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Thoughts and Commentary on Today's Reading
In 1 Corinthians 8, we find an interesting concept - one that will hugely impact your personal ministry capacity: the concept of not causing a brother offense, through your liberty.
Each of us has issues which might be characterized as spiritual "grey zones". An activity falls into the "grey zone" if we think of it as spiritually neutral. In other words, carrying out this activity or behavior is (in our opinion) neither bad (black) nor good (white) - its just neutral. "Grey zone" activities don't have Scriptural prohibitions against them. "Grey zone" activities also don't have Scriptural support for them. "Grey zones" are just... neutral (so there's nothing wrong with them right?) Actually, just because they're "neutral" doesn't mean they're harmless.
The problem with the "grey zone" is that not everyone agrees that something you or I might class as "neutral" will also be neutral in everyone else's eyes.
In Paul's time, eating meat which was left over from the meat which was offered to idols was considered by many to be a "grey zone". Now, don't get me wrong, Scripture does tell us that eating meat sacrificed to idols was forbidden (see Acts 15:29). But Bible commentators state that this reference in 1 Corinthians 8 is regarding meat that was not actually sacrificed to idols, rather it was meat originally purchased to sacrifice to idols, but was leftover - and not actually sacrificed. Still, it had originally been prepared with that intent.
Since the meat hadn't actually been sacrificed, but was left over, there was no Torah command saying that you couldn't eat it, so long as it was "clean" meat. And those who chose to buy this meat and eat it reasoned that such meat was cheaper in the market - and the fact that it had been left over from the meat sacrificed to idols meant nothing, since the Christians understood that idols aren't really divine - there is only one God (1 Corinthians 8:4-5).
But when those Christians who felt at liberty to buy meat leftover from idol sacrifices did so, engaging freely in this "grey zone" activity, many other believers were offended. To them, this was not a "grey zone" at all - it was an abomination in their eyes! Paul refers to this group as "weak" in "conscience" in this matter. And when those who were "weak in conscience" about eating meat which was leftover from idol sacrifices observed their brethren eating this meat, they were spiritually weakened by it.
How so? To these offended ones, eating this meat was a form of idolatry. Was it really idolatry? Probably not, according to Paul. But that was how it appeared to these weaker ones. And when these Christians observed their brethren engaging in what they considered to be idolatry, they were at first offended. But actually over time, what at first offends us, eventually becomes more and more acceptable. Thus, seeing what they considered to be "idolatry" being practiced among the believers eventually caused these weaker ones to let down their guard against things which Torah actually does call idolatry.
Thus, while they never meant for this to happen, those Christians who ate the cheaper meat with the dubious past were responsible for spiritually weakening the Body of Christ! This is why Paul was trying to show that just because an activity is "neutral" in my mind, doesn't mean its harmless - in the bigger picture. Spiritually, we are our brother's keeper. And we are each responsible to do all we can to spiritually strengthen and encourage each other.
Today, eating meat leftover from idol sacrifices is probably not the most relevant scenario. But the principles found in 1 Corinthians 8 are very relevant. So how might this principle play out in the Body of Christ today? Here are a few examples (please don't be offended by this list) of things which some Christians believe the Torah doesn't directly forbid. Thus, these things appear as "grey zones" to some Christians, while to others they appear evil!
(Please also note that I am neither supporting nor attacking the activities on the following list. I am merely trying to give relevant examples of things which some Christians consider neutral, which others find offensive.)
- Wearing jewelry of any kind
- Wearing a sleeveless blouse or top
- Going for a hike on the Sabbath
- Going to a movie theater to see a "clean" movie
To illustrate, the people on the right (with the green bracket) all agree with you that your "acceptable" grey zone activity is spiritually "neutral". However the people on the left (with the red bracket) all find it offensive. Thus, if you choose to engage in this "grey zone" activity, you will be effectively cutting your ministry potential in half. The green bracket folks will still be blessed by the working of Yahweh through you. But the red bracket people will be unreachable and unable to be positively influenced by you any further.
Losing the ability for God to use you in someone's life is a cost so high that Paul concluded it would be better if he never ate any meat of any kind ever again, then to offend (1 Corinthians 8:12-13) someone, losing the potential for God to use you in their lives!
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that we all need to walk on eggshells lest we cause someone offense. That is not Paul's point. Even Yahshua, Who was perfect, caused some people to be offended (Matthew 13:55-58). Followers of Christ are not expected to walk through this world without ever offending anyone. But we should take prayerful thought to the choices we make. Grey zone choices may cause needless offense.
I remember an experience that really taught me this concept in a lasting and memorable way. My husband and I were not yet parents, being married about 2 years at the time. I was the leader of the youth division in our church. Early in our marriage, I saw nothing wrong with wearing a necklace. I understood that Scripture tells us not to pierce our bodies - so I never would have worn ear rings. But I wore a wedding ring and a necklace whenever I was not a church. This was a grey zone activity, in my mind. I saw nothing wrong with it.
The reason I didn't wear jewelry to church was that I noticed Israel always took off their jewelry when they were going to meet with God. Thus, I reasoned that wearing jewelry on a normal basis was fine, but it shouldn't be worn in a worship service.
One Friday afternoon, I was in the grocery store getting a few needed items for the weekend and I chanced to run into one of the parents of a teen who was in my youth group. Up to this point, this teen had been truly experiencing a great deal of spiritual growth by being in the youth class. And his mother had expressed her appreciation to me for doing this class, which she felt was changing his life for the good (glory only to God!). But that day, as she greeted me, her eyes fell to my necklace. The genuine smile on her lips faded, becoming almost frozen on her face. Throughout our uncomfortable and brief conversation, my necklace was never mentioned, yet her eyes repeatedly glanced at it.
Without anything being said about it, I realized the sight of me wearing a necklace had offended this woman. She didn't believe that a spiritual leader could be operating under the unction of the Holy Spirit, while wearing jewelry.
That day, when I got home, I took off the necklace and put it in my jewelry box - never to wear it (or any other) ever again. But it was already too late. The woman's son never returned to my youth class.
Too late, I recognized the high price which my grey zone activity would cost. And regrets wouldn't regain my ability to be used of God in that boy's life. In that moment, I understood Paul's meaning with all my heart:
1 Corinthians 8:12-13 "But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat (or in my case, wearing a necklace) make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend."There are two purposes for which we exist:
1) to be savedEvaluate your "grey zones" carefully and prayerfully. If they prevent either of the two purposes for which God created you, then that activity is harmful and too costly. While the world stands (as long as time lasts), let us agree with Paul to curb our own freedoms where ever exercising them might cost us our Heavenly purpose.
2) to help others find Salvation