At his office cubicle, Bill often listened to music that his colleague John hated. When John complained, Bill answered with a Latin phrase: De gustibus non est disputandum. It means, “In matters of taste, there can be no disputes.”
This is often how we view our disputes over Christian liberty. It is tempting to see our differences as little more than disagreements about taste. Since they are subjective, they cannot be resolved.
We also use the language of rights. We are convinced that we have the right to act according to our own tastes. To restrict our tastes is a capitulation to legalism. This false perspective is reflected in the Corinthian slogan, “I have the right to do anything” (v. 23). Paul counters this philosophy with an important observation: “Not everything is beneficial.” Even things which may be technically “legal” for us may not be constructive.
We cannot settle questions of Christian liberty by demanding a chapter-and-verse justification, for what is not explicitly forbidden is not always permissible. It is certainly not always wise. What may be acceptable behavior for one person can be dangerous for another. But how do we know where to draw the boundary lines?
The question of benefit is one test. What kind of an effect does the practice have on those who engage in it? Is it beneficial? Does it build us up? Or is it destructive? The other test is conscience. Does my practice contribute to the violation of another person’s conscience? It is important to recognize that this is not a test of conviction. The fact that someone believes a certain practice is wrong for Christians does not automatically obligate others to adopt their belief (v. 29).
This is not a matter of yielding to other people’s tastes. It is a matter of glorifying God. The key question to ask is whether our participation in a practice is going to cause others to do what they are convinced is wrong. Try not to cause others to stumble by your actions. Make the good of others your priority.