I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. (ESV)
There are times when we are not sure whether we should do something or not. We may look to Scripture and still have a hard time discerning what we should do. Paul recognized that this would happen and he gives us some practical advice on it. The types of things he is talking about are those things that Scripture is not specifically clear on.
There are many things that the Bible is clear about. We do not need to wonder if it is ok for us to murder our neighbor. The Bible clearly says no. It is not a mystery to us whether or not we should steal items from a clothing store. The Bible clearly says we are not to steal. We know that it is never right to bow down to a false god. Again, the Bible is pretty clear.
How about giving money to the church? Here is an example where some would say that the Old Testament tithe of ten percent is still binding on the Christian believer today. Someone else claims that we are under grace, not under the Law, and so we are not at all bound to giving any specific percentage to the church. Who is right?
Paul would likely use the principles he espoused in this verse and say, "If you think you should tithe, you should tithe. If you think tithing is not binding on you than you should generously give an amount that you freely choose from your heart." The idea of clean and unclean refers to food, but the principle applies to all things. We have freedom in decision making as we seek to honor God.
What things do you find hard to decide? Have you ever had an argument with a Christian over a "non-essential" issue? How did you resolve it?
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