Liberty With Love
Tim Temple

Introduction

Today we come to the concluding passage of the tenth chapter of I Corinthians. The decade of the 1970s was the time of awakening of human rights, but maybe from a negative standpoint. It seems that in the late 1960s and 1970s the right to abortion became popular and the right to have an intimate relationship with someone of the same sex, and the right to forsake marriage vows and all kinds of rights began to be proposed and publicized. On top of that, the decade of the 1980s has been characterized by many sociologists as the “me” generation, the time when we should do what satisfies us the most, the time of the writing of books about winning by intimidation and being faithful to yourself, putting yourself first, no matter what. Marriages and careers and all kinds of commitments have been abandoned on the basis of that kind of thinking.

Into that kind of background comes the Word of God of I Corinthians, chapters 8-10, and many other passages, too. The Word of God is very different from all of those kinds of things that we have been hearing from the world during these years. The background of the passage at which we look today is the importance of the Christian being willing to do whatever it takes, even to the sacrifice of our rights, for the salvation of others and for the spiritual growth of others. In our last study, we saw how far-reaching that can be, even to the danger of getting involved with a liberal church or other tools of Satan. This whole section of I Corinthians, chapters 8-10, deals with the question of what most Bible scholars call “doubtful things”, the things that the Scripture doesn't specifically touch on. As we have looked at these chapters in the past few weeks, this question ought to be one of the key issues in the Christian life.

The Principle of Permissibility

In looking at chapter 10 thus far, we have seen the danger of disapproval in verses 1-13 and the danger of deception in verses 14-22. Today we come to the third section of the chapter, which involves the danger of dependency in verses 23-33. The first thing we want to notice about this danger is what I am calling the “principle of permissibility” in verse 23. Notice:

I Corinthians 10

23All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.

If you are thinking with me today, you may be thinking that verse 23 seems to contradict what I have just been saying, particularly that first phrase that is repeated again in the last part of the verse. “All things are lawful for me” sounds a great deal like what society is telling us, doesn't it? That phrase has to be understood in the context of all that we have been seeing in these chapters. It cannot mean, as some have taken it out of its context to mean, that there are no rules, that after we accept Jesus Christ as Savior, we can do anything we want to do because we have been saved and we are going to Heaven and we can do what we want to do. It can't mean that because there is a great deal of Scripture which gives us specific instruction about things that God wants us to do and things that God does not want us to do.

For example, in our last study, in the middle part of the chapter, we talked about the fact that we are to flee from idolatry. God says, “Do not put anything in My place. Do not order your life around anything other than Me.” He tells us to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers and not to provoke our children to wrath. He tells us not to commit adultery. He tells us not to get drunk. He tells us not to be a busybody in anyone else's business, etc. By the same token, Scripture tells us some things that Christians are to do. Children, obey your parents. Husbands, love your wives. Wives, submit to your husbands. Churches, do all things decently and in order. Believers, obey the government, etc. I have just mentioned a few.

The absence of law is known as antinomianism. History tells us, and experience shows us again and again that antinomianism–where there is no law at all, no rules–leads to devastation. It has happened in history over and over again; so obviously when the Scripture says, “All things are lawful for me,…” it cannot mean that we can just do whatever we want to do.

I have mentioned the context several times. A key to understanding the Scripture is to study any statement of the Scripture in its context. You can make the Bible say anything you want it to. The illustration I like to use is the Biblical instruction that tells us that Judas went out and hanged himself. It also says, “Go thou and do likewise,” and “what thou doest, do quickly.” You can make the Bible say anything if you are willing to just rip verses out of their context. So we need to look at the context of this interesting statement: “All things are lawful for me.”

The context, which we have been talking about for the last several weeks, is those things that the Scripture doesn't specifically speak to, those things that are in that gray area between the things that God specifically says not to do and the things that God tells us to do. There are a great many things that God just leaves to our own decision-making, a great many things in that gray area between His instructions to us and the things that He forbids. That is the context in which this statement is made. That is what this phrase refers to–all of those things that God has not either expressly instructed us to do or expressly forbidden us from doing. All of those things are lawful for us. If God has not spoken to it specifically, the Apostle Paul says, “The blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses us from all sin makes all of those things lawful for us.”

Free From the Law

On that basis, then, primarily the thing that Paul is referring to is that we are free from the Old Testament laws and sacrifices. We are no longer bound by the law of the Old Testament. By the same token, we are free to dress as we please. There is no such way as a Christian way of dressing. We can wear whatever we want whenever we want. We can eat whatever we want. We are free to drink in moderation even though the Scripture warns us about the danger of that. We are free to go wherever we want to go, do whatever we want to do. There are no restrictions from God about what we