Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B

Inspired by 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

“But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” 1 Corinthians 8:9 (NRSV)

When we truly know Christ, then we know that we have many freedoms in him. We are saved by grace through faith, not by works, so we don’t need to worry about earning our way into heaven; we know that our actions are a result of our living under grace, and that we will be forgiven when we fall short.

But to those outside of the faith looking in, our freedoms may look like hypocrisy. The issue in Paul’s day was whether or not it was acceptable for Christians to eat food sacrificed to idols (as most meat available had been). Mature Christians understood that there was only one God, and that food sacrificed to any other god was merely food, and that the idol was nothing. Immature Christians or non-Christians might see mature Christians eating this food, and might mistake it for participating in pagan worship. Paul advised that it was better to refrain from eating meat entirely than to risk damaging the fragile faith of a Christian who had not yet reached that level of maturity or understanding. He wasn’t changing the rules to match the opinions of the weaker members; he was suggesting that building up the faith was more important than one’s individual liberty. If a weaker member’s faith isn’t damaged, then that person can later be taught to understand on a deeper level.

Living by unearned grace is a difficult concept in such an achievement-oriented culture as ours. As you do so, consider carefully whether your actions are serving to build up the fragile faith of others, or if they’re getting in the way of someone hearing the good news that you live by. Then ask yourself how important your individual liberty in this matter is compared to building up the whole body of Christ.

Let us pray. Gracious God, you have given us your grace as a free gift. Grant us the humility to consider the needs of your beloved children before our own wants, that we may build up and strengthen the whole body of Christ. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.