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1 Corinthians 8:8-13 by Robert Dean
Series:1st Corinthians (2002)
Duration:1 hr 2 mins 41 secs

Liberty and Conscience; 1 Corinthians 8:8-13


1)  The spiritual life of an in dividual believer does not operate in a vacuum. There is the statement that no man is an island and no believer is an island. We don't live our life in isolation from other people; we don't operate in a vacuum; we don't live in a vacuum; we can't run around saying we have a legitimate right to do this or participate in that or to have this characterize my lifestyle, it doesn't matter what other people think, why don't they grow up? We all have a tendency to say that and in some case that is true, but that is not the emphasis in this passage. Our spiritual life, while it is our individual spiritual life, operates first of all in relationship to each member of the Trinity. But secondly, the Scripture emphasizes that our spiritual life operates in relationship to other members of the body of Christ and cannot ignore that or reduce that in terms of its significance. The spiritual life operates in a context of relationship. That is what the word fellowship means. First of all, fellowship towards God; second, fellowship towards other believers. This point cuts across the grain in both the human viewpoint thinking of the Greek culture at that time and it cuts across the human viewpoint thinking of our individualism. But the Scripture has a tremendous emphasis on the relationship of the believer to other believers, and sometimes that is counter to what we think naturally from a cultural perspective. So we have to realize that we are not independent, we are not operating on our won, there is an important dimension of the spiritual life that is related to the body of Christ.

2)  Warning: Don't fall victim to an isolationist individualistic or atomistic view of the church. What do we mean by atomistic? If we break anything down to its most minute component, that is an atom. If we have an atomistic view of anything that means all we are doing is focusing on the individual component and are not looking at how those individual components relate to each other. The worst expression of this come from not everyone who is a taper but from people who are in geographical areas where they just can't find a local church where there they can get involved. Therefore they end up listening to tapes all the time and they think that somehow that is normative. They just live their life on their own, they never have anything to do with other Christians, they never get together and pray with other Christians or get together and have communion which is important, they never get together for corporate worship, and they convince themselves that that is normative. That is an individualistic view of the church that destroys many dimensions of the believer's priesthood. The normative view of the Christian life as expressed in the Scriptures is a view related to corporate involvement in a local church. Jesus Christ instituted the local church in the church age, that is why it is called the church age; it is not an age for individuals to just operate on our own. We recognize that there are circumstances and places where it is very difficult to find a church where people who really want to know the Bible, to have the Bible taught, can find that. Consequently they are being thrown back on tapes or CDs and the internet and many people are getting their doctrinal nourishment from the internet. Nevertheless, we must recognize that that is from the perspective of Scripture an abnormal situation. The normal situation viewed by Scripture is for believers to be involved in a local church ministry.

3)  An understanding of Christian fellowship. Christian fellowship has to do with the relationship of different believers with each other. It is not just social life, though. What makes Christian fellowship Christian fellowship is that it is centred around the Word of God, doctrine, and Jesus Christ. Christian fellowship has its ultimate central focus on doctrine and what we have in common because of our salvation and our understanding of doctrine and the significance of doctrine in our lives. We must understand that Christian fellowship is not a means of spiritual growth. Spiritual growth comes from learning and applying Bible doctrine under the teaching ministry of God the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, Christian fellowship is a consequence of spiritual growth and is part of our priesthood and ambassadorship; it is part of our ministry to one another in the body of Christ.

