Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Weaker Brother

I've been thinking a lot lately about convictions: why it's so important to have them, and moreover, why it's so tragic to break them.  The apostle Paul was adamant about the danger of our causing a brother to sin by leading him to break a conviction that we may not hold ourselves. "So what's the big deal?" you might ask. "There's nothing wrong with that."

People may serve the same God, even attend the same church, yet, especially in the area of practices not discussed in the Bible, may hold to different standards. Some of this is due to upbringing; some is due to dedication. Paul felt that "food offered to idols" was just that--"food offered to things that had no power to change it". He ate the food and it didn't damage his conscience to do so.  However, he also refrained from eating that same food in the presence of those who felt it a sin to partake of it. His explanation was as follows: If I do this, and they follow my example, it would be against their conscience. I would cause my brother to sin.

 Breaking a conviction hardens the conscience. Anything that hardens the conscience leads to spiritual numbness, and scar after scar makes a hard heart.

That's why it's wrong for a Christian to induce other Christians to break the "scruples", "laws", "mores", and, most importantly, "convictions" they hold or have been raised with. No, you may not see anything wrong with a certain thing, but it may be devastating for them. First it's a minor step, a small thing, then another, then one step more. They begin to question everything they once stood for, and you have just helped to shipwreck a life.  If, indeed, it's important for someone to abandon the principles they once held as an honor to God, we should let God's Word convince them, not ours.

Most of the time though, "importance" doesn't enter into it. We just want to "set people straight on the issues of what we can or cannot do and still serve God".  Maybe, it's because we feel they are ridiculous and too rigid in their beliefs; but it might also be because we want someone else to do what we are doing so we can feel more justified in doing it. For disciples, the danger is rather with the one who follows farther behind...not the one who follows too closely.

Was Daniel "weak" when his conscience did not allow him to eat Nebuchadnezzar's food? Hardly. It was his conviction to hold fast in this minor thing that kept him  strong when circumstances challenged his faith. Later, his very life was tested, but he held to what was right. What if someone had convinced him that the "sin" of eating unclean food, was not relevant to his position as a war captive? What if he had eaten along with the rest? Perhaps his name would be just as obscure as the names of a thousand other captives.

When Paul speaks of the "weaker" brother, he's not condemning that disciple, nor does he try to change him. He refers to a "weak" that means "vulnerable".  It is not our job to persuade someone that they are giving up too much for God, to liberate them from their dedication, to talk a Samson into cutting his own hair--one strand at a time.  


Carina said...

Very true, and something I wrestle with in my own life. I'm afraid that I have played a role in breaking the convictions of those who trusted me because I was not as affected by those things. I hope that I can recognize that and avoid it in the future, and perhaps have the opportunity to undo some of the damage that has already been done.

We've taken to calling those convictions "guardrails". They are the twinges of your conscience that keep you from falling into greater sin, with sometimes irreversible consequences.

Lilibeth said...

Exactly. Guardrails. That's very apt.

Mari said...

Thank you for writing this, Lili. :)

Lilibeth said...

Thank you...for providing inspiration.

aftergrace said...

Good post. I need to read it over and over to remind myself not to "give in" when others need my honest advice.