What comes out of our mouths puts us on stage. Words have weight. Our speech regarding Christian liberties is particularly important, because these can impact the conscience of another soul, a person loved by God.
In the 1980s my husband and I lived in a narrow world of highly restrictive viewpoints that we no longer hold. As young believers, our consciences were troubled by many things. Then, over the course of decades, we studied the Bible in the original languages and learned more of God’s heart. We grew. Therefore, aligning my words here with God’s instructions on these matters, I won’t name what we laid aside and what we kept, because each is a matter of conscience. The conscience is highly personal.
If you think you’re the stronger Christian in a situation dividing you from another believer, carefully assess. It may be the other way around. The guiding principle for both the strong and the weak is deference to the other and careful speech that protects the conscience of the other.
The guiding principle is deference to the other and careful speech that protects the conscience of the other. A clean conscience is vitally important. Click To Tweet
A clean conscience is vitally important. 1 Timothy 1:5 points out, “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” A few sentences later (1:19), Paul warns Timothy to hold on to faith and a good conscience, because those who have rejected these two essentials have shipwrecked their faith. In 2 Corinthians 1:12, Paul says “Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace.”
So, how do we show and rely on God’s grace, rather than worldly wisdom? We beg God for the ability to lay aside our personal preferences so we can love others selflessly. We defer to the other’s conscience. We don’t blather on about our freedoms in an attempt to flaunt our liberty. At the same time, we try to encourage others not to be troubled, when the Scriptures clearly point out that something is harmless and/or good. We do this gently.
In first-century church culture, one dividing issue was the freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols. It was sold at discount cost, thus making it a good economical choice. In our culture a matter of Christian liberty might be whether to tithe the lottery winnings, to use legalized marijuana or hemp to relieve and to heal pain and sickness, or to use legalized marijuana recreationally as alcohol is used. The use of alcohol itself is an issue in many circles, as well as entrance into establishments that serve alcohol, among many other possible liberties. Tattoos trouble some believers, but not others. There are many other matters that can divide us, if we allow them to bring division.
Paul wrote about the freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols, and yet, he also realized that not all troubled consciences would be swayed by his reasoning. The conscience is a matter between God and each specific individual, bringing in the entirety of that person’s history.
The conscience is a matter between God and each specific individual, bringing in the entirety of that person's history. Click To Tweet
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” (1 Corinthians 8:9-13 NIV).
Paul was willing to take drastic steps to guard another’s conscience. When we talk freely about liberties in which we engage, we are in danger of damaging another’s conscience by tempting them to do something that their own conscience does not allow. The conscience is personal, each of us bringing our own baggage and our places of wounding. In this personal space, the Holy Spirit works and mends. We are all at different places, but the Word of God heals, causes growth, and increases freedom.The conscience is personal, each of us bringing our own baggage and our places of wounding. In this personal space, the Holy Spirit works and mends. We are all at different places. Click To Tweet
Therefore, Paul writes: “When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ” (1 Corinthians 8:12). None of us want to do that!
“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters” (Romans 14:1 NIV). It’s better not to do anything that will cause a brother or sister in Christ to stumble or to trouble their conscience. It’s not worth quarreling about. The Lord himself will have to teach their hearts and guide their consciences. “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall” (Romans 14:19-21 NIV).
The emphasis here is on a clean conscience, the grace of God, and the desire not to destroy the faith of another. “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (Romans 15:1-2 NIV).We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. Click To Tweet
Lord, help us to grow in gracious Christian ways of interacting in these matters, seeking not to damage the conscience of others as we walk in the liberties you have given us.