In the first century church, there was a lot of debate around what you could or could not eat.
Some of this had to do with the fact that Gentiles were joining this new, little sect of Judaism called "Christianity." The Jewish Christians assumed that the Gentile Christians would follow kosher laws. The Gentile Christians, however, weren't all that interested in giving up their shrimp and bacon.
Some of this had to do with the fact, if you lived in the city, you most likely likely purchased your meat from a market outside of a pagan temple. That meat had been sacrificed to Greek and Roman idols. Shouldn't Jesus-worshipers avoiding eating meat used in pagan temple worship?
In the churches of Corinth and Rome there were groups of Christians who considered themselves "strong and free." There was no need to worry about who the animal was sacrificed to - idols don't exist anyway! Gentiles weren't going to become Jews - no need to follow those restrictive kosher laws!
Paul, however, was not impressed by these arguments. For this ancient church planter, freedom and strength was not to be measured merely by what you could and couldn't do. Instead you ought to measure how free you were in Christ by how much you loved your neighbor.
Paul wrote, "You must be careful that your freedom (to eat meat, drink wine, etc.) does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble." Why? "When you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ" (1 Corinthians 8:9, 12).
Paul was so committed to this concept he said, "If I what I eat causes another believe to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live–for I don't want to cause another believer to stumble" (8:13). "You may believe there's nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God" (Romans 14:22).
Yes, I firmly believe that it is for freedom that Christ set us free (Galatians 5:1). But "don't use your freedom to indulge the flesh; instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love." We see the perfect example of freedom in Jesus Christ. Jesus, being God, is the ultimate free being. How did Jesus use His freedom? He washed his disciples' feet; bared the cross; and died a death He did not deserve.
Mask or No-Mask
As I'm sure you're aware, there is a sizable group of Christians who are convinced that coronavirus is nothing we need to be afraid of. They believe that masks are a unnecessary response to an overhyped virus. That social distancing is causing more harm than good. That, just like idols don't exist so we can eat whatever meat we want, covid isn't that bad, so we can meet whenever we want.
I hope and pray that those folks are right.
However, how should that group respond to those of us who think covid should be taken incredibly seriously, that mask wearing is a bare-minimum of human decency, and that gathering in large groups is an efficient way to unnecessarily spread disease?
I think Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Galatians give us a clear answer. **If you think covid is overhyped and that you are therefore free to live however you want, then you should check that freedom up against how the New Testament says to use it. Your freedom exists for you to serve others - even those you think have a weak conscience and are factually wrong.
If you were to follow the example of Paul, you would put on the mask, even if you "know better." You would "wear a mask for as long as you live–for you don't want to cause another believer to stumble." Your mask becomes a sign of love, even to those who you consider ignorant, weak, or foolish. You would rather wear a mask than risk becoming a stumbling block to a fellow believer who sees mask-wearing as basic human decency.
Now, you may ask, shouldn't this logic work the other way around? Shouldn't the "mask-wearers" take their masks off for the sake of those who don't want to wear them? There's a few reasons this logic doesn't flip-around so easily, though:
- No one believes that my mask-wearing could make you seriously ill. But I do believe that if you don't wear a mask, you could make others ill. I am the one with the "weak conscience."
- Say you had a vegetarian friend who's conscience led them to believe that eating animals was immoral. Is it more likely that you would wound their conscience by serving them meat; or would your own conscience by refraining from eating meat when around them? Of course you should refrain from serving them meat! In the same way, people choose to wear a mask because of their belief in a serious virus. Asking them to remove their mask "for the sake of your conscience," is asking them to– from their perspective–risk their health for your conscience's sake. Would it not be better to inconvenience yourself for the sake of their well-being, even if you know better?
Now, don't hear me wrong. I believe that mask-wearing is a necessary precaution to not getting others ill from covid.
But even if you don't believe that, your Christian freedom should still lead to you to respect the social distancing and mask-wearing of your fellow believers.
Jesus' entire ethical system is summed up by, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Or, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Imagine that you believed there was a deadly virus that could be majorly mitigated by social distancing, mask-wearing, and the temporary pausing of large gatherings—how would you want to be treated?
**Then treat people like that. **