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Leviticus 19:14 (NKJV) 14 You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
1 Corinthians 8:7-13 (NKJV) 7 However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.
9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? 11 And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? 12 But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
Todays’ message is a simple study in what it means to be a Christian, and how we behave towards one another. Being saved can be characterized by many things, but the root of our faith is emulating Jesus Christ who is both Lord and Master. In spite of all the convictions of our faith, we need to be reminded especially during times like this, that being Christlike means to be kindhearted towards people. Failure to do this produces the kind of optics that are we see in the news almost everyday. Things that bring shame to the cause of Christ. People being stumbling blocks.
John 8:31 (NKJV) 31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.
John 13:34-35 (NKJV) 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Real discipleship is: 1) Living in His Words. 2) Living out His Love
I don’t know if you know this or not, but Christians can sometimes behave badly. And during these moments of crisis, what we believe, and how we behave goes on display even more so.
We have all seen stories in the news about how pastors, churches, and Christians have been responding to the crisis, and the quarantine. Some are stories about heroism, people rising to the occasion and modeling Christ. People giving, comforting, and helping.
However, there are some who in the name of God have done some things that are shall we say questionable, and of course the news media loves to tell us about it. Lest I sound like I am judging I won’t go into detail. But you have seen the stories.
Thinking about all of this I thought it might be a good time to talk about how the Apostle Paul dealt with the principles of Christian liberties, and how it is quite possible to cause harm by expressing those perceived freedoms to people who might have a negative view of our faith because of it.
Paul calls this being a stumbling block. I call it being a stumbling blockhead. (Just kidding, or am I).
So what is a stumbling block? It is something that is deliberately placed in someone’s path in order to trip them up.
Lev. 19:14 is a commandment that shows God’s contempt for people doing that do this. (Can you imagine? God had to command people not to curse people who cannot hear, and not to place stones in the path of people who cannot see). Geez!
So this idea that a person can become stumbling block made it’s way into the culture of the Christian Church. Paul is addressing a question asked by believers at Corinth about whether or not Christians should eat meat that had been offered to idol gods. At that time idol worship was really a thing. (Turns out that it still is). Anyway, there were people who would eat the fruit, or meat that had been used in idol worship. Sometimes they would actually eat this food in or near a temple dedicated to a false deity.
(Christians don’t serve other gods, right?) So, among Christians this issue was very real, and a very contentious debate ensued. It was such a problem that they needed a decision from an Apostle, in this case Paul, that would settle the matter once and for all. Should we eat this food? Is it a sin? Should we be associated with other ‘so-called’ Christians who are doing this?
The real issue here was food, or even idols. This was really an issue about Christian freedom, and Paul dealt with it as such. Let’s look at his answer point by point because it still has many applications today. This is conflict resolution at it’s best.
Paul makes a case with two main points that can be used in many applications where Christians disagree with each other.
- Knowledge does not always provide answers to spiritual questions. In fact what you think you ‘know’ might make things worse.
Paul says that it is not knowledge but love that will bring peace among Christians who have disputes with each other, or with non-believers. Therefore we should strive to show love to each before we attempt to show how knowledgeable we think we are. When there are differences among believers, it should never get to the point where we no longer care about each other’s well being. When we do this it becomes a stumbling block in their walk with God. This is a very serious offence!
- We know that there is only One God. Therefore if someone is eating food that had been offered to a false god, it really shouldn’t matter. Maybe they just are just hungry and needed food.
Here Paul is attempting to bring some logic and common sense into the discussion. ‘Why are we arguing so passionately about nothing? Are we really ready to throw a brother or sister under the bus over this? Really?’
1 Corinthians 8:7 (NIV) 7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge.
Point # 2 makes it clear that knowledge is not the answer by itself. If you have knowledge about something that liberates you, you should never let that liberty come between you and your brother or sister in Christ. Nor should you allow your knowledge or freedom bring shame to the cause of Christ.
If a person’s conscience bothers them about something they are doing (like eating this food), it might be because they don’t have the same knowledge, or walk in the same ‘freedom’ that you do. That does not make you better or worse. The same is true for them.
1 Corinthians 8:9 (NIV) 9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
Let’s say your conscience does not bother you when you do something that someone else refuses to do for religious reasons. (We are not talking about obvious sins that are in the bible). It is possible that your education, experience, or knowledge has freed you from erroneous doctrine, or harmful thinking about it. Paul’s argument is that you are still not truly free if you fail to consider what effect your actions are having on those around you. We should consider other Christians, and even non-believers when we act publicly. Our goal should be to glorify God, not to cause problems.
Christians should NEVER let their freedoms interfere with others. In fact one way of showing God’s love is by showing tolerance with others. Isn’t that what Jesus did for us?
Paul said the weak, (that is, in conscience), can be destroyed by our perceived knowledge. This of course would be a sin, and would negate the fact that Christ also died for them. So, Paul hits them with this:
1 Corinthians 8:13 (NIV) 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.
Paul’s reasoning here can be applied to so many issues that Christians have with one another. This way of thinking could also go a long way to begin bridging the gaps with non-believers as well. Remember that Paul also said that believers should have a good reputation with those who are not in church as well, (See 1 Tim. 3:7). The problem is that many of us would rather see people suffer or even die than to be wrong about something. That is not being a good Christian, that’s insane.
So to conclude, this crisis affords us the opportunity to show who we really are, and what we really believe. I pray that we will use it as an opportunity to help someone rather than to condemn someone. I hope that our actions will cause non-believers to think of us as a help and not a hinderance to our communities.
I hope that our decisions cause people to see the love of God and not cause them to vow never to set foot in a church again. To be clear, there are those that will judge us harshly no matter what we do. But there are so many more who can be touched by our gestures. Let’s decide to never become a stumbling block to anyone, but instead to become a peacemaker. This is what the Lord Himself would be doing in this crisis.
Bishop Horace Ransom Jr. is the Senior Pastor and Founder of New Covenant Church International in Detroit, Michigan. He is a Jurisdictional Bishop and serves on the Board of Presbytery for the Jabula International Network, North America. Bishop Ransom is an outstanding teacher of the Word of God with a passion for challenging believers to become the best that they can be. Faith, Purpose and the Kingdom of God are frequently the subject matter of his dissertation.