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When to Give Up Your Rights For a Believer

by Gil Sanders
When to Give Up Your Rights For a Believer

But be careful that this right of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, the one who has this knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, won’t his weak conscience be encouraged to eat food offered to idols? […] Therefore if food causes my brother fall, I will never again eat meat, so that I won’t cause my brother to fall. (1 Cor 8:9-13)

A lot of us today our focused on our liberty and our rights. We’re all to quick to exercise those rights even if it comes at the expense of our neighbor or brethren. Paul, on the other hand, is aware that he has a right to eat whatever food he pleases but he chooses not to exercise it. He is more concerned about stumbling a weak brother and is willing to never again eat meat so that he won’t cause that brother to fall. We should be mindful of other people’s weaknesses and willing to relent our rights just as Christ relented His divine rights for us on the cross. Some practical examples of this today may be a style of dress, type of music, alcohol / bars, certain movies, and the like. If any of these causes a person to stumble then we should do our best to be careful around them. This should be done from love and not begrudgingly.

Some may object: “But Christians have issues with all sorts of things! Some complain that a dress should be below the knees or else it’s immodest, others complain that rock music is from the devil, some think it’s wrong to eat meat, and others think it’s somehow evil to watch TV. Am I supposed to give up everything? Are you kidding me? I may as well be a hermit!”

On the contrary, if a Christian condemns or rebuke us from a place of “knowledge” (not everything they rebuke us for comes from true knowledge) and not from a place of weakness then Paul is not urging us to give up our rights for them. We are only urged by love to give up our rights if it becomes a stumbling block to a person who possesses a weak conscience. Having a weak conscience means that a person falsely believes that action X is immoral but is nevertheless tempted to do X. It may be asked: “But why is it wrong to be tempted do something that isn’t actually wrong?” Because Paul tells us that “everything that is not from a conviction is sin” (Romans 14:23). The conscience is like an alarm system that alerts us to right and wrong. A person who has not yet come to true knowledge is still going to be alerted that X is sin, but if a person acts against it because you do it, then you are “wounding their weak conscience” (1 Cor 8:12) by bringing guilt. Furthermore, if that person consistently acts against their conscience in this matter, then it’ll be easier to ignore their conscience on other matters because they get desensitized. It’s like an alarm system: ignore one alarm long enough and it’ll be easier to ignore the other alarms.

By becoming a stumbling block to such brethren, we are in effect tempting them to become moral reprobates. It may be easy to be frustrated with their weakness, but love is patient and willing to relent one’s rights for their good. This does not mean we cannot exercise that right in our own privacy away from the weak believer. In contrast, love need not relent its rights merely because a fellow believer thinks we are doing wrong. However, we should be careful not to say nonsense like “I have a right to do whatever I want!” when being corrected. You do not have a right to everything, and slapping the word right to whatever you like to do isn’t going to make you right. All rights must be grounded in sound moral doctrine, otherwise you do not have a right to it. If a fellow believer corrects us from true knowledge then we ought to take their advice because a humble man receives correction, but if they’re not then we are not obligated to give up our rights just because they think it’s wrong.

Lastly, even if a believer is wrong, let us always look at the spirit behind their correction. If it is from a spirit of love and concern for your well being then we ought to in humility thank them despite disagreeing. Sometimes we get so angered at feeling judged and restricted by a believer’s false belief that we project our idea that this believer must be hateful. Be very careful about that. The mere fact that you feel negatively about that correction does not prove the believer has a negative spirit. But if there is a negative spirit, be mindful that a false correction can still have partial truths, or if not that, then it can at least be used by God to evaluate ourselves honestly before Him. Our worst critics can make us better Christians. You can correct this believer’s negative spirit, but be careful that it is not done out of spite or vengeance but out of a sincere desire to restore love.


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