Conscience Sensitivity

Conscience Sensitivity

Pastor Don Carpenter

A Beautiful Mess / 1 Corinthians 8:1–13

As we continue our study of Paul’s epistle to the struggling church at Corinth, we enter into a new area of concern – the treatment of newborn Christians, or weaker brothers.

So far we have seen Paul rebuke the carnality of division in chapters 1-4. We saw the importance of the church’s testimony and purity in chapters 5-6. We have also learned how men and women are to relate to each other as Christians.

Today we study the subject of disputable matters. We will discover that just because our consciences are free about a matter does not meat that we are automatically free to act on such a matter. Let us learn how to treat the weaker brother, or the one with more convictions that you have.

In the present passage, he uses a much simpler argument. He says that, in Corinth, there were people who all their lives, up until now, had really believed in the gods of Greece and Rome; and they could not quite rid themselves of a lingering belief that an idol really was something, although it was a false something. Whenever they ate meat offered to idols, they had qualms of conscience. They could not help it; instinctively they felt that it was wrong. So, Paul argues that, if you say that there is absolutely no harm in eating meat offered to idols, you are really hurting and bewildering the conscience of these people who had a simpler view of the situation. His ?nal argument is that, even if a thing is harmless for you, when it hurts someone else, it must be given up, for Christians must never do anything which causes someone else to stumble.1

1 Barclay, W. (2002). The Letters to the Corinthians (3rd ed., p. 89). Westminster John Knox Press.

We must have the right attitude

Meat was offered to idols before being served in temples’ dining halls (often as part of worship) or being used for communal meals; some of the meat served at the marketplace had been offered to idols. One who ate in a temple would know the source of the meat; one who ate at a pagan friend’s home could never be certain. In pagan cities with large Jewish populations, Jews normally had their own markets.

Palestinian Jewish teachers debated what to do in many cases of uncertainty (such as untithed food), but would never have taken a chance on food that might have been offered to an idol. They believed that Jews outside Palestine unwittingly compromised with idolatry when invited to pagans’ banquets for their sons, even if they brought their own food. Following such teachings strictly (as some did) would have greatly circumscribed their relationships with pagan colleagues. The matter was more troubling for Christians converted from pagan backgrounds: could they meet over lunch with business associates or fellow members of their trade guild, or attend a reception in a temple for a relative’s wedding?

In chapters 8–10, Paul works on an elaborate compromise between two factions in the Corinthian church. The more educated and socially elite group, who unlike the poor ate meat regularly and not just when it was doled out at pagan festivals, had well-to-do friends who would serve meat. They probably represent the liberal faction, who consider themselves “strong” and the socially lower group “weak.”1

1 Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (1 Co 8:1–13). InterVarsity Press.

1 Corinthians 8:1–3 KJV
Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.

And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.

But if any man love God, the same is known of him.

A. Knowledge is not enough

1 Corinthians 6:12 KJV
All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

Likely another slogan used by the Corinthians (compare 6:12; 7:1). This knowledge may refer to general knowledge about idols or to knowledge given by the Spirit. They used this knowledge to justify consuming meat sacrificed to idols.1

1 Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., Whitehead, M. M., Grigoni, M. R., & Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (1 Co 8:1). Lexham Press.

B. Knowledge inflates the ego

8:2 If anyone thinks he knows anything Some Corinthian believers assumed that knowledge was the true sign of spirituality. They did not understand that knowledge without love indicates a lack of knowledge.1

1 Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., Whitehead, M. M., Grigoni, M. R., & Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (1 Co 8:2). Lexham Press.

C. Ego exposes one’s lack of real knowledge

D. Love for God helps put everything into perspective

Ephesians 4:15 KJV
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

It has well been said, “Truth without love is brutality, but love without truth is hypocrisy.” Knowledge is power and it must be used in love. But love must always be controlled by knowledge (see Paul’s prayer in Phil. 1:9–11). The strong believers in the church had knowledge, but they were not using their knowledge in love. Instead of building up the weak saints, the strong Christians were only puffing up themselves1

1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 595). Victor Books.

There are some things many Christians know

A. About other so-called gods

1 Corinthians 8:4–6 KJV
As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.

For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)

But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

B. About inanimate objects

1 Corinthians 8:8 KJV
But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.

We must not cause the weaker brother to stumble

. The word conscience simply means “to know with,” and it is used thirty-two times in the New Testament. Conscience is that internal court where our actions are judged and are either approved or condemned (Rom. 2:14–15). Conscience is not the law; it bears witness to God’s moral law. But the important thing is this: conscience depends on knowledge. The more spiritual knowledge we know and act on, the stronger the conscience will become.1

1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 595). Victor Books.

A. There are those who have weak consciences

1 Corinthians 8:7 KJV
Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.

B. “Weak” in this passage is not necessarily inferior, but rather more tender

Some Christians have weak consciences because they have been saved only a short time and have not had opportunity to grow. Like little babes in the home, they must be guarded carefully. Other saints have weak consciences because they will not grow. They ignore their Bibles and Christian fellowship and remain in a state of infancy (1 Cor. 3:1–4; Heb. 5:11–14). But some believers remain weak because they are afraid of freedom. They are like a child old enough to go to school, who is afraid to leave home and must be taken to school each day.

The conscience of a weak Christian is easily defiled (1 Cor. 8:7), wounded (1 Cor. 8:12), and offended (1 Cor. 8:13). For this reason, the stronger saints must defer to the weaker saints and do nothing that would harm them. It might not harm the mature saint to share a feast in an idolatrous temple, but it might harm his weaker brother. First Corinthians 8:10 warns that the immature believer might decide to imitate his stronger brother and thus be led into sin.1

1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 595). Victor Books.

C. These tender Christians can be stumbled by your actions

1 Corinthians 8:9–10 KJV
But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.

For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;

  1. Your actions can cause them to sin against their own consciences

James 4:17 – Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

Romans 14:23 – And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.

  1. Tender Christians can have their lives destroyed by a cascading spiral into sin

1 Corinthians 8:11 KJV
And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?

  1. If you cause a weaker brother to stumble, you sin against Christ

1 Corinthians 8:12 KJV
But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.

  1. It is better to give up what is lawful than to cause someone to stumble

1 Corinthians 8:13 KJV
Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

It is important to note that the stronger believer defers to the weaker believer in love only that he might help him to mature. He does not “pamper” him; he seeks to edify him, to help him grow. Otherwise, both will become weak.

We are free in Christ, but we must take care that our spiritual knowledge is tempered by love, and that we do not tempt the weaker Christian to run ahead of his conscience. Where knowledge is balanced by love, the strong Christian will have a ministry to the weak Christian, and the weak Christian will grow and become strong.1

1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 596). Victor Books.

Exported from Logos Bible Software, 12:35 PM June 9, 2022.