By J.R. Miller
1 Corinthians 8
"Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up--but love builds up." When Paul said to the Corinthians that "knowledge puffs up," he did not mean to depreciate knowledge, nor was he glorifying ignorance. Knowledge builds up, too. He who is content to be ignorant in this world while the stores of knowledge are accessible, fails to grasp the meaning of life. Knowledge makes one's life broader and deeper--and adds to one's power of usefulness. But there is a knowledge, which makes a man cold, haughty and proud. He stalks through the world, thinking only of himself, without regard to others. He knows his Christian liberty--and he thinks no further about it. He says it is no business of his, if any weaker Christians are hurt. They ought not to be so weak. It is all nonsense for them to keep their old superstitions. They cannot expect him to limit his privileges--by their narrow scruples. He is going to exercise his liberty without regard to any such childish whims.
We may apply the principle--to the matter of temperance. A man claims his right to take a glass of wine at dinner. He has always done it, and it has never hurt him. All around him are those who are not so strong as he is. His example may lead them into a course, which will be ruinous in the end. But he knows he has a right to his wine, and that it will do him no harm; so he refuses to think of others. They have no right to be "weak" in this intellectual age. Thus mere "knowledge" puffs up, makes one haughty, vain, coldly selfish.
But while, "knowledge puffs up," "love builds up." Love may know just as much as knowledge does. The man who has Christian love, knows that there is no harm in eating theses meats. But he knows also that there are Christians only recently converted, who think differently. If he asserts his privilege, he knows it will grieve them, and also may lead them to violate their conscience and thus start on a course of sin, which will end in the loss of their souls. This man, with love as well as knowledge, thinks of other people, and denies himself his liberty--rather than harm them by his example.
In the case of wine, this same man may feel just as confident as the other of the harmlessness to himself of his glass of drink; but he knows that not all are fortified as he is against the dangers of the wine cup, and he believes Christian love requires him to deny himself rather than put the least danger before any weaker person. He does not talk haughtily about his "rights" and "liberty." He believes that it is his business to limit his privileges for the sake of his weaker brethren.
Even knowledge depends upon love, "if any man loves God--the same is known by Him." We cannot know any person truly, unless we love the person. Mere knowledge sees people critically, sees their faults, the blemishes in them, the mistakes they make, the evil things they do--but sees not the good. It takes love, mingled with knowledge--to see people as they really are. We should have patience with all men. We should be charitable to all, and charity covers a multitude of sins. Our Lord's own teaching is, "Judge not--that you be not judged." If only we would see people through eyes of love--we would ofttimes find beauty, where now we find only spot and stain.
One of the old legends of Jesus, says that as He and the disciples walked one day they saw a dead dog lying by the wayside. The disciples turned with loathing from the dead creature--but Jesus remarked, "What beautiful teeth this animal has!" He saw beauty even amid the ruin and loathsomeness of death. An eye for the good and beautiful in others--is a mark of a fine, loving character. We never can be of much use in the world until we learn this lesson.
Charity should make us mindful of others, who have not the same advantages as we have. Certain things may do us no harm--but those very things may do harm to others. The harm is in the influence of example on those whose "conscience being weak, is defiled." Being influenced by the example of the strong Christian, they do that which they regard as wrong. Thus they sin against God. This meat sacrificed to idols question, which disturbed the Corinthians, will not come up in our modern church life--but there are other applications of the same principle. It touches all personal liberty in matters involving no moral wrong. May a man drink wine?
How richly may a Christian woman dress at church?
How fine a residence may a Christian man build and live in?
What games and amusements may Christian people enjoy?
There are some things which we must never yield. We must never violate a moral principle, even to please some other one. We have no right to break any commandment of God, for anybody's sake. It is only in matters involving no moral principle that we are to be ready to yield our liberty. It is no recommendation of us in God's sight that we do or do not eat certain kinds of food. The laws of diet are not moral laws. We must be ready, therefore, to deny ourselves things that we like--if the using of them will do harm to others.
The example of the strong, emboldens the weak to do that which he himself thinks to be wrong; and when a man once violates his conscience, he has broken down the fence and started on a course the end of which may be destruction. It is a terrible thing to do even the slightest wrong. Jesus said to those who cause others to stumble, "Whoever shall cause one of these little ones who believe on me to stumble, it would be better for him that a great millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea!" Such startling words from the Master's own lips, should make us tremble at the very thought of causing another to stumble. He may stumble into hell--and it will be our fault!
We must see to it that never through our knowledge, that is through our selfishness in determining not to give up a privilege, does "he who is weak" perish, "the brother for whose sake Christ died." It does not mean that we tempt the other to some great sin--but that we forget that he may be influenced by our example. Thus we see the importance of example. We dare not strut through this world, doing just as we please, as if it mattered not, as if it were no one else's affair. We must walk softly, ever asking ourselves what the effect of our walk will be upon others.
Paul laid down a principle for all time when he said, "Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall." Elsewhere he says, "It is good not to eat flesh, not to drink wine, nor to do anything whereby your brother stumbles." This was Paul's application of the law of love. He would rather, as long as he lived, forego the exercise of a personal right, the indulgence of a personal taste--than run the risk of causing another to sin. It is good not to drink wine, however harmless one may think it to be--if it may make another stumble.
Here we have a good temperance motive. Suppose that a man is satisfied that he has a right to drink moderately, and that he can do so with perfect safety to himself and without sinning; but suppose also that his example may cause others who are weaker to drink, and that they will drink to the destruction of their souls. What does this principle of Paul's say to this man? Very clearly, that he should forego his liberty forever rather than cause his brother to do wrong. The application is very wide, referring to every possible cause: "It is good not to do anything whereby your brother stumbles."