1Co 8:1 Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that "all of us possess knowledge." This "knowledge" puffs up, but love builds up. 1Co 8:2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 1Co 8:3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
I have just finished studying through 1 Cor. 8 and went through Rom. 14 some time ago. In both of these chapters Paul deals with Christian liberty but in both chapters he is quite clear that what we can and cannot do as Christians is not the most important factor when it comes to Christian liberty. I think it is easy to miss something important in all this because Paul uses the terms weak and strong when referring to saints. Now as I go back through these passages I notice that he uses weak much more than strong. In fact I believe he only uses the term strong once in Rom. 15:1. I wonder if he does this because we are much more prone to see ourselves as the strong rather than the weak.
But I want to make some comments on how we can determine whether we are weak or strong. I think it is good for us to differentiate between weak and strong as Paul uses it here and being immature or spiritual. They are connected but not the same thing I believe.
On the one hand Paul in both chapters refers to those who have a certain level of knowledge of biblical truths as the stronger, although he doesn’t use that term in 1 Cor. 8. In both chapters he is actually speaking directly to the stronger because they have a greater responsibility to the weak. The basic difference between the two groups is that one group has a better understanding of biblical truth than the other and so realizes better the freedom they have in life.
My point is that perhaps we can fall into the trap of assuming that this group is the more spiritual or godly or Christlike or however we could describe them. But I think if we read through chapter 8 carefully we see that this is not necessarily the case. My contention is that spiritual maturity isn’t wrapped up in how much of the Bible we understand even through that is an important part of it. The “weak” in these chapters, I believe, can be even more godly than the strong and here is why.
I think Paul’s point especially in 1 Cor. 8 is that real growth and maturity is seen not in how well you understand what you can and cannot do but how well you love the Lord and can live with and work with and love each other. Some of these saints were absolutely orthodox but they were sinning in the way they were living out these truths by not being sensitive to those who didn’t understand what they did. Another way to put this is that it is one thing to be weak in your understanding of godliness and think that it is a matter of cutting out that and doing this, etc. But it is another thing to be weak in love for Christ and his body and unconcerned for their edification and encouragement.
Having a good understanding of biblical theology is necessary for any saint but it is not necessarily the difference in whether one is mature and Christlike. What I am saying is that even the weakest of us in these matters of understanding can still be the godliest of us all because of why they do what they do. If this one is abstaining from meat offered to idols because he will only do what his conscience will allow because he thinks about everything he does, whether it pleases the Lord or not, then he Christlike. The one who is more concerned with his freedom but cares little about thinking these things through in light of his brothers and sisters is further behind.
The mature Christian isn’t the one who goes around telling us what we can and cannot do or all the things we don’t do that we should be doing; that would be the immature saint if all he does is divide or elevate himself. The mature saint is the one who does whatever he can for Christ and the good of Christ’s children. That is why here and in Rom. 14 Paul doesn’t try to persuade the “weak” to just do it because they can. He speaks to all of us to be patient and loving with each other, especially the ones who should know better.
Let us desire to be strong in the Word and also spiritual in its application. To be strong in the Word and yet unloving towards our brothers and sisters is not Christlike.