I taught recently in our church about the concept of Christian liberty vs. Christian responsibility. The Apostle Paul introduced the idea in 1 Corinthians when he wrote about meat having been offered to idols. After its use in pagan worship the meat was discounted and sold in the marketplace. Some early Christians purchased and consumed it while others believed the practice respected paganism.
Paul argued that idols are nothing and, therefore, the meat was offered to nothing. And he said, “Food will not bring us close to God” (1 Corinthians 8: 8). If food did bring us close to God, we’d all eat angel food cake! But he also taught we have a responsibility to care for brothers and sisters in the faith who may have an issue with idol meat: “If food causes my brother or sister to fall, I will never again eat meat” (v. 13).
A social media site proposed a question lately about Christians and alcohol. I responded that alcohol may be one of the issues in this mix. Perhaps I have liberty to drink, but I don’t want to harm others who might become problem drinkers through my example.
I engaged in some back-and-forth through cyberspace with a young man who disagreed. He asked if I’d give up sugar if my use of sugar caused a diabetic to stumble. I think I’d be better off giving up sugar, though it would be hard since many of our foods contain at least traces of it. Accordingly, diabetics do consume sugar, and insulin.
I responded if this was a genuine spiritual issue, I’d have to consider sugar-abstinence.
Then I gave him two real examples. A Christian school I’ve been affiliated with forbids employees to drink, and the church I attend forbids deacons to drink. So, obviously, here are two organizations for whom the matter of influence includes alcohol.
Certainly I’m aware of other Christian groups for whom alcohol is not an issue, but for most Baptist churches it is. I can’t imagine this young man having much of a future in Baptist church leadership if he continues to flaunt beer and cigars!
I’ve never been a drinker; I often joke I get into enough trouble being sober. But the matter of idol meat is thought-provoking. Though Christ has freed us from legalism (Galatians 5:1), our choices must be carefully weighed as we consider the measure of our influence.
The late Dr. Frank Stagg taught there are several “polarities” in humanity’s existence. For example, salvation is “gift” but also “demand” since an obedient life is required. And, he suggested, Christians are “free,” yet “bound.” We’re free to use discernment, but also bound to our Christian family in love.