Do people in your church family have differences of opinion about how Christians should behave? In my church there are plenty of different views. Should Christians drink alcohol? Should people view R-rated movies or MA-rated TV shows? Should people purchase luxury items? Should we vote Republican or Democrat, or maybe even a third-party? Should Christians wear two-piece bathing suits? On and on the list goes.
As we saw in the first post in our series on Titus 3:9-15, the Christians in the churches in Crete were having some disagreements too. To better understand the issue that Paul was addressing in the church in Crete, through his letter to Titus, we’re going to hit the pause button on Titus for a few posts and look at a related topic Paul wrote about elsewhere. Paul writes about the concept of the weak and the strong in Romans 14 and 15, and in 1st Corinthians 8 and 10. In Romans he calls it weak or strong faith, and in 1st Corinthians he calls it weak or strong conscience. His principle is the same. It goes like this: when it comes to various matters in life, some Christians have a weak faith approach, and some Christians have a strong faith approach.
Those who are weak in faith, or weak in conscience, lean toward the side of not participating in a certain action because they believe it is wrong. Another word for these people is “cautious.”
Those who are strong in faith, or strong in conscience, lean toward to the side of participating in a certain action because they believe it is okay. Another word for these people is “free.”
Cautious or free, neither is in and of itself sinful, but if the cautious become too cautious, and if the free become too free, they can become sinful.
Paul uses a real-life situation in the first century Roman Empire to illustrate what he is talking about: meat sacrificed to idols. To worship in some Greco-Roman temples, people would bring animals to be sacrificed, its meat would be cooked and eaten by the priests of that temple. Leftover meat would be owned by the offerer of the sacrifice, perhaps to be used in a feast, or sold in a meat market. Christians had access, then, to meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Should they eat or should they abstain? It was a big controversy in the church, because, of course they don’t want to participate in idol worship. But just because they ate that meat at a later party, or bought it in a meat market, did that mean those Christians were somehow complicit in idol worship?
Paul says Yes…and No. If you want, read his teaching the passages mentioned above. I’ll just summarize it here.
First of all he says, idols are a sham. There is only one true God. But, he says, not everyone knows this. Some people from that culture used to be idol worshipers, and now they have become Christians. Those people, he says, “are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food, they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol,” it defiles their conscience, which is weak, or cautious, and they believe they are sinning against God.
On the other hand, he says, food is just food. It doesn’t bring us closer to God, as the pagans believed, to sacrifice meat to the gods. Thus there are Christians who eat it, enjoy it, and thank God for it, and they are not sinning against God.
The issue to Paul is that those who have a strong conscience, who are more free, have no spiritual dilemma eating the meat, and thus could become a stumbling block to those who are weak. Paul says, don’t be so arrogant and bold about your strong faith, that you destroy the faith of the weak. It is better to abstain. But is Paul saying they should always abstain? Is he making a blanket condemnation of eating meat? Not at all.
Then he says a bit more in 1st Cor 10, starting at verse 23: “Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising an issue about it.” In other words, if you get invited to a meal, even if it is at the home of an unbeliever whom you could suspect of serving meat that had originally been sacrificed to idols, don’t bring it up. Don’t say, “Uh, I’m a Christian, I don’t eat meat sacrificed to idols, so I need to ask you, is this meat clean?” Don’t get self-righteous about it. Instead, Paul says, just eat it. “Don’t raise questions of conscience,” he says. Just eat it.
But, he clarifies. If someone else volunteers the information, “Hey, this meat was offered in sacrifices,” then do not eat it, so as to guard the other person’s conscience, as they are likely weak in faith, and thus by abstaining, you will be guarding your own conscience too. In Romans 14-15, he will go on to say, that abstaining, which is the act of sacrificing one’s own freedom for another, is a loving act.
So in a church family, there are people who are weak, and there are people who are strong. It’s like that in every church. Christians who have differences of opinion about matters. The same was true in the churches in Crete. Those who are on the weak/cautious side, should not judge or condemn those on the strong/free side, and vice versa. Also, those on the strong/free side should be ready to abstain from a certain action out of love for those who might think that action is sinful. Check back in to the next post, as we’ll dig a bit further into how the interplay of the weak and the strong works out in the life of a church.