22 March 2017

1 Corinthians 8:9-13

“But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.” (vv. 9-13)

Psalm: Psalm 123


Apparently, Queen Elizabeth once said of her devotion to the Commonwealth that she considered it her duty to walk at the pace of the slowest man. Entrepreneur Mark Eckhart sums up the ethos of this claim well when he said: "Her Majesty's words were not meant to convey that England should give up its role as a world leader, or that the progress of the country should slow, but rather that it should embrace a mindset of solidarity and fellowship based on common responsibilities, interest, and a commitment to leave no man behind."

Similarly, in 2016 United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told a forum for UN member states on ethics for development that the concept of 'no man left behind' should be fundamental to the UN's new development agenda. "Fundamental principles that underpin the new goals are interdependence, universality and solidarity," he said. "They should be implemented by all segments of all societies, working together. No-one must be left behind. People who are hardest to reach should be given priority."

For Paul, the Corinthians' freedom to do what they liked had the potential to cause the weaker among them (those with less understanding or 'knowledge' as we saw yesterday) to stumble into sin. As far as Paul is concerned, the Christian community at Corinth needed to move at the pace of its slowest member - to have a care for one another's vulnerabilities. If your partner is an alcoholic, that doesn't mean that you can't drink alcohol yourself - but nevertheless, your care for them and desire that they might be well should moderate your own behaviour and attitudes. For example, you might decide not to store alcohol in the house in order to save them from temptation. It is better, Paul says, to abstain completely (even though such things cause you no problem) in order that others may be lifted up with you. In this way, none are held back, fellowship is retained and the strong learn to live in moderation.

To Ponder

  • In today's passage, Paul is talking about vulnerability to sin - but where else in life might the principle of 'no man left behind' apply?
  • Are there people in your life who are more vulnerable to 'stumbling' than you? What adjustments would you consider making to your life and behaviour in order to travel more closely with them?
  • Or perhaps you are that person - what are your stumbling blocks? What can others do to help you avoid them?

Bible notes author

Anna Drew

Anna Drew is Director of Communications for the Diocese of Canterbury. She is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4's Daily Service and Prayer for the Day and a freelance writer on faith issues.