Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
I Corinthians 8:13
We live in a day in age where Christians want to emphasize grace. We are saved by grace, we live by grace, we are the church in the age of grace, we need to extend grace, and so on. However, a lot of times, grace is being confused with licence. Of course, a person is saved by grace, but grace does not give us a reason or an excuse to sin.
I find it so interesting that in this passage in I Corinthians 8 Paul deals with something that many people would call a "grace" issue. In fact, he deals with something that is not even wrong to do! Eating meat. There's nothing wrong with eating meat. What made it wrong was the fact that other Christians were offended by the action. We don't have the problem of eating meat offered to idols in 21st century North America, but there're so many amazing principles in this passage that we can apply directly to similar situations today.
Some Christians think as long as you don't smoke, swear, chew, or run with those who do, you're fine. We pride ourselves in the fact that we don't commit the "big" sins. Paul dealt with a lot of BIG sins in the church in Corinth. He dealt with fornication. It was a sin so bad, that he said even the Gentiles (unsaved people) wouldn't have done it! He dealt with taking fellow Christians to court. He dealt with the carousing going on at the Lord's Supper. Those are some pretty big deals! And then in I Corinthians 8, we get a teaching on how to deal with things that aren't sin. How does this even warrant mention in this letter when so much horrible other stuff was going on at this church?
So, what was the big deal about eating the meat offered to idols? Why did Paul need to correct the church in this area? First of all, I think this shows that with God, there is no such thing as "big" sin and "little" sin. Sin is sin in the eyes of God, and He hates all of it. God hated the offence caused by eating the meat just as much as He hated the sacrilege going on at the Lord's table.
We already know it wasn't eating the meat that was the problem in this situation. Paul states in verse 8 that, ...meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. Basically, eating meat has nothing to do with making us a better or worse Christian. It was the fact that eating the meat could cause an offence or a stumbling block to another brother or sister in the Lord that was the issue. Obviously, this issue of causing offence was something Paul took very seriously. How do we know he took it seriously? The opening verse I quoted states that Paul was willing never to eat meat again for the rest of his life rather than to cause someone to offend. Wow! Personally, I think that's pretty extreme. Would I be willing to give up something that's not even wrong, just because a fellow Christian was offended by it? Paul was willing to give up something as simple and basic as eating meat.
In the culture of today that is so me-centred it makes me wonder what would we be willing to give up in order to help someone else? Really, that's what Paul's motivation was here. He wanted to help his brothers and sisters in the Lord. He wanted to be a good example to them. What non-sinful things would I be willing to give up? It's a very sobering thought. We should want to give up things that are sinful, but giving up something that isn't sinful almost seems ridiculous. It wasn't ridiculous to Paul though. In fact, to Paul, giving up eating meat was essential.
I like eating meat... a lot. Maybe Paul did too. We don't know. Maybe at some point, God is going to want us to give up something we like, so that we don't cause another brother or sister to stumble. The question is, will we be willing to give that thing up?