23 “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.”
In 6:12, Paul made the point that all things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial. Now in 10:23ff, he makes the point that “beneficial” is not merely beneficial to self but beneficial to others.
Paul grants the point that there are things in connection with idol practice that are not wrong. He now suggests the test of what is practical or beneficial to help the Corinthians in making their decisions about eating food offered to idols. There are clearly immoral things wrong with idol worship, but there are some things that are not clearly wrong.
In those areas where it is not clearly wrong, a believer must use as the test the principle of whether it edifies. Paul will show that food offered to idols but sold in the marketplace is alright to eat. He had eaten this food himself (9:19-23). It is important to distinguish between nonessentials and essentials, between absolutes and non-absolutes.
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful;
Anything that the Scripture does not explicitly state as sinful is “lawful.” Paul speaks of the gray areas where the Bible does not make unambiguous statements. The word “helpful” means expedient. This word literally means to bring together, to be profitable, expedient, advantageous, appropriate. The action may not be wrong, but it may be below the dignity of a child of God. It may be a weight rather than a sin. This is about more than what is wrong; it is whether it is right from a practical viewpoint.
all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.
“Edify” means to build up, to strengthen. The idea is that Christians are to build into the lives of others like a contractor erects a building. Freedom at the expense of others is not beneficial to self.
The principle of love that produces profitability or benefit, not self-gratification, should underlie our decision making as believers.
This verse puts a knife into selfishness. The principle of love motivates the believer to act in a way that benefits or edifies others. The Christian life transcends the self. This life is more than self-indulgence. Christians have the opportunity to use their freedom for God’s glory. Living our lives to the benefit of others is an indication of spiritual maturity.
Christians need to live with each other graciously, especially when it comes to the gray areas of Christianity. There will always be areas where Christians differ, with integrity. These are the areas where we sometimes find the greatest conflict among believers, but there should be the least conflict. Gray areas are more about personality or policy preference rather than the principles of the Word of God. This is where love should enter into the situation. We have dozens of issues like that in the church today.
There are two extremes when it comes to this issue:
- Some say, “I don’t care or give two hoots on a shoehorn what anyone says about what I do; I’ll do as I please. I operate on the principle of grace and am free to do as I please.” This attitude almost approaches antinomianism (lawlessness) or spiritual anarchy.
- Some people live in a spiritual straight jacket. They are afraid to sneeze without a sense of guilt.
We find both extremes in local churches today.
When we want something so badly that it interferes with helping others, then we are in danger of a form of idolatry. Idolatry is anything that interferes with giving glory to God. Note the last verse in the chapter:
1 Co 10:31, Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Thank you for this commentary. I do our little congregations'a monthly circular and always need a little devotion. My clues come from a German daily reading booklet, but the devotions in English and German have to be found somewhere . . . This is a great help to me. Sometimes I make little poems of the respective verse, but then I need more information, like the meaning of the different words, know the context, etc. From this passage I can make a shortened devotion. God bless you!
Herta, I am blessed that you are blessed! 🙂
Could you clear up some things about this chapter 1 Corinthians 10 that Paul is talking about. He does not mention or say unclean meats that the Lord said not eat. Did Paul eat the unclean meats that were sold in the market place? or He was just talking about the clean meats that were used for idol worship.
Robert, the issue is not unclean meat. The issue was whether a non-believing friend says "This was dedicated to an idol." In other words, if the non-Christian makes an issue that this food was dedicated to an idol, then it would be wrong to eat it for the Christian. In the perception of the non-Christian eating the meat would be a religious act in honor of a god. There was nothing intrinsically wrong with eating the meat itself. That is why Paul said "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof." The meat itself comes from the Lord but it is what people do with the meat that changes the issue.
Deuteronomy 22:5 A woman shall not wear what men wear (pants, slacks) does this apply to the scripture 1 Cor. 10:23. I have been a member of a Pentecostal church for over 20 years. I have grown so sick and tired of hearing what women can and can't wear. It is 100 percent my fault for not studying in this area for myself. Now that I have come into the understanding of what scripture is really saying, I am considered a compromising backslider. I also carry so much guilt for being a critic to other women about their dress.(make-up, jewelry etc.) I am thinking about leaving, but feel so bound with my belief system-I don't want to do anything to hurt anyone. What is your view on this through scripture?
