Jan 5, 2011

Weak Brethren IX

"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; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?" (vs. 10, 11)

In the previous chapter the above verses were analyzed. The "weak brother" was identified as being the pagan idolater. Paul warns the Christians, or the strong ones, against reinforcing heathens in their heathenism, saying that their conduct may be a means of keeping the idolater from becoming enlightened, or a Christian, and thus be a hindrance to his salvation, a means of him finally perishing.

It was further shown that Paul referred to these pagans, these weak ones, as "brothers," not because he viewed them as Christians, but because Paul wanted the Christians to feel a sense of brotherhood, in addition to neighborliness, in their attitudes and conduct towards the idolatrous heathen. It was shown that the Corinthians, like the Hebrews, called each other "brother," especially those members of the same idol temple. Paul did not want the Corinthian Christians to cease feeling a sense of brotherhood towards their former associates in the temple lodges. Just like Paul said to the Hebrews, "let brotherly love continue" (Heb. 13: 1), so Paul would say to these Corinthians, "let brotherly love continue" between you and your former pagan associates. Paul would advise that the Corinthian Christians, in relation to their heathen neighbors, to "count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother." (II Thess. 3: 15) They were not to look upon unbelieves as enemies, in much the same way Muslims look upon Christians, but as human brothers.

It was also shown in the previous chapter how "love for others" was the "prime directive," the chief characteristic, of Christians. This love for "neighbor" was to be seen as "fraternal." The "neighbor" was more than just one who lived near by, but a "brother," for "God has made of one nation all men," and "we are all God's offspring," all God's children, all members of the family of man, all brothers, as Paul taught to the Greeks in Athens. (Acts 17)

It is also interesting how Paul often links being "neighborly," in his epistles, with being "brotherly." For instance, Paul says, in Romans 13: 10, "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." Then, a few verses later, asks - "But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother?" (14: 10) It is not possible to disconnect the concepts of neighbor and brother. Thus, the "weak brother for whom Christ died" means all the same as the "weak neighbor for whom Christ died." It is a statement about Christ dieing for lost people, not for a certain kind of Christian. Paul said, in Romans 5: 6, that Christ died for those "without strength," or for the "weak," or for "the ungodly," and he does the same in this verse. What Paul says to Christians, in relation to the weak, is true in relation to every lost person. Any Christian may ask himself - "am I being a hindrance to the salvation of any sinner, for whom Christ died?"

The same kind of question and answer may be given in the context of Romans 14, where Paul also deals with "weak brothers," and where he warns against "offending" the "weak brother." Does this imply that this "brother" who is "offended" is a Christian or one who was previously saved? Can only saved people be "offended" (Rom. 14: 21) or have their consciences "defiled"? No, for unbelievers are often offended against the Christian message, and against Christian attitude and practice.

The major concern of Paul in this chapter is to:

1. Uphold the Jerusalem mandate which said: “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols...” (Acts 15: 19,20)

2. Encourage Christians not to do anything to prevent weak neighbors and brothers from coming to Christian knowledge (not help confirm them in their idolatry).

3. To teach Christians how to be prudent "soul winners" by being careful how their activities are perceived by their lost pagan neighbors. ("Abstaining from all appearance of evil")

4. To explain the full depth of what it means to "edify" and "love" your neighbor and brother as yourself. (Or, what is true brotherhood)

5. To keep the "prime objective" always before the Christian brotherhood –– the salvation of all pagans and all idolaters from their false religion to the religion and faith of Christ.

Paul spoke of using "any means" necessary to win the lost. Was not one of those means the use of such endearing terms such as "brother"? Was this not one of those same reasons why he used the term "brother" when addressing non-Christian Jews? Would it serve as a means to save pagans in Corinth for the Corinthian Christians to suddenly quit calling them "brothers," especially when they had previously done so all their lives?

“But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” (Verses 12,13)

If commentators read these words and inserted the word "neighbor" every time the word "brother" is used, then there perhaps would not be so much misunderstanding about who are "the weak brothers." Though Paul first used the term "brother" for the first time, in this chapter, in the preceding verse, this verse is, nevertheless, the first instance of Paul’s use of the term "brother" coupled with the term "weak."

The first thing to ascertain, in this verse, is the precise "sin" of the Corinthian Christians against the "weak brothers." The context reveals that it comprises those loveless attitudes and acts of Christians towards the heathen and which reinforce him in his heathenism. The heart searching question of Paul to the Christians is - "will you save sinners, or condemn them, by your actions?" The "wounding" of the conscience of the lost is the hardening of their senses against Christ and Christianity, of "offending" them. In the Old Testament the wise king said - "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle." (Prov. 18: 19)

Paul said - "if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." Had he said "neighbor" instead of brother, the meaning would be the same. The particular kind of eating referred to by Paul is evident from the context. He has already spoken of the Christian dining in the idol's temple, and eating the meat dedicated to idols, in the presence of the heathen, and how the heathen may thereby be reinforced in his heathen beliefs and practices. Paul is saying that he will not eat meat offered in sacrifice to idols as long as heathen are around who might interpret his eating as a countenancing of paganism. Paul is also undoubtedly saying - "I will not even dine in a heathen temple, lest some heathen get the wrong idea." He is not denying that he had the "right" or "freedom" to so dine, but that it would not be expedient or edifying, would not tend towards the salvation of the heathen.

Being "offended" against Christ, the gospel, and the Christian community, is the opposite of being "won" to Christ, the gospel, and the Christian community. To be "offended" against the gospel is to lose one's soul, to insure one's soul ultimately "perishes." Paul is not here reflecting a desire to save weak Christians, but weak pagans.


Bruce Oyen said...

Stephen, you wrote, "Paul warns the Christians, or the strong ones, against reinforcing heathens in their heathenism, saying that their conduct may be a means of keeping the idolater from becoming enlightened, or a Christian, and thus be a hindrance to his salvation, a means of him finally perishing."

My question is this:if God has sovereignly chose who will be saved, and if their salvation is absolutley certain, how can these persons be finally lost through someone else's behavior?

Stephen Garrett said...

Dear Bruce:

Thanks for your question. Paul is not saying that those who are the elect can perish. Paul believed God used means to call his elect to salvation. Both salvation and damnation, in scripture, are often viewed as second or instrumental causes.

Since none know who are the elect, prior to their being called, God would have us not consider the divine decree in our efforts in evangelism.

Certainly the stumblingblocks placed before sinners will succeed unless God wills otherwise. Those sinners who were saved in spite of stumblingblocks can only thank God for it.

From God's perspective, no Christian can keep one of God's elect from being called. But, from the perspective of means themselves, or second causes, they may be said to cause the salvation and damnation of men.

Paul is asking - "will you be a means in saving God's elect or a means in sealing the damnation of the non-elect?"