Be careful that your freedom doesn’t hurt somebody else! What if someone who’s an addict sees you walk into a bar. Won’t that person think it must be OK for them to have a drink, too? And then that person – Jesus wanted that person in the movement – that person gets screwed up because of you. You’re not following Jesus if you lead other people to mistake libertarianism for salvation. In fact, if it would help keep a friend away from drink, I’d never drink again myself.
I confess, I’m not satisfied yet with the rendering of this passage. But perhaps you can suggest some revisions.
In Paul’s context, this was about eating meat from animals that had been sacrificed to idols. New Christians, having come into Paul’s churches with this kind of religious background, would have been told that idol worship is no longer permitted. They would have “had knowledge” of the rites of pagan sacrifices, and if they were to see Christians eating that meat, Paul thought they might revert to their former idolatrous ways and be lost.
In today’s world (well, the world most of us are likely to be familiar with) sacrificing animals, in the religious sense, isn’t a widespread issue. So I’m looking for another issue that might be more familiar. Above, I’ve rendered it as alcoholism:
- because consumption of alcohol is controversial in some Christian circles, and
- because there is a real element of danger to someone who is in recovery and is tempted by the bad example of another.
But I’m not sure it’s the best possible modern-day equivalent.
Having said that, though, it doesn’t really matter what the particular issue is. Even Paul is using the issue of food sacrificed to idols as an example of a larger principle: consideration. The issue here is that just because you can do something without risk to yourself doesn’t mean you should. In fact, if there is some question whether you actions might be harmful to someone else, you should refrain. This doesn’t mean caving in every time someone disagrees as a matter of conscience. But it does mean not leading others into temptation.
Or, to put it another way:
If a community is only as strong as its weakest link, people will tend to think of the person who has some kind of weakness (an addiction, a propensity to defect, peanut allergy, whatever) as the person who is that weakest link. But, Paul says that in fact the weakest link is the person who is the bête noire, the kryptonite, that sets someone else to self-destruct. Paul’s point: don’t be that person.