Tag Archives: 1 Corinthians 8

Are you a Professional Weaker Brother or Sister? Titus 3:9-15, Part 3

14 Aug

Are you a Professional Weaker Brother or Sister? (Are thinking, huh?) I didn’t make up the title, but I’ve talked about it before, and I think it bears repeating in this series on Titus 3:9-15. If you are jumping into the middle of the series, I encourage you to go back and start with part 1 and then read part 2 before continuing here.

In this series we’ve been talking about how Christians can get along in a church family, even when they disagree. Sadly, Christians through the ages have developed a very divisive approach to various situations, and that approach has been described as The Professional Weaker Brother or Sister. 

The first problem is that Professional Weaker Brothers or Sisters do not believe they are weak, they believe they are right.  They believe they have the one and only correct view of the issue, and everyone else should view things their way.  They can make it seem like they are very spiritual and very committed to God, and in fact more committed to God than people who disagree with them.  They can promote abstinence in all kinds of situations, and condemn Christians who feel free to partake. 

In the situation Paul refers to in Romans 14-15 and 1st Corinthians 8 and 10, the Professional Weaker Brother or Sister would say, “eating meat sacrificed to idols is sin, and you should never do so.”  Another variation of the Professional Weaker Brother and Sister is “because you don’t want to be a stumbling block to anyone, you should always just abstain. Period.  It is wrong to eat meat.  Christians don’t eat meat.”  And then they try to convince others of their view, and judge those who disagree. 

Do you see what the Professional Weaker Brother or Sister has done?  They have totally scrapped what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 10 that eating the meat sacrificed to idols was okay.  And they have made a new law where Paul never made a law.  Their new law is “eating meat sacrificed to idols is a sin, and Christians should never do it.”  What is it called when you make a law and try to bind other people to it?  Legalism.  That is the very thing Jesus so strongly confronted the Pharisees about.  They had made tons of extra laws and were forcing the people to follow their laws, and God’s law essentially got lost in the process.

That’s very similar to what was happening in the church in Crete, as Paul mentioned in Titus 1:10-16. So-called Christians were telling the church that they needed to practice circumcision in order to be good Christians. Paul says, no way.

We Christians, then, should not be Professional Weaker Brothers and Sisters.  In fact, we should be like Jesus, and we should lovingly confront the Professional Weaker Brothers and Sisters, encouraging them to grow in their faith.  There is a reason, I believe that Paul uses the word “weak” for the person is that is less free, and that he uses the word “strong” for the person who is freer.  I don’t believe Paul is saying “weak” means “bad” or “wrong.”  Please don’t read me saying that Paul is teaching that those who are strong in faith are better or good.  All are equally loved and valued in God’s eyes.  But I do believe that there is an undertone in Paul’s teaching that those who are weaker should desire to move toward a position of strength.

The main idea is that those who are weak are not be to judgmental and self-righteous against those who are strong and free.  Likewise those who are strong in faith are to be self-controlled and humble about the use of their freedom, willing and quick to practice abstinence in a heartbeat, so as not to hurt those who are weak.  This is vital in a church family.  In our Faith Church family, we have plenty of areas where we disagree with one another.  That’s normal.  That’s families for you.  And in Faith Church we have those more on the weaker cautious side of faith, and we have those on the stronger freer side of faith.  I bet your church family is just like ours. Let us love one another with graciousness, even when we disagree.

Do you have strong or weak faith? – Titus 3:9-15, Part 2

13 Aug

Do people in your church family have differences of opinion about how Christians should behave? In my church there are plenty of different views. Should Christians drink alcohol? Should people view R-rated movies or MA-rated TV shows? Should people purchase luxury items? Should we vote Republican or Democrat, or maybe even a third-party? Should Christians wear two-piece bathing suits? On and on the list goes.

