Strong and Weak Consciences

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.

1 Corinthians 8:9

In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul refers to strong and weak consciences in a way that might be confusing to us. If we were to think of someone having a “strong conscience,” we might envision a person who did not engage in behaviors that others thought to be acceptable. The person with a weak conscience, however, would feel free to do all sorts of things without guilt.

Paul uses the language of strong and weak consciences in exactly the opposite way. In the case of Christians eating meat offered to idols, the people with strong consciences, knowing that there is only one God and being accustomed to eating meat in a wide array of circumstances, ate meat without believing that they were sinning. Their strong consciences gave them freedom to act in ways that those with weak consciences could not act without sin. When the Corinthians with weak consciences ate food that had been offered to idols, they believed that they were worshiping idols. Thus they were doing that which they believed to be sinful.

Those with strong consciences, according to Paul, were exercising their freedom in Christ to eat food that had been offered to idols. But, in so doing, they were drawing believers with weak consciences into sin. So Paul says to the strong: “But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble” (8:9). Even if those with strong consciences were correct in their theology„ںthat there was only one God„ںand even if they were correct in their application„ںthat they were free to eat food that had been offered to idols„ںthey needed to think about more than just themselves. They needed to pay attention to how their behavior was impacting others. They needed to be willing to choose freely to not engage in certain behaviors that hurt their weaker brothers and sisters in Christ.

As Christians, we are called to consider, not just what’s good for us, but also what’s good for others. Out of love for our Christian siblings we may choose not to do certain things that are permitted to us. Our freedom in Christ is not only for our own self-expression, but also so that we might serve those around us with sacrificial, Christ-like love.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Have you ever found yourself tempted to sin because of things being doing by other Christians? Have you ever chosen not to exercise your freedom in Christ because you did not want to influence a weaker brother or sister?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, I thank you for the freedom I have in you, freedom from guilt and shame, freedom from legalism, freedom from thinking that I have to earn your love. Thank you for the freedom that comes with knowing you in truth and knowing how you want me to live in this world.

But I ask that you help me, Lord, to exercise my freedom, not just for my sake, but also for the sake of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Show me when my “strong conscience” needs to be bridled by my love for others. May I never be so caught up in myself that I’m unable to see or feel compassion for others.

Help your church, Lord, to be a place where the strong care about the weak, where people choose freely to give up their privileges for the sake of others. At the same time, keep us from a legalism that would squelch the freedom we have in you.

All praise be to you, O God, because you have given us freedom, and because you have gathered us together as a community of mutual love. Amen.