“ ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful” is a verse that can transform your entire view of Christianity. The second half of the verse reads, “ ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything.” 1 Corinthians 6:12 So, what is God saying to us, through Paul, that we should understand?
If we read the rest of the verses to the end of Chapter 6 we notice an interesting illustration of what Paul is talking about in verse 12. He makes the case that a Christian shouldn’t join his body with that of a prostitute. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!” (v. 15) The reasoning for this statement is found in the following verse, “Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, it is written, ‘The two shall become one flesh.’ ” (v. 16)
The two words that dominate this section of Scripture are body and sexual immorality. “The body is not meant for immorality,” (v. 13) and “the immoral man sins against his own body.” (v. 18) A major problem in Corinth, and they had many, was that men were going to prostitutes under the guise of complete spiritual freedom. Believing that they were now spiritual people they felt that they lived on a higher plain where they were unaffected by behavior that simply related to the body.
These Christian men had come to the conclusion, aided by Greek philosophy, that since they were now spiritual creatures, being “in Christ” the body was not important. The body would be destroyed so why worry about it? What really mattered was their relationship with God that was developed through their spirit. The result was a spirituality that said they could use and abuse their body as much as they wanted because they were free in Christ and the body was going to be destroyed anyway.
Paul argues while it is true that we are free in Christ from the penalty and guilt of sin, it doesn’t mean we are free to do whatever we want with our bodies because not everything is helpful and we are not to be enslaved to anything. (see v. 12) From Paul’s teaching on Christian freedom the people had narrowed it down to a mere slogan, “all things lawful for me” while Paul had always had a qualifier, “in Christ” that determined what freedom he would exercise.
Freedom for Paul is not to be used for our own selfish wants but always to be used for the benefit of others. The question isn’t, is something “lawful” or “right for me” but instead, whether it is good. Gordon Fee, in his great commentary on 1st Corinthians states, “Truly Christian conduct is not predicated on whether I have the right to do something, but whether my conduct is helpful to those around me.” The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 252
Freedom is not, “just another word for nothin’ left to lose,” as the song says, but it is to be guarded by rejecting anything that is not helpful or allows us to be enslaved by anything. Through the introduction of home computers many Christian men have become addicted to watching pornography. The number is well north of over 50% of all Christian men watch at least some porno through the computer and that number is growing. This addiction to pornography is a good example within our modern society of the principle that Paul is trying to teach us in verse twelve.
When we are “in Christ” we have freedom. We are free from slavery to legalism and a works based religion. We have assurance that we are saved by the grace of God who accepts us just as we are. This freedom, however, is never an excuse to sin. Freedom has limits and those limits revolve around whether or not something is helpful in our spiritual growth and whether our freedom leads to enslavement. I’ve already mentioned, in this post, that our freedom is curtailed by our not wanting to hurt others through the exercise of our freedom.
Pornography is obviously something that our freedom in Christ shouldn’t draw us towards. When we think of our fellow humans as only objects to be used and abused we have used our freedom to weaken our relationships with God and our loved ones. Porno destroys the individual who finds himself addicted to it by destroying his relationship with God, others and himself. Yes, we are free in Christ, but we are not free to destroy ourselves through the freedom God gives us. We are to use our freedom wisely and for good.
Pornography is just one illustration that I could have used to show how freedom in Christ can be misunderstood to mean that there are no consequences for abusing our freedom. Drug addiction, greed, selfishness, physical abuse and alcoholism are just a few of the problems that flourish when we forget that not all things are beneficial and we are not to be enslaved to anything in our freedom.
You and I have been set free from sin and death through Jesus’ paying the penalty for our sins at Calvary. The result is that we have a freedom in Christ that gives us hope, encouragement and assurance to live out our lives in freedom from fear, doubt and discouragement. Paul is admonishing the Corinthians to live out that freedom and enjoy its benefits without using their freedom, in Christ, as a license to throw themselves back into slavery to sin.
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20 (see 1 Cor. 3:16) We only have freedom because we have been bought with a price. The Holy Spirit has come to live within us and glorify God through us and as a result there is no place for selfish addictions and destructive behaviors to live within us any longer.
* Our Christian brothers and sisters in Christ who are being persecuted for their faith need our prayers every single day. Some of their heart breaking stories can be found at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/