1 Corinthians 8:9 – A Stumbling Block

Within the Christian community there are those with strong faith and those whose faith is weak.  The Apostle Paul was concerned about the right relationship between these two types of believers.  He knew that those who stood strong could do things that those of weaker convictions simply couldn’t do.  Paul related this contrast to the partaking of various types of food, but at its core was where these believers came from and how they previously worshiped other gods.

His preface for this understanding comes from 1 Corinthians 8:5 and 1:Corinthians 8:7 in which he said:

 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—

However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.

The people of Corinth came out of a pagan culture in which they worshiped many gods.  In this practice they engaged in offering food to the idols which represented these gods and indulged in sexual immorality as a way of supposedly honoring them.  Because of their long association with these customs, many of the new Corinthian believers had much to learn and to change to walk in righteousness with their new faith in Christ.

Despite this history, there were also those who “got it.”  They became strong believers without the struggles that others faced.  The problem was that this became problematic for the weaker ones.  These strong believers understood that what they ate or drank meant nothing; it was where their heart and loyalty was to the Lord Jesus.  However, when they lived out this conviction in front of others who had not yet gained such understanding, it caused others to fall.  This is why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8:9:

But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

Their actions indeed did become a stumbling block.  The weaker believers in seeing the example of the stronger ones couldn’t hold their faith together and would slip into idol worship.  Paul condemned this by calling out the stronger ones as having sinned.  We see this in 1 Corinthians 8:12:

Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

And they didn’t just sin against their brothers; they sinned against Christ for this action.  In response, Paul declared that he would never engage in practices such as eating meat offered to idols if they had the slightest chance of making others stumble.

Probably the greatest issue we face in this regard today is with drinking alcohol.  I’ll just state immediately that I don’t believe Christians should drink any alcohol.  The problem within the church is that there is some number of believers who have come out of an alcohol or drug background.  They’ve found Christ, but God has chosen not to deliver them completely from the addiction.  To combat this, many go to programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery.  It’s an ongoing struggle for them.  They need continual reinforcement and encouragement to stay sober because those substances were, in effect, their gods, and they exert a strong pull even after salvation.

As a result, it is best for such people to avoid gatherings where there is liquor, because the temptation often remains.  Avoidance is a strategy that works for them.  Obviously, the answer is for their faith to grow in such a way that this isn’t a problem; but that’s a process that for some takes time.

If they happen to be in a church that tolerates alcohol, or worse, where the leadership indulges, e.g. the pastor, then this is a snare waiting to snap its unsuspecting prey.  It’s exactly this situation that Paul speaks of in this passage.

Why would anyone professing strong faith in Christ drink in the first place?  My suspicion is that they see wine being consumed in the Bible and think it’s okay for today.  There are a couple problems with this.  One is that wine was part of the culture where potable water may have been less available than it is for us.  Two is that there is solid Biblical evidence based on the Hebrew and Greek words describing wine that it was either alcoholic or alcohol-free.  If this distinction isn’t noted and understood, then a wrong interpretation may come about.

The best resource for gaining insights to this issue is The Full Life Study Bible which has since come to be known as the Fire Bible.  (Be sure to note that the General Editor is Donald Stamps.)  The review at this link: https://viralbeliever.com/fire-bible-review/ discusses the Bible.  It has numerous comments concerning the types of wine and is excellent for gaining a good background on this issue.

Mature believers have an obligation to be a good example.  If we make wrong choices, we can cause others to sin.  Surely, that’s the last thing we would ever wish to do.

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