By Michael E. Brooks
?Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble? (1 Corinthians 8:13).
In South Asia there are many different cultures, each with its own distinctive customs, mores, and taboos. Some are vegetarians, eating no meat at all. Hindus eat no beef. Muslims cannot eat pork. When a person whose ancestors for many generations have followed such practices becomes a Christian, he is often unable to quickly change dietary habits. If he has been taught all of his life that beef is forbidden, and the very idea of eating it is repugnant, he is unlikely to immediately change his attitude.
In some cases he may even be unsure if it is not still sinful, or at least ?wicked? to consume such food. He may be offended when a fellow Christian eats food he finds totally unsuitable. In such cases what are other Christians to do to help him?
This is exactly the same situation in which many Jewish and Gentile Christians found themselves in New Testament times. Ethnic Jews were repulsed by the very idea of eating pork or other ?unclean? foods. Some Gentiles believed that eating meat sold after sacrifices in pagan temples constituted partaking in idolatrous worship. Though neither belief was bound upon other Christians by God, the fact remained that their conscience and faith might be seriously damaged if those other Christians insisted upon their ?right? to eat such meat.
Paul reminds us that souls are more important than food. How selfish and materialistic are we, if we are unwilling to sacrifice a favorite menu item for the sake of a loved brother?s or sister?s faith? It is easy to say, ?Oh, they are just immature, they will get over it.? In many cases what we are asking them to ?get over? is accumulated centuries of culture and conditioning. Such attitudes as we have described are often as ingrained and abiding as one?s manner of thinking, political or philosophical convictions or other such characteristics of one?s identity. Even with great effort and persistence it takes time, effort, and often help from others to completely transform them.
More than the issue of what kinds of food a Christian may eat, these New Testament discussions are about love and concern for one?s brothers and sisters in Christ. The real question is, how much do we care for them? How much are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of their souls? When we remembers the sacrifice which was given for us, we surely must agree that, with Paul, we must put our brother first.
By Michael E. Brooks