Happy new year! I hope that this year for you will be filled with joy and blessings.
In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul writes, “However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat” (1 Corinthians 8:7-8, NASB). In the Corinthian church at this point, many Christians found it desirable to attend feasts at pagan temples or to dine at the private tables of unsaved friends whose meat had come from such a feast. Many, including more mature believers, had no issue consuming this meat. Others, however, still had inhibitions against eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols.
Paul makes it clear in his letter that those without such inhibitions would not necessarily be wrong in partaking of the meat. He agrees that they have that freedom and that, understanding that freedom, they might exercise it. He notes, however, problems that come from this knowledge of freedom. Those who understood that they could eat the meat became arrogant in this knowledge and looked down on those who would not, and they directly or indirectly encouraged those other believers to eat the meat and violate their consciences.
There are clearly actions which are absolutely sinful. Paul addresses these at other points in his writings. There are actions which are less definitively stated as sinful but are pretty obviously wrong. There are actions not specifically mentioned which are covered under the first two categories. But there are many issues upon which sincere and knowledgeable believers disagree. As a teenager and student, it is my nature to question both authority and assumptions. Usually, I find that I agree with what I am taught. Sometimes I come to different conclusions than my parents, or my church, or my friends. As is my nature, and that of humanity, I feel the desire to exercise the freedoms that come from these conclusions, just as the Corinthians felt the desire to exercise their freedom to eat the sacrificed meat. I find myself wanting to do things which I believe I know to be acceptable, but which I know those around me might consider sinful.
In these moments of desire, I must acknowledge two truths. Firstly, I am human and flawed, and what I think I know I may not. Secondly, “not all things edify” (1 Corinthians 10:23). While I may have the freedom to do a thing, if a friend considers that action sinful but is by my action encouraged to participate, that action is sinful for me. As I do my best to figure life out, it is on my conscience to not cause others to violate their consciences.
We have many freedoms. Some of us have, or think we have, much knowledge. But those freedoms and that knowledge must not be allowed to cause our brothers and sisters to stumble. As we determine for ourselves what exactly we believe, we must respect the beliefs of our peers and associates. This is the core of what I wish to communicate. In a highly connected world in which you will find yourself interacting more and more with others who may have very different lifestyles, I would encourage you to consider not only your beliefs but also the beliefs of others in your public and private behavior.
Michael Collins (16) is on staff at TPS Chapel and Changing Lives Ministry and is a sophomore at The Potter's School.