Tag Archives: Christian conscience

1 Corinthians 9:1-18

1 Corinthians 9:1-7 (NRSV) – “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to our food and drink? Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who at any time pays the expenses for doing military service? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not get any of its milk?”

This chapter picks up where the previous chapter left off, on the subject of refraining from certain activities under certain circumstances, even if we have the right to do so, for the sake of other believers. The topic discussed in the previous chapter was eating food sacrificed to idols. Given that this was a controversial issue in a divided church, Paul encouraged believers not to do it publicly (even though the “sacrifice” does not actually make the food idolatrous) to avoid causing other believers to join in and eat the food out of trust in another believer rather than their own conscience.

For Paul, giving up certain rights for the sake of those he has ministered to goes well beyond just issues of this nature. But he is concerned that the church does not appreciate it. As we saw in the first chapter of this epistle, while some believers self-identified with Paul, others chose to identify with the preacher Apollos, some chose the Apostle Peter, and others self-righteously claimed identification with Christ Himself.

Basically, to those who want to identify with Peter or Apollos instead of Paul, or who want to cast Paul aside in the name of following Christ, Paul is saying, “What reasonable issue could you guys have with me? I’ve waived my right to marriage so that I can direct my passion toward supporting you and other churches in the faith. Barnabas and I still work for a living so that we don’t have to bother you by begging for money or food.”

That was my paraphrase, but below is more writing from Paul himself:

“If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we still more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:11-12).

Here Paul is basically saying, “We have the right to be asking you for support, but we waive that right because we want you to hear our message, and we don’t want to turn you away. We don’t want to be a free service that bombards you with ads asking for money to the point where you tune out due to annoyance or guilt.

Further along in the chapter, Paul himself says,

“I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing this so that they may be applied in my case. Indeed, I would rather die than that—no one will deprive me of my ground for boasting! If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:15-18).

Paul apparently wants something to boast about. He has decided that he can boast in the fact that he does not claim his rights to any material benefits from his service to the church. He cannot boast about simply preaching the Gospel because that preaching was an “obligation” given to him, and if he doesn’t fulfill it, he says “woe is me.”

I will be very honest about something. I do not idealize the concept of feeling that you must do something for God, else face a sense of personal “woe.” But I also acknowledge that sometimes, this is the way certain good deeds predestined by God will get done.

A true attitude of grace in our minds does not come from our own endeavor to create and maintain thoughts that we consider to be in alignment with it. Instead, a real mentality of grace can only come through the Holy Spirit’s work to transmute everything going on in our minds, including feelings of obligation, or feelings of dismay if we were to not do something we are supposed to do. God can work through it so that it ultimately plays a role in bringing us into a deeper and more powerful understanding of grace.

Sometimes, it is difficult to have deep appreciation, or activate the power, of blessings in a certain area of life unless we have experienced the opposite. God knows that many humans, by nature, will sometimes do things for the sake of avoiding guilt. God plays along with it, not because it is an ideal situation in an of itself, but because when the time comes that you see how to live confidently and passionately in accord with God’s will in a certain area of life, you will see that it is truly by the wisdom of God’s grace that you developed that confidence and passion even when you could not get rid of the fear of guilt altogether.

1 Corinthians 8

1 Corinthians 8:1-7 (NRSV) – “Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him. Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘no idol in the world really exists,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords — yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.

In the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul addressed the problem of conflict and arrogance within the Corinthian church. Apparently, one of the disputes involved whether it is wrong to eat food sacrificed to idols.

Paul’s teaching is that an idol does not change anything about the food. Thus, eating the food is not inherently idolatrous. But not everybody sees it this way. For some, it just feels idolatrous, regardless of what even Paul might say. Paul’s concern is that these people might see another believer eating sacrificed food, and consequently decide that it must not be a big deal, and then eat the food anyway despite personally deeming it idolatrous. But at this point, a believer’s conscience has been “defiled,” as Paul writes, because even though he or she has not come under real idolatry through the food, a door has been opened in one’s mind where real influence of idolatry could come in from another source.

Paul continues:

“‘Food will not bring us close to God.’ We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.'” (1 Cor. 8:8-13).

This passage raises the question of, to what extent are we required to tiptoe around other believers to avoid offending their convictions? It is important to remember that Paul spent the first four chapters of this epistle depicting the issue of conflict within the Corinthian church. The Corinthians were rather sectarian in nature, seeking to align themselves with certain preachers, and Paul was concerned about arrogance among believers. This concern is reiterated at the opening of the present chapter when Paul states that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

With this nature of the community, there is an understandable concern is that if a particular believer was eating in a pagan temple, others who feel they are on the same side as that believer would join in regardless of what their consciences thought. Paul was also concerned that those choosing to eat sacrificed food may do so arrogantly to show off their faith that idols don’t do anything.

So how do I think all of this applies today? Controversies among Christians go far beyond idols, and probably far beyond even the spectrum of issues discussed in the Corinthian church. Obviously, we cannot limit our public lives to avoid offending every believer. But if you are a member of a church, consider the other members of the church. If the church makes a big deal over a certain activity, even if you yourself do not consider it to be immoral based on Scripture, I would say that perhaps, to avoid sending the wrong signals to other members, consider abstaining from the activity in settings where other members of the church might see you. Or if the activity is really important to you, perhaps you could consider finding a church where it is culturally acceptable. I am not saying that this is something you must do; just consider it.

Before closing this post, I want to discuss the issue of conscience a bit more. I do not believe that the writing about conscience in this chapter should make you fearful of your conscience, worried that if your conscience bothers you, then you are condemned until you do something to try to satisfy it. This fear can send you down an endless path of works or abstinences chasing an evasive sense of peace.

This point of these Scriptures is for believers to respect their conscience as a guiding force in life. Any power that we have to follow our conscience ultimately comes from God. If you are not able to make yourself follow all of your conscience’s demands, or resist everything that your conscience is questioning, leave the issue with God to work out in you according to His timing and methodology via the Holy Spirit. But this is all between you and Him, so the point here is to not engage in an activity just because another believer thinks it is okay.