledge that idols were only things of human manufacture and did not represent any true reality.

Paul granted the fact that believers can champion this knowledge, but such knowledge can easily lead to pride and arrogance. Paul put it like this, Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” This is one of the most powerful one-liners about Christian community found anywhere in Paul’s letters. Those Corinthians who were boasting of their freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols were acting arrogantly, without demonstrating love and respect for their brothers and sisters. The real aim of Christianity should not be knowledge but love. Knowledge apart from love makes one prideful. Hence, we must always be cautious. A former pastor of mine used to say, “Some Christians grow; others just swell.”

Are you “puffed up” in your knowledge? Do you look down on others who don’t know as much as you do? Paul told you to recognize that “love edifies.” The word translated “edifies” means “to build up.” Originally, the word was used of the formation of buildings. However, Paul used this word figuratively throughout his letters to describe the development of Christian character. The Christian life isn’t how much you know, or how strong you are, or how much Christian liberty you possess, but how much you love. You are your brother’s keeper.

One of the dangers of being a Bible fellowship is that we may be strong in knowledge but weak in love. Francis Schaeffer once said, “If we do not show love to one another, the world has a right to question whether Christianity is true.” Therefore, we must strive to remain humble at all times and manifest love to all that we come in contact with. You are your brother’s keeper.

Paul continued his challenging words in 8:2-3: “If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know.” According to my study helps, the grammar in this sentence assumes that this is a current problem in the church at Corinth. The force of the verb tenses in 8:2 suggests a paraphrase: “If a person thinks that he has attained to some degree of knowledge, he has not yet reached the stage when he has any knowledge at all.” Paul was simply saying that if we think we are all knowing, we can be confident that we are not.

Our knowledge as finite human beings is never final—we can always know more and achieve deeper insights. Socrates once said, “Knowledge is proud that it knows so much; wisdom is humble that it knows no more.” The truly wise person clearly grasps how very limited his knowledge and understanding is, even in respect to the grey areas.

Paul added a very unusual comment to 8:3: “But if someone loves God, he is known by God.” Again, the grammar makes it clear that there are those in Corinth who loved God, but Paul prioritized love over knowledge. This is not saying that knowledge is unimportant, but that accumulating all the facts about God that one can will not result in the most realistic knowledge of Him. One must also love God. If a person loves God, then God knows him in an intimate way and reveals Himself to him (2:10). Consequently, it is really more important that God knows us than that we know Him. When He knows us intimately, He will enable us to know Him intimately. Logically, not only will God enable those who love Him to know Him better, but He will also enable those who love Him to understand other subjects as well. Paul said this to establish the priority of love over knowledge in determining our behavior in various situations. You are your brother’s keeper.

With regard then to eating food sacrificed to idols, we know that “an idol in this world is nothing,” and that “there is no God but one.” If after all there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we live, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we live. (1 Corinthians 8:4-6)

After his quick aside, Paul resumed his discussion of knowledge and staunchly argued against idols while putting forth a profound understanding of God. The expressions “there is no such thing as an idol” and “there is no God but one” (8:4) are slogans the Corinthians apparently used to justify their behavior. Paul agreed with the slogans in part, but corrected them to show how the Corinthians had misused these ideas. He explained that even though idols are fictitious gods, people ascribe worship to them (8:5). There is only one God worthy of worship—God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The way the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are spoken of together here is a clear indication of the deity of Christ. Calling Jesus “Lord” is a way of affirming His deity and oneness with Yahweh (see Philippians 2:11). Paul was arguing that in the same way that the Godhead is one, we should seek to be one in the body of Christ. This requires understanding that love is more important than freedom, because you are your brother’s keeper.

But this knowledge is not shared by all. And some, by being accustomed to idols in former times, eat this food as an idol sacrifice, and their conscience, because it is weak, is defiled. Now food will not bring us close to God. We are no worse if we do not eat and no better if we do. But be careful that this liberty of yours does not become a hindrance to the weak. For if someone weak sees you who possess knowledge dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience be “strengthened” to eat food offered to idols? So by your knowledge the weak brother or sisterfor whom Christ died, is destroyedIf you sin against your brothers or sisters in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.  (1 Corinthians 8:7-12)

Theoretically, all members of the Corinthian church understood that idols have no real existence (8:1), but many were unable to put this knowledge into practice. Old links between idol food and idols were impossible to forget. We have the same issues today on a myriad of subjects — drinking alcohol and dancing being two.

Limit your freedom for the sake of love. 

Paul challenged us to look out for our brothers and sisters because we love them and have their best spiritual interest at heart. The weak Christians in Corinth felt it was a sin to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Because of their upbringing, earlier habits, or former lifestyle, the weak still believed that they were participating in idol worship by eating the meat. They just could not shake their past. As believers in Jesus Christ, we must be sensitive to our spiritual brothers and sisters. We must learn to defer to them when it is appropriate. For, in the end, what difference does it really make whether we eat or not?

In  8:9, Paul warns the Corinthians to “take care” of the interests of their weaker brothers rather than exercising their freedom. Paul acknowledged that we have “liberty” in Christ. Christian liberty is one of the central truths of the New Testament (John 8:31-32, 36; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Galatians 5:1). Yet, it is possible to use our liberty and become a “stumbling block” to the weak. A “stumbling block” is not an act that offends a person; it is an act that leads a fellow believer into what is sin for him or her. A stumbling block is not just anything that causes someone to be offended. It is not a stumbling block for a man to have long hair and a ponytail, if the people who are offended by this are not thereby tempted to have a ponytail themselves in violation of their own conscience.

