It's Not About Your Rights
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.
So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.
I got my ears pierced at a mall in Syracuse at the age of twenty. It sounds so tame talking about it now but try and understand: I was a pastor’s kid. I never drank, never smoked, never even swore. Things so overtly destructive had no draw for me because I understood the consequences. But my parents’ conservatism about stuff like hair, makeup, and the volume at which you played your music—that I didn’t get. These weren’t moral issues and I was no longer living in my parents’ house so I felt justified. It was both calculated and liberating.
After the ear piercing was the tattoo, followed by the cartilage piercing, then the dreadlocks, then the second tattoo. My clothes got shabbier. My music got louder. I quit my desk job to work at Starbucks. How far could I venture into what definitely wasn’t sin but also wasn’t considered pastor’s-kid-appropriate by my parents and uptight church ladies? How far could I buck expectation and still have nothing to be ashamed of on Sundays?
There are not enough do’s and don’ts in the world to cover all the ways we can twist the greater law of love. While I was gleefully shocking my parents, others were watching as well. I don’t think God cares much about my hair but He certainly cares about the person who may be emboldened by my actions to rebel. If in my carelessness or self-absorption I activate somebody’s unhealthy curiosity or cause them to stumble, Paul says that I sin against them and I sin against Christ.
The action itself may be justifiable, but we are responsible for much more than just ourselves. It’s not enough to be right. We must also be aware of who is watching, and sensitive to his or her perceptions, and wise in what is constructive, and sacrificial in what we want. It can seem overwhelming at first. But press on: the more we love the church, the more our heart becomes like Christ’s.