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.