Monday, June 17, 2024

Avoid Condemnation (1 Corinthians 10:29-30)

"For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience?" (1 Cor. 10:29).

In verses 25–27, the word conscience refers to one’s own conscience. But in verse 28, Paul refers to the conscience of another, which is clarified by verse 29: “ ‘Conscience,’ I say, not your own but that of the other.” In other words, you refrain from eating meat offered to idols because of the conscience of the one who is bothered by eating the meat. Then Paul says something that has caused much confusion: “For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? But if I take with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks?”

First of all, Paul is not refuting what he had just spent nearly three chapters proving, that you should abstain for the sake of another’s conscience. He is not being an advocate for the strong by saying they should go ahead and eat because they should not be bound by the conscience of another. Though this interpretation is common, it is erroneous. It does not do justice to the context of the preceding or the following passages. What then does Paul mean? Some people think Paul is playing devil’s advocate, anticipating what the strong might say in response to his former arguments, but since he does not answer the objection, we must assume this is not Paul’s design.

Hodge maintains that verses 29 and 30 must be strictly tied to verse 28 and 32. You must not eat for the sake of the one who told you, for “conscience’ sake” (v. 28). For if you do eat, your liberty will be condemned by the conscience of another, and why should that be? Why should you be judged or condemned by another’s conscience when you could avoid condemnation by abstaining? Even though you would receive the food with thanksgiving, you would be spoken of as evil by the weaker brother. But why should that be when you could avoid the whole controversy by simply refusing to eat the meat? “The very thing the apostle has in view is to induce the strong to respect the scruples of the weak,” Hodge wrote. “They might eat of sacrificial meat at private tables with freedom, so far as they themselves were concerned; but why, he asks, should they do it so as to give offense, and cause the weak to condemn and speak evil of them.” To avoid condemnation, no matter your motives, it is best to abstain.

Carefully read chapter 10 and the verses leading up to 29 and 30. Why is the interpretation that these verses are advocating the position of the strong out of context? How do these questions (29, 30) reinforce Paul’s argument that we should be considerate of others even in those areas of Christian liberty?