As we saw in the first post in our series on Titus 3:9-15, the Christians in the churches in Crete were having some disagreements too. To better understand the issue that Paul was addressing in the church in Crete, through his letter to Titus, we’re going to hit the pause button on Titus for a few posts and look at a related topic Paul wrote about elsewhere.  Paul writes about the concept of the weak and the strong in Romans 14 and 15, and in 1st Corinthians 8 and 10.  In Romans he calls it weak or strong faith, and in 1st Corinthians he calls it weak or strong conscience.  His principle is the same.  It goes like this: when it comes to various matters in life, some Christians have a weak faith approach, and some Christians have a strong faith approach. 

Those who are weak in faith, or weak in conscience, lean toward the side of not participating in a certain action because they believe it is wrong.  Another word for these people is “cautious.”

Those who are strong in faith, or strong in conscience, lean toward to the side of participating in a certain action because they believe it is okay.  Another word for these people is “free.”

Cautious or free, neither is in and of itself sinful, but if the cautious become too cautious, and if the free become too free, they can become sinful.

Paul uses a real-life situation in the first century Roman Empire to illustrate what he is talking about: meat sacrificed to idols.  To worship in some Greco-Roman temples, people would bring animals to be sacrificed, its meat would be cooked and eaten by the priests of that temple.  Leftover meat would be owned by the offerer of the sacrifice, perhaps to be used in a feast, or sold in a meat market.  Christians had access, then, to meat that had been sacrificed to idols.  Should they eat or should they abstain?  It was a big controversy in the church, because, of course they don’t want to participate in idol worship. But just because they ate that meat at a later party, or bought it in a meat market, did that mean those Christians were somehow complicit in idol worship?

Paul says Yes…and No. If you want, read his teaching the passages mentioned above. I’ll just summarize it here.

First of all he says, idols are a sham.  There is only one true God.  But, he says, not everyone knows this.  Some people from that culture used to be idol worshipers, and now they have become Christians. Those people, he says, “are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food, they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol,” it defiles their conscience, which is weak, or cautious, and they believe they are sinning against God.    

On the other hand, he says, food is just food.  It doesn’t bring us closer to God, as the pagans believed, to sacrifice meat to the gods.  Thus there are Christians who eat it, enjoy it, and thank God for it, and they are not sinning against God.

The issue to Paul is that those who have a strong conscience, who are more free, have no spiritual dilemma eating the meat, and thus could become a stumbling block to those who are weak.  Paul says, don’t be so arrogant and bold about your strong faith, that you destroy the faith of the weak.  It is better to abstain.  But is Paul saying they should always abstain?  Is he making a blanket condemnation of eating meat?  Not at all.

Then he says a bit more in 1st Cor 10, starting at verse 23: “Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising an issue about it.”  In other words, if you get invited to a meal, even if it is at the home of an unbeliever whom you could suspect of serving meat that had originally been sacrificed to idols, don’t bring it up.  Don’t say, “Uh, I’m a Christian, I don’t eat meat sacrificed to idols, so I need to ask you, is this meat clean?”  Don’t get self-righteous about it.  Instead, Paul says, just eat it.  “Don’t raise questions of conscience,” he says.  Just eat it. 

But, he clarifies.  If someone else volunteers the information, “Hey, this meat was offered in sacrifices,” then do not eat it, so as to guard the other person’s conscience, as they are likely weak in faith, and thus by abstaining, you will be guarding your own conscience too.  In Romans 14-15, he will go on to say, that abstaining, which is the act of sacrificing one’s own freedom for another, is a loving act.

So in a church family, there are people who are weak, and there are people who are strong. It’s like that in every church. Christians who have differences of opinion about matters. The same was true in the churches in Crete. Those who are on the weak/cautious side, should not judge or condemn those on the strong/free side, and vice versa. Also, those on the strong/free side should be ready to abstain from a certain action out of love for those who might think that action is sinful. Check back in to the next post, as we’ll dig a bit further into how the interplay of the weak and the strong works out in the life of a church.

