Can Christians___________? Every generation has issues that people question. Today, we hear people ask if Christians can use tobacco, get tattoos, play the lottery, etc. The hot issue in Paul’s day was whether Christians could eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. In 1 Corinthians 8 he addresses this question. (You may have noticed we skipped over chapter 7. Don’t worry, we will come back to it!) While this issue most likely isn’t at the forefront of your mind today, there are principles Paul gives that are very helpful when questions arise. First, we must ask ourselves, What does the Bible say? If there is a clear command in Scripture, there should be unity. It applies to everyone. The next question to ask is, What does conscience say? If the Bible does not address it, then it is a matter of conscience. There will be diversity. It is personal. Paul’s point on these issues is that it’s bigger than us! Verse 9 says, “But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.” When making decisions, there are three stumbling blocks we must avoid.
Learning Over Love
Verse 1 says, “… knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.” The Corinthians had knowledge, but it was marked by arrogance. Knowledge can either be used to help or hurt. Knowledge makes you look good, feel important, but it can easily turn into a prideful know-it-all attitude. Logic cannot solve every problem, but love can. The Greeks and Romans were polytheistic. They worshiped many gods. They made food sacrifices to these false gods or idols. Part of the meat was burned on the altar and the other was sold at the marketplace. There was debate over whether eating this was OK. Since it was offered to idols and many believers were saved out of idol worship, some felt strongly that you should not eat it. Others felt that since false gods are no gods at all, go ahead! Paul is telling them that when it comes to this issue, knowledge is important and it’s is important to learn, but it is more important to love.
Choice Over Conscience
In verse 7, Paul says that for some people, eating this meet defiled their conscience. We are not wise when we go against our conscience. Don’t run ahead or sin against your own conscience. On the same hand, we have to be careful about going beyond what the Bible says. Man-made rules can lead to legalism. You have heard it said, “Let your conscience be your guide.” God made us with a conscience to know right from wrong, but our conscience has to be guided by Scripture and the Holy Spirit. We can have a seared conscience (1 Tim. 4:2) which is why we need to hear the word preached on Sunday and why we need to daily spend time in the word and in prayer. The Holy Spirit will guide us (Jn. 16:13). Everyone else may not share your convictions, but you have to ask whether or not you can do the action with a clear conscience. As Christians, we must look beyond what is simply right (permissible) or wrong (not permissible) and ask ourselves, even if this is OK, how is it going to influence those around me?
Freedom Over Friend
To close the chapter, Paul says, “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (v. 13). Christian freedom does not mean anything goes! Our freedom to do certain things should never be more important than loving others. Will you deprive yourself for the sake of others? Mature believers may know they have the freedom to do something but choose not to for the sake of others.
Paul makes it clear that we shouldn’t put learning over love, choice over conscience, or freedom over friend. If you still have doubts on whether to do certain things, Danny Akin, President of SEBTS, provides ten additional questions to ask, all taken from 1 Corinthians:
1) Will this action be helpful to me? (1 Cor. 6:12)
2) Will this action potentially enslave me? (1 Cor. 6:12)
3) Will this action encourage my brother or sister in Christ? (1 Cor. 8:13)
4) Will this action help or hinder my gospel witness? (1 Cor. 9:12)
5) Is this action consistent with my new life in Christ? (1 Cor. 6:9-11, 19)
6) Will this action violate my conscience? (1 Cor. 10:25-29)
7) Will this action follow the pattern of the life of Jesus? (1 Cor. 11:1)
8) Will this action show love to others? (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
9) Will this action honor my body which belongs to God? (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
10) Will this action glorify God? (1 Cor. 10:31)