10:23 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. 24 Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.
25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; 26 for “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.”
27 If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake. 28 But if anyone says to you, “This was offered to idols,” do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake, for “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” 29 “Conscience,” I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? 30 But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks?
31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
I absolutely love this passage. Why? Because it underscores a truth that gets very little attention. In a culture of iPhones and iPads and iPods we are not encouraged or trained to think of anyone beyond ourselves. To refrain from doing something you want to do and something you know is OK to do for the sake of someone else is pure unadulterated kindness. Perhaps yesterday you felt Paul was contradicting himself. His original argument at the beginning of this letter was that idols are nothing and therefore eating food sacrificed to them is harmless. Then yesterday he write that to eat such food is to eat that which demons inspired.
Today's conclusion brings the two seemingly incompatible points together. What he was saying yesterday is that if you know the food was offered to idols don't eat it. By doing so you are participating in a system crafted by demons. However if you don't know don't ask because the food itself is fine. Furthermore and the most important consideration is the people you are eating with. If they know the food was offered to idols but don't grasp that idols are meaningless, they will conclude that you are participating in idol worship while claiming to be a Christian.
Be considerate. Alter your behaviour and choices for the benefit of others.
Now let's take the principle and apply it to us. "All things are lawful for me but not all things are beneficial or helpful."
I'm a Seventh-day Adventist. We have a history of health reform that includes encouraging a vegetarian diet, abstinence from unclean meats, alcohol/drugs/tobacco etc... The principle behind all of it is improved health. The benefit of improved physical health is improved mental and spiritual health since each affects the other.
Now if the principle behind not eating meat is improved health and I substitute the meat with something else that is as or more unhealthy I have kept a rule but accomplished nothing with regards to my health. It is possible to keep rules and entirely miss the point.
So Paul had the right to eat the food sacrificed to idols. It was lawful but not everything that is lawful is helpful. Now let's suppose for the sake of another example that I know one bottle of beer isn't going to impact my health or my judgement in any significant way. Does that give me license to drink it as a Christian convinced that the world would be a better place without alcohol?
Paul asks a deep question: "Why is my liberty judged by another man's conscience?"
The answer is simple. Our concern and care for others should come before self. Period. By drinking one beer I am sending the message to the person I bought it from and everyone who sees me drinking it that I endorse drinking. Is that a message I want to send? Is that a blessing to those around me? Is my freedom more valuable and important than my potential impact on others?
He ends his point with a famous verse that actually loses some of its impact when quoted out of context. Here it is: “Therefore whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” And what brings God the most glory? Our care for and consideration of others. It must always trump our personal freedoms if we are a true follower of Christ.
Tomorrow we'll explore another side of this with Jesus as our example.