What does it mean to cause your weaker brother to stumble?
I recently read an interesting article about our use of Christian liberty… It explains a key misunderstanding about “causing a weaker brother to stumble” that turns the concept into a restraint of freedom that the Bible never calls for.
There is a difference between encouraging a less mature Christian to do something even though he thinks it is wrong – and making Pharisaical Christians uncomfortable because they don’t approve of what you’re doing… Jesus and Paul both offended the religious people who didn’t agree with what they were doing. That’s not what the problem was… It was doing something and telling people it was fine for them to do it, when those actions were inseparably linked with that persons former life of idolatry and slavery to sin (e.g. eating food sacrificed to idols when you once participated in the worship of those idols)…
To give a neat example (though it involves someone who turned out not to be a weaker brother in the true sense) – When I went to Israel last year, one of the best parts of the trip was the nighttime theological discussions. Several of the nights, all the men went outside and drank a glass of wine and had deep discussions – which often turned into Q&A times with Gene Cunningham, the man who led the trip. Anyway, one of the first nights, after we had convened out on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, someone asked if one of the other men on the trip was coming out, and Gene said he had invited him but that he had declined. Another man, who knew the absentee, said that he actually chooses to not even be around any alcohol, because he had recently been saved out of alcoholism. When Gene heard this, he was horrified that he may have tempted this man to return to a former vice. Gene was then assured that the man handled it very well and would never be offended, and did not think we were wrong for being out there, but simply declines opportunities to be around it for his own sake to avoid the temptation at all. But Gene was visibly grieved that he had brought it up to the man at all. This is a great example of someone (Gene) who desperately wanted to not even come close to causing a brother to stumble, and someone (the other man) who had placed a standard on himself to avoid temptation, but also graciously and un-legalistically did not expect others to follow his own standard.
To give an example of the other side: I think that to say that being in a particular regional culture (e.g. the Bible belt) makes it so that we shouldn’t drink, or should always wear a tie to church, shouldn’t watch any R-rated movies, or should never have a tattoo – that may be a misunderstanding of our freedom in Christ, because the only aspect of the southern culture that makes it unacceptable to drink is the Southern Baptist culture… which, from my experience, seems more like the Pharisees that Jesus didn’t care if He upset than the weaker brother Paul was talking about.
Now don’t misunderstand me – I think for many people, it would be wise for them to not drink; I also appreciate when people dress up for church, and I think it a tragedy how casual an event church has become; I also certainly think people should be more aware and careful of the entertainment they subject themselves to; and I usually think tattoos are disgusting, and often come from completely wrong motives. However, like Dr. Bookman says, if I don’t know where the line is to sin, or what I can handle, or how much I can take without falling into sin, and so I place a precautionary standard upon myself to ensure that I don’t even get close to crossing the line – that is both wise and biblical. But the minute I try to place that same standard on someone else and think that they are wrong for not keeping my standard, or that I am better than them because I do – that’s legalism.
Jesus and Paul did things that were offensive – not to the weaker brother, but to proud, religious legalists who had blurred the lines between man-made standards, and Scripture. We must be gracious and sensitive. We must not cause our weaker brother to stumble. But we are not called to tiptoe or be embarrassed by our freedom in the presence of Pharisees.
Rom. 14; Gal. 2:3; 1 Cor. 10:27-29; 1 Cor. 8:7-13; Gal. 5:13; Col. 2:8; Matt. 11:19; Matt. 9:9-13; Mark 7:15