“Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience–I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Here are Paul’s final thoughts on the issue of eating meat that came from a pagan sacrifice: Eating it doesn’t matter. If you want to eat it, go ahead. If you don’t, don’t worry about it. It’s meat. Making a mountain out of this molehill is a worthless effort.
But, because of its origin and the worldview behind eating it on the part of the pagans themselves, if you are invited to take part in a barbecue featuring this idol meat in which the host makes intentionally clear the meat’s origins, then don’t eat it. Don’t eat it not for the sake of your own conscience (you know it’s just meat), or because eating it would somehow be a sin (it wouldn’t), but rather for the sake of the conscience of the other person. By your eating the meat in such circumstances you would be giving a kind of tacit approval to the idolatry which you don’t want to do.
So what does this mean for us? It means our freedom in Christ is vast. All things are lawful for us, as Paul said a few verses before this section. But, as he also said, not all things are healthy or helpful If our exercise of the freedom we have available to us in Christ is going to result in someone else being led away from Him, we need to restrict it for their sake.
The key here is that we are voluntarily restricting the full exercise of our freedom temporarily for the sake of their moving in the direction of Christ. We are not setting it aside entirely. Their conscience has no bearing on the limits of our freedom. We are the ones in control of the situation here. Indeed, the one who voluntarily and temporarily limits His freedom for the sake of another is the freest one there is. You cannot voluntarily set something aside unless you have total control over it.
Our ultimate goal is to glorify Jesus in all that we do. Driving someone away from Him by the choices we make does not bring Him any glory. If someone walks away from Him because they can’t get their heart and mind wrapped around the Gospel that’s one thing. They are genuinely rejecting Him in that instance. But, if they walk away because of something we have done or said, they are rejecting us and Him because of it. This we cannot allow to happen. Thus, as Paul said by in chapter 9, we become all things to all people in order that by all means we can save some. We place limits on ourselves so that we can play an active role in seeing the people around us not merely come to Christ, but grow in their relationship with Him.
Think about it like this: When you are teaching someone how to do something that you already know well, if you come at them exercising the full breadth of your knowledge and experience, you will wind up doing it for them which teaches them nothing in the end. Whatever it is will get done, yes, but nothing will be gained by anyone in the process. Instead, you voluntarily take on some of their limitations for a time so that from their vantage point you can gently help them to see how to move beyond their current position to the next step in the journey.
This is what we are doing and what Paul is encouraging here. When we come alongside people who are not as far along in their faith journeys as we are, we take on some of their limitations for a time in order to show them how to move beyond those in the direction of Jesus. Yes, this will mean we might possibly miss out on an experience or another we could have otherwise enjoyed, but the increase in the Kingdom will be more than worth the effort. This is what Jesus does with us and so we need to follow suit with others.