A gracEmail subscriber writes: “In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul urges us to avoid even innocent activities if our doing them ‘offends’ a weak brother or sister. My own relatives and friends include different people who object to using instrumental music in church, celebrating Christmas, playing cards, women wearing pants, wearing clothes with zippers, and drinking alcoholic beverages in moderation. Am I required to cease every activity to which anyone happens to object?”
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Regarding this subject, people easily go to either of two opposite extremes. On the one hand, some selfish, immature and headstrong believers insist on exercising their personal freedom even when doing that causes fellow-believers to sin. On the other hand, some selfish, immature and headstrong believers use this chapter as a tool for tyranny, when they seek to reduce others more mature than themselves to their own level of scrupulosity.
I once helped a church decide to use unfermented grape juice in the Lord’s Supper in consideration of a brother who was a struggling alcoholic. However, while preaching for a different church and having grown a beard, I was approached one Sunday by a sister who said: “Brother Fudge, your beard offends me.” To which I replied, as kindly as I knew how, “Really, sister? What sin does it make you want to commit?” She read the word “offend” in her King James Version of 1 Corinthians 8:13 and confused it with provoking a negative reaction. In fact, the verb translated “to offend” in the KJV, in today’s English really means “to stumble” (ESV, NASB) or “to fall into sin” (NIV).
We can summarize Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 8 in one sentence: When I am with another believer, whom I know considers some innocent activity to be sinful, if I have reason to suppose that my doing that activity might cause that believer to do it also, then I should momentarily set aside my personal rights in order to avoid causing that believer to sin by doing something that he or she considers to be wrong.