Doris, Deut 22:5 deals with the nation Israel and not the church. However, the principle behind that passage is that a woman is to keep her femininity. The same issue is found in a passage that deals with the church–1 Co 11. The latter passage does not say that a woman must have long hair but that she is to have hair long enough to distinguish her from a man. You may want to read my commentary on 1 Peter 3:1 and following.
I am personally worried about the "gray areas" mostly concerning my hobbies. I am 22 and enjoy things like video games and various tv shows, and I'm concerned about whether I'm wrong in this area of life. I make sure that they don't control my life and become an idol, but at the same time when I read passages like this I feel as if it's a sin to enjoy my hobbies. Is it ok that I enjoy these things during my free time?
Ryan, There is nothing wrong with enjoying certain pleasures. The issue is whether these things displace your walk with God, serving Him, and putting Him first.
Does this passage apply to drinking alcohol? Could I use it as another reason why I don't want to drink because it really does nothing to edify even though it is lawful provided you are of legal age and not getting drunk?
Phillip, this passage does not directly refer to alcoholic beverages but to a broader principle of any kind of drink that does not glorify God. It can be applied to the weaker brother argument that it might stumble others.
After reading this passage and I come to realise that everything that god gave us, is for us to enjoy as long it doe not affected our true belief in him.
The bible says..when you pease God, you will please man. You know ,sometimes you may take certain decisions which you think are right before God but in the sight of man,they think it’s wrong. From the commentary, we must do things to benefit others. So, in situations like this who should you please….
Elvis, we please God by edifying others.
Thanks for this. I have a question though. The preacher at the church that I go to says that this only applies to eating Meats due to the contest and now we cannot use this passage to say that things are lawful when God has not. For example,he believes that instruments are not allowed to be used within the church so this passage cannot justify them. Is he right? Does this passage speak only of meats and can we not use this for other matters in life? I feel like I’m being weighed down with invisible laws concerning instruments and Liberty. Is all things lawful or are all meats lawful? Thanks.
Gary, if you study the entire passage running from chapter 8 through 10, we cannot come to the conclusion of your pastor. Also, Romans 14 and 15 argue a much broader range of liberty. The latter chapters deal with the same subject as 1 Co 8-10.
Good Commentary, Keep up
I attend a church where the wife of the Pastor is the treasurer/financial secretary. Nobody is allowed to keep record of the tithe/offering. There is no kind of financial recording. No kind of check and balances. A brother asked where it was in the bible that there should be accountability in the church. Can this principle can also be applied?
Ed, if what you say is true about your church, it is highly unethical for a church to operate this way. The Bible always sets forth transparency in matters of finance. Go to my study on this subject in 1 Corinthians: http://versebyversecommentary.com/1-corinthians/1-corinthians-163-4/ Make sure that you continue to advance each study until you finish.
A converted Budhist has parents living in her home who honor their dead by celebrating the date of the death, offering food on an altar. How does the now-Christian daughter keep from offending her parents when the parents want her to join the celebration with them, eat the food placed on the altar. I’ve read 1 Corinthians 10:23-31 and don’t quite know how that might apply.
Dorthy, the argument of doubtful things in both Romans and 1 Corinthians says that the food offered to an idol is nothing in itself. If a person buys meat from the Temple of Aphrodite in Corinth Paul argues that it is not wrong in itself. Meat is meat. However, if a person makes a religious issue out of the food, then it is not right for the Christian to partake of the food because it becomes a false religion issue. Therefore, it would not be wrong to eat the food dedicated to an idol but she needs to make it clear that it would be wrong for her to eat it in a religious sense.
I’ve heard others use this verse saying that if something isn’t beneficial to one’s faith or personally edifying then it’s sin or wrong. Is that the mindset of the verse. Also, if you enjoy something without sinning or causing another harm and thank God for that thing, couldn’t you say that the action was beneficial/edifying?
Ryan, the Greek word for “lawful” means permissible. The context running from chapter 8 through 10 is dealing with doubtful things, that is, things not explicitly stated in Scripture. This verse gives guidance on that issue. The issue that the believer must keep in mind if there is a doubtful question in Scripture is the edification of the Christian. This passage does not speak to anything outside that.
There is an over interpretation of this passage which tries to inject enjoyment of anything but what is in Scripture. That interpretation is wrong. Many passages speak of enjoying what God has provided in the physical world, etc.