Bikinis and Bibles – 1st Corinthians 8 & 10:23-11:1

5 Jun

Last week I introduced The Great Bikini Debate and Professional Weaker Brothers.  I never imagined I’d be preaching a sermon which featured bikinis.  But this past Sunday that’s exactly what happened.  Bibles and Bikinis.  Think they don’t go together?  Think they shouldn’t go together?  I envisioned a scenario where those two things might go together.  I also envision a very disagreeable response to that scenario!

So we had a great discussion about this after worship on Sunday.  If you weren’t there I wish you could have been.  What we talked about was how many things Christians disagree about, and what we are supposed to do when we disagree.  I hope I conveyed Paul’s teaching from 1 Corinthians 8 & 10 clearly enough to give the principle that Paul teaches Christians who disagree.

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So what about bikinis?  Should you or shouldn’t you? Won’t bikini-wearers be stumbling blocks?

Are you a Professional Weaker Brother?  Should you be?  How can you change?

If you’d like we can continue the discussion here.  Feel free to comment below!

The Great Bikini Debate and Professional Weak People

31 May

swimIt’s pool and beach season, and that means it is once again time for The Great Bikini Debate.  Should Christians wear them or shouldn’t they?  Our culture has come a long way from the days of the picture above, where a badged beach patrol measured women’s suits to make sure they were legal!

When you consider the various cultures around the world where it is the norm for women to be topless and men to be bottomless, who gets to decide what is okay?  In the context of the church, this is quite a debate centering on a number of social issues.

I was at my denomination’s national conference this week, and thanks to one of my pastoral colleagues, I learned a new term: the professional weaker brother.

We were talking about how people can make unnecessary additions to the good news of Jesus.  In our denomination that addition has most clearly come in the form of how people who follow Jesus are to handle the use of beverage alcohol.  Historically we have been a “prohibition” or “abstinence” church, and our denomination’s book of order states that members of our churches should hold to abstinence as “the only responsible position” to the use of alcohol.  In 2008, an initiative to change the “only” to “most” narrowly failed to receive the three-quarters majority vote needed to make that kind of adjustment to our book of order.

The reasons for the prohibition against the use of beverage alcohol in my denomination are varied, but the concern of the group that was discussing this yesterday around the breakfast table was that by requiring people to adhere to a standard that is not sustained by Scripture we have added an unnecessary burden to the Gospel.  Why would we do this?  As I ask this question, let me also be clear that I am deeply grateful for the Evangelical Congregational Church, and it’s history and theology that has been faithful to the mission of God. In commenting about this particular concern, the heart in that breakfast discussion was a grace-filled desire to see our denomination become even more faithful to the mission of God.

Lest I seem to be harping on two issues, swimwear and alcohol, I want to draw attention to the fact that the principles in play here are much larger than a couple specific issues.  In Paul’s day the issue was whether or not people in the church should eat food that had been sacrificed to idols.  It was a rather complex issue with few easy answers. So Paul takes some time to walk his readers through a loving response, and in so doing teaches some wonderful principles that could be helpful to us.

Paul very clearly teaches about two kinds of Christians that he saw in the churches in cities like Rome and Corinth in his day:  The Weak and The Strong.  He was very concerned for the weak, that their new, underdeveloped faith would be crushed by the strong.  In our sermon tomorrow, we’ll look further at what he was talking about.  To address this, Paul said that the strong should not be a stumbling block to the weak.  Before we gather for worship tomorrow morning at Faith Church (9:30am), I want to ask you if it is possible that you have been a stumbling block?  The argument that some use against the wearing of bikinis is that the bikini wearer will be a stumbling block to the men at the pool or beach.  But is that what Paul was talking about?

As I prepare this sermon, I also realize that our church culture in 2014, though we have found many similarities between ourselves and the Christians at Corinth, is also different from the church culture in Corinth in 55-60 AD.  I wonder if it is because some people have become Professional Weaker Brothers or Sisters.  Are you a Professional Weaker Bro or Sis?  If so, you may be one of those who are adding to the Good News, the Gospel.  Again, please join us as we talk further about this tomorrow.