SINGAPORE (BNC) by Chantelle Swayne — “I love shopping at Target but I love Jesus more.” I read these words and I stopped.

Does shopping at Target really mean that I hate Jesus? Will I lose my soul if I don’t follow along with everyone else as they boycott yet another wayward company?

It may seem like a black and white issue on the surface. There’s a company whose moral code conflicts with your faith—so you shouldn’t give them your business and no one should, right? It seems like an open and closed case, but there’s actually a bit more to it than that.

It may interest you to know that this very issue was addressed in the writings of Paul, on several occasions. Obviously they had no Target or Starbucks back then, but there was a very similar situation in the first century where the people had a choice between two kinds of meat—the meat from the market or the meat that had been offered to idols. The meat that had been offered to idols was cheaper, but the proceeds from the sales would go to fund idolatrous temples and their practices. If there was anything that the Christians would not have wanted to support, it would have been this.

So did Paul tell the Christians to boycott the temple meats? No. In fact, he tells them it’s not an issue.

“Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience” (1 Corinthians 10:25).

“Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do” (1 Corinthians 8:8).

“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” (Romans 14:14)

I have a feeling that if there were any social media platforms back then, the Christians with weaker consciences would have been posting about how others needed to abstain from temple meats if they really loved Jesus. They would have been saying how the other Christians were selling their souls for a cheap cut of meat. They would have been applauded by other Christians for their displays of strength.

Yet, while that might have seemed like the virtuous thing to do, it’s not what God commanded, nor what He commands today. And really, it makes complete sense that God wouldn’t demand for a boycott to be held in this situation. Why? Well, to be absolutely consistent with things like this, Christians would not only have to shun all other companies openly supporting just one sin, but they would also need to stop supporting businesses that funded any sins. They’d need to ask every local business, “Excuse me, but is the owner a drunkard, does he give money to false religious practices, or does he look favorably upon homosexuality? Because if he does I can’t give him my business.” 

God didn’t intend for the Christian walk to be more difficult than it had to be. He says His commandments are not burdensome and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30; 1 John 5:3). In binding things that God has not bound, we make the Christian walk more difficult than necessary (cf. Luke 11:46; Matthew 23:2-4). Further, we do damage to the actual message that we preach – the gospel. Jesus asked for obedience as proof that we love Him, not unnecessary inconvenience. We need to pick our spiritual battles wisely.

Instead of telling the Christians to boycott, Paul teaches them an important, under-practiced, and often misunderstood principle—the principle of respecting other Christian’s consciences on matters of opinion.

“As for the one who is weak in faith [conscience], welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand […] So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding […] But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:1-4, 19, 23).

He essentially tells the Christians, “If you think it’s a problem to eat the meat, then don’t eat it—but don’t push your opinion. If you think it’s fine to eat meat, then eat it—but don’t force those who think it’s wrong to eat it and don’t wave the fact that you do eat it in front of their face. Both of you, respect each other’s opinions. Don’t look down on others for their opinion—just make sure you are convinced of your own.”

So how we should approach these kinds of issues, according to Paul?

If we believe we need to boycott, we should. We should never go against our conscience. However, we shouldn’t be forcing others to do the same as us or making them feel like they are sinning for not doing so. We need to realise it’s a conscience issue.

As for the one who is weak in faith [has a weak conscience], welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions (Romans 14:1).

If we believe we don’t need to boycott, we don’t need to. We aren’t bound to what God’s law hasn’t bound, but we don’t need to force those whose consciences believe otherwise to be offended. Blatantly posting pictures that will potentially upset those who truly believe it’s wrong isn’t the most loving thing to do. We need to respect others’ consciences.

“Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (Romans 14:20,21).

God never asked for boycotts as a proof of our love. If we choose to boycott it is because we must preserve our conscience. It doesn’t make us any more noble for our convictions or sacrifice, it’s just something we must do.

All God asked for is faithful obedience to His commands, and for His followers to display a love for one another that goes so far that it respects others’ quirks and differences.

I’m not going to ask anyone not to boycott. I have absolutely nothing against those that choose to boycott Target, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Walmart, your local donut shop, or any other company that supports any certain immoral practice. Just remember—if you begin down that path you will be able to find something wrong with pretty much any company that isn’t run by a member of the church. At the end of the day, if it goes against your conscience to shop in any one place, then you absolutely mustn’t do so—but don’t make it an issue of salvation or of exactly how much someone loves Jesus.

I’m also not going to ask anyone to boycott—but I will ask anyone who doesn’t boycott to respect those that do, and not to flaunt their purchases online. Edit out logos or just don’t post that picture (gasp! Yes, that is possible). At least wait until the hype dies down, if you must. It’s a small inconvenience for another’s conscience.

On this issue, as with every conscience issue, it is important that everyone be fully convinced in their own minds and that no one destroys the work of God by pushing their opinions. In these kinds of matters either decision is okay, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble because of what he chooses to do. We will all have to give an account to God for our own actions (Romans 14:5, 12, 20).

Let’s stop drawing lines where God didn’t intend them to be drawn and binding things that He never intended to be bound. To boycott or not to boycott is not the question in this instance—it is, “How am I going to live out my decision in a way that does not cause my brothers and sisters any grief?” That’s what Paul did, and that’s what God is asking us to do.

“But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (1 Corinthians 8:9-13).

“Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him” (Romans 14:3).

“just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:33).

Chantelle is an Australian wife to an American missionary and mum to a 7-month-old boy currently working with the church in Singapore. She writes about faith, food, and fitness at happyhealthyholyhome.com. Chantelle graciously allowed BNC to repost her article from her website.