Can You Make Me Relapse?
But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 1 Corinthians 8:9
When I meet an alcoholic or addict who’s relapsed, ending up back in jail or treatment, I usually ask how it happened. Often, the story involves the addict spending time with using friends who encouraged the relapse. Whose fault is the relapse when this happens? Is it the addict’s fault for being around the drug or does the fault lie with those who encouraged the addict to return to using?
I’ve always blamed the addict for associating with those who used. In today’s passage though, Paul suggests that as Christians at least, we have some responsibility to be sensitive to the weaknesses of those around us. Apparently, food offered to idols was a controversy for the church in Corinth. Some felt they could eat it but some, who’d previously been involved with idol worship, felt it was unclean to eat. Paul said that for the sake of those whose conscience told them not to eat, he would deny his own right to do so. He said that eating such meat wasn’t wrong, until it caused someone else to struggle.
Our culture doesn’t wrestle with meat and idols, but Paul’s reasoning applies well to the Christian’s approach to alcohol. I have a lot of friends who can have one beer without it turning into 12 beers. How should they approach their consumption of alcohol around me then? Will their drinking encourage me to relapse?
Honestly, it doesn’t bother me if others drink around me, but alcohol was never my greatest struggle. If a well-meaning friend offered me a few Vicodin to help with back pain though, that would be very different. If I relapsed, I’d still be responsible, but according to Paul, the one through whom temptation came would also bear some guilt.
I’m responsible for my own recovery and I must be smart. I don’t purposefully seek out those who are drinking, and I don’t spend time in the bar. When I work in addiction medicine, I don’t handle the controlled substances. I do what I can to avoid temptation.
In today’s passage though, Paul said that those around us are also responsible not to allow their behavior to become a stumbling block to us. We’re all in this together and we do bear some responsibility to be sensitive, surrendering our own rights at times for the good of those around us.