Bill likes to listen to jazz. Mary hates it. Cynthia enjoys mysteries, but Jeff prefers history. These differences are matters of taste. But the differences described in today’s reading are different. They were a matter of conscience.
The worship of idols was a common feature of Corinthian life. Meat sold in the marketplace often came from sacrificial ceremonies in the city’s temples. These temples also hosted banquets as part of their worship. Some in the Corinthians church felt free to eat this meat because they knew that the pagan gods did not exist. Their slogan was, “An idol is nothing at all in the world” (v. 4). However, due to their background in pagan worship, others in Corinth believed it was a sin to eat such food. The freedom of those with a “strong” conscience caused the weak to go against their conscience.
Paul explains his reasoning further in chapters 9 and 10, but here begins with the simple command of verse 9: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” Those who cause other believers to go against their conscience are not exercising freedom. They are sinning by damaging those for whom Christ died (vv. 11–12). The one who acts in love will limit their freedom so that others do not violate their conscience (v. 13). How do you know when your disagreement is a matter of conscience or merely a difference in taste? A difference in taste is a matter of preference. Two people may disagree, but there is no moral weight to the difference between them. A question of conscience has moral force. It does not ask whether someone would do something but whether they should.
Consider the areas of moral conscience in your life. If your actions will cause someone to do what they are convinced is sin, you have become a stumbling block. Do not pressure others to go against the limits of their conscience.
Lord, for those of us who live in the United States, personal freedom is a strong cultural value. Soften our hearts in love and humility, so we can count our brothers and sisters as more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3).