liberty and the weaker conscience

Because of recent conversations, I've been looking again at Paul's advice about responding to a "weaker" brother or sister. Someone who is easily offended or has moral scruples that might cause them to "stumble" (or be tempted) when they see other Christians acting more freely than they think is right. Paul speaks of this a couple times concerning the issue of eating certain foods. And his advice seems to be to accede to the scruples of the other, summed up best in lines like these:

Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. (1 Cor 8.9)

Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please all men in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. (1 Cor 10.32-33)

And, in most cases, I agree with this. I shouldn't flaunt my liberty when I know it tempts another person. Nor should I provoke their weak conscience.

But it must be understood that the "weaker" person's conscience should not be automatically taken as a standard for behavior, nor should they dominate the life of Christian community. As Paul writes amidst his other advice on this: "Why should my liberty be determined by another person's scruples?" (1 Cor 10.29)

And I think we also need to look at how Paul responded in specific situations. For example, when the scruples of some Jewish Christians were demanding circumcision for all. Could the stronger, freer Christians have acceded to this? Sure. Yet Paul resists it strongly:

Because of false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage -- to them we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

...when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?" (Gal 2.4-5,11-14)

Why? Because the "scrupulous" demands revealed deeper problems that needed to be addressed, and (more importantly, I think) human power was being exerted to force subjection to these scruples. To which Paul replies (gloriously):

For freedom Christ has set us free;
stand fast therefore,
and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Gal 5.1)

And how about in Jesus' life? We see more of the same:

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?"

And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, when Abi'athar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?"

And he said to them, "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath." (Mk 2.23-38)

Does Jesus give in to their moral concern, based on the law and probably a serious matter of conscience for them personally? No. He argues with them, and refuses their request, angering them quite a bit. (This same response is seen several times in incidents related to the sabbath, and also concerning the washing of hands, in Mark 7.) How does this fit with "Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God..."? I think those words of Paul have to be carefully interpreted, in light of the example of Jesus.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore...