Summary: Christians are free to follow their conscience in ethical “gray matters” but must not offend a weaker Christian’s conscience.
A Sunday school teacher asked her class, "What was Jesus’ mother’s name?"
One child answered, "Mary."
The teacher then asked, "Who knows what Jesus’ father’s name was?"
A little kid said, "Verge."
Confused, the teacher asked, "Where did you get that?"
The kid said, "Well, you know, they are always talking about Verge n’ Mary.’’
If you’ve got your Bible I encourage you to open it up to 1 Cor. 8.
Paul, writing to his friends in Corinth, responds to a question they sent him that basically goes like this. “If we, as Christians, get invited to partake in eating meat that was dedicated to an idol and sacrificed in an idol worship rite, is it OK to eat it or not?”
They asked this question because it was a question that came up all the time. The city was full of temples dedicated to different idols, and a major part of worshipping those idols was the sacrificing of animals to those “gods”. Part of the meat would be burned up in the sacrificial ceremony, some given to the priests, and some would end up being sold in the marketplace. What would a “good Christian” do?
This is what has been called a “gray area”. Some matters in our lives are clearly laid out in scripture – it’s a black and white issue. Other questions are not so clear, and God-fearing Christians hold differences of opinion. How are we to handle these situations? How free can we be to do what we think is right? Let’s take a look at Paul’s advice to the Corinthians and then spend a few minutes applying it to our culture.
1 Corinthians 8 (NIV)
1Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. 3But the man who loves God is known by God.
4So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. 5For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), 6yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
7But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
9Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? 11So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.
In the book of Romans Paul addresses this same issue and gives us a few different insights so let me read through some of those verses as well…
Romans 14 (NLT)
1Accept Christians who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. 2For instance, one person believes it is all right to eat anything. But another believer who has a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. 3Those who think it is all right to eat anything must not look down on those who won’t. And those who won’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. 4Who are you to condemn God’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him tell them whether they are right or wrong. The Lord’s power will help them do as they should….
10You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11It is written:
" ’As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
’every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will confess to God.’ " 12So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. 13Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.