Be Sensitive To Other Members    
1 Corinthians 8
By Paul Robison

                                      Someone has said: “There are some people who are able to see more than just the surface; they're able to feel what is not making the headlines.  The real need in Christian circles today is sensitivity to the needs of others” (Swindoll).  Let's image that you are a part of the church at Corinth, and you get an invitation from a friend which reads like this: "Antonius, son of Gaius, invites you to dine with him at the table of Lord Serapis in the Serapeion tomorrow."  Would you accept?  Now Serapis is a pagan god, and that's why he's called “Lord Serapis” in the invitation.  The Serapeion is the temple to Serapis, and in it are several dining rooms where banquets, wedding feasts, and funeral meals were often served.  This invitation meant that you'd get to have a little meat in your diet, which was a rarity in ancient days.  That meat also would have been the leftovers from an animal sacrifice offered on an altar to the god Serapis.  Now, knowing this information, would you have accepted Antonius' inviation?  It appears that there may have been three responses that our brothers in Corinth practiced.  Some said, “Yes, go, an idol has no existence, the meat will be good food, and it's good to socialize.”  Some other members said: “No, a pagan temple is a wicked setting, the meat is defiled, and it's good to shun all appearance of evil.”  Some other members probably thought: “I can sort of see both sides, I'm confused, why don't we ask the apostle Paul for his advice.”  1 Corinthians 8:1 begins: “Now concerning the things offered to idols ...”  Here was a topic where the apostle Paul knew that some brotherly sensitivity would be required.  Our theme today is: “Be sensitive to other members!”  How could the brothers at Corinth have such a problem eating meats that had been offered to idols?  Here's an insightful comment: “The world was full of demons, and they could enter people through what they ate [so the pagan thought].  So a god was invoked to protect those eating” (Barclay).  Now let's look at four ways that Paul encourages us to be more sensitive to other members.
 
First of all, don't act arrogantly.  Let's read verse 1-3: “Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge.  Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.  And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.  But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.”  “We know we all have knowledge” is probably a phrase being used by those brethren in Corinth who have no problems accepting invitations.  In some versions, these words are in quotation marks.  Paul doesn't refute this idea, but he does point out a danger.  When we are knowledgeable about something for some time, we often become puffed up and arrogant, especially toward other members who may not have our knowledge.  Paul sets the record straight by saying that love edifies, nobody knows everything in this life, and one's relationship with God is crucially important.  Don't act arrogantly!
 
Can we live out that message in our lives?  Have we been Christians so long that sometimes we forget the struggles we may have gone through in order to understand some things?  Someone made this good statement: “While knowledge may make a man look big, it is only love that can make him grow to his full stature” (Phillips).  Someone else added this insight: “... human wisdom, when unaware of its origins or limitations, could easily become unrestrained arrogance; this could, in turn, breed an insensitivity to those 'not in the know'” (Holladay).  Paul writes later in this letter that even if we have the spiritual gift of knowledge, but don't manifest love in using it, it profits us nothing (1 Cor. 13:2).  Don't act arrogantly!
 Here's a poem that might help us:
“Sometime when you're feeling important,
 Sometime when you're ego feels whole,
 Just follow these simple instructions,
 And see how it humbles your soul:
 Take a bucket and fill it with water,
 Put your hand in it up to your wrist.
 Then pull it out fast; and the hole that remains
 Is the size of how you'll be missed!
 Splash all you please as you enter
 And stir the water galore,
 But stop, and you'll see in a minute,
 The water settles back as before!” (Dennison Jr. in Swindoll).   
 
Someone else has remarked: “As the chest swells, the brain and the heart shrink” (McKenzie).  Don't act arrogantly!  Be sensitive to other members!
 
Then Paul advises us: Don't forget another's struggle!  Let's read verses 4-8: “Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one.  For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.  However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.  But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.”  We see that the specific knowledge which puffs up is the Christian belief in one God.  This is the God that created all things through the agency of His Son, the one true Lord, Jesus Christ.  But not all members at Corinth still understand this great knowledge, and they sin when they eat meat offered to idols because they still see this as honoring a god.  Let's note how some commentators view it:  1) “... many of those Christians at Corinth who received this letter had been Christians less than 4 years.  It isn't surprising [that some would] continue to have pagan baggage with them” (Oster); 2) “... there are in Corinth men who have eaten sacrificed food all their lives and have always thought of it as sacrificed to an idol having real existence, and thus bearing real spiritual significance and force. ... they have not ceased to believe in the reality of the spiritual beings ... and have not ceased to think of the food itself as having religious meaning” (Barrett).  Paul reminds those who can eat meats without any qualms:” Don't forget another's struggle!”  Just because you can do this with comfort doesn't mean everybody can.  In fact, what you do in freedom, others do in sin because they have weak consciences!
 
Can you get out of yourself long enough to consider another member's struggle?  Can you try to take his background, her maturity, and their perspective into consideration?  Note an important principle here: 1) “Paul lays down the principle, that, however safe the enlightened Christian may feel from the infection of heathen idols ..., he must do nothing which will hurt or confuse a brother whose conscience is not so enlightened nor so strong as his” (Barclay); 2) “These brethren had the liberty to eat whatever they wanted, although some did not accept that idea” (Roper).  We see clearly here that some members might have problems accepting an important truth for various reasons.  Don't forget another's struggle!  It's like Paul also says in Rom. 15:2: “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.”  Be sensitive to other members!
 
Next, Paul advises us: Don't cause another to lose their faith!  Let's look at verses 9-11: “But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.  For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols?  And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?”  One commentator describes what was going on in this way: “It appears that Paul has no problem with a mature Christian accepting an invitation to go to a meal in a banquet hall at a pagan temple.  The problem arises however, when a weak Christian, who has not fully embraced monotheism, sees these actions of a confident Christian and attempts to copy them.  The weak Christian will be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols, and thereby, because of his weakness in conscience, will in fact participate in an idolatrous activity” (Oster).  One brother's action is legitimate in and of itself can become wrong if it stimulates another brother or sister to sin against God.  Don't cause another to lose their faith! 
 
Now notice this interesting comment: “Because of the frequent abuse of the idea of stumbling block to the weak, it should be pointed out that stumbling block does not refer to any practice or belief that happens to offend another believer.” It is an action which destroys one's relationship with God and makes one fall into sin (Oster).  This commentator mentions the abuse of the stumbling block.  Have you ever been in a congregation where there is conflict—do we pave our parking lot, for example?  The discussion gets heated and someone who really doesn't want the parking lot paved says: “By paving the parking lot, you are creating a stumbling block for me.”  You ask how, and they say something like: “Well, the first Christians didn't need one, and we don't need one either.”  Now, will paving a parking lot threaten that persons salvation?  No, not really.  This is not a salvation issue, but it is basically a personal preference.  The brother who is against the paving wants to make all those who prefer it feel guilty and give in to his wishes.   Another commentator reminds us: “An indulgence which ruins another member is not a pleasure but a sin (Barclay).”  There is a faith issue involved in this example of meats offered to idols; it is not from the food itself, but it involves another's conscience and their relationship with God.  Don't cause another to lose their faith!  Be sensitive to other members!
 
Lastly, Paul advises us: Don't sin against Christ!  Let's read verses 12-13: “But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.  Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”  Verse 12 has a sobering statement.  Verse 13 shows the action of Paul that those at Corinth should follow.  Let's look at some very important implications about sinning against Christ: “To sin against your brother means nothing less than to sin against Christ (a lesson brought home to Paul long since on the Damascus road, Acts 9:4).  They are 'in Christ,' and anything done against them is therefore done against Him (Mt. 25:42-45).  There is a high dignity in being a Christian.  It is easy to look down on some church members as unimportant.  But they are not so.  No temple of the Holy Spirit is unimportant.  God lives in the weak.  We must honor them as members of Christ, and beware of sinning against the Lord.  “Wound” ... is use[d] for striking vigorous blows, for beating.  The strong 'hit' the weak conscience, and thus do great harm (Morris).”
 
Will we realize the gravity of our actions and will we modify our behavior to help another?  Maybe the words of recent hymn will remind us not to wound each other: “See all the wounded, hear all their desperate cries for help, grieving for shelter and for peace.  Our comrades are suffering, come let us meet them at their need.  Don't let a wounded soldier die.  Come let us pour the oil.  Come let us bind the hurt.  Let's cover them with the blanket of His love.  Let's minister healing to them. Don't let another wounded soldier die.”  Don't sin against Christ!  Be sensitive to other members!
 
A thoughtless pilot got into an ill-equipped single engine plane and took off.  The plane had no lights, but he was flying toward a little county airstrip where he would land, he thought before sunset.  Unfortunately, there were strong winds which blew against him, and he approached in darkness with a haze over the landing strip.  As he neared, he came down lower but could not make out the runway's boundaries, and there were no lights.  Panic seized him, and he sensed he didn't have much fuel left.  He had no way of getting touch with anyone.  He began to circle, and soon realized that one of rounds would soon be his last, and he would crash to his death.  Down on the ground, a man was sitting on his porch and his sensitive ears kept hearing the drone of the plane's engines as it was going round and round.  He suddenly realized: “That guy's in trouble!”  So he quickly jumped into his car and headed to the airstrip.  Then he began driving up and down the runway with his lights on bright, showing the young pilot where to land.  The pilot finally caught on and, with a sigh of relief, began to land the plane. The driver went to the runway's end and turned on his flashers.  The pilot came right in and landed safely.  A near tragedy was averted by one man sensitivity to another man's need.  Can we as Christians be as sensitive to the spiritual needs of each other and avert the potential danger of having one in our number lose their faith and return to living ungodly lives?  Be sensitive to other members!
 
Let's pray: “Father, we thank You for Paul's inspired wisdom.  Help us to be sensitive to other members.  Help us to put Paul's advice into practice.  In Jesus' name, we pray, Amen.”
 
“Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love.  Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:15-16)!  Have you been insensitive to other members?  Have you acted arrogantly and forgotten another's struggle?  Have you done something that might have caused another to lose faith?  Have you sinned against Christ by causing a weak member to be destroyed?  Do you realize that right now you have an opportunity to confess these wrongs and seek forgiveness?  Jesus stands at the end of your runway wanting to guide you to safety.  As was noted earlier: “The real need in Christian circles today is sensitivity to the needs of others.”  For those not members, do you realize that is another opportunity to become one by abandoning sin and putting on Christ in baptism?  Don't delay any longer!  Come ...