Let us pray: Dear Savior, although You have given us much knowledge and spiritual insight, we don’t always use it wisely. Our prideful flesh still tries to push our opinions and tread on troubled or weak consciences. Today remind us to be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves” as we deal with each other. Remind us to put love for souls in action in all we do. For only then will Your kingdom come among us and You name be hallowed in our midst. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE LORD OF THE CHURCH
TEXT: I Corinthians 8: 1-13
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Our next door community, Bedford, Massachusetts, has a famous motto. It dates back to the Revolutionary War. You will see it on old battle flags that they fly around the 4th of July. That motto is: “Don’t Tread on Me.” 200 and 35 years ago the men of Bedford went to war and shed blood to uphold that motto. For them it was truth. Political truth. Today in God’s Church we need to adopt a similar motto. And on the basis of our text, that motto is:
DON’T TREAD ON TENDER CONSCIENCES!
Most people like things neat and orderly. We like simple answers to complex problems. The Corinthian congregation which Paul founded was no exception. It was made up of former pagans who embraced the wonderful knowledge that Christ had freed them from the curse of the Law. He had freed them with His precious blood from going through life ridden with guilt and obligation towards God. Christ had freed them, and has freed us, from a guilty conscience over our lives. Yes, we try to live moral lives and try to honor Him, but not out of fear, not out of guilt, and not to win His favor—and never feeling we’ve done enough—that’s the guilt thing. No, we live our lives to His glory out of pure love and gratitude knowing we already have salvation for our souls in and through Him.
That congregation was also comprised of former Jews who really had lived the same way in respect to Old Testament Laws and sacrifices. They, too, had been freed from the Old Testament ritual of sacrifices for their sins and various dietary laws which all pointed to Christ, the Lamb of God Who came to take away the sins of the world. But, it was hard for them to totally break from the past. Their tender consciences still pricked them when people ate pork, or shellfish, or even when meat was sold in the marketplace that had been butchered in pagan temples in service to false gods.
So, there was a problem in that church between these two groups. The former, puffed up by their new-found knowledge and excited about it, belittled the latter, who needed more time to digest these new teachings which had turned centuries of tradition on its head. And so, Paul addresses this by saying: “Now about food sacrificed to idols. We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.”
The principle Paul lays out here is: Don’t Tread on Tender Consciences. Recognize that not everyone understands God’s truths as fully as you do. So, don’t make fun of them or put them down as they seek to learn more. This truth comes into play in our day, as well. I had a step great-grandfather who a Methodist circuit rider (traveling preacher) in northern Michigan. Like all Methodists of that time he was dead set against all alcohol, tobacco, card-playing, dancing, and even certain foods. To him such things were huge sins. (My grandmother used to sneak out of the house late at night to go to dances, however!) Now certainly such things can become sins for some. Dances can be lewd—especially today. Alcohol abuse is certainly a sin and is railed against in Scripture. Gambling can become an addiction, too. And I know of more than a few folks who like to drown their sorrows in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s instead of in prayer. But, the principle must be: don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! Not everyone is the same. People can engage in such behavior without letting it control them. And if and when we brand anyone as a “sinner” who innocently engages in such behavior we’ve tromped on their conscience and left love in the dust.
Personally I don’t like gambling and don’t believe in it. That’s one reason I’ve never gone to Vegas and never will. It’s also why I don’t participate in the lottery.—I don’t enjoy voluntary taxation! That being said, a number of years ago some members bought a community lottery ticket and won! And as a result they gave 10% of their winnings to this church. Should we have told them to keep their money? That we didn’t want it because it was tainted? No. They innocently participated in legal recreation and wanted to thank God via their offering. The money wasn’t at any fault. Their motives were honest.
The same held true at Paul’s time when it came to meat sold in the market that had been sacrificed in pagan temples. It wasn’t wrong to buy it or eat it. Meat is neutral. The protein of it is neutral. You’re not honoring an idol by buying it from the local butcher, who bought it from a pagan source. And if you disagree with that, well, do you quiz the local butcher about the source of every steak you buy? Was it raised by a Christian rancher? Or, do you sell every mutual fund you own because it might contain a company you don’t like? If such things really bother your conscience, that’s fine. Never violate your conscience. But, don’t belittle others who have a different view. Don’t brand them as sinners because your conscience is a bit more touchy. Likewise, none of us should mock people who are genuinely troubled by such things. For knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
All things in this life ultimately come from God. “…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 knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God…Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”
In other words, don’t tread on another’s conscience! Don’t offer alcohol to the alcoholic, or for that matter, flaunt your ability to handle it. Likewise, if you have a problem with such things, don’t take offense when another innocently has a beer with their meal. Instead, honor God and build up each other by living in love and acting in love toward each other! In fact, forego your own freedoms to avoid tromping on weak consciences. For that truly is self-sacrificial love.
God’s truths are clear, concise, and straightforward. However, our daily application of them in our lives and in the lives of others is not. It would be nice if all things were black and white. But when we’re dealing people in various levels of holiness and understanding, life gets very gray and murky. So, resist the urge to tread on each other’s consciences by practicing that wonderful Christian motto: “Live in love and forgive as the Lord has forgiven you.” Amen