Strong and Weak Consciences, Part 2

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.

1 Corinthians 8:9

In yesterday's reflection, I explained Paul's unexpected use of "strong" and "weak" with respect to our consciences. People with "strong consciences" have freedom to participate without sinning in behavior that people with "weak consciences" cannot do without sin. In Corinth, the issue had to do with the eating of meat that had been dedicated to idols. Paul urged the strong to choose not to do that which would cause the weak to stumble (8:9).

Today I want to remain with this verse a bit longer, to offer an illustration from my own experience as a pastor. I do this with some trepidation, because I know that this example will push buttons for some people. But I ask for your grace as you read. You might well disagree with what I have done and why. That's fine, because these are not matters of Christian orthodoxy, but issues upon which faithful Christians can and do disagree. The important thing is not that you agree with me, but that you use this example to help you think about how you might apply 1 Corinthians 8 in your own life.

Many times in my life as a pastor and in my leadership of Irvine Presbyterian Church, I chose, or led our leadership to choose, to refrain from certain behavior for the sake of those with "weak consciences." Some of those times came at wedding receptions, when it was time for the champagne toast. Now I believe that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with Christians enjoying a glass of champagne upon occasion. The Bible is clear that drunkenness is sinful. But it also presents many examples of godly people, including Jesus, drinking fermented grape juice. So, in some wedding receptions, I would join in the champagne toast and drink a couple of ounces of champagne. No harm, no foul.

But many of the wedding receptions I attended included teenagers from the church. At these receptions, I declined the champagne, choosing instead to drink sparkling cider. I did this because I knew that some of our young people were tempted to abuse alcohol, and I did not want my freedom to drink in moderation to lead them into sin since their consciences were weak. I made this choice freely and joyfully, believing it to be consistent with the principle of 1 Corinthians 8.

Please understand that I am not suggesting that everyone needs to follow my example in this case. Some of my closest friends are pastors who have chosen never to drink alcohol in any circumstances for the sake of those who are weak. I have other pastor friends who would, at times, drink a glass of champagne at a wedding, even if younger people were present. So I am not insisting that you be like me. I do believe, however, that it would be good for all of us to consider how our behavior affects others and to consider when we might choose not to do something for the sake of another. The deeper issue, of course, is our willingness to love sacrificially, just as Christ has loved us. In freely giving up that which is permitted to us for the sake of another, we are imitating the self-giving love of our Lord.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Have you ever chosen not to do something you were free to do for the sake of another? When? Why did you do this? Can you think of situations in your life where you need to prayerfully consider how 1 Corinthians 8 might guide your behavior?

PRAYER: Gracious Lord, how thankful I am for the freedom I have in you. And how thankful I am for the family of faith of which I am a part.

Help me, dear Lord, to be wise when it comes to how I act. Give me compassion and sensitivity for those around me. Yet help me to know how not to fall into a legalism that limits my freedom in ways that are not healthy.

I continue to pray for your church, Lord, that we will treat each other with kindness and grace, even and especially when we differ over how best to live out our faith in you. Call us to a new unity in you, along with compassion for those who are less mature in their discipleship. Amen.