12 “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”
The Holy Spirit through Paul now turns to the subject of limitations on liberty (6:12-20). Is there liberty in the Christian life? If so, what is the nature of that liberty? How does this apply to our use of our body? Corinth was devoted to the worship of sex at the Temple of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. There were 1,000 prostitutes in that temple who were viewed as “sacred” prostitutes. The Greeks viewed the body as secondary and the soul as primary. Thus, Paul launches a discussion on God’s view of the Christian’s body.
In this verse Paul asserts Christian liberty but introduces two qualifications to that liberty.
All things are lawful for me,
The word “lawful” means having authority, power of choice. All things are within the authority of the Christian because he has been washed, sanctified, and justified (v.11). This is the principle of Christian liberty. The believer is not hedged by overt restrictions for Christian living. This is Paul’s motto for Christian living. He taught Christian liberty powerfully in Galatians, Romans, and other books. However, the Corinthians viewed liberty as license, but Christian liberty does not involve anything licentious or immoral.
Galatians 5: 1Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.
Galatians 5: 13For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
but all things are not helpful.
This is the first of two qualifications to Christian liberty. There is a limit to liberty – “all things are not helpful.” The word “helpful” means advantageous, expedient. There are occasions where liberty is not advantageous. Our liberty is limited by the higher principle of expediency.
All things are lawful for me,
Paul repeats this exact phrase a second time. He wants to emphasize that we do in fact have liberty but there is a difference between legalism and licentiousness. Sex is wonderful and good in its proper place but in the wrong place it is sinful.
but I will not be brought under the power of any.
This phrase introduces a second qualification to Christian liberty. We lose liberty if we lose self-control. Liberty becomes bondage if we come under the power of anything other than the Lord. Our liberty cannot go to the point of our loss of liberty. We become a slave of whatever we serve. The principle of liberty applied without discrimination is self-destructive. Liberty is not licentiousness.
All things are ours but we are Christ’s above all.
Christians are free from the law (Romans 6:14) but there is more to the Christian life than one single principle of Christian liberty. There is an issue of the believer’s testimony. Some things are perfectly proper for a Christian to do but may not be advisable. If a good thing gets the upper hand in our lives, then that good thing is an evil thing. Loving football is a good thing, but if football causes us to flunk out of university then football is a bad thing.
Hebrews 12:1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…
A “weight” may be a good thing, but if it hurts us then it is a bad thing. An overcoat is a good thing, but it is a bad thing for running the 100-yard dash. “Oh, so you don’t approve of overcoats now! So what’s wrong with overcoats?” Nothing is wrong with overcoats except for a woman trying to run the 100-yard dash with a weight. There are some things that we must eliminate from the Christian life because of expediency.
Christians are not to live to themselves. We often have the idea “I’ll do what I want and the devil take the hindmost. I will not be deprived of my freedom.” Sometimes our liberty can become dissolute. We never ask what the consequences are of executing our liberty. Do we ever ask the questions, “Is it expedient that I exercise my liberty?”
Christ died for three-thirds of me, not one-third or two-thirds. He died for my spirit, soul, and body. The body is no exclusion to His work on us. The remainder of this chapter talks about sexual immorality, so it is evident that what we do with our bodies is a major issue with God. He bought and paid for the redemption of our bodies as well as the redemption of our souls.