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Monday, May 5, 2014

Deferring to another's conscience

Throughout the ages, there have always been the questions of what is right and wrong.  In a sense, man struggles with his conscience to determine if what he feels is right is also right in a broader sense - as it applies to his brothers and sisters.  In some instances, what our conscience will allow would be the undoing of another.  So, to this end, we need to remain sensitive to the fact that conscience alone cannot dictate our actions.  We need the input from scripture and the confirmation of the Holy Spirit within.  These are often still not enough, though - because even with the best of intentions we can cause another to stumble by our allowed actions.  We have to become sensitive to the "conscience" of another - not shutting down their beliefs, but allowing them to come to the revelation of truth on their terms.

In strict logic, then, nothing happened to the meat when it was offered up to an idol. It’s just like any other meat. I know that, and you know that. But knowing isn’t everything. If it becomes everything, some people end up as know-it-alls who treat others as know-nothings. Real knowledge isn’t that insensitive.  We need to be sensitive to the fact that we’re not all at the same level of understanding in this. Some of you have spent your entire lives eating “idol meat,” and are sure that there’s something bad in the meat that then becomes something bad inside of you. An imagination and conscience shaped under those conditions isn’t going to change overnight.  (I Corinthians 8:7 MSG)

I think this may be what Paul had in mind when he drafted this letter to the Corinthian believers.  He was asked this question about meat offered to idols and whether it was okay to eat it since all idols are merely objects of a man's making and not really "gods" at all.  The premise is that we believe there is one true God and we serve him wholeheartedly.  Yet, there are those who have been taught a set of "rules" which they have lived by for a long time. These rules form the basis of their beliefs and they are what drives the conscious decisions of those individuals.  Such was the case with the religious Jewish believers.  They had followed strict rules for so long - believing some things were forbidden, such as eating meat offered to idols.  In their mind, the meat was considered unclean because it had been involved in some type of worship to a "made-up" god and not the one true God.  To partake of it would be to allow something "bad" to enter one's body - so they struggled with the idea of being free in Christ to eat it if they desired.

Paul lays out a broad premise for understanding this set of "arguments" - but until the conscience is free from the beliefs one has formed and adhered to for so many years, the individual cannot in "good conscience" partake.  In fact, our partaking may even cause that individual to become a little "undone" because they see us as a fellow believer and don't understand why our conscience doesn't stop us from partaking.  To this end, we are reminded of the need to be sensitive to the fact that we are all on different levels of understanding as it applies to our walk with Christ.  Some have been able to shed the "rule-keeping" mindset and walk in liberty as it applies to some things.  Others hold a little tighter to their background and upbringing. Regardless of where we are, we cannot cause another to struggle or stumble because we have liberty, or feel a little bound.

In other words, we need to learn to use knowledge well and to apply it first in our own lives, then allow another to see that knowledge lived out, but not to allow it to be a battleground in their own life.  This is tricky business because what my freedom gives me liberty to do may not be that easy for the next person to understand - especially if their background has left them carrying a load of guilt over just that thing!  Sometimes I know it is okay to do something but I clearly know another is struggling with it - in those instances, I need to allow my actions to be dictated by the other person's conscience. This may seem a little controversial to some, but if it offends another, my actions should defer to the other.  

All Paul wants us to see is that knowledge is a good thing - for knowledge can set us free from things we have held so tightly as the way we are going to do things in our lives.  When we actually grasp onto the truth as God presents it, then we are able to lay down those "rule-keeping" conscience-based decisions which only keep us in bondage.  But...we cannot expect everyone to be on the same level of learning as we are and we cannot cram learning down their throats.  We need to defer to them - knowing we will have opportunities as God opens the doors to us to share the truth we have been given, but with sensitivity and understanding.  Just sayin!