There is a question that almost all Christians have at some point: “If I believe participating in [whatever event] is wrong, can I attend it with a clear conscience?” Another variant of this question is “If someone else thinks that doing [whatever action] is wrong but I don’t, is it wrong for me to do it?” There are many ways to look at this with widely varying conclusions. Let’s look at what the Bible says.

Let’s start with a more extreme example that people have to face every day. You get invited to the wedding of a same-sex couple. Should you attend?

First, let’s ask the question “Are the people at the event sinning by participating in this event?” The answer in this case would be “yes”. God tells us very clearly in both the Old and New Testaments that homosexuality is a sin (see Leviticus 20:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

Another thing to consider is the purpose of the event. In this case – a wedding – the purpose is to celebrate the union of two people in marriage. Can a Christian take part in an event that is clearly celebrating sin?

Someone could bring up the argument: “I am attending because I want to be a Christian influence in my friend’s life; not because I support what they are doing.” Consider this: if you have a friend who is an alcoholic (see Ephesians 5:18), would you be a Christian influence to him by going to a bar with them or cheering him on at a drinking competition? Not likely. It would be better to find some other opportunity or activity to spend time with them. This does not mean that you should push them away because of their sin (Jesus often kept company with sinners – Mark 2:15), but rather that you should use Biblical discretion when planning an activity with them.

 

So what about the “grey areas” in life, where someone believes it is wrong to do something but you do not see it that way. A question that I have asked myself before is “Is there such a thing as a ‘grey area’?” Paul talks about “grey areas” in his letter to the Corinthians where he says “…all things are lawful but not all things build up” (1 Corinthians 10:23). He goes into more detail in 1 Corinthians 8.

Paul begins in 1 Corinthians 8 by saying “Now concerning food offered to idols…”(v.1) In Paul’s time, eating food that had been offered to idols was a form of idol worship. Some of the meat sold at markets in those days had been consecrated to the gods before it was sold [1]. Some Christians saw this as unclean and believed that buying and eating that meat was an act of idol worship. Others, however could not see how buying and eating this meat condoned idolatry – after all, they were not the ones who had made the offering. 

Paul continues in verses 4-6 by stating the Christian’s perspective of idols. He says that “’an idol has no real existence’ and that ‘there is no God but one’”. He and many other Christians knew that to God, meat offered to Idols was no different than meat that was not offered to idols. He says in verse 6 “…for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things…” All animals were created by the same God for the same purpose. Satan had come and twisted that purpose, but for Christians it did not have to be so.

But, in verse 7 he continues by saying “not all possess this knowledge” meaning that not all people saw it the same way. Some of their brothers and sisters in Christ were converts from pagan cultures, and saw eating this meat as equal to worshiping the idol it had been dedicated to (last part of verse 7). Paul states that “food does not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do”(v.8), explaining that eating food does not constitute worship. But he warns “take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”(v.9) He goes on to explain that if a Christian who thought it was wrong to eat this meat would see another Christian eating it, he would feel pressured to eat the meat as well. The conclusion he draws is this: “if food [offered to idols] makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat”.

So what does this passage mean for us today? First let’s define the “meat offered to idols” in our culture. Our culture does not have prevalent idol worship and animal sacrifices as they did in Paul’s time. However, America as a whole worships the idol of self. Our culture is saturated with couples that live together before marriage, stating that they want to try things out first so that they don’t get hurt. God commands parents to teach their children about Him (Deuteronomy 11:18-19), but our Christian men neglect this command because they “have to” work long hours or go on that extended hunting trip. The worship of self has embedded itself so deeply into our culture that it often goes undetected, even in our churches.

Whenever we place our ideals, hobbies, or greed above God’s commands, we are worshiping the god of self. Therefore we could say that “any action that can draw a person away from God could be called ‘meat offered to idols’”. While the Bible does not say anywhere that is wrong to drink (it does say it is wrong to get drunk), there are many Christians who have struggled with alcoholism or believe that drinking is a sin. While the Bible does not say it is wrong to play sports, there are many Christians who have neglected their families or skipped church because of their participation in league sports and tournaments.

This passage is speaking to those of us who do not see anything wrong with doing these things. Playing competitive sports, going hunting, working, drinking alcohol, and vacationing do not in themselves draw us closer to or push us away from God. However, Paul warns in verse 9 to “take care that this right of yours does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” We need to acknowledge our Christian brothers and sisters who do struggle with these things. Peer pressure is a very powerful tool; and although we may think the beliefs of others are unnecessary, we need to avoid doing these things when our brothers could be compelled to follow us. Paul’s conclusion to this passage could not be stated better. “(10)…if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? (11) And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. (12) Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. (13) Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”

 

References:

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1 – http://www.gotquestions.org/food-sacrificed-idols.html

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