Jimmy wanted to be a country music star. His dream was to play on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. His dream took over his life, almost ruining his marriage. But when Jimmy became a follower of Jesus, he decided that country music had become his idol. He abandoned his dream and decided that he would play only worship music. Was Jimmy going too far?
Jimmy’s decision was really a question of conscience. Matters of conscience are not always easy to navigate because they are issues that are not directly addressed in Scripture. What troubles one person may not trouble another. One question of conscience that troubled the Corinthian church had to do with food that had previously been offered to idols. Meat used in pagan worship was sometimes sold in the marketplace or served in other social settings. Was it right for a Christian to partake of such food?
Paul’s answer involved both theology and conscience. The starting point in this matter was biblical truth: the idol was nothing. There is no other God except the God we know through Jesus Christ (vv. 4–6). But some who had worshiped idols in the past were unable to eat meat sacrificed to idols without feeling that they had sinned (v. 7). For them, Paul’s counsel was to abstain. The meat itself was spiritually neutral, but the act of eating was not.
It did not mean that the decision whether to eat or not was merely a private one. Those who felt free to eat such food were obligated to consider the effect their freedom might have on others (vv. 9–11). Even morally neutral acts can be sinful when they cause others to violate their conscience. The Christian’s practice in such situations must be guided by truth and love.
It is not safe to ignore your conscience. It is also destructive to disregard the sensitivities of another’s conscience. It is not enough to be convinced that we have the liberty to do something; we must consider others. Where truth grants us the freedom to partake, love often demands that we exercise our freedom to abstain.