22 Your personal convictions [on such matters]—exercise [them] as in God’s presence, keeping them to yourself [striving only to know the truth and obey His will]. Blessed (happy, to be envied) is he who has no reason to judge himself for what he approves [who does not convict himself by what he chooses to do].
23 But the man who has doubts (misgivings, an uneasy conscience) about eating, and then eats [perhaps because of you], stands condemned [before God], because he is not true to his convictions and he does not act from faith. For whatever does not originate and proceed from faith is sin [whatever is done without a conviction of its approval by God is sinful].
Are you suffocating because of someone else forcing their convictions on you? Are you suffocating others by forcing your convictions down their throat?
I live in a community where actions are watched by everyone and I know that is true because there are people who talk about the actions of everyone around them, their children ask odd questions of my youngest, questions that most likely fell out of a parents mouth, not thinking that their children would repeat them. I have heard the rumors and the comments on things that are no ones business but our own. This is something that becomes “normal” in communities, it’s a sad commentary but more sad when it invades our church community. I’m not just talking about your place of worship and service, I’m including the entire body of Christ. Paul pointed to the food or drink in his many examples of this, but also included personal convictions.
What are personal convictions?
Is it the length of your hair, whether you choose to wear skirts or pants, your choice of eating meat? Is it how you allow your daughters to wear their hair or what you allow their clothing choices to be? Is it the length of your hem line, the TV shows or movies you watch, or the music you listen to? It could be a conviction of eating meat or vegetables, or even the type of meat we eat or don’t eat. We really have personal convictions about EVERYTHING we do.
You can either suffocate others with those convictions or be suffocated by the convictions of others, we can even convict ourselves instead of allowing God to point out the things that we need to change. I don’t think we should do either. Paul tells us to keep those convictions between ourselves and God so that we don’t cause others harm. I believe that means that we shouldn’t press them on others or make them feel ashamed when they can’t live up to our standard or the standard that God has placed on us. Those things should be worked out between each man and God alone. Don’t suffocate others, don’t be suffocated by them either. Rather, work out your convictions with God and allow others to do the same.
I am a rather lenient parent, not all parents agree with my choices of what is allowed or not allowed. I see their side-ward glances, I hear the whispers that seem like shouts. I am to be guided by what God told me and at some point I find that I have missed His instruction to me but I cannot allow others to make those decisions for me. I have to then depend on His grace and redemption to fix my missteps. Instead I need to learn to hear His voice and follow after it.
A few years ago, before deciding that Bean should go back to public school, we were looking at a place for her to do some advanced classes. At the interview I kept noticing the glances that Bean’s hair was receiving out of the corner of the eyes of students and faculty alike. Just before we were ready to leave I was told that her hair would have to be a natural color before she started in the fall. That was a no go for me. See, she had long hair and we had dyed the layer underneath a pretty magenta. It was an expression of her creativity, not rebellion. After all, I had dyed it, she didn’t just return home one day with it done. I wonder if they saw her now if they would say she couldn’t have part of her head shaved too?
God designed us to be unique individuals, not alike in many ways, each unique. If we conform to some cookie cutter way of doing things we are going against what He has made us to be. I think it’s the same way with our convictions. While some of us may hold to the same ones because we are God’s children, I would be willing to bet that it would be hard to find someone with all the same “rules” in their lives. Just like each of us have a unique gifting, He also gives us unique convictions.
I am in the process of learning God’s voice better. Learning to listen to his leading and learning to rid my life of things that come between us. That is the point of God’s conviction in our lives, He is trying to rid us of things that put a barrier up in our communication and relationship with Him. That is why we can’t force those things on others, we cannot expect that our freedoms will be their freedoms or our convictions their convictions. We all need to work those things out personally with God.