Online Bible Commentary
A Stumbling Block
1 Corinthians 8:9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (NKJV)
In the previous passage Paul addressed a question that had been asked of him from someone in the church in Corinth, likely in the context of a letter.
The question has to do with food “offered to idols” (v. 1a). The Corinth market place was lined with idols of mythological gods that the Greeks worshiped, gods such as Jupiter, Juno, Mercury, Ceres and Neptune.
This was not a question of whether Christians should offer up their food to idols, for they had the knowledge that they should not. The question was should Christians eat this food that was offered up to idols.
Paul’s response, in general, was that eating food that has been offered up to idols means nothing. We are not “better” Christians or “worse” Christians for eating it because we are not offering it up to idols. It is just food.
In this passage, Paul offers a caveat to this teaching. The caveat is that Christians should “be careful” in exercising this right to eat food offered up to idols (v. 9a). Christians should not become “a stumbling block to the weak” (v. 9b).
By this, Paul means that Christians should not be a hindrance to the spiritual growth of other, weaker, Christians. Jesus, Himself, taught this principal as recorded by Matthew: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea (Mt. 18:6).
So it is a very serious matter that Christians should not hinder the spiritual growth of weaker Christians, which Jesus referred to as “little ones”. Paul emphasizes the seriousness of this matter in this passage.
If a Christian is seen eating food offered up to idols, a weaker Christian, “someone with a weak conscience”, might be “emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols” (v. 10). “Christ died” for this weaker Christian, just as He died for stronger Christians (v. 11a). Again, this is a very serious matter to the Lord and is not to be taken lightly.
The stronger Christian may have the “knowledge” to eat food offered up to idols without it a affecting his spiritual growth. But the weaker Christian may have his faith “destroyed” by witnessing this act by the stronger Christian (v. 11b).
In setting this poor example for the weaker Christian, the stronger Christian sins against him, and also “against Christ” (v. 12). Paul concludes this passage with the statement “if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall” (v.13).
The teaching here is that Christians should not participate in activities that would hinder others in their walk with Christ. If they do so they have sinned against that person, and against Christ.
This can be a very difficult teaching to follow. We are called to mix with non-Christians in order to influence them for Christ. Jesus, in a very public manner, offered to eat with a tax collector at his home, even though tax collectors were thought of as being evil people at the time (Mk. 2:15).
If we are to reach the lost, we must have contact with them. In doing so, we must meet them where they are, and this is often a place where sin exists.
Nevertheless, we are called to be a good example for others. It may not be enough to just be a good example, however, if we are seen at a place where sin exists. We may be seen as participating in sinful behavior, even though we are not.
Therefore, the opening words of Paul in this passage become even more important. We should “be careful”, very careful, not to become a stumbling block to others.