Read This Week: 1 Corinthians 8
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 1 Corinthians 8:9, 11-12 NIV
One of the most undervalued and underused emotions in life is empathy. Empathy is knowing about someone and balancing that knowledge with love and wisdom. It is the ability to understand and sincerely relate to another’s feelings while handling them with discernment and compassion.
In 1 Corinthians 8, we see Paul addressing the more mature and stronger Christians in the church, those who had more knowledge, experience, and a better understanding of their freedom in Christ. He is talking to them about activities that they have the freedom to do but require empathy toward others that are weaker. Paul wants them to be empathetic in their liberty because others can’t handle it in the same way.
In essence, Paul is saying that in our lifestyles, activities, and freedoms, we should look out for one another because everything permissible to do is not always helpful. What is good for one person may be risky for someone else. He wants us to be mindful, not proud of our ability to do certain things in front of others.
Paul writes in verse 9, “Be careful that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” The phrase stumbling block means spiritual destruction. In other words, if we fail to empathize with someone in their weakness when we exercise our freedom, it could cause that person to be destroyed by our actions. That’s why freedom and empathy must go together. We simply can’t do what we want without considering others. The strong should always look out for those who are weaker.
Living as an empathic person means to follow the example of Jesus. He was empathetic to others. He understood them, felt their pain, and was sensitive to their situations. He was God but did not use his power to take advantage of or lead people astray. That’s why Paul said when we fail to regard others in our freedom and do damage to their lives, we not only sin against them but we sin against Christ.
Empathy and wisdom can prevent this from happening. Being empathetic to one another makes us more aware of our actions and how it will affect someone else. Having empathy in our knowledge and freedom is limiting ourselves for the sake of others and their spiritual wellness. Empathy can keep someone from being destroyed. Empathy is selfless. Empathy is powerful. Empathy is love.