God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 10:27-30 another man’s conscience
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, April 10, 2023
27 If one of the unbelievers invites some of you to a dinner and you want to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on account of conscience. 28 But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it out of consideration for the man who informed you, and for conscience’ sake 29 (I mean his conscience, not yours). For why should my freedom be judged by another man’s conscience? 30 If I eat with thankfulness, why am I criticized about something for which I give thanks?
Some readers may go over this passage several times without catching the main details, so let’s summarize Paul’s “what if?” point by point.
An unbeliever (a Corinthian pagan, perhaps a neighbor or a friend) invites some of you Christians to a dinner, and you wish to go, then go. It is not a sin to have friends who are unbelievers as long as their unbelief does not affect or afflict your faith. Verse 30 implies that you would also give thanks for your food with a table prayer, although this can be done in silence.
Eat whatever they give you at the meal. If you want some of one dish, then eat it. If you don’t like the taste of something, then be polite. But eat according to your desire, and not as if your conscience is bothered by any of the food, for you have given thanks for it.
If someone there tells you that some of the food was offered “in sacrifice,” then for the conscience of that person, do not eat it. Paul’s Greek text does not specify who might say this, a Christian or not. But the verb “offered in sacrifice” is what a pagan would say about their offerings. In this letter, Paul is usually careful to say “food (or meat) sacrificed to an idol,” but a pagan would not say “to an idol.” Yet the whole point Paul is making is about our concern for offending weak Christians. The “someone” is either a weak Christian, or someone who is testing us. Paul tells us to behave as if a weak conscience is involved.
This would not apply to a Christian in private. Since “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (verse 26), and since there is no longer any food that is forbidden by God (Mark 7:19; Acts 10:10-16), a Christian can eat whatever he wishes to eat. The only exception is when the government says, “You must not eat this.” In that case, we are subject to the Fourth Commandment.
If such a case as this were to take place as Paul has laid it out, how would the Christian react? Could he refuse that dish and be content with the fruit, the salad, or the bread? It would seem not. Christian freedom is given to us to help us and others, not to hurt consciences. So Professor Gerhard concludes: “The idols of the heathen in the Old Testament were ordered to be broken and knocked down (Deuteronomy 7:5). How, then, would it be lawful to be found in a place where idols are honored?” (On the Gospel §73, p. 81). We are no longer commanded to smash the idols, but we cannot honor them. So, leaving the dinner would be the correct option. We would not want it to be thought we can unite our faith with the worship of idols. In the same way, we cannot join our faith with false religions by holding joint worship in the case of a wedding or a funeral. Either the service will be entirely Christian and of our fellowship, or we will not participate in such worship. “You will surely listen to me and no longer profane my name with gifts (sacrificed to an idol) and idols” (Ezekiel 20:39). Elsewhere Paul says: “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord” (2 Corinthians 6:16-17; Isaiah 52:11). And John says: “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
If by my freedom I can give God glory, then that is a good thing, as long as I do not hurt another man’s Christian faith. If by my freedom I might call a pagan to question his own religion and be drawn somehow to listen to Christ, then that is a good thing, too. And if in my freedom I am willing to lay aside my freedom for the good of another Christian, then that is a good thing, too. For the pleasure of the Lord “is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man. The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (Psalm 147:10-11).
Pastor Timothy Smith