4)  This section in 1 Corinthians 8-10 which deals with the issue of doubtful things and the issue of these four laws really anticipates what Paul is going to teach about the body of Christ in chapter twelve. Several verses to emphasize what has been said about the role of every believer in terms of impact on other believers. We have to be careful not to be influenced by this sort of individualistic mentality that I can go and live my Christian life without having any involvement with other believers, that it is just me and my tape recorder, me and my mp3 player, me and my computer, and we can do just fine. That is a truncated view of the spiritual life. 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 NASB "For even as the body is one [as a corporate body we are united in Christ] and {yet} has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many"… [18] But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired." It is a team. Any team cannot function if everybody is out there to do their own things and not work in cooperation with everybody else as an interdependent unity; that is going to be a failure. [19] "If they were all one member, where would the body be? [20] But now there are many members, but one body. [21] And the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you'; or again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.'" Every individual is important but they are also dependent and related to other members in the body of Christ. There is a mutual ministry, as we will see. [22] "On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary." It doesn't matter who you are, whether a weaker or stronger believer, whether you have a spiritual gift that is unseen or have a more obvious spiritual gift, every individual has a role and is important in terms of the mutual ministry and benefit within the body of Christ. [25] "so that there may be no division in the body, but {that} the members may have the same care for one another. [26] And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if {one} member is honored, all the members rejoice with it." There is an interdependency in that concept. If one believer hurts, the whole body hurts. [27] "Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it." We have to recognize that the body of Christ as represented through local congregations is important. This isn't some sort of elective for the Christian life where we can say we may or may not be involved in a local church as long as I'm getting some spiritual nourishment. You will live a Christian life that is missing crucial dimensions in relationship to your ambassadorship and your priesthood. 

5)  A major emphasis in the Scriptures in terms of the Christian way of life is Christian service to other members of the body of Christ. Christian service is not the means to spiritual growth, it is the consequence of spiritual growth. There are numerous ways in which Christian service can manifest itself but Christian service is a crucial consequence of spiritual growth and is not optional. The term that is used in Scripture is "one another." Passages which refer to this mutual ministry to one another: "Be of the same mind toward one another," i.e. to think the same things toward one another in terms of doctrine. Romans 13:8 NASB "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled {the} law." [14:13] "Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this--not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way." [15:14] "And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another." Galatians 5:13 NASB "…but through love serve one another." Ephesians 4:25 NASB "Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE {of you} WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another." We are part of a team. [32] "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." [5:19] "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord." This brings in the whole dimension of corporate worship. Colossians 3:16 NASB "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms {and} hymns {and} spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God." 1 Thessalonians 4:18 NASB "Therefore comfort one another with these words." [5:11] "Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing." Hebrews 3:13 NASB "But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is {still} called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." [10:24] "and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, [25] not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging {one another;} and all the more as you see the day drawing near."

6)  The spiritual life is not lived in isolation from other believers but is viewed biblically as a life that is related to other believers. We can't fulfil these mandates if we are not meeting together as a corporate body of Christ.

7)  The efficacy of our Christian fellowship is based on the growth of impersonal love for one another.

8)  The law of personal sacrifice is based on the principle of John 15:13 NASB "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." The law of personal sacrifice is an implementation of the principle of impersonal love for other believers.

The situation in 1 Corinthians chapter eight is how the mature believer is going to conduct his life in relationship to a weak believer, a weaker brother who may have problems with certain things that the mature believer does not have problems with. The picture here is not that of a believer who comes over for dinner or sees you in the restaurant at the temple and sees that you are eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols and is offended. It is not talking about the believer who sees you out at the restaurant having a beer or smoking a cigarette or having a glass of wine, or whatever it may be and they are offended. This is the believer who sees you having a glass of wine and rather than being offended says this is great, and then goes out and gets drunk. The person who gets offended is the self-righteous Pharisee. When Jesus was dealing with the self-righteous types He would, as it were, walk up to their face and drink a beer in front of them. He was constantly rubbing their nose in the truth because they weren't grace oriented. But on the other hand he showed a sensitivity to those who were positive but who had areas of weakness. So this involves a lot of thought and understanding and sensitivity on the part of believers.

