But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
I Corinthians 8:7-9 NIV
The Corinthian church had many young Christians. Those of Jewish background probably advocated that all Christians should observe the Jewish dietary laws. Paul taught them that as Christians they no longer needed to follow dietary laws. Those of a pagan background perhaps had no issues whatsoever in what they ate, not caring if foods sold in the general market place had previously been offered on a pagan altar.
Similar to how a young child acts, often a new or young Christian may seek to “follow the rules” to keep himself from offending God or other believers. A more mature Christian will look to God, His word, and his own conscience to determine his actions, and will understand that some behaviors are spelled out in scripture, and others are not. A strong Christian will know that we have freedom from following the Jewish law, but that we don’t want to abuse that freedom, as Peter tells us:
Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. I Peter 2:16 NIV
Paul covers this topic in even more depth in Romans 14-15, and in Galatians 5. Paul also talks of our need to love each other in Romans 13:
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:8-10
Paul recommends that the young Christian let God determine the rules in his life. He also instructs the mature Christian to not look down on the weak brother, but instead to take the other’s “weakness” into account, to not flaunt one’s own freedom in Christ, but instead to curb behavior as needed to show love, to put someone else first – in order to build that younger Christian up, rather than tear him or her down. Which have you been doing? How should you respond this week in situations you face? Look at the passages mentioned above and ask God to show you what you need to change in yourself.