Love and Liberty

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #119

“If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof: Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?” (1 Cor. 10:27-29).

So Paul gives us a little scenario to help us understand how love and the conscience of others should intersect. He presupposes first that a pagan invites you to a dinner party, and he makes it clear that it is lawful to go if you want to. When you go, you have no responsibility to trace the history of the food. Just eat—your conscience should be untroubled by whether or not the meat on the platter had been offered up to Aphrodite earlier in the week. That should a matter of indifference to you.

But if you are minding your own business, eating the food with gratitude, and somebody else comes along and says, “Oh, no! That came from the temple of Aphrodite!” you should then refrain. You refrain for the sake of his conscience, not your own. Your own conscience knows that the meat is not demon-possessed. Paul here repeats his refrain that the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness. Paul repeats himself to make it clear—you are refraining for conscience, but not your own conscience. If you were alone, it would be perfectly fine to eat the meat. My liberty is not constrained by his conscience, but my love is. Because I refrain for his sake out of love, my liberty is not at all chafed.

There are several modern areas of application. First, note that Paul does not care about the history of the food chain for any moral reasons. We are not contaminated spiritually by food that has been in a pagan temple, or in a chicken barn, or grown on a plantation owned by an evil corporation. The history of food can have something to do with salmonella, sure enough, but it has nothing whatever to do with “ethical” eating.

But if your brother comes to you with a concern about that history, you have a two-fold task. One is to not surrender the doctrine that the earth is the Lord’s, and the other is to love your brother. Sometimes loving him means you must refrain from eating, as here. Other times it means that you must love him by absolutely refusing to cooperate with his false scruples (Col. 2:16, 20-21). Life is hard. Love the Lord, love his material creation, all of it, and love your brother.

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13 comments on “Love and Liberty

  1. Ok, brother, I’m with you up to this point…but you haven’t (seemingly) answered the $1,000,000 question.

    When does loving him

    mean you must refrain from eating?

    AND

    mean that you must love him by absolutely refusing to cooperate with his false scruples?

  2. Michael, I think Don Carson gets it when he says this:

    If I’m called to preach the gospel among a lot of people who are cultural teetotallers, I’ll give up alcohol for the sake of the gospel. But if they start saying, “You cannot be a Christian and drink alcohol,” I’ll reply, “Pass the port” or “I’ll think I’ll have a glass of Beaujolais with my meal.”

    You are giving up meat because the weaker brother is concerned for idolatry, that is his concerns are for loving the Lord his God, the first commandment. If he does not understand his liberty he mistakenly sees the eating meat as something that offends God.

    If a brother has scruples because he (rightly) wants us to love God then love constrains us. Beware the brother who has scruples who wants us to conform to his ideology for his sake.

  3. Mr. Wilson,

    Thanks for the helpful post. Applying the principles taught by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 to modern day issues of food history and “ethical” eating, how does one both eat food from an evil corporation while also speaking the truth about the evil of the corporation from which it has come? Do you think that the issue of whether it is godly to eat good food with an “evil history” is a question which people should be constrained in their actions by love of their neighbor to abstain from eating such food for another’s conscience?

    Would you also apply that same principle to clothes and shoes that were produced by oppressed people in sweat shops? At what point would our purchases and consumptions become participation in evil?

  4. The weaker brother is the one who is disturbed but may not say a thing about your eating of meat from the temple of Aphrodite. Maybe he used to work there, or is a brand new Christian. The weaker brother is the one who really is tempted by alcohol, or cheesecake, even though he acknowledges your freedom. In other words, the weaker brother is the one who knows or thinks himself to be weaker in relation to other Christians. The one who isn’t a weaker brother is the one who thinks he is superior in his actions. He has added extra fences around his table and yard and eyes, and he imposes his “strength” on others. This is someone who adds restrictions and burdens because he believes he is stronger and more upright, not weaker. It usually doesn’t take long to tell if someone is positioning themselves as the strong one, or the weak one.

    We should be happy to abstain from anything in order to love a weaker brother. We shouldn’t give an inch to the brother who thinks he has found a way to show everyone how strong he is.

    MK asks:
    “Would you also apply that same principle to clothes and shoes that were produced by oppressed people in sweat shops? At what point would our purchases and consumptions become participation in evil?”

    This is somewhat similar to the question about whether it is proper to pay the tax to Caesar. Would paying the tax to Caesar be equal to participation in evil? In principle, Jesus’ answer is that it is not evil in itself to pay such a tax. So long as we aren’t worshiping down at the temple of Aphrodite, I think that this principle would apply to purchases from companies that employ sweat shops, or from companies that make donations to Planned Parenthood, etc. That doesn’t mean we should ignore strategic options, such as dealing with God-honoring businesses with our purchases, but we can’t universalize our strategies, convictions and freedoms, or regard evil across lines that God doesn’t regard across. We can encourage others to see certain advantages, but we can’t ascribe evil if they aren’t convinced or don’t have the same freedom of circumstances that we do.

  5. The most likely application issue will be alcohol

  6. As a good friend once put it: The provisions made in the New Testament for the weaker brother are not intended to keep him weak.

  7. “First, note that Paul does not care about the history of the food chain for any moral reasons. We are not contaminated spiritually by food that has been in a pagan temple, or in a chicken barn, or grown on a plantation owned by an evil corporation. The history of food can have something to do with salmonella, sure enough, but it has nothing whatever to do with “ethical” eating.”

    I am certainly not seeing this application from that passage.

    Eating food that someone might think is “spiritually contaminated” is not in any way comparable to funding an evil corporation.

    If it is okay to fund corporations that are actually acting in evil ways, this text isn’t the one to defend that position with. Perhaps when a corporation is oppressing its workers, poisoning villagers who live nearby, using child labor, using lust to sell its products, etc., you don’t mind telling people that it’s wrong to avoid buying their stuff for those reasons. But what would you say to parishioners who were recommending Planned Parenthood for prenatal services, just as long as they didn’t get an abortion there?

  8. Is there truly a one-to-one application/comparison to be made here? Maybe there is, I’m really asking.

    Paul’s admonition had to do with religious scruples, it seems to me, not food scruples. The food was just the example he used. And there are plenty of examples of this but they are always tied to pagan religious ceremony or dietary restrictions from God Himself. It must have been such a shock for the faithful Jew-now-Christian to see godly people eating pig. It must have been painful for the new convert to smell meat offered at the site of his former bondage, served at the table of his freedom.

    The new food clashes (between thinking, intellectually honest Christians) seem to be powered by a desire for health and/or loving our fellow man. I think this might be different. On the 2nd desire, Christians in the United States see the poverty in other nations and want to try not to support businesses that take advantage of their workers. This usually comes from a place of love (though it can soon turn into pride and persnickety-ness and binding of others’ consciences) but is misguided for various reasons. Not least of which is that we are citizens of a country whose government is just as morally reprehensible to its workers, but our tyranny wears a smiley face and throws paper dollars about whilst occupying and decimating poorer nations. We live with this guilt and are mistakenly trying to *do* something about it.

    But on the first, we are dealing with a health crisis brought on (it CAN be argued) by our food supply which is tainted by a fascistic friendship between agricultural concerns and the government (subsidies, special protections for certain agribusinesses, FDA cronyism) and our bad ideas about how to eat and best take care of our bodies (which as a nation have been unduly influenced by USDA Food Pyramids and all other types of meddling via public school cafeterias and health classes, WIC programs etc.) When the State plays God, there is no end to the havoc wreaked upon its subjects.

    As Christians begin to withdraw their allegiance to this bloated god, and try to understand where all these blood sugar and bloating problems are coming from, we have to wonder and look into the possibility that our food is no longer *actually* nourishing us in the way that it should. That over time, it might be the thing that is poisoning us. After we’ve read a few things and tossed modern wheat overboard and kicked Genetically Modified corn, soy, and canola to the curb, we begin to feel good. We begin to lose weight. Our doctor is no longer concerned over pre-diabetes. Huh. And now our joints begin to move more fluidly and without stiffness. And wow, my friend just went to raw milk instead of pasteurized/homogenized and her digestion problems went away. Interesting.

    Now, because the food problems many people are experiencing do not seem to bother absolutely everyone, some believe the food is not the problem. This is like believing that common side effects of a drug are not caused by the drug. Yes, they are. They just don’t effect all patients in the same way. So, you stop taking that drug (and you tell everyone you know to be careful with it because it is linked to dizziness and vomiting) and find alternatives to help your problem. And now Drug Scruples is the subject of a post about biblical principles governing the taking of pharmaceuticals. And bloggers take pot shots at those who are using food, FOOD, I say (chuckle chuckle) to try and solve their health problems.

    I don’t really see a weaker/stronger brother scenario here. Unless by weaker you mean physically weaker. But when a parishioner comes and asks if gluten-free bread can be served for communion (because she is physically weaker) is that the same thing as someone asking for grape juice? I’m really asking.

  9. Eating food that someone might think is “spiritually contaminated” is not in any way comparable to funding an evil corporation.

    If one is allowed to eat meat sacrificed to demons, how much more is he allowed to eat meat sold by evil men.

  10. Because, bethyada, eating the food in no way helps the demons do their thing.

  11. I may choose prudence if I have a choice of whether to buy from a Christian friend or neo-Nazi wholefoods; but if I need milk and he is the only place open, I think I am free to purchase from him.

    I am not so certain that meat markets devoted to false deities are of no power (2Ki 3:27). Thus freedom in greater matters implies freedom in lesser ones. We love God first, and then our neighbour. If loving God frees us to eat food others offer to those who try and compete against God because we know God created food good, then surely we are free to eat food grown by men who oppose men knowing God creates food good.

    A further problem is that we cannot trace evil. We may perceive a company to be nasty but are we correct? And perhaps some righteous men work there, or perhaps a godly company ships the food, or processes it. Further, in avoiding pears from FascistFruits in favour of the local FriendlyFarmers we may be unknowingly supporting a man who beats his wife.

    If you wish to avoid a company as a form of protest, feel free. It may well do some good. And fighting against mistreatment of workers can be a righteous cause. But a person who does this mustn’t condemn the person who has not taken on his cause, nor for failing the eat from this week’s approved list of suppliers.

  12. bethyada, would you get prenatal services at Planned Parenthood?

    Or wear clothing made by Playboy company?

    Or buy morphine that funds Al Queda?

    Perhaps you would. And I wouldn’t stop you. But I’d still keep arguing that you shouldn’t.

    Money holds a huge amount of power in the world, and God makes it clear that what we do with our money certainly does matter. If we’re financially funding the Planned Parenthoods and Playboys and Al Quedas of the world, not to mention corporations that use lust to sell their products, oppress their workers, or make their profits by destroying poor people’s land, then I think we have little moral ground left to stand on.

    Of course, like you say, there is always a decision to be made. If it is truly a necessary product, then I’m going to weigh the cost as a factor as well as the source, because spending more money one place gives me less to spend in another. If it is a luxury, of course, then the decision is much easier because then I don’t need to buy the product at all. If there are multiple moral issues going on (as there always are), I’m going to weigh them against each other. But simple saying that the decision is not a simple one does NOT mean that it isn’t a decision we should be ignoring. If great evil is going on in the world, and we are either knowingly funding that evil or consciously choosing to look the other way and remain ignorant of how we may be funding it, then I certainly think we will have to answer to that.

  13. bethyada – I was thinking about what you said, and two points continue to bother me:

    “I am not so certain that meat markets devoted to false deities are of no power (2Ki 3:27).”

    Are you disagreeing with my claim that Christians who eat the meat aren’t helping demons do their thing? Because if eating the meat DOES help the demons do their thing, then I seriously doubt that Paul would encourage it.

    “Thus freedom in greater matters implies freedom in lesser ones. We love God first, and then our neighbour.”

    No, that is not a claim found anywhere in the Bible. First off, this is definitely not a “lesser matter”, second of all, you cannot place loving your neighbour as something any less important than loving God. We love God AND our neighbor. We love God BY loving our neighbor. When Jesus was asked what the “greatest” commandment was (singular), he had to give both of them – they go together – and he said that the the 2nd command was like the 1st (Mark 12:28-34). When the lawyer said that the key to eternal life was loving God AND neighbor (not one, then the other), Jesus said he had answered correctly and by this he would have life (Luke 10:25-28). And the example Jesus gave the lawyer was all about loving his neighbor (Luke 10:29-37). In fact, James and John repeatedly gives loving your neighbor as the test for showing that we love God (1 John 2:9-11, 1 John 3:16-18, 1 John 4:9-11, James 2:14-16).

    Also, it is clear that another test of loving God is keeping his commandments and living the way Jesus did (John 14:15-23, John 15:10, 1 John 2:3-6, 1 John 5:3, 2 John 1:6). And, of course, other than loving God, loving your neighbor is the greatest commandment (and one that sums up most of the others). James calls loving your neighbor as yourself “the royal law” (James 2:8) and Paul says that the whole law is summed up in that command and that anyone who loves their neighbor as themself fulfills the whole law (Romans 13:8-10, Galatians 5:13-15). So if you’re not loving your neighbor, then you’re not keeping his commandments, and you’re not loving God. So again, it isn’t “first you love God, then you love your neighbor” its “you love God BY loving your neighbor”.

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