Let's apply this to an area that is a little less obvious. Let's say you are dealing with somebody who is immature in the way they handle money. Their area of weakness is materialism lust and money lust, they always think that money and the things that money can buy will provide happiness. So they happen to observe you down at the store buying a particular luxury item. Maybe it is a top-of-the-range stereo-DVD player. What they don't realize is that for the last three or four years you have been cautiously and consistently putting away money and you are using your credit card to make the purchase, but they do know you have the money in the bank and you will pay the bill when it comes. This person, because his area of weakness is in terms of materialism lust, sees you doing this and rationalizes that if you can do it they can do it also. They don't have the money in the bank, they already have problem with credit card debt, but they rationalize from your use of a credit card their own sinfulness. We have to be careful with this. On the one hand run around always thinking about some believer that might see us do something and use our legitimate behaviour to justify their sinfulness. What Paul is talking about, to use our example of credit card and money, is if you were to encourage them to go ahead and acquire something in that way. That is the idea of putting a stumbling block in front of somebody. It is an active concept, it is not something that they see you from a distance do and you are totally oblivious to the fact they are even around. We can't be held accountable for other people's bad decisions. But if you know that person is around and are aware of the fact that this is an area of weakness and a problem for them and then you engage in that activity or encourage them in some way, that is when it becomes the sin that Paul is talking about in this passage. So we have to be careful not to take these admonitions to some extreme level which is what some Christians do.


1)  Self-righteous believers use taboos to control other believers.

2)  From that taboo comes a false criterion for spirituality. That is, you are spiritual because you don't do certain things or because you avoid certain things.

3)  The result of that is that taboos become the factor in determining right and wrong, and unfortunately this is just the basis of a personal opinion or personal application or prejudice and doesn't have anything to do with the absolutes of the Word of God.

4)  Such determinations (taboos) are based on a false and often self-righteous criterion. The norm or standard is not biblical, it has to do with a personal opinion or viewpoint.

5)  Such determination denies freedom and flexibility to other believers.

6)  Ultimately these taboos replace doctrine and wisdom in the soul. This is essentially what legalism is.

1 Corinthians 8:9 NASB "But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak." The issue is not food; that was verse 8. Whatever the issue is it is not a spiritual issue, we are neither worse if we do it or better if we don't. But Paul says to be careful. This should be a normal characteristic of a believer's life, standard operating procedure, to be careful that our freedom is not a stumbling block to the weak. Paul is not challenging the fact that you have a right to this but it can have a negative consequence on a weak believer. [10] "For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol's temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?" He doesn't understand the issues yet because he is an immature believer. So he can't have balance he just thinks this is great and that he can eat meat sacrificed to idols, but what it leads him to do is go into the next room of the temple and start getting involved in the fertility worship. He can't separate the eating of the meat from the religious environment where this takes place. The weak believer is tempted to rationalize his sinful behaviour because of the mature believer's legitimate participation in some activity. The result is: 

[11] "For through [in=EN [e)n] plus the instrumental dative] your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died." The word "ruined" is the Greek word APOLLUMI [a)pollumi] which means "destroyed." That is, his spiritual life is wiped out, he becomes involved in sin and carnality because he is using your legitimate behaviour to justify his illegitimate behaviour.

Then Paul drives the point home. Our tendency is to ask why he shouldn't figure this out for himself when we have a legitimate right to this. We are so self-absorbed our tendency is to always exercise our personal rights. Keep things in perspective. Jesus Christ died for this other believer and His sacrifice was much greater than our paltry little sacrifice of not eating a steak on this particular occasion.

1 Corinthians 8:12 NASB "And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ." This is clearly a sin. If you don't take into account this weaker brother and he uses your behaviour to rationalize his sin, then that is a sin. Wounding their conscience is the idea of creating harm to their spiritual life.

The whole idea of conscience is crucial to understanding this passage because the conscience itself, whether in a believer or unbeliever, can have norms and standards in it that aren't biblically correct. What God is saying here is that if you violate your conscience, even if the standard you have is not correct, the very act of violating your conscience sets a pattern. It builds a precedent for making it easier to rationalize and justify sin later on down the road.

1 Corinthians 8:13 NASB "Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble. This is the law of This is the law of personal sacrifice.