Quick! Hide from those stumbling saints!
“So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat it again as long as I live–for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.” 1 Corinthians 8:13
“As long as I practice my Christian liberty in private, then I don’t have to worry about causing weaker believers to stumble. Right?”
“What I do in the privacy of my home is MY business! Right
If I walk around worrying all the time about what I do that causes others to stumble, then I won’t be able to do ANYTHING! Right?
I’m not talking about blatant sin here, I’m talking about all of those things that we, in are walk with Christ have complete liberty to do, but for one reason or another might not be prudent do to in front of others. Let’s take a look at a familiar passage in the Bible:
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:23-31)
This passage along with Romans 14:15 calls for decisions and discretion about how we are to do certain things in front of certain people at certain times. It is not a “one decision size fits all,” but a clear case of “situational ethics.”
Martin Luther wrote in his foundational work “Concerning Christian Liberty,” that, “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none, a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.”
I think Luther nailed it. We struggle with whether we should run and hide from our brothers and do what we have the liberty to do or totally abstain from doing something we have the liberty to do because of our brothers. “Weaker brothers,” to be exact. I think it’s hard to distinguish, at times, between a brother, a non-brother, and a Pharisee.
The weaker brother or sister questions their own salvation if they were to “do” what they see you doing.
The non-brother is indifferent but watches you in “work out” your salvation and makes private judgements.
The Pharisee is the one who questions your salvation because of what they see you doing.
I hesitate with carrying these distinctions too far as it might provide an excuse for some to harshly label others and actually “cause their brothers to stumble.” The question, I think, is not about hiding or abstaining, but loving. How much do you really love your weaker fellow believers? Would you give up something “just because” it distresses your brother or sister in Christ? “If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, or is having doubt about a particular action in their own spiritual lives, then are you still acting in love?
Do not, by your eating, destroy your brother for whom Christ died.” Romans 14:15
If you are having trouble answering those questions or are insistent on living the way you want because you’ve ‘earned’ your liberty in Christ, then it’s likely that you’re either still unsure, arrogant, or controlling.
Some of you may say that adimantly sticking to your liberty in Christ and doing what you want to do IS loving them by demonstrating true Christian liberty, but I think you will find objection in your own consciences and little support in the Bible. You might be tempted to ask the person in doubt, “Am I causing you to stumble?,” but the question is often tactical and perceived as defensive.
Lastly, with the vast reach of social media and the lack of care about choosing specific recipients of your posts, pictures, and provocations, you might be inadvertently causing some saints to stumble. Pictures of you doing something which approves the “sinful” action in the mind of the spiritually immature may be casting stumbling stones in their path. A few questions:
- If you can categorize the one who you might be causing to stumble as a non-brother or a Pharisee, does that “free you up” to do what you want to do in spite of how it affects them?
- Is there an acceptable and biblical medium between abstaining and hiding with respect to our actions in front of others?
- Is it ok to hide from brothers, non-brothers, and Pharisees, and just do what you want to do?