1 Corinthians 8:12-13 – “Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
Nine years ago when I spent time in the northern part of India in the Himalayan Mountains, we stayed in a very remote village, three miles from the closest road, with Hindu families. As we walked the trails to this village, we passed by numerous altars set up for idols along the way. While we stayed in this village for the three weeks we were there, they celebrated one of their most significant religious holidays that they call Savitri Pooja. One of the practices that these people partook in is offering gifts to the Hindu gods. One morning toward the end of our time, our breakfast included peanuts and cookies. We found out later that these actual peanuts had already been offered to their Hindu gods, but then pulled from the altars and then given to us. We were living 1 Corinthians 8.
Finding out after the fact that these peanuts had been offered to the idols put us in a position where we didn’t really have a chance to wonder if it was ok for us to eat these peanuts. Yet, 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 lays out the reality clearly: “We know that an idol has no real existence, and that there is no God but one. For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth – as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’ – yet for us there is one God, the Father…” As Christians, we do not believe these idols are real. We believe they are made of stone, clay, and metal, so therefore they have no life in them. Because of that, I would have had no problem eating those peanuts even if I knew beforehand that they had been given to the idols.
The point of 1 Corinthians 8 is that there are some who would have had a problem with us eating the peanuts. This is where the question of gray areas comes into play as followers of Christ. There are numerous practices or lifestyles that Scripture may not lay out as being obviously wrong. And there are numerous practices or lifestyles that are clearly not wrong, but some may see them as being wrong. How we handle interacting with these people reveals a great deal about our maturity.
I recently talked with a pastor friend of mine, who told me that there are many in his church that believe that if you are a mature Christian, you will wear dress pants, a dress shirt, and a tie to church on Sunday mornings. In their minds, a mark of holiness for followers of Christ is wearing a tie to church. Now, clearly that is not in Scripture. They have added law to the gospel to argue something they are culturally comfortable with. How do we address people like that? Do we wear shorts, a tank top, and flip flops to church and get in their face? Of course not. We respect their attitudes and opinions and show them grace and love. Is it wrong to wear more casual clothes to church? Some would say yes, and some would say no. Was it wrong for some to eat meat sacrificed to idols back in Paul’s day? Some would say yes, and some would say no.
In any case, if some people are more sensitive to certain gray areas, then we have a responsibility as followers of Christ, living in community with them, to show them grace and respect, and to do what we can to make sure that we do not lay a stumbling block before them.