The Bible’s View
When Another’s Conscience Is Involved
THE Holy Bible contains peerless counsel for successful human relations. Outstanding among its guidelines is this written by the apostle Paul:
“Make my joy full in that you are of the same mind and have the same love, being joined together in soul, holding the one thought in mind, doing nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you, keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.”—Phil. 2:2-4.
It is quite a challenge to apply that counsel today. The 1970’s have been called “The ‘Me’ Decade.” Ours is a period when self-love and self-interest predominate in the minds of many.
How can persons who desire to please God show that they consider the personal interests of others “superior” to their own? This can be done especially by considering how one’s conduct affects the consciences of others.
Note carefully the following Scriptural counsel with regard to a Christian’s being invited to dinner at the home of an unbeliever:
“If anyone of the unbelievers invites you and you wish to go, proceed to eat everything that is set before you, making no inquiry on account of your conscience. But if anyone should say to you: ‘This is something offered in sacrifice [to idols],’ do not eat on account of the one that disclosed it and on account of conscience. ‘Conscience,’ I say, not your own, but that of the other person.”—1 Cor. 10:27-29.
The Bible presents similar counsel for the conduct of Christians with fellow believers: “Stop tearing down the work of God just for the sake of food. True, all things are clean, but it is injurious to the man who with an occasion for stumbling eats. It is well not to eat flesh or to drink wine or do anything over which your brother stumbles.” (Rom. 14:20, 21) Clearly, when another person’s conscience may be injured, it is proper to refrain even from something normally as unobjectionable as eating certain foods.
Perhaps your preferences as to food and drink cause no problems for individuals with whom you come in contact. However, the Scriptural principles set forth above must be applied also to other areas of life. Consider, for example, grooming and dress. The Word of God does not specify the maximum acceptable length for a man’s hair. But this does not leave Christian men free to let their hair grow to any length that may satisfy private preferences. The Bible includes this question: “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?”—1 Cor. 11:14.
Obviously, different people will differ as to their view of the precise length of “long hair.” But more helpful than a specific rule in this regard will be application of the principle behind the Biblical statement quoted above: “‘Conscience,’ I say, not your own, but that of the other person.”
The same counsel applies when it comes to wearing beards or certain articles of clothing. In some locations people still view beards as identifying rebellious elements in society. Similarly, in certain areas some types of clothing may be viewed by the general population as unacceptable for men and women claiming to represent God. In this respect it will be helpful to consider some additional counsel of the apostle Paul. Though dealing once again with eating certain foods, Paul’s counsel can be applied to any area of life where the consciences of others might be offended. The apostle writes:
“Food will not commend us to God; if we do not eat, we do not fall short, and, if we eat, we have no credit to ourselves. But keep watching that this authority of yours [to eat what you want] does not somehow become a stumbling block to those who are weak. . . . Really, by your knowledge [that a Christian is not restricted to only certain foods], the man that is weak is being ruined, your brother for whose sake Christ died. But when you people thus sin against your brothers and wound their conscience that is weak, you are sinning against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat flesh at all, that I may not make my brother stumble.”—1 Cor. 8:8-13.
When thinking about his appearance or the clothing that he will wear, a Christian who desires to share Bible truths with his neighbors will do well to ask: What type of grooming and dress do people in this community find acceptable for one who is teaching the Word of God? If you are not sure, why not ask one of the elders or some other respected member of the Christian congregation with which you are associated? Since such individuals are familiar with standards of living accepted by local people, they will be able to offer helpful suggestions, yet with due respect for individual preference.
Interestingly, the Bible provides counsel also about the opposite extreme of being overly sensitive. We read:
“Let the one eating not look down on the one not eating, and let the one not eating not judge the one eating, for God has welcomed that one. Who are you to judge the house servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for Jehovah can make him stand. One man judges one day as above another; another man judges one day as all others; let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. . . . why do you judge your brother? Or why do you also look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.”—Rom. 14:3-5, 10.
All who desire to harmonize their lives with Scriptural principles must avoid being petty and easily offended. When it comes to choosing things such as food, grooming and clothing, no Christian has the right to rule the lives of others by his personal views that may or may not be extreme. “Let us not be judging one another any longer,” the Scriptural record adds, “but rather make this your decision, not to put before a brother a stumbling block or a cause for tripping.”—Rom. 14:13.
In agreement with the Scriptural admonition quoted at the beginning of this article, persons who desire to please God do “nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism.” Instead of displaying an egotistical, “Me first” attitude, they manifest “lowliness of mind,” viewing the interests of others as more important than their own.—Phil. 2:2-4.
When it comes to making decisions about personal appearance or similar matters, Christians should always consider the consciences of others. If there is some doubt about a particular style of grooming or clothing, they should avoid that style, even though they may prefer it personally. And they will also avoid being critical, trying to impose their personal standards on others. This harmonizes with the inspired advice: “Let us pursue the things making for peace and the things that are upbuilding to one another.”—Rom. 14:19.