Recently my preaching schedule has led me though a section of 1 Corinthians where Paul writes about the wise and proper use of freedoms.
In the times of the Corinthian church, a question came up about buying or eating meat that had been previously used in a pagan ritual. (Such meat would often find it’s way into the meat market.) And in some cases, the meat would be served already prepared at the very site of the pagan temple.
Obviously for us in 2018 this is not a big area of struggle, but for the Corinthians this was a huge challenge.
Some people were generally appalled by the idea. Perhaps they were young in the faith, or perhaps their journey to Christ had come out a life of godless paganism. It could have been that some thought the meat was, in some way, inhabited by demonic influences.
Others in the church didn’t understand the internal struggle about eating such meat. And if such meat came at a more affordable price, why not get a great deal?
This question of “to meat or not to meat” made it’s way to Paul, so he wrote out a response.
In the first place, Paul affirmed that the meat used in pagan rituals was just that: meat.
Here’s how he put it:
1 Corinthians 8:4-6 (NIV)
So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
In essence, Paul was saying that attributing so much power to the idols used in these paganistic rites was giving them too much credit. Truth be told, they were nothing more than rocks carved into statues.
Now, Paul’s assessment found in verses 4-6 could have been taken as a green light to the pro-meat-eating contingent in Corinth.
But verse 7 lets us know that Paul has more on his mind regarding the subject:
1 Corinthians 8:7 (NIV)
But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.
In essence, Paul is saying, “Not everyone is where you may be at on the same issue.”
Even though “on paper” eating idol-sacrificed meat appeared to be okay, in the minds of some, participating in a meal of such meat would painfully stab at their conscience.
What Paul is doing here is creating a dilemma: to meat or not to meat!
I think the point Paul wants his readers to get is this: sometimes it’s better to forgo a freedom if we know it is really going to trip someone up.
Which demands great sensitivity to God, His Word and His Spirit.
Notice how Paul wraps up the chapter:
1 Corinthians 8:9-13 (NIV)
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 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. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.
Isn’t it interesting that Paul wrote that eating ritually-sacrificed meat was not a sin, but wounding the conscience of a person who thought differently was definitely a sin!
The principle within this chapter reminds me of the challenge of parenting.
Hopefully, our goal is to help our kids to keep growing emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually.
But in this process, what parent hasn’t placed their kids in a situation that was a bit over their head, and the result was a frightened or overwhelmed child?
We thought we were helping them make a huge leap forward, but in the end we realized we just took them a few steps backward.
To which, hopefully, we dialed back the pressure and lowered our expectations and let our kids grow at a more manageable pace.
That was Paul’s concern for all brothers and sisters in Christ.
His desire was that the mature wouldn’t flaunt their freedom, but rather would stop and consider how their freedom affects others.
I don’t think that a mature Christian can never exercise their freedom. I just think that if they really love their fellow Christian, they’ll take time to weigh the risks/benefits of any given situation.
That’s Paul’s point.
To do so is to exercise love.
And sometimes love says no to something we have complete liberty to do.