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Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

by on August 7, 2014

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.

1 Corinthians 8.9

“It’s a free country.” When we were kids, we used to say this phrase in order to permit ourselves to do whatever we wanted. For example, one sibling feels the other is crowding their space on the couch and tells the other to move. The retort comes, “I can sit wherever I want, it’s a free country.” Essentially, “You’re not the boss of me, don’t tell me what to do.”

Paul is addressing a similar situation in Corinth. The Corinthian Christians may have had some issues, but from what we can tell, legalism was not one of them. They fully embraced their freedom in Christ, and Paul celebrates and honors that. In 1 Corinthians 6.12, he affirms their saying, “I have the right to do anything,” but then responds, “but not everything is beneficial.” In other words – Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

For Paul, the guideline for how to regulate the exercise of our freedom is the good of the whole church community. How do your actions impact the rest of the Body of Christ? Yes, it’s a free country, you can sit where you want, but be respectful and considerate of the person who is being affected by where you sit. Yes, it’s okay to eat meat sacrificed to an idol, after all, and idol is just a block of wood or stone or metal, but

Specifically here, Paul encourages discernment and concern for the “weaker” believer. He’s not so much talking about whether a brother or sister is bothered or inconvenienced or offended by the one who acts in freedom. Yes, it’s okay to eat meat sacrificed to an idol, after all, and idol is just a block of wood or stone or metal, but have consideration for your fellow believer who was heavily involved in the pagan sacrificial system before they came to Christ. Do the sights and smells of this meat draw them back into the darkness of their previous way of life? Do they make it difficult for them to separate themselves from that world, and move deeper into the grace of God? Then avoid it.

Paul isn’t endorsing legalism. He doesn’t give some believers permission to force others to behave a certain way out of their own preferences. Instead the consideration is always for how we are making space for those who aren’t as far along in their walk with the Lord to come to a greater understanding of his grace and love.

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