It is not clear to me that I am in a place right now where I can say something other than what I need to hear myself. I am preaching things I need to get myself. I was once having a conversation with with someone about the need for truths known in the head to become real in the heart. Then they asked me, “How do you know when that head-to-heart transition has been made?” I did not have an answer, so I said the first thing that came to mind: “When I no longer feel like hammering the point with people all the time.”
Paul said to the church in Rome (Romans 14:1),
“Accept anyone who is weak in the faith, but don’t argue about doubtful issues.” (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
“Accept the one who is weak in the faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.” (New American Standard Bible)
“Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.” (King James Version)
Many people have something they are working through, and maybe God is speaking to them about it. Sometimes, I think a passion like that can become a legalism, especially if it is far too founded in a reaction against something. A person might become entrenched in such a reaction quite naturally. I believe a passion like that often arises from being hurt or hindered in some way. That passion can become a self-soothing or self-validating construct when there is no vision beyond that passion, because when you have no vision beyond that passion, you have less root or substance in who you are in God and more of a sense of validation from being not-that-thing which you are reacting against. I believe this process has fueled many sects and denominations. I also believe that it fosters a letter-of-the-law mindset, but one where the letter is of your own making.
In Romans 14, Paul talked about issues of personal conscience. The Greek word for conscience, syneidesis (Strong’s Concordance number 4893) is rooted in words meaning “with” and “to see”. Thus, I would consider the conscience to be something you see with. It is a lens through which you evaluate your world, in particular, those things pertaining to right and wrong and sin and righteousness. Something else Paul said, in 1 Corinthians 8, which is thematically very similar to Romans 14,
“… some have been so used to idolatry up until now, that when they eat food offered to an idol, their conscience, being weak, is defiled.” (from verse 7)
In the verses leading up to this statement, Paul makes the point that the idol is nothing, but not everybody has the knowledge that it is nothing. I would dare to say that such a person has not yet recovered from seeing things in the way that he used to see them. Consequently, that affects the lens through which he sees as he tries make decisions that have moral or spiritual value. Because of those limitations, a person might make conscience decisions that are not perfect in every way. In both 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14, Paul calls for these imperfect attempts to walk faithfully in personal conviction and conscience to be handled with love and care in the body of Christ. I would say it this way: it is a call to exercise due diligence in hearing one another out. This is not just for the purpose of people getting along superficially. This is for my own good as an individual, because God is bigger than ‘where I’m at’ currently. ‘Where I’m at’ influences how I see, and when it comes to God, there is more to see, than what I can see, where I’m at currently. Therefore, I don’t want what I see and how I see become all that I am capable of seeing.
At this point I want to say something about idols and idolatry. ‘Idol’ comes from the Greek eidolon, which means ‘image’. Biblically, these images are associated with the worship of other gods. Eidolon, comes from the word eidos, meaning “a view, i.e. form (literal or figurative)” (Strong’s Concordance). Eidos, in turn, comes from eido, a verb meaning, ‘to see’. I don’t want to read more into the text than what was intended, (because I don’t think that problem is with the images themselves, but their association with false religions), but this makes me think about the concept of idolatry more deeply; it is worship based on man-made constructs. It is trying to reduce everything that God is, and has, and does, into constructs, worldviews, theologies, and paradigms that are affected by human hurts, perceptual limitations, emotional hang-ups, ambitions, and agendas. You might have a lens that is limited by such factors. That’s fine. Just keep pressing in with God and with other people, so that your lens doesn’t become an image and the world doesn’t become a collection of things that either fit or offend that image. Don’t worship what you see.
An idol can’t set you free.