Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Mark 2:23-28; 1 Corinthians 8; Psalm 86; Judges 1-2
In 1 Corinthians 8-10, Paul returns to a topic addressed in Romans 14. In those days, some of the meat eaten in common settings came from animals sacrificed in the temples as part of pagan worship. The question for Christians was whether they should eat meat served during religious ceremonies, or during weddings and other social events held at the temple dining halls, or at people’s homes. Paul provides answers, but also elaborates on general principles that apply to questions of conscience. How should Christians respond when they have knowledge about what is right or wrong, yet less knowledgeable Christians don’t agree? Today the issue is not meat sacrificed to idols. But Christians differ over whether certain music is appropriate, or whether we should drink or smoke, or whether certain health practices and therapies are spiritually contaminated. The principles given here can guide us through such issues.
We must be careful how our knowledge leads us to respond to others. Knowledge has the habit of making us arrogant and it must always be balanced with love. Knowledge, theology or doctrine may give us a clear answer to our questions (8:4-6). There is only one God of the Universe. So, whatever these people are sacrificing to in their temples, they are not true gods. Since the meat has been sacrificed to nothing, Christians have the freedom to eat it.
However, Paul’s answer is not an absolute “Yes! Eat away.” Rather, it is a “Yes, but …” Paul uses this approach throughout this section. Freedom in Christ is not absolute freedom, but freedom qualified by love. Eating this meat would remind some Christians of their earlier pagan days and leave them feeling defiled and guilty. For the sake of loving them, Christians who believe there is nothing wrong with eating meat should be willing to abstain. An important factor in this section is that eating meat is not a moral issue: we are no better whether we eat or don’t eat meat (8:8). This must be kept in mind when applying this passage to other situations. Doing something immoral to love someone is very different.
With amoral practices, concern for others is more important than personal freedom (8:9). Insistence on one’s own freedom may lead other Christians to do what they believe is sin, which could ruin their conscience (8:10-12). We may believe that having a glass of wine, or receiving acupuncture, or joining the army is acceptable for us. But if other Christians believe it would be wrong for them to do likewise, and our actions lead them to do what they believe is sinful, we should be willing to restrict our freedoms. On the other hand, the New Testament makes clear that we should all grow in our knowledge of what is right and wrong so that our views on ethical issues are in accordance with God’s teachings (2 Tim 3:16-17; Hebrews 5:11-14).