The Misuse of “Don’t Cause Your Weaker Brother to Stumble”

May 3, 2024 Mario Villella Discipleship

Note: This is a re-working of an article Mario posted online years ago. He came across it recently and realized that he’d never put this content in a church newsletter. So, while most of these words are not new, they may be new to many of you. 

There is a concept in Scripture that I’ve heard people use even in situations that have nothing to do with what the verse is actually about – the concept of “not causing your brother to stumble.”

The original idea comes from 1 Corinthians 8 (it’s also in Romans 14) and was about what to do when you’ve got two Christians who have two different opinions about the rightness or wrongness of a particular action. The particular action was eating meat that had been offered to an idol.
Earlier in the passage, the Apostle Paul made it clear that it’s actually not wrong to eat meat that is offered to a false god, because false gods aren’t even real (see 1 Cor. 8:4-6). However, Paul also acknowledges that not every Christian back then understood this. There were weaker newbie Christians who had been so used to idolatry for most of their lives, that they could only see eating meat offered to idols as something sinful. Eating the meat from the idol’s temple was, in their mind, a behavior that was part of their old life of worshiping false gods, back before they came to know Jesus Christ.
Those weaker newbie Christians could end up finding themselves in a situation where they witness another Christian (a stronger and/or more mature Christian who understands that false gods are false and meat is just meat) eating food in an idol’s temple. The idea in 1 Corinthians 8:10-12 seems to be that when the weaker Christian sees their fellow brother (specifically a brother who knows more about the true God than he does) doing the very thing that they categorize as “sinful,” that could do some spiritual harm to them. Paul’s specific worry seems to be that the weaker Christian would be encouraged to eat meat offered to an idol, while at the same time believing that it is wrong for him to do so, therefore violating his conscience.
So, Paul gives this instruction to the stronger Christians, “Be careful that this right of yours (to eat the meat) in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak.”
Now, we don’t deal with this exact issue anymore, as people in our culture don’t eat meat offered to idols. You can’t buy it at Publix. You probably can’t even get it on Amazon (and they usually have everything.) So, this exact application isn’t relevant to us.
However, one can imagine how the principle might apply to a contemporary situation. If I have a friend who is a new Christian and a recovering alcoholic, I probably wouldn’t invite him to hang out at a bar with me while I drink, right? Even though I have the right to do so, I want to look out for my new brother.
Here’s the rub – there are times when people (usually people who are not new believers) use this verse to try to stop other Christians from doing some behavior that they merely don’t like, and in cases when the behavior isn’t even tempting for them at all.
For instance, let’s say you heard someone complaining about how offended they are when a pastor preaches in jeans. They say they find this behavior offensive and then they quote this passage I referred to above about the weaker blrother.
Here’s the thing: that’s not what the passage is about. I think for that passage to apply to that situation, the person would actually have to believe that wearing jeans while preaching is a sin, and also be worried about how he is being encouraged to violate his conscience because he is being tempted to also preach in jeans!
We must be careful. 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and Romans 14:1-23 are wonderful passages that God has given to us so that we may best know how to treat our brothers and sisters. We are not to misuse these passages as a way to criticize people who are merely doing things that we don’t like. 
The person who wrote this article. Find out more information about them below.
Mario Villella

Lead Pastor / Elder

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