Practically speaking, there are number of illustrations that come to mind. I really enjoy Asian food. I don’t have a problem with the Buddas you find in most Asian restaurants. He was a wise man of some centuries ago and idols are nothing. However, I would not take a new Christian who had been saved out of Buddhism or Hinduism to such a restaurant. Brad really loves boxing and martial arts. He has the freedom to watch these films, but other Christians with a history of violence may not. I consider it wrong for me to drink alcohol because I know many Christians who are alcoholics. It doesn’t offend me if you drink around me. I’m not tempted. But you might be acting as a stumbling block if you drink around them. Christians need to be loving and respectful to the frailties of other Christians. If I sense this activity goes against a fellow believer’s conscience, I should refrain from talking about this subject in their presence. I should also not invite them to participate in this activity with me. I am my brother’s keeper.

Let’s consider another scenario. Do I have the Biblical freedom to stock my refrigerator with Bud Light? The answer is “yes.” That would be a really dumb move for me because my husband is a recovering alcoholic, but let’s say that weren’t so. Brad didn’t have that past. Beer cooling in the fridge would be perfectly permissible for us. However, what would happen if a young man in our church was visiting at our home and when Brad opened the fridge he saw a case of beer? After seeing our stash, he might think to himself, “Well, if Brad and Lela drink freely, then maybe I can too.” Yet, what if this young man comes from a family of alcoholics and has determined he doesn’t have the freedom to drink? Our example could have a disastrous effect on him. In the end, I (Lela) choose to abstain from this Biblical freedom for the sake of others. I am my brother’s keeper.

In 8:11-12, Paul shared these disturbing words: So by your knowledge the weak brother or sisterfor whom Christ died, is destroyed. If you sin against your brothers or sisters in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.” By partaking in an activity I may have the freedom to enjoy, I can potentially “ruin” my brother. Brad and I know new Christians, fresh in alcohol recovery, who were tempted, gave in and are still out in the weeds today. They’re still our brother or sister in Christ, but their lives don’t show it. Paul didn’t mean ultimate spiritual destruction, for he called this man a “brother, for whose sake Christ died.” The destruction for the weak brother is that he reverts to his old pagan ways. The stress is on weakening the faith and ruining the Christian life of the brother, or stunting his Christian life and usefulness. Paul took this seriously and stated that this is a sin against Christ! You are your brother’s keeper.

For this reason, if food causes my brother or sister to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I may not cause one of them to sin. (1 Corinthians 8:13)

Paul concluded this chapter by using himself as an example. We need to remember that there is something more important than our freedom to do as we please. That something is the spiritual development of other people. Paul’s is a completely Christlike attitude. He exhorts us by example, “Don’t look at your freedom; look at their need.” Our first concern should not be to exercise our freedom to the limit, but to care about the welfare of our brothers and sisters in Christ. There is an emphasis on the term “brother,” which occurs four times in the last three verses. You are your brother’s keeper.

Yes, we have freedom in Christ, but like many possessions in life, its greatest use comes when it is given away. What is the highest use you make of your income? It is not paying of bills or saving of some or investing of some. It is giving of a portion of it to the Lord. And what is the highest use a man can make of his freedom in Christ? It may be to give a portion of it up for the sake of Christ.

You say, “If I have to give something up once I have it, I might as well not have it in the first place.” Not at all. Is the person who earns $25,000 and keeps it all for himself as well off as the person who earns $40,000 and gives $15,000 away? They both have $25,000 left, but I would argue that the latter person is infinitely more wealthy. You see, you can’t give something away unless you’ve got it, and you can’t receive the blessing of giving unless you voluntarily surrender something that was really yours.

The Bible places the burden on the strong. The sin is not in exercise of your liberty, but in exercising your liberty at the expense of fellow believers. If somebody else might be hurt spiritually, a strong Christian should give up the freedom to participate. The highest principle governing my choice in disputable matters is love for a fellow believer who might disagree with me on that issue.

Giving up my freedoms sounds like I live a boring, joyless life—I may never enjoy my liberties in Christ because somebody might be hurt. Paul’s teaching requires that I defer to those who may be close by or to those who may see my actions and be hurt by them. If I deferred to all Christians everywhere, I probably would not even get out of bed in the morning! On every doubtful issue there is a weak Christian somewhere who believes my actions or ideas are sinful. It is unlikely that they all attend my church or are in my circle of acquaintances. My responsibility is to love those nearby who disagree with me and to respect the consciences of other Christians with whom I come in contact.

Freedom and discipline have come to be regarded as mutually exclusive, when in fact freedom is not at all the opposite, but the final reward of discipline. Freedom is bought with a price, not merely claimed. The professional ballet dancer is free to perform as her or she does only because they have been subjected to countless hours of grueling work, rigidly prescribed, faithfully carried out. Men are free to soar into space because they have willingly confined themselves in a tiny capsule designed and produced by highly trained scientists and craftsmen, have meticulously followed instructions, and submitted themselves to rules which others defined.

Perhaps you are thinking, “Aren’t there some Christians who just sit on the sidelines taking potshots at other Christians, trying to find some fault?” Yes, there are. In fact, I know some, even in my church. We are not required to limit our liberty to assuage the legalists. Paul was talking about an action which might cause a weaker brother to stumble, not just make a pharisaical Christian frown. If we governed our entire lives by the frowns we receive from legalistic Christians, we’d be living in straight-jackets.

But distinguishing between the legalist and the weak brother is sometimes very difficult. Discernment is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and only He can make known in any given case what an individual ought to do. We desperately need, in the words of Hebrews 5:14, “to have our senses trained to discern good and evil.” God does not ask us to give up our liberty to the legalist. But if a weak brother is sincerely trying to grow, he deserves every sacrifice we might make. We are our brother’s keeper.


Posted June 18, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

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