What is a Weak Conscience and what was Paul talking about?
“But not everyone has this revelation. For some were formerly idolaters, who consider idols as real and living. That’s why they consider the food offered to that “god” as defiled. And their weak consciences become defiled if they eat it.” 1 Corinthians 8:7 TPT
As always, we need to look at this in context. Paul is addressing behavior related to common practices amongst the Gentiles in Corinth. Temples of idol worship regularly held feasts where people could come in to eat food, some of which, had been sacrificed to idols. The people were actually sharing a meal with an idol as part of their worship. In addition, those temples had meat markets where people in the community could come and purchase meat which had been set aside for the purpose of idol worship. Anyone could buy the meat without having to worship the idol.
New Christians Struggling
New Christians, who had previously worshipped idols and partaken of these meals, still believed that eating the meat purchased at one of those meat markets meant you were worshipping that idol. Of course, Paul and other more mature Christians realized that this was not true. Since an idol is just a piece of metal, wood, or stone, it is nothing. It is not a ‘god’ and it has no powers of any kind. Therefore, the meat in the market was just meat. It was food.
Yet, these immature Christians were stumbling in their faith when they saw other Christians going to temples and eating this meat. They were simply in need of education and renewing of their mind. For one thing, they needed to realize that an idol is just a rock! There is only one God and only one Savior. Here is the full context of what Paul was saying.
Paul Addresses Know-It-Alls
“Now let me address the issue of food offered in sacrifice to idols. It seems that everyone believes his own opinion is right on this matter. How easily we get puffed up over our opinions! But love builds up the structure of our new life. If anyone thinks of himself as a know-it-all, he still has a lot to learn. But if a person passionately loves God, he will possess the knowledge of God.
Concerning food sacrificed as offerings to idols, we all know that an idol is nothing, for there is no God but one. Although there may be many so-called gods in this world, and in heaven there may be many “gods,” “lords,” and “masters,” yet for us there is only one God—the Father. He is the source of all things, and our lives are lived for him. And there is one Lord, Jesus, the Anointed One, through whom we and all things exist.
Be Careful With Your Liberty
But not everyone has this revelation. For some were formerly idolaters, who consider idols as real and living. That’s why they consider the food offered to that “god” as defiled. And their weak consciences become defiled if they eat it. Yes, we know that what you eat will not bring you closer to God. You are no better if you don’t eat certain foods and no better if you do. But you must be careful that the liberty you exercise in eating food offered to idols doesn’t offend the weak believers.
For if a believer with a weak conscience sees you, who have a greater understanding, dining in an idol’s temple, won’t this be a temptation to him to violate his own conscience and eat food offered to idols? So, in effect, by exercising your understanding of freedom, you have ruined this weak believer, a brother for whom Christ has died! And when you offend weaker believers by wounding their consciences in this way, you also offend the Anointed One!
So I conclude that if my eating certain food deeply offends my brother and hinders his advance in Christ, I will never eat it again. I don’t want to be guilty of causing my brother or sister to be wounded and defeated.” 1 Corinthians 8 TPT
Consider the Effects of our Actions
Paul is simply saying that we must consider the effects of our actions on others who may be ‘weak’ in some regard.
Are there limits to this? Of course. Just because someone is offended that you read the New International Version of the BIble while they believe King James is the only correct version, you don’t have to change. They should be mature enough not to be offended by that choice. People like to get offended. I’m not sure why, but it seems to be very popular right now in the world and in Christianity.
There are two definitions for ‘offense:’
- a breach of a law or rule; an illegal act.
- annoyance or resentment brought about by a perceived insult to or disregard for oneself or one’s standards or principles.
Misusing Our Freedom
Paul is using the first definition. Misusing our freedom in Christ with no regard for others breaks God’s law of love, of putting others first, of sacrificing our rights for their good. He refers to ‘wounding’ them. He isn’t referring to an annoyance or a perceived insult. These are two separate things.
Offenses are easy to find. You can pick one up anywhere you would like to for any reason you want. They are often false, divisive and selfish. We need to be mature enough to put them aside. If I am totally focused on pleasing Christ each day of my life, I won’t have time to get offended because I’m too busy trying to make sure I live in love!
However, as I do that, I also have to be cognizant of the level of spiritual maturity of those around me so that I don’t cause them to stumble. I don’t want to commit an offense against them by breaking God’s law of love – wounding them and causing them to be defeated.
Paul is not saying that these people were weak. He is saying that their conscience is weak in regard to their Christian faith, not strong, because it is not correctly informed. In fact, it may be too strong in the wrong direction – that idols are gods! They are simply in need of a renewed mind and, until that happens, Paul wants the mature Christians to alter their behavior. It probably isn’t a permanent prohibition on various kinds of food, it is a temporary alteration allowing another Christian time to learn and grow. It is an act of loving sacrifice. It also protects our own conscience because, if we break God’s law of love, we violate our own conscience!
Jesus Offended but Did Not Harm Faith
So, as we live Jesus’ commandment to love others as He loved us, we must not abuse our freedom in Christ. Jesus offended the religious people of His day. He offended them deeply because He violated their view of ‘the way things ought to be.’ They were so offended that they hated, lied about, and murdered Him. Paul offended the Jews so much that they did the same thing to him! So, obviously Paul is not saying we can never offend anyone. While not intentional, he did it regularly. He is saying that we are not to harm someone else’s faith.
We are free in Christ – free from the law of sin and death. We are to avoid going back under the law established in the Old Testament because we now live under a different law:
“Beloved ones, God has called us to live a life of freedom in the Holy Spirit. But don’t view this wonderful freedom as an opportunity to set up a base of operations in the natural realm. Freedom means that we become so completely free of self-indulgence that we become servants of one another, expressing love in all we do.” Galatians 5:13 TPT
We are Free Not to Do Certain Things
We are free not to be self-indulgent. Free to become servants! This is our freedom in Christ. Christians offend the world every single day just by being called Christians. We can’t change that, it is their choice. We are, however, free not to deliberately do and say things to hurt them or to act like they do – hateful, spiteful, vengeful, bitter, or arrogant. If they become offended because we won’t act like them, that’s ok. Christ set the example and we follow it. We are not free to be unloving and spewing out hate.
“You say, “Under grace there are no rules and we’re free to do anything we please.” Not exactly. Because not everything promotes growth in others. Your slogan, “We’re allowed to do anything we choose,” may be true—but not everything causes the spiritual advancement of others. So don’t always seek what is best for you at the expense of another.” 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 TPT
That is a perfect summation of our freedom in Christ and serving others as they grow in Christ and their consciences are strengthened through conformation to the Word of truth.
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Here are links to each post in case you missed one:
Day 1 – 24 Day Challenge – Renewing Your Mind and Conscience
Day 2 – Living By the Golden Rule
Day 3 – Being Falsely Accused
Day 4 – A Personal Testimony of Salvation
Day 5 – Knowing Right From Wrong
Day 6 – What is the Power of the Holy Spirit?
Day 7 – Submitting to Authority
**We use verses from different Bible translations.
To see more information about the copyright for each one, please visit our Scripture Citations.