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Would you please explain the concept of not giving offense to others? (Part 3)

In the first two parts, we saw that Christ was called a stumbling block and that He indeed offended people, and He was still without fault or sin. We explained that giving offense has to be seen in the context of sinning.

However, some teach or suggest that Paul told us to refrain from doing what we have learned to be right if someone with a weak conscience thinks it is wrong. In making this claim and support their idea, they are referring to several Scriptures.

One of those passages is Romans 14:1-20:

Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks…

“But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ… So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block [Greek proskomma] or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean [common] of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean [common], to him it is unclean [common].

Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.

“Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense [Greek proskomma]. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended [Greek skandalizo] or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.”

The passage speaks about two concepts: One having to do with self-declared fast days, and another with eating or not eating meat. This includes the concept of being a vegetarian or a vegan, as well as the concept of not eating meat [which was clean] for fear that it was sacrificed to idols [which became “common” due to false usage]. The entire passage addresses the concept of not judging and condemning a brother.

We quote from our booklet, “God’s Commanded Holy Days”:

“Romans 14:2–3 is addressing the consumption of vegetables and meat (‘For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables’). Some thought that they must not eat meat… Part of the reason for their decision might have been that the meat, which could be purchased in the market, was probably offered to idols. Knowing this, some had a conscience problem with eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols (compare 1 Corinthians 8:1–13).

“The context in Romans 14:5 is the consumption of certain foods. Paul addresses the fact that some esteem a certain day above another. In the very next verse, he shows the connection between the consumption of food and the regard for days. He says in verse 6: ‘He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.’…

“Paul talks about new Church members who still had a weak conscience and thought they had to FAST on particular days. That is, they thought they could not just fast on ANY weekday of their choice, but that it could only be done on particular designated days. (Note again verse 6, ‘… he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat.’ The context of the discussion is FASTING.) Others understood that one can fast on ANY day of the week, and that God does not enjoin us, except for the Day of Atonement, to fast on a specific day during the week.

“This is the reason Paul says, ‘One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike.’ The context is eating and drinking and fasting. Paul is really saying in verse 6, ‘He who observes [or better, ‘regards,’ as the Authorized Version has it] the day [as a fast day] observes [or regards] it to the Lord; and he who does not observe [or regard] the day [as a Fast day] observes [regards] it to the Lord, too, because the one who does not eat on that day, does it to the Lord, and the one who does eat on that day does it to the Lord, too, as he thanks God for the food he partakes of.’ Paul’s point is to not judge another for the way they worship God, as long as it is done on the basis of Scripture.

“Romans addresses the wrong kind of judgment and condemnation which could cause a new brother with a weak conscience to stumble and fall when he is condemned for what he does. It also admonishes the weak brother not to violate his conscience by eating, for example, meat sacrificed to idols even though his conscience would prohibit it.”

This passage does not say that Paul could not eat such meat either. But the passage seems to also hint at the complicated situation of meat sacrificed to idols, which Paul addresses more fully in two other passages… both of which are used by some to teach that we must cease from doing what is right if a brother with a weak conscience becomes offended by it.

The first of these two passages is 1 Corinthians 8:4-13, which reads:

Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.

“However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block [Greek proskomma] to those who are weak.

For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble [Greek skandalizo], I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”

The Authorized Version translates: “… if meat make my brother to offend… lest I make my brother to offend…”

The context here is again the conscience of the weak brother. If Paul were to eat meat sacrificed to idols (which was fine per se) in the presence of a weak brother who would then be emboldened to eat likewise, but he would eat it as meat sacrificed to idols, thereby committing idolatry (which is against God’s Law), then Paul would have acted wrongly. He would actually have caused a brother to stumble or to sin. This is even more true in light of the following warning by Christ in Revelation 2:14:

“But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block [Greek skandalon] before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.”

In this passage, Christ described a concerted effort by some in the Church to persuade members to eat meat sacrificed to idols as part of an idolatrous service, which was of course wrong and against the Law of God against idolatry.

However, Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 8 cannot be interpreted to mean that Paul would never eat meat which was sacrificed to idols, even if he was in the presence of others. It is only IF the weak brother is emboldened and concludes that he can eat it too, but he does so in violation of God’s Law by eating it as meat sacrificed to idols, that Paul said he would not do it then in the brother’s presence. But Paul is not saying either that the entire Church congregation could not eat such meat if a person disagrees with such practice. It is only if our conduct would lead a brother with a weak conscience to follow our example but in doing so, he would violate his conscience, that he should not be asked or encouraged to participate in such a Church function.

In 1 Corinthians 10:25-32, Paul continues to address the same situation:

Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake… If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake.

But if anyone says to you, ‘This was offered to idols,’ do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake… Conscience,’ I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks? 

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense [Greek, aproskopos; lit., not causing to stumble] either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”

This passage addresses outsiders as well as Church members with a weak conscience. In this example, Paul would be eating with unbelievers, but it appears that members with a weak conscience would have been present as well. If someone was to say that the meat was sacrificed to idols, perhaps in order to test him as to what he would do, or because a weak church member would have a conscience problem as described in 1 Corinthians 8, then Paul said that he would not eat it in order to avoid sinful conduct. In this context, we would also need to consider that someone would sin if he were to violate his conscience (Romans 14:23).

The conscience must however be based at least remotely on the Bible, and must not contradict it. It was clearly prohibited in the Old Testament, judging by the letter, to eat meat sacrificed to idols. But Paul explained in the New Testament how this law was supposed to be understood. We must be careful not to use this example and apply it to every conceivable situation, when the conscience of a new member is at issue. We must always evaluate whether a conscience problem has any basis in God’s Word.

What is also clear from the foregoing is that someone who might disagree with a certain Church teaching or practice cannot force the Church to change its teachings and practices to accommodate his or her weak conscience.

This means, we must not try to convince others of “our” individual conscience and persuade them not to engage in a certain course of action, which is not prohibited in Scripture. For instance, some are vegetarians or refuse to drink alcohol, even though the Bible clearly shows that it is right and proper to eat clean meat and to consume alcohol in moderation. A vegetarian or someone who rejects alcohol must NEVER try to persuade others to become vegetarians or to refuse alcoholic consumption. (Of course, someone who refuses to drink alcohol would exclude him or herself from proper observance of the annual Passover service and his or her partaking of the symbols of bread and wine).

It is for instance not true that the Church of God must cancel a social dance event only because one visitor might be offended, thinking it is sinful to dance. The visitor, due to his or her weak conscience, should then refrain from participating in the dance, and the Church should not try to force him or her to participate and to thereby violate his or her weak conscience. On the other hand, he or she should prayerfully evaluate his or her conscience and ask God for insight and understanding as to whether his or her opinions are in accordance with God’s Law or just the product of human tradition and his or her own ideas. Examining the example of an alleged prohibition to dance, there is no basis in the Bible for such a wrong concept.

We should also consider that the Church of God is the foundation and pillar of truth (1 Timothy 3:15), and it has been given the responsibility from God to decide questions like the ones discussed in these three Q&As with clarifying binding authority (Matthew 16:19; 18:18).

Let us notice what would otherwise be the consequence if a brother or visitor with a weak conscience could enforce their opinions on the Church of God:

(a)  No more social dance evenings

(b)  No more eating in a restaurant on the Sabbath, including on the Night to Be Much Observed

(c)  No more eating meat… all have to become vegetarians or vegans

(d)  No more staying in hotels on the Sabbath, including during the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day

(e)  No more formal dress code, as ties are allegedly pagan

(f)    No more jewelry or wedding rings or earrings, as they are all allegedly pagan and prohibited by God

(g)  No more listening to music or watching movies which in the opinion of the member or visitor are objectionable

(h)  No more wearing Make-Up, let alone distributing Make-Up products

(i)    No more birthday acknowledgments

(j)    No more wedding anniversaries

(k)  No more Thanksgiving Day gatherings

The list could be endless, and it is also apparent that a brother or a visitor with a weak conscience who would object to any of the activities raised above would become guilty of sowing discord if he or she were to discuss these ideas with other members. It is obvious that Paul who sometimes wrote things which were hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16) did not mean any of this, because otherwise he would have contradicted Christ who never sinned, but who “offended” people intentionally.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link