“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.