Because doctrine can be divisive, many people stay away from talking about it. I’ve always heard two things never to discuss in public: religion and politics. But Paul encourages us to know correct doctrine. 

“Doctrine divides, but doctrine also unites. It binds together the hearts of God’s people who celebrate the truth of God together.” – R. C. Sproul

In my previous post (Love, Liberty and the Weaker Brother) I began to explain 1 Corinthians 8 about gray areas. While Christians may disagree in debatable issues, love is not debatable. We are to love others even though they disagree with us. Love always builds up, but even correct knowledge (doctrine) puffs up our pride. But I discovered two other principles about gray areas…

Doctrine is important (8:4-6).

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.Though knowing right from wrong is not enough (love is needed), it is still important. We cannot dismiss correct doctrine. Correct knowledge about God’s truth is the foundation of all good decisions. (1 Corinthians 8:4-6)

In debating the issue of meat offered to idols, Paul explains true truths. (1) There is only one God. (2) An idol is nothing. The conclusion is that any meat offered in the pagan temples cannot be contaminated with evil. A non-existent god cannot contaminate food offered on his altar. How can meat be made evil by gods that don’t exist? Meat doesn’t change. Meat is meat and so there is nothing evil in eating meat offered to an idol.

God’s Word has given us many activities that are right and wrong, black and white. We should avoid these. For example, it is wrong to take God’s name as a cuss word (Exodus 20:7). It is wrong to have sex with someone you are not married to (Exodus 20:14). It is wrong to take something that doesn’t belong to you (Exodus 20:15). It is wrong to get drunk (Ephesians 5:18).

But what about others issues that the Bible is either silent or not completely clear if is it wrong; such as going to movies, playing poker, listening to secular music, getting a tattoo, trick-or-treating on Halloween, Santa Claus or having wine with our meal. The strong, mature Christian has knowledge that these and many other activities are all permissible. They are like the meat offered to idols.

Contemporary Christians should study the Bible to discover what the Bible teaches as truth and leave all the other areas as non-biblical. This does not mean that it’s okay just because the Bible says so. But we must know what the Bible  teaches is out-of-bounds.

Doctrine and Love must work Together (8:7-13).

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against themin this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (1 Corinthians 8:7-13)

Doctrine must be tempered with love. In another passage, Paul teaches “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

Paul introduces a representative person we can call a “weaker brother.” He is weak because he doesn’t have the knowledge or strength to eat idol meat without having a guilty conscience. Maybe he was saved out of a life of idolatry and every time he eats the meat it reminds him of past experiences. His conscience just won’t let him do it.

Paul talks about our conscience. Even if doing something is permissible, if our conscience won’t let us do it without feeling guilty, we shouldn’t do it. A person should never sin against his conscience. To him it is a sin. The conscience of a weak Christian is easily defiled (v. 7), wounded (v. 12), and offended (v. 13). If your conscience says no, avoid it. But don’t look down on others who are able to exercise their freedom.

Eating idol meat or not eating idol meat doesn’t do anything for your relationship with God. It is spiritually neutral. You aren’t better or worse for eating or not eating. But it could have negative effects. If a ‘strong’ brother influences a ‘weak’ brother to do something against his conscience, even though it is okay for him to do, it is a sin against the weaker brother. It is even a sin against Christ (v. 12). A strong Christian should give up their liberty in order express their love to a weaker brother. When considering whether you will or will not do something, you must think not only of its effect on you, but of its effect on others. 

2 Principles:

  1. What is okay for one person may not be okay for another. All believers are strong in some areas and weak in other areas. We constantly need to monitor the effects of our behavior on others.
  2. What we ought to do should take priority over what we want to do. No one has the any right to indulge in a pleasure or to demand a liberty which may be the ruin of someone else. Regardless of our position on gray areas, we are called to obey one command in black and white: LOVE.

In areas of disagreement, Paul encourages believers to keep their beliefs between themselves and God. The Christian who believes in certain freedoms should not be trying to influence others to “loosen up.” Those bothered by some actions should not be judging or condemning those with freedom, not should they be trying to force their actions on the entire church. Instead, all believers should seek to have a clear conscience before God.

At Faith Baptist, we have a slogan that summarizes these principles: In essential beliefs we have unity. In non-essential beliefs we have liberty. In all our beliefs we have love.

See also: Why is doctrine important.