Ok, let’s talk about the “weaker brother.” Paul tells us that we ought to love one another. If something perfectly good I enjoy is an “obstacle or a trap before a brother or sister” then I should voluntarily forfeit my right to freedom in Christ. Here’s the trouble so many of us have — there is a big difference between a trap and an offense. If something I do offends you, it’s probably not a trap.
Let’s use the example of drinking alcohol as an example. I have a Christian friend who used to be an alcoholic. If I drink a beer with that person, is that offensive to her? No — but it is tempting, to be sure. Why should I dangle that carrot of temptation in front of her? However, what about my Christian friends who think alcohol is inherently sinful? If I drink a beer with them, will they be tempted to alcoholism? No — but they will be offended. Why? Because I am violating one of their self-imposed rules. Even if beer-drinking is sinful (which I don’t believe), should Christians be offended when they see people sin? Should Christians be ashamed to associate with sinners?
What about how we dress in church? What about worship style? Bible version? Expensive clothing? Expensive restaurants? Public vs. private schools? Republican or democrat? Smoking?
More specifically, Paul was talking about eating meat offered to false gods. Some Christians did, some did not. Paul is saying — don’t have a cookout with people who used to be temple prostitutes who are new Christians. For them, cookouts with meat lead quickly to all kinds of destructive behavior. But how did Paul treat the Apostle Peter when he refrained from eating meat? “I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned.” His “conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:11-14). It’s all about motivation. When Peter abstained from eating meat, he was denying the gospel. That’s a big deal!
Jesus, too, was very offensive to the religious leaders — that’s why they killed him! He kept “working” on the Sabbath. He had a reputation as a drunk and a glutton.
The real issue, it seems to me, is our love for our brothers and sisters. If we truly love them, we will need to do things that are uncomfortable for ourselves. For some, we must be careful not to lead them into further sin, so we voluntarily limit our freedom in Christ. For others, we must be careful not to cave into the pressure of “earning” their approval. If we stand firm in the gospel, we will be offensive to those who think they are righteous already. That offense is the offense of the gospel. That offense is the awakening of their own sin. Jesus was awakening the religious leaders to their own sinfulness (think of Nicodemus in John 3). Paul was doing the same with Peter. Of course, we do this with love, grace and compassion. To shirk this responsibility to our “strong” brothers and sisters is to demonstrate our lack of love for them.
Many years ago I heard a (perhaps apocraphal) story about Archibald Alexander, founder of Princeton. He said that he hated the taste of beer, but when non-drinking Christians came to his home, he felt obligated by the truth of the gospel to have some beer in front of them.
Some of us are more comforable confronting people who find their “righteousness” in the Republican party, or in homeschooling, or in meticulously planned worship, or in poverty (or wealth). Others of us are more comfortable inviting notorious “sinners” into our lives and helping them to leave their old destructive habits and form new and better lives.
I think most of us who like to hang out with the “good people” don’t like to confront them.
And most of us who like to hang out with the “bad people” don’t like to restrict ourselves.
Let’s pray for God’s grace to be peculiar people wherever he sends us.
Therefore we must not pass judgment on one another, but rather determine never to place an obstacle or a trap before a brother or sister. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean in itself; still, it is unclean to the one who considers it unclean. For if your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy by your food someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you consider good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For the one who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by people.
So then, let us pursue what makes for peace and for building up one another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. For although all things are clean, it is wrong to cause anyone to stumble by what you eat. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything that causes your brother to stumble.