In Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-10 we find that the early church is polarized by the issue of purchasing and eating meat used in idol worship. This meat was generally cheaper in the markets because it was donated to “feed the pagan idols” and later sold to fund the pagan temples. In the early church, there were Jewish Christians who wanted a deal and Gentile believers who had left pagan practices behind to follow Jesus. They were split. Some Christians didn’t believe there was anything wrong with getting meat for a good price. They didn’t believe that idols were real and their behaviour didn’t make a difference. For some believers – they felt that there were demons behind the idols and it was wrong to eat meat used for pagan ceremonies.
In the Old Testament we read in Exodus 32 & Numbers 25 that Jewish people were warned not to eat unto god’s of foreign nations in a pagan ceremony. Yet the same passages suggest that motivation is the key. The intent of one’s heart is what Paul brings into this conversation.
So what was the recommended course of action?
Here are the four principles we should apply to our own life as we deal with these issues.
Realize what is essential and non-essential. Does the issue contravene scripture that is interpreted well? Is the issue personal in nature or personal in conviction? Here’s what is essential – God is real, he created us, we want to live our own way, we mess up our world (sin), Jesus came to die for our sin, only faith in Him and His grace can bring us inner change now and ultimate salvation later. That’s what’s essential. While the issues might be very important – I don’t want to undermine that – are they ultimately important?
Realize Christian liberty. God actually gives us the ability to hold different personal convictions than other Christians. If our inner motivation is to put God first and do everything as unto God, there are times where the personal application of that principle actually might be opposite to others. We see this in Romans 14. This is often hard for us to accept. Especially if our personalities like things black and white rather than shades of grey. Yes we need to be aware of the principle that directs our behaviour but sometimes that application is different for different people. Christian liberty.
Realize the danger of judging others. Romans 14 goes on to explain that each of us must one day give an account of our actions to God and are accountable to him alone. Each one of us has a conscious and must listen to that conscious. This is why we read in Romans 14:5 says this “each one must be fully convinced in his own mind.” Here is the danger – that we actually use bible verses to justify our opinion and then exclude other believers who use the same bible verses in the opposite way. It’s ok to be personally convinced of these non essentials buts it’s dangerous for me to use bible verses to tell people why they should believe the way I believe. We need to stay away from that. Each person is accountable to God and there are times we will differ in our convictions over non-essentials.
Realize the need for a good attitude that is bent on serving the other conviction. This passage indicates the difference between mature and immature believers. Immature believers can only see one perspective and are myopic in nature. Mature believers can see and understand the other perspective and looks for ways to serve those with other personal convictions (even if they are wrong). The question is – how can we serve another believer who has a different personal conviction than I do? How do I follow the example and attitude of Jesus to serve them? In Ephesians 5 we read that there is an unseen battle of good and evil. We see that one of the battles is for unity in the body of Christ. This is why we read in Ephesians 4:3 “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”
There are important issues that are at work in our world. We need to be informed, we need to look into them, and we need to come to a place of personal conviction. My prayer for you is that you would focus on what matters the most, that you would resist the urge to divide, that you would promote unity in the body of Christ, maintain a good attitude, serving fellow believers who have a different perspective than you, and keep your eyes on the vision of making disciples and spreading the good news of Jesus in our world.