We don’t solve disagreements in the church by claiming to know more than the people we disagree with. We’re brothers and sisters; we can’t treat one another that way.
So what’s the right approach?
On the question of eating meat offered to idols, Paul begins by giving a short, straightforward answer:
4 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.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
There’s no other god but Yahweh. The meat isn’t changed by being offered to a nonexistent god. As a matter of fact, that meat was made, and given to us (Gen 9.3), by the true God, who is gracious and generous and kind. By eating it with delight, we honor Him.
Eat the meat.
That’s the short answer.
But, says Paul, that answer isn’t really worth much, because y’all be askin’ the wrong question.
The issue isn’t the meat. It’s just meat.
The issue is the body of Christ. The issue is how we handle disagreements—even when one of the parties Just Doesn’t Get It.
And in this disagreement, Paul’s clear about which side that is:
7 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. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
Remember those recently converted idol worshippers? Yeah, they matter. They matter a lot more than whether you eat meat. You can do without the meat. Take care of your brother. Knock off the “You just don’t get it!” nonsense.
Because if you do what you have a perfect right to do, you could cause spiritual harm to your brother. What kind of harm? You could “become a stumbling block.”
What does that mean? Next section:
10 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? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
This dear fellow thinks eating the meat is wrong. He’s mistaken about that, but that’s what he thinks.
And, for reasons we simply can’t fathom, he also thinks you’re an example worth following.
He sees you eat the meat, and his conscience tells him “No!” and he eats it anyway.
He’s just violated his conscience.
Why is that problem? Because his conscience is the guardian of his soul. And when he disobeys his conscience, he’s going to damage it—as Paul says elsewhere, he’s going to “sear” it (1Ti 4.2). Scar it. Make it less sensitive.
And then he’s in really serious trouble. And you contributed to that.
Interesting, no? You need to listen to the “No”s of your conscience, even when it’s mistaken. Even if you Just Don’t Get It.
Now this raises a couple of interesting, and really important, questions—
- What exactly does it mean to be a “weaker brother”?
- Is it OK to have a misinformed conscience? Shouldn’t we try to correct that?
We’ll get to that next time.