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LIFE > Life in the World > Drinkers of Wine > Christian Freedom > Question of Freedom


In two previous articles it has been established that the believer is free in Christ (see: Free in Christ), but that some new believers do not properly understand this concept of freedom (see: The Weak Brother). At times this raises a dilemma relative to the exercise of freedom. How is true freedom in Christ to be practiced in the presence of a weak brother?

In Romans 14:21 Paul writes: “it is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.” For a believer today to use this verse to seek to limit another believer’s freedom is to wrest the verse from its context, ignoring the original problem. It makes a modern application that was not intended, nor is justified. Yet this is exactly what is done.

The verse is used in relationship to specific problems over which two believers may differ. Often the abstainer refers to this verse in an attempt to take away another’s freedom to drink because the one using the verse does not accept the morality of drinking himself. It is acceptable to abstain, but it is improper to twist Scripture to compel another to conform to one’s own abstinence. The modern application of this verse has nothing to do with being weak or strong but reveals a compulsion by some to think that one’s own practice should be the norm for other believers, even the norm that is proper for separate-living and spiritual believers. How far removed is this from the perspective of the Pharisees who found fault with the drinking of Jesus? Not far!

To the Corinthians Paul provides specific examples of the more general principle of freedom that he presented in Romans and Colossians (see: Free in Christ). In I Corinthians 8:1-13 we find the situation of believers in the temple of an idol eating meat that had been offered in sacrifice to the idol. For Paul this is acceptable because “an idol is nothing in the world, and there is no other God but one” (v. 4). He adds:  “Food does not commend us to God” (v. 8)—spirituality is not related to the menu.

Paul assumes this position because he has knowledge; he writes: “we know” (vs. 1, 4), “you who have knowledge” (v. 10), and “there is not in everyone that knowledge” (v. 7). Because of Paul’s knowledge, he is free to eat the meat, even eat the meat in a pagan temple. He has no inhibition, no scruples. Knowledge does not enslave; it liberates (Jo. 8:32).

But this is not the case for the weak. The eating is identified by the weak as worship of idols on the part of the strong. The weak believer is not able to make a distinction between eating the meat and worshiping the idol. In his mind they are one and the same (I Cor. 8:7). Perhaps, this is because he previously worshiped the idol by eating the meat.

At this point the strong is to be guarded in his conduct. If the weak believer is “embolden” (v. 10) to eat the meat, because of the influence of the strong, then, in his mind, he has sinned and has become guilty of idolatry.  Therefore, in this way the liberty of the strong has “become a stumbling block” (v. 9) to the weak. He has caused the weak to lose his footing. And the strong has sinned “against Christ” (v. 12) by wounding the conscience of the weak (v. 11) and causing that conscience to be defiled (v. 7). It is wrong for the strong to encourage the weak to do that which for the weak is sin. The principle is the same as that found in Romans.

The cause of this situation is that “there is not in everyone that knowledge” (I Cor. 8:7). The knowledge is an understanding of the oneness of God and the nothingness of an idol (v. 4). The need, of course, is for the weak believer to be informed. He needs to come to a proper understanding of the Christian faith in all of its dimensions and implications. The strong is to show love, for “love edifies” (v. 1) or builds up. Surely the edification is to be understood in the sense of imparting knowledge, for love is not an emotional affection that is devoid of action.

In I Corinthians 10:23-35 the situation is the eating of meat bought in the market place, and the meat had been offered to idols. As in the other passages Paul expresses his Christian freedom, in this context a freedom to eat the meat. He instructs: “Eat whatever is sold in the market place” (v. 25), and “Eat whatever is set before you” (v. 27). Pointedly he states: “All things are lawful for me” (v. 23). Paul understands the freedom he has.

In all things, “whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31). What God has provided is to be enjoyed for “the earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness” (v. 26). Paul clearly and definitely affirms liberty. It is possible for Paul to eat meat that had been offered to an idol and eat it to the glory of God. For Paul, the meat is not related to the idol, but is an example of God’s ownership of all things and of His provision for His own. His freedom reflects his spiritual comprehension.

But in deference to the conscience of one who points out that the food was offered to idols, Paul says: “Do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you” (I Cor. 10:28). He adds: “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God” (v. 32). Paul says he is “not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many” (v. 33). For the one whose understanding is at the elementary level Paul willingly and lovingly limits his freedom. All things may be lawful, but “all things are not helpful” (v. 23). Liberty carries with it the responsibility to exercise it appropriately.

Again the problem is a lack of knowledge. The one who objects foes not understand that all of creation belongs to God. Edification is needed. That is why Paul writes: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things edify: (I Cor. 10:23). Paul desires to do that which edifies, that which builds up, that which instructs. With the edification the weak is enabled to move beyond the elementary understanding and to evaluate and pattern his conduct in light of knowledge. Knowledge enables one to move from weakness to strength, to experience the freedom that is in Christ.

Go, eat your bread with joy,
and drink your wine with a merry heart;
for God has already accepted your works.
Eccles. 9:7

Return to: Christian Freedom; Next Article: A Modern Example

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