As we think through social ethics from a biblical perspective, we need to be careful and not confuse God’s absolute laws with His biblical principles. God’s laws are to be obeyed as stated and not filtered through our own justification. However, there are many things that God did not include in His Word. In those cases we are given a set of principles that we can apply to give us direction in making decisions.
Offense Principle: Defined
The Bible teaches that we should be willing to abstain from anything—even if the activity isn’t itself wrong—for the sake of another Christian. The Offense Principle states that we should put aside our own desires and activities if doing the activity would cause a stumbling block in the life of a weaker brother.
When thinking through this principle it is important to understand who a weaker brother is and what it means to offend them. First look at the concept of offend. The Greek word used in Matthew 5:29; 18:6 and Romans 14:21 for offend is the word σκανδαλίζω (skandalizō or skän-dä-lē’-zō). According to the Strong’s Concordance this word is a metaphorical word that means to place a stumbling block in someone’s way which causes them to fall. In other words, to entice someone to sin. Paul says in Romans 14:21 that we should not do anything that may cause a weaker brother to fall into sin because of our action.
Offense Principle: Clarifying Questions
Will participating in this activity cause a weaker brother to sin?
The question now becomes, who is a weaker brother? A weaker brother would be a new or immature Christian who is humbly seeking the truth. This is not someone who has a personal agenda, but someone who honestly wants to learn God’s Word and grow spiritually.
I remember when I was in high school there was another teen who had recently been saved and was hungry to learn anything about God and His holiness. My friend concluded that since our bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost, we should not drink any beverages like Coke because of the chemicals they contain. As more mature Christians, we decided that we would not drink any Coke-type products when we were with him. Is drinking Coke sinful? No. Yet we choose to abstain from drinking carbonated beverages around our friend while he tried to grow into a stronger Christian. However, when we were away from our weaker brother we still drank carbonated beverages. The outcome was that within a couple of weeks he also determined that they were not necessarily wrong and he lifted his personal ban.
There will always be people who try to preach their own agenda and make everyone around them feel guilty. The Offense Principle is not intended for those situations. The Bible’s teaching is clearly that we should abstain from any activity that would cause a weaker brother to sin.
Offense Principle: Biblical Basis
Again we can look to the key passage on biblical decision making, 1 Corinthians 8-11:1 to help us with this principle. In 1 Corinthians 8:9, 10 Paul is talking about eating meat offered to idols. He has already concluded that it is fine for a Christian to eat this meat. However, he says in these verses that just because it is non-sinful to eat the meat, you should still abstain if it might cause a weaker brother to sin.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:23 and 24 that we should be concerned with the welfare of other Christians around us.
Other verses which support this principle are Matthew 5:29; 18:6; Romans 14:21 and James 4:17.
Offense Principle: Application
This principle primarily deals with activities that are not questionable as to whether they are right or wrong. If something is sin, then you shouldn’t do it. The issue here is knowing when to abstain from non-sinful activities for the sake of others.
You may know a new Christian who concludes that any music composed by a non-Christian is evil music. Your friend honestly wants to grow in the Lord. If he gets into your car while you are playing music by Beethoven (who may have been a Christian but reportedly did not go to church), would you still play the music? Is there any question in your mind as to whether or not Beethoven’s music is sinful? You may not personally have a problem with listening to a certain type of music, but if it causes your weaker brother to sin (and he would be sinning if he believed it was wrong and listened to it anyway according to Romans 14:22 and 23) then you should abstain.
This principle can help you make decisions not on whether something is right or wrong, but whether you should participate in the activity in certain situations. Do you have another situation in which you wonder if this principle applies? Leave a comment below and allow us to discuss it.