Tuesday, July 31, 2012

You Can’t Do That! – “For Conscience’ Sake”

For Conscience’ Sake??

This phrase comes from 1 Cor. 10:23-30

It’s similar to the passages about “stumbling,” but in this case, the other person is not a follower of Christ.

Here’s the Context:

Often, animals that had been offered as sacrifices to pagan idols would then be taken and the meat sold in the market. You could very likely wind up purchasing some meat that been “offered to idols” without actually knowing it.

Paul says that’s no problem… just don’t ask (v25)… for conscience’ sake.

The next point Paul makes is that if you’re having dinner at the home of another person, who is not a believer, then here again, don’t ask… just eat what you’re served. BUT… if the guy tells you that it was offered to an idol, then don’t eat it… for conscience’ sake (v28).

But here’s the key point… Paul is not talking about our own consciences here, he’s talking about the other guy’s conscience (v29a)!!

Paul is telling us here that refraining from eating “meat offered to idols” was not a moral absolute, but a contextual decision… and a voluntary one, at that! Act in deference towards others, he seems to be teaching.

A Principle to Grab Hold Of!

And then comes a most surprising yet very relevant statement by Paul… a clear principle that we can apply to a LOT of different situations

for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? (v29b)

Just in case someone might want to say, “You can’t do that, other people believe that it is wrong,” Paul states it pretty plainly… My freedom before God to to do something is NOT determined by other peoples’ faulty consciences about it.

A Good Place to Close

Whether it’s “The appearance of evil,” “causing to ‘stumble,’” or a matter of “conscience,” acting in deference towards others is a good thing, but allowing other peoples’ moral standards to dictate what we do and do not have freedom before the Lord to do… that is something else.

If anyone attempts to twist Paul’s words in order to make them say, You can’t do that!… we need to respond with Paul’s very clear and un-twisted rhetorical question:

Why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience?

Rest assured… it isn’t.

Back to My Opening Question

In the Introduction to this series, I asked this question:

At what point must a Biblical Christian modify his own behavior because someone else thinks that what he is doing is wrong?

I mentioned that there were three different options in response:

  1. Refrain completely, at all times.
  2. Refrain while that person’s presence.
  3. No obligation to refrain at all.

The answer, according to Paul, is actually #3. At the same time, he encourages us to be alert to contexts where deference towards others would be better than simply expressing our freedom, but that only applies to those who are not believers or who are weak in their faith… never the ones who do nothing more than condemn us.

— Matthew Neal


In this Series:

You Can’t Do That! - Introduction
You Can’t Do That! - The “Appearance of Evil”
You Can’t Do That! – the “Weaker Brother” (Part 1)
You Can’t Do That! – the “Weaker Brother” (Part 2)
You Can’t Do That! – “For Conscience’ Sake”


jochanaan said...

And isn't it strange how many Christians, on most other issues, will insist on following Biblical (or quasi-Biblical!) mandates even at the expense of other relationships--but on this one issue, they fall back on "appearance of evil" etc.! As I recall, Jesus saved his harshest words for exactly such people.

Jasen said...

You refer to 1 Cor 10:29 but skip 30-33 where Paul says to give no offense in whatever you are doing.

Those verses clearly put an obligation to be sensitive to the people around you and not offend.

But I agree that the context of the verses is activities that in themselves are not sin, but others would consider not glorifying to God - which is subtly different than sinful. Part of the issue in these verses is that the meat offered to the idols is for the glory/praise of those gods. Christians don't want to do anything giving reverence to other gods.