“And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?”
We should bear in mind “that the church of God which was at Corinth,” was composed principally of Gentile converts, who were situated in the very midst of pagan idolatry, and as the members of the church had been pagans from their infancy, until they were called by grace to a knowledge of the true God, it was as natural for them to retain some pagan notions, which they had received by tradition, as it was for the Hebrew converts to retain some improper views concerning the abolished rites and ceremonies of the old covenant dispensation. One prevalent rite among pagans, as this chapter shows, was to make sacrifices of animals to their gods, of whom they had a vast number, and after sacrificing the life of their victims to their gods, the bodies of the sacrificed offerings were eaten in the temples, in honor of the idols to whom they had been offered, or taken away to the shambles, or market, and sold. The pagans seem to have supposed that the offering of their victims to their idols constituted their flesh holy or sacred, and that meats thus consecrated would impart to them a holiness, or make them better. A difficulty had evidently existed among christians in the Corinthian church in regard to the propriety or impropriety of eating things which had been offered in sacrifices to idols, and to settle the question, they had appealed to Paul, as one of the judges which occupied the twelve thrones of judgment, judging the twelve tribes of spiritual Israel, and his instructions in this chapter are in reply to their inquiries. In these instructions he refers them to what they, or some of them, knew, namely: that an idol was nothing in the world: that is that it had no power, no divinity, and that it could not impart to the things offered to it either purity or impurity; it could neither make the meats offered better nor worse. Hence he says in chapter x. 25, “Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, [or market,] that eat, asking no questions for conscience’ sake.” “But if any man say unto you, This is offered unto idols, eat not, for his sake that showed it,” &c. For he assures them that “Neither if we eat are we the better; neither if we eat not are we the worse.” Simply the eating of meats which had been offered in sacrifice to idols, in itself considered, could neither make them better nor worse, because having a knowledge that the idol was nothing, they could eat that which had been offered as though it had not been offered, without defiling their conscience. Nevertheless, this liberty is not to be abused. There were those in the church for whom Christ died, who were weak, and who had not this knowledge, and were unable to discriminate between eating to express faith in or devotion to the idol, and the eating from the consideration that the earth and the fullness thereof is the Lord’s, and that an idol is nothing. In such a case, therefore, for the sake of the conscience of the weak brother, which is liable to be defiled, from lack of knowledge to discriminate, he admonishes his brethren to forego the privilege of eating, and assures them that he would not, while the world stands, eat meat, or gratify his carnal appetite at the expense of the peace of Zion, or if it should cause his brother to offend. The weaker brother was liable to offend in such a case, in a variety of ways, by being grieved at what he, from want of clearer knowledge, supposed to be idolatry, or by imitation of the stronger and more enlightened brother, he, in eating, would actually commit idolatry; in either or any case his conscience would be defiled. Therefore, the knowledge of the one is made a snare to the other. And through thy knowledge, (that the idol is nothing, and that the meat is not at all affected by having been offered,) shall the weak brother (the brother who has not this knowledge or discernment) perish? The word perish, in this case, does not mean to perish eternally, for Christ has said, “And they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.” - John x. 28. But Paul is particular in explaining what he means by perishing, in this case, namely: their conscience would be defiled, and they made to offend. None for whom Christ died can fail of eternal salvation, for he has redeemed them unto God with his blood, and made them priests and kings, and they shall reign with him forever; but they may be defiled in regard to their consciences, while here in the flesh.
The term perish, according to our standard lexicons, has among other significations, the following: “to wither, to decay to waste away, to be in a state of decay, or passing away, to come to nothing, to be wasted or rendered useless, as Jer. ix. 9, to be injured or tormented, as 1 Cor. viii. 10.,’ And the term is sometimes used to signify final and everlasting destruction, as in 2 Peter ii. 12, not as in John x. 28. The sense in which it is used in our text, cannot possibly mean to be lost eternally, or it would directly contradict the solemn affirmation of Christ, in John x. 28. But it is used as in the case of the prodigal, “I perish with hunger.” - Luke xv. 17: to signify suffering, distress, &c., as also in the case of the disciples, Matthew viii. 25, “Lord, save us: we perish.” Weaker brethren are not to be damned for the selfishness, unkindness, or knowledge of their brethren, for they are saved with an everlasting salvation, by the blood of Christ, and they shall not come into condemnation, but have passed from death unto life. Still, although their final destiny is irrevocably fixed, they may perish as to their comfort, enjoyments and usefulness, in the sense intended in our text. By the unkind and selfish conduct of their stronger and better informed brethren, they may be led into difficulties, and through their knowledge, which, in the absence of charity, puffeth up, the weak brother’s conscience may be wounded, and he left to suffer, pine away, wither, waste away, or be rendered useless, in regard to his gifts or place in the church.
By comparing the instructions given to the Corinthians, in this case by Paul, with those given by the convention at Jerusalem, to the church at Antioch, (Acts xv. 29,) we see why it seemed good to the council at Jerusalem to enjoin on the saints at Antioch, as necessary things, that they among other things should abstain from meats offered to idols. The necessity did not arise from any effect the idol could have on the meats, or any impurity in the meats themselves, nor even in the eating them, when they could be eaten with the proper discernment, but it was necessary on the ground that weak brethren might be involved in difficulties.
Without pursuing this subject farther by way of elucidation of the subject of meats offered to idols, let us draw from this the lesson of admonition which it suggests to the saints of the present day. The law of Christ, which is binding on all his disciples, requires them to bear one another’s burdens, and especially that the strong shall bear the infirmities of the weak. The apostle reminds his brethren that the weak ones of the flock were of sufficient consequence in the divine estimation, to be redeemed by the blood of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ has loved them and given himself for them, they are therefore those, weak, feeble and ignorant as they may be, for whom Christ died. And if Christ has so loved, as to give himself for them in common with all of his redeemed, will not the same love of God shed abroad in our hearts, incline us to sacrifice the gratifications of the flesh, rather than lay a stumbling-block in their way? Can that love of God which was stronger than death, if it be in us, fail to constrain us, like Paul to forego our own personal gratifications, even in those things which may be otherwise harmless in themselves, though it were to deny our carnal appetites what they crave, rather than disturb the peace of the church of God, or bring distress upon any of those for whom Christ died? We may have knowledge, and if we have, we have cause of gratitude to God for it, but let us not forget that knowledge of itself when alone, puffeth up, and unless tempered with charity, it will be sure to puff us up; but charity is profitable in all things. And if we have all knowledge so that we can understand all mysteries, and speak with the eloquence of men and angels, if we have not charity, we are nothing; mere sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. Having then all knowledge to know that all things are lawful to us, may we have charity, or love to those for whom Christ died, to remind us that all lawful things are not expedient, and we are admonished to “take heed lest by any means this liberty of ours become a stumbling-block to them that are weak.” We may not now be exposed to the temptation of eating meats which have literally been offered to idols, as were those brethren in the primitive age, but are there not many things now existing among and around us, to which this same rule is equally applicable? What is the difference whether it be by our eating meat, or by any other personal indulgence, if the consequence is to cause our weak brother, or brethren, to stumble or to offend? If we love the saints, which we certainly do if the love of God dwells in us, let us bear in mind that it is not good to eat meat, nor to drink wine, nor to do anything whereby a weak brother for whom Christ died will be made to offend. How important then that all the saints should not only shun what they know to be positive evils, but every appearance of evil. Things which may not, according to our knowledge, involve positive wickedness, yet may have the effect to bring positive reproach on the cause, and to inflict a wound on those who being weak, and having tender consciences, be made to suffer, and in that sense perish. For instance: A brother who is well established in the truth, may go into some of the idol temples, with which our country abounds at this day, and witness the ceremonies and exercises practiced by carnal religionists, without being in apparent danger of contamination, but a weaker brother, by the example, may be emboldened to go, and not being so well fortified, may be tempted to mingle with the adversaries of truth and righteousness, for want of discernment to discriminate, and thereby he may be defiled.
Middletown, N. Y.
August 15, 1856.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 3
Pages 363 - 367