1 Corinthians 8:4 …as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” …7 It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled…10 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11 So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12 But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
In the Roman world of Paul’s day, much of the publicly available meat would likely have been involved in some sort of cultic ritual before being made available for sale and/or consumption. There were many so-called gods in the ancient Roman world and many temples honoring those gods – who would all have required sacrifices.
Apparently there were some new Christians in the Corinthian church who were bothered by eating meat that had been offered to idols. In their own minds, such meat was defiled, so they refused to eat it and likely suggested to other Christians they should abstain as well.
However, other Christians had no problem eating such meat because they understood there were no other gods, for there is only one God. To them, eating such meat was no big deal and they thought the first group should lighten up. Hence, there was a conflict in the church about which Paul was writing.
In essence, Paul was saying “you’re both right”. If some peoples’ conscience was burdened by eating such meat, then they should abstain. Why? Because, even though it’s true there is only one God (the “knowledge” of which Paul writes), if some people believed themselves to be compromising themselves spiritually by eating the meat, incurring a guilty conscience in the process – then they shouldn’t eat it.
However, Paul also wrote that people NOT burdened by this problem should avoid eating such meat in front of the others (whom Paul describes as “weak”) because doing so might cause anxiety in their sensitive Christian brothers, or even cause them to fall away from the faith altogether.
What does this have to do with you and me?
There are times when we should abstain from certain things, not because we have a problem with it, but because those around us do.
For example, there are some people who feel very strongly that consuming alcohol is sinful and should be avoided. Others of us don’t see it that way. However, if I’m with someone who struggles with this question of alcohol consumption, Paul is encouraging me to abstain myself as well – for the other person’s sake. Not because I have to, but out of respect and love for my brother or sister.
As another example, there are some Christians (both men and women) who feel very strongly that people should be covered up and dressed modestly in public. Hence, it would not be a loving gesture for a fellow Christian to walk around in a bikini or Speedo in their presence. Is it a sin to wear such things? No. But if it bothers another believer’s conscience, less modest dress should be avoided for their sakes – while in their presence.
The key principal here is a believer’s willingness to change our own behavior while in the presence of another, for the sake of the other. I don’t want to be a stumbling block to someone else, even if I think they should “lighten up”. It’s about being willing to lose my life out of love and respect for someone else – at least for a short time.
Lord Jesus, give us grace to put other peoples’ needs ahead of our own. In this way, we reflect the love you have for us. Amen.
P.S., Yes, I’m writing this very early in the morning. Seems that I’m consistently waking very early these days in order to spend some time with the Lord in reading scripture, studying the scripture, and writing this blog. Rather than fight it, I’m embracing it. Now, back to bed. 🙂