November 26, 2023 | Duane Roberts
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“’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive.’ No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.’ If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.”—1 Corinthians 10:23–33 (NIV)
Liberty has limits . . .
It’s easy to get confused with this letter and think Paul is giving off conflicting messages, so we must really put our discernment caps on to see it. A few chapters ago, Paul said that idols are nothing; thus, food sacrificed to idols is food sacrificed to nothing, so it’s just food, and we can buy it at the temple market or eat it if it’s served to us at someone’s house with a clear conscience. But now in today’s passage, it seems like he’s saying something different—that we shouldn’t eat it because of demons, and also that it’s okay unless someone points it out to us. What?!
There are no contradictions here. It’s all situational. In 1 Corinthians 10:14–22, Paul is referring to what seemed to be an openness by some Corinthian Christians to participate in idol feasts at pagan temples. He’s not talking about buying meat at the market or going to someone’s house for a birthday party. It’s literally going to a temple and being part of an idol feast. He then mentions that through these feasts, demons take advantage of idol worship to deceive and enslave people. Thus, without realizing it, worshippers of pagan gods are in fact glorifying demons in their sacrifice, and that by being there, we’re basically signing off on it! This is not something Christians should participate in at all. This would be like if a Christian today participated in a séance, tarot card reading, or quija board night.
Now, in today’s passage, he again goes back to the meat to make it clear that the meat itself isn’t tainted by demonic activity. His warnings in the previous section have to do with the atmosphere of fellowship with demons during a pagan ritual, not the meat itself. Basically, if you’re not taking part in the pagan rituals themselves and just buying meat sold at the butcher or going over for dinner to a non-believing friend’s house, your conscience should be clean! Now, if you’re someone who feels as though it’s still wrong for you, don’t even ask about it and it won’t bother you.
Here’s the caveat, though: If someone calls attention to the fact that the meat was sacrificed to idols (whether an unbelieving host or a Christian with a sensitive conscience), it’s likely because that person believes it’s wrong for Christians to eat meat sacrificed to idols. So, for the sake of their conscience don’t eat it.
This brings us back to our original point: Liberty has its limits. What’s the limit? Love! Liberty within the limits of love, friends! Is my use of the freedom afforded to me by the sacrifice of Jesus demonstrating love for Jesus and others, or is it selfishly motivated? Many Christians live with the mentality of “Where is the line? How close to sin can I get without sinning? What can I get away with before I cross the line into sin?” This is the wrong heart! The purpose of our lives isn’t to see how much we can get away with and still be Christians. Instead, it’s to live in light of the gospel that has saved and redeemed us, to know God, enjoy God, and glorify God in everything we say, think, and do! Live with this heart of “not seeking [your] own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.”
Pause: What does it mean that liberty has limits?
Practice: Consider the things you partake in and how you’re using your liberty. Does it make you a party to anything that could be detrimental to someone’s walk with Jesus or to their coming to Christ?
Pray: Father, help me to live in every way and do everything for Your glory and for the “good of many, so that they may be saved.” Amen.
Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.