Paul rejoiced in the new liberty he had experienced in Christ. Freed from the restrictions Jewish leaders tried to impose on the faithful, he had no obligation except to love his brothers and sisters in Christ (Rom. 13:8). That love made him willing to surrender some of his newfound freedom.
In the case addressed in I Corinthians 8, some Christians believed they should not eat meat that had been offered to idols. The meat that remained from a pagan sacrifice might be eaten by the offerer and his friends as a feast in the temple, or the meat might be sold in the open market. Some believers felt meat used in pagan sacrifices was tainted and should not be eaten. Some may have even thought that in eating this meat they were participating in pagan worship. Paul and others believed otherwise. Paul knew that the idols had no real existence and that he could eat such meat without violating his conscience or compromising his convictions. The issue for Paul was larger. If he encouraged Christians to violate their consciences, he might do them spiritual harm. If they acted against their consciences on this question, they might do so on more important matters. That, he said, would be a sin against Christ. Paul’s debt of love to all men meant that he would surrender some of his freedom to safeguard the spiritual well-being of his brothers and sisters in Christ. Although we do not have the same specific problem today, Christians must face the challenge of giving up some practices that may not be harmful for them but that may cause problems for less mature Christians. Most of us face this when we consider how our actions influence our children and grandchildren.
People who work overseas often reflect on how their relative wealth affects their presentation of the gospel. In observing the way missionaries live, some unreached people have concluded that the gospel must be true because it has provided so many material benefits to those who proclaim it. Missionaries who do have vehicles for their travel and computers to do their work may give the impression that national Christian workers cannot serve the Lord effectively without this equipment.
One challenge to missionaries is to adopt a simple lifestyle to show people that the Lord’s work can be carried on without Western technology. In Ghana our missionaries have sensed the importance of sometimes traveling without a van. Their are some who walk to neighboring villages and others who ride bicycles as a mode of transportation. As we do this, we become equal to most Christian workers that do not have these resources. This allows us to show that the gospel ministry can be carried on regardless of the mode of transportation and/or whether a computer is at their disposal. Knowing that we have a debt of love to all the people we know helps us decide how to use our freedom in Christ.