What does an appropriate lifestyle look like for a godly leader? Paul discusses “meat sacrificed to idols” in his letter to the Corinthians as well as some general principles in his letter to the Romans. There are many lifestyle variations within the body of Christ and I believe the basic principles that Paul provides can be applied to most, if not all, lifestyle related questions.
All believers, whether they have a leadership role or not, are called to be holy (1 Pet 1:15-16). Jesus gave His followers this command, “And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
And Paul would later say, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).
In essence, we have no lifestyle rights as believers. And yet, we are called to live in the world (John 17:11;16). So what is appropriate? Since we have no rights, lifestyle questions become issues of personal freedom that God can give or remove or restore at anytime. We don’t have a right to any lifestyle.
God does provide guidance in the scriptures. We are obviously not free to sin (Rom 12:1). Some freedoms can become ‘encumbrances’ and we need to escape those (Heb 12:1). These will not be the same for everyone and God will speak to each of us concerning our personal ‘encumbrances’ (Gal 5:16).
The big issue with a freedom is the potential for that freedom to become an idol or encumbrance. Idolatry is allowing any created thing to become more significant than our devotion to Jesus. Some idolatry may cause physical destruction of one kind or another but all idolatry has the potential to kill the soul (Gal 5:19-21). Almost anything can become an idol or encumbrance and the best preventative measure is the fasted lifestyle (Mat 6:17). In addition to its’ other benefits, it allows us to check in and limit our freedoms to make sure that one freedom doesn’t get away from us and become and idol or encumbrance.
Paul noted, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). And Jesus said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God’”(Matthew 4:4).
Some will choose to avoid a freedom so that it never has the chance to become an idol, addiction, or encumbrance. Though avoidance may be the only way to effectively manage a clearly identified sin or addiction, the normal approach is to exercise self-control and pursue the fasted lifestyle with wisdom. This moderation in exercising freedoms often turns out to be a much harder choice than mere avoidance,
There are at least four freedoms where God provides very clear directives. These are money, sex, food and alcohol. None of these things are bad in and of themselves. But all of them can be and often are abused. Fortunately, God provides additional instruction for exercising these freedoms. We give away our money freely. We keep sex in marriage – one man with one woman. We abandon gluttony. (Interestingly the Hebrew term for glutton ‘zalal’ has the sense ‘to be light’ which can be translated ‘worthless’ or ‘careless’ or even foolish.) And we avoid drunkenness. Keeping sex in marriage is the most straightforward. The others require personal discernment. God gives special warnings to leaders concerning three of these freedoms (1 Tim 3:1-8) but they apply to all – leaders and non leaders alike.
God does not provide specific instruction on the amounts or timing of freedom. This is left to the individual’s discretion. Not all the brethren will be able to appreciate the freedoms available. The one with the freedom is not to use his freedom to cause a brother to stumble or pass judgments on his choices and the one without the freedom can’t pass judgment either (Romans 14:1).
Paul writes, “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. 2 One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. 3 Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.5 One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind (NAS, Romans 14:1-5).”
Paul uses the term “weak in faith”. This appears to imply that the “weak in faith” need to grow up in faith. Paul addresses the theological concern in his Corinthian letter. All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify (1 Corinthians 10:23). We have freedom, but pursuing profitability and edification take wisdom and thoughtfulness.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul had the opportunity to give a clear prohibition for consuming any meat that originated in a pagan sacrifice before it came to the local butcher, but he did not. It is clear that participating in pagan sacrifices whether to gain meat or not is prohibited (Rev 2:14; Acts 15:20,29) and if the topic of “where the meat came from” comes up in the conversation with an unbeliever (1 Cor 10:29), then because of the unbeliever’s conscience, that meat should not be eaten.
To us, a complete and comprehensive ban on meat would have been simpler and easier to administer. It would have been easier to call leaders, or “up and coming” missionaries, or forerunners to abstain from meat. But Paul never provided a universal ban. Accommodation for the weaker brother appears to be in the context of a “one-on-one” relationship rather than a community or regional standard. Otherwise, there would be no freedom. For there will always be a brother somewhere with a weakness for something which the entire Church of Christ would need to abstain from to avoid offense. With the advent of technology, we can be literally connected around the world. When Paul deplores the way the Corinthians are practicing the “Lord’s Supper” in chapter 11, he does not mention meat. If the community as a whole needed to take a stand on meat sacrificed to an idol, this would have been a great place to share that correction along with the more serious issues that he addressed.
Drawing the line of demarcation is hard. Mistakes can be made. Paul’s discussion on “meat sacrificed to idols” is a good example. Paul did not want a weaker brother to fall away from the faith because of Paul’s personal freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idol.
Paul was concerned about the outdoor café connected to the pagan temple where meat was directly received and served (1 Cor 8:10). It would be easy for the weaker brother to see you there. But Paul notes that going to the meat market is fine – as long as no one makes a comment on the origin of the meat. The market would be very public and visible to the weaker brother. It most likely sold completely tainted (sacrificed) meat (1 Cor 10:25). And Paul wasn’t concerned about eating meat at an unbeliever’s house unless the topic was brought up. Meat served at the unbeliever’s home would most certainly originate either directly or indirectly from the pagan temple. Surely a weak believer would be suspicious of what was happening when Paul went off to dinner at a pagan’s home! Obviously, God will have to help each of us discern how to draw and redraw our lines.
Will there be reproach over issues of freedom or degrees of freedom? The answer is yes. It is unavoidable. In the past Christians have tended to make loud noises about some freedoms that should be reviled and eliminated while ignoring the careful management of other freedoms. We must pursue Christ wholeheartedly, manage all of our lifestyle choices actively and be gracious to one another. Show great care with weaker brothers, but avoid the legislation of freedom which the scriptures do not appear to demand. In the end, we will all give account (Romans 14:12). In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.
22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.