There is a freedom that comes from surrender to Christ. It is a counter intuitive situation where one must be surrendered to the Lord of all Creation in order to be free. Only when I give up the life I wanted to live and start living the life that Christ wants for me do I recognize how much of a slave I was to my selfishness and sin nature. That freedom in Christ however comes with responsibility and I must not use my freedom in Him in a way that causes someone around me to sin. Paul provides an example of this dilemma and the believer’s responsibility.
Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 1 Corinthians 8:4 ESV
In the time of Paul’s writing meat purchased at the market or served at a festival most likely would have been slaughtered as part of some ritual or pagan worship. Within the Corinthian Church there must have been an argument about the freedom for a Christian to eat food that was part of such a ritual. This may seem like an abstract idea to western culture, but even in contemporary society there is food available that has been sacrificed in Muslim or Hindu traditions for example. Paul confirms that since pagan religions do not worship anything real because there is only one real Creator then there is nothing sinful about eating the food. Yet Paul Continues…
However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. 1 Corinthians 8:7-13 ESV
Now this clarification from Paul is interesting because he places a burden of responsibility on someone who understands the freedom that is given to those in Christ. He warns such a “mature” believer to not cause conflict to the brother in Christ who is not so mature. Paul clarifies later in the letter…
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 ESV
Paul agrees with the Corinthians that they are free to do what they want, but he challenges them to recognize that not everything is helpful and not everything builds up others. The freedom we have carries responsibility so I will bring this to a bit more relevance in current culture. I refrain from Alcohol of any kind. I abstain, not because it would be sinful or unlawful for me to participate, but because of the love I have for my brothers and for the unsaved. Drinking is such a dividing line in society. What if a young Christian saw me drinking and then followed my example? What if it led to excess for that individual? Drinking in no way builds up or is helpful so I abstain. By not drinking I am also recognized immediately by those around me especially unbelievers. It allows for an opportunity to speak the good news about Christ.
Each of us must examine our surroundings and culture to determine where freedom in Christ asks for a line to be drawn. Is our action helpful? Is our action building up others? What has the Holy Spirit laid on your heart? Maybe you should serve others by no longer participating in that action for God’s Glory.
Three Questions to bring this home:
1. An incident when I caused someone to stumble?
2. A Favorite thing that I am willing to limit, as God Leads?
3. A person I will choose to be more sensitive to in the future?