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Drink, so your weaker brothers won’t stumble into legalism.

May 2, 2006

I’ve spent the last week or so in my devotions thinking about 1 Corinthans 8. (N.B. what I say doesn’t apply to Romans 14. The situation at Corinth is different.)

Paul says we know idols are nothing. But not everyone knows this and love is more important than knowledge, so don’t eat meat offered to idols if it might make a weak brother stumble and be destroyed.

Many make this application: Sure you’re free to drink, but be loving enough to abstain so that you won’t make weak brothers stumble into drunkenness.

But now look carefully at verses 8-10. “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?”

But if an idol is nothing, then so what if he eats food offered to idols? Why is it so bad for the weak brother to eat food sacrificed to an idol? Because the weak brother is the one who thinks that eating this food actually commends him to God! (v. 8) That was the issue. If you eat that food because you think you need that food to get right with God as the pagans believed, then you are not believing in the sufficiency of Christ. This makes sense of Paul’s strong statement “so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed.” (v.11) The weak brother, fresh out of paganism, sees you eat meat offered to an idol (which you’re free to do because an idol is nothing) and then he mistakenly thinks that even though he is now a Christian, he still needs to keep eating the “sacred” food in order to be sure that he’s covered all his bases and is saved. Syncretism! So the great danger is that the weak brother will add to faith alone, not that the weak brother will be contaminated by idol food.

So the application should be this: Although you are free to abstain from alcoholic beverages, you should drink at least every once in a while, otherwise weak brothers will think that they need to abstain in order to commend themselves to God and they will be legalists and be destroyed.

In our culture, no one is tempted to think that drinking scotch wins the pleasure of God, but lots of people think they are holy because they don’t. Therefore, abstinence is the deadlier option.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 2, 2006 10:00 pm

    cheers.

  2. May 2, 2006 10:36 pm

    I thought you (and some of the other folks involved on here) might appreciate this article… which is totally unrelated to your post :)

    http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god_article.php?id=7120

  3. May 2, 2006 10:37 pm

    Awww, I can’t leave a good like, let me try that again:

    On church blogs

  4. May 7, 2006 2:59 pm

    You said:

    “The weak brother, fresh out of paganism, sees you eat meat offered to an idol (which you’re free to do because an idol is nothing) and then he mistakenly thinks that even though he is now a Christian, he still needs to keep eating the “sacred” food in order to be sure that he’s covered all his bases and is saved.”

    Would a modern example go something like this?

    The weak brother, fresh out of the Friday night bar scene, sees you refusing to take a drink, (which you are free to do since we are no worse off if we do drink, and no better off if we do not) and then he mistakenly thinks that now he is a Christian, he needs to stop drinking beer on Friday nights in order to be sure he’s covered all his bases in adopting new “christian” behaviors, and is saved.

    Syncretism! So the great danger is that the weak brother will add his “not drinking beer” to the faith alone gospel, not that the weak brother will be contaminated by Friday night beer and led into drunkeness.

    By the way, as a side note, I am so glad we do NOT have to drink scotch to win the pleasure of our God. Yuck!

    But, I will take a nice, full-bodied port in front of a roaring fire surrounded by good friends any frosty winter evening…

    Or, a nicely-cilled wine-cooler at a hot, dusty 4th of July picnic…

    Or a pitcher of dark wheaty brew alongside a spicy pizza at a small corner table talking low to a certain handsome long-haired man I know…

  5. May 7, 2006 10:29 pm

    P.S. Thank you for a. writing this and b. practicing it. It was very helpful to me at least, when Carl and I were struggling through his teetotaling situation. I was *very* shocked when he decided it wasn’t going to be the end of our relationship if I had beers occasionally, and even more bowled over when he decided to indulge. I know that your game night had some effect on this, as did his roommates’ excellent witness as far as showing him how to drink in moderation (something I don’t think he really understood until mid-college). So, thanks for being the person from church we’re historically most likely to see at the bars :)

  6. May 10, 2006 12:11 am

    Jadeejf,

    It’s my pleasure. :-)

    Mike–>

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