Stumbling Blocks

I Corinthians 8:9-12

Although people are not “stumbling blocks,” their ideas and actions can be. In this passage, Paul points out that, as believers, we have responsibilities and obligations even to people we have never met. The question here is one of ethics: just how far can I go with concerning my attitudes and activities without offending other Christians, even overly-sensitive ones?

In this passage Paul deals with the topic of meat which has been offered to idols. In his era, that was a problem. There were a lot of meals served in idol temples. Paul deals with this issue from another aspect later in chapter ten. Some Christians, far from going into an idol temple for a meal, would not even buy meat at the local meat market (“shambles” in the King James Version) for fear part of that same animal might have gone to the idol temple! In these chapters, Paul addresses not just this first century problem, but universal and timeless questions of Christian ethics.

In 8:9, Paul writes about “weak” Christians. Think of these folks as new believers or, in some cases, Christians who are very sensitive about not offending God in any way. I have taught these passages many times throughout my 25-year collegiate teaching career and the usual response from students tends to be: “Well, I can’t live my life concerned about the immaturity of others.” My usual response is that we often forget, in our “me first” generation, that life is all about others – not ourselves.

Take care, says Paul in verse nine, that what you do does not cause others to stumble. “Your liberty” refers to your influence, ability, authority and rights as a Christian. The word “stumbling block” can be translated “offense.”  Though these early Christians had the right to eat in an idol temple, Paul strongly recommends that they do not. While it is true that Jesus sometimes ate with sinners, it was always for all the right reasons, for Jesus never placed Himself in compromising situations. Do we? Although Cain denied it, we really are “our brother’s keeper.” What we do and say as believers can have a tremendous impact on others.

The question Paul raises is an eternal one: “Can I take the risk of offending a brother or sister since Jesus died for them” (v. 11)?  If my actions cause someone to believe it is OK to compromise the Gospel, am I not responsible if they fall from grace? How far am I willing to go to protect them from temptation? If I cause someone to think that they can “get away with something” as a Christian, won’t I be leading them down a path to damnation? If I truly love them, why would I take that risk? If their faith and their conscience is “less developed” (v. 12) than my own, do my actions help or hinder their walk with Jesus?  If I cause another to disregard what their conscience may be telling them about something, do I contribute to them becoming calloused concerning right and wrong? Paul indicates that God will hold us accountable. As believers, our thoughts and actions can have eternal consequences.

We are warned in I Corinthians 8 not to use our freedoms in Christ to excess. But just where are the lines drawn? The Spirit of God will draw them for you. This is why the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is so essential for 21st century Christians. Although we may err in ethical decisions, He cannot. We must listen to His voice and obey, for the Spirit of God makes no mistakes. 
The question in I Corinthians 8 is simply: “Do my actions cause others to sin?” When Paul refers to “those who have knowledge” in verse ten, he refers to the stronger, more mature Christians. But this begs the question, “If I am truly mature in Christ, will my actions shake the faith of the younger Christians?” We are not to use our newfound “liberties” in Christ to the point where others may fall ethically or morally. Jesus places a tremendous responsibility upon us and it is a cross that we all must carry.  He did.

<> Before proceeding, read Galatians 5:13
<> What is the “trigger word” in Matthew 25:40?

The point of Paul’s argument is that self-denial is part of the Christian life. A mature believer will always evaluate his/her actions before acting. But let’s jump to our century. Here are some situations you can wrestle with. In most of these cases, there are no “textbook” answers:

1. Do I dare place a sign over my TV that reads, “Would Jesus watch this program with me?”

2. Would the Holy Spirit laugh at the jokes my friends tell me?

3. How do you respond to someone of the opposite sex who wants “counseling?”

4. Would you report a co-worker who does something dishonest on the job?

5. Do you make special “allowances” for the sins of close relatives who are Christians?

6. How should I dress for church? To please others or God? Do I dare ask the Spirit of God what to wear so as not to give offense? Will my attire attract persons of the opposite sex to body parts, causing them to lust?

7. Should I sue another Christian who has wronged me? (I Corinthians 6:1-7)

8. Am I obligated to return funds if someone overpays me?

9. If grass was legalized, can Christians smoke it?

10. How would I advise someone concerning euthanasia?

11. If I scratch the car, do I tell my spouse the truth?

12. Would I offend someone if I told them I went to see (or rented) a certain “R” movie? Would I feel comfortable inviting them to see this movie with me?

13. If I offend someone and they demand an apology, do I give it…even if I am in the right?

14. Do I park in handicapped parking spots, even though I am not handicapped?

15. How do you counsel others concerning abortion, when pregnancy occurs as a result of date rape?

16. As a true Christian, can I drink on weekends? or ever?

17. Can I abuse prescription drugs?

As we have stated, there are no simple solutions for each particular situation. The Word of God has the answers, although many 21st century sins are not specifically listed. We must bear in mind, however, that Paul is not writing passages on “situation ethics,” but rather on how my actions may impact the spiritual growth of others. This puts the importance of our actions in a whole new light.

Paul tells us that, although we do have certain parameters to operate in as believers, beware! Avoid going to places which may compromise the Gospel message of Christ. In His century it was the idol temple: in our century it is the nightclubs. What must be avoided involves the Christian outlook of others, and thus should make my conscience all the more sensitive concerning their need to grow in Christ.

I am free as a Christian—not to do what I want—but to do what is right. In verse eleven, Paul uses the word “knowledge” in an ironic sense. If you are so full of Bible knowledge, why would you risk offending someone who may stumble or fall as a result?

As a final example, Paul indicates that he is so careful concerning these things, that if a person feels that ever eating any meat at all (because of their fear that part of that animal might have gone to the idol temple) is wrong, he would become a vegetarian in order not to offend them. What are we, in our era, willing to give up for the sake of the growth of others?

God, through His Spirit and His Word, puts a tremendous responsibility on us. We are responsible – not only to guard our own conscience – but those of others as well. Concerning my acts of self denial, the growth and maturity of another depends how I value their soul. This is the true measure of how I value my own.

Maxim of the Moment

Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there. - Will Rogers