LOVE LIMITS MY FREEDOM
LIFE Devotions–June 6, 2016
“Don’t be concerned for your own good
but for the good of others.”
–1 Corinthians 10:24
My freedom in Christ may cause someone with weaker faith to stumble on an issue that is not right or wrong, but simply a matter of personal conscience. If what I do does not violate God’s Word or grieve His Spirit but causes a brother or sister to stumble when doing it, we are called by God’s word to limit our freedom for the sake of love. This is specially true if we are trying to win someone for the Lord from another culture or tradition. Our sensitivity to the weaknesses of others gives us access to their hearts so they can receive what we have to say about our Savior. This is what love is all about. To not be concerned about our own well being, but the well being of others.
Every person on earth brings a unique past and background to the table of human relationships. This background weaves an elaborate and complex tapestry of personal convictions that build a certain strength of conscience about issues of life. Even though these convictions are not formed by God’s word but the result of our personal story, they still can determine what we consider to be right or wrong. So when someone comes along who is unaware or insensitive to our standards, they can cause a wrong impression, an offense, or even ruin the relationship. Patting someone's back for example to thank them for a “job well done” could be very offensive to someone from Korea. Refusing a shot of Vodka in Russia could be a great insult to someone trying to affirm trust and friendship through this gesture. Something that you casually and routinely do may cause offense and sorrow to someone else somewhere else in the world. The Bible instructs us to be thoughtful about these things as a means to show grace to others.
In the New Testament, eating meat sacrificed to idols was an example of how to extend God's grace towards those with a weaker conscience. This topic soon became a point of contention and confusion within the early church believers. Pagans (non-believers) would sacrifice animals to various pagan gods, and then they would sell or donate the leftover meat in the meat markets. Since this meat was merely the leftover remains of a pagan worship service, it would have a cheaper price.
Paul had no issue with eating meat sacrificed to idols. His personal conscience was strong on this issue: “For the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” He understood that idols are false gods and meat is meat, good to eat when you are hungry. So bless it and eat it! Paul however was mature enough to understand that many Jews would find it very offensive to see a new Gentile believer doing such thing. So he encouraged them to abstain from eating meat sacrificed to idols for the sake of those with weaker faith in this area. Being insensitive to this could block the openness of many Jews to the Gospel and even put some Gentiles in danger of falling into sin, because meat sacrificed to idols was often accompanied with immoral and sexually perverse celebrations. Eating left over meat from idol worship could be like drinking a glass of wine in front of someone who was a slave to alcohol before coming to Christ. It not only violates the other’s person conscience with regards to alcohol consumption, but it can subtly encourage him to visit the places where he used to get drunk and become susceptible to evil and sexual misconduct while under the influence.
This is why the church in Jerusalem asked the new Gentile converts in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia to abstain from meats sacrificed to idols, for its consumption was linked to idolatry and sexual perversion in that culture (Acts 15:29). God also reaffirms this principle in Revelations 2:14,20. He does not condemn eating the meat, He condemns participating in the idolatry and revelry that generally took place while sacrificing the meat.
With this in mind, let us make sure that our freedom in Christ does not bring bondage to those seeking freedom in Christ themselves. By thinking about the welfare of others and not our own, we make room for people to grow a stronger conscience that is rooted in God’s will and not their personal story, traditions, or cultural superstitions.
– Can you think of something you have said or done that wasn’t sinful but was a stumbling block for someone else with a weaker conscience?
– How can you help folks with weaker faith grow a stronger conscience that is rooted in God’s word and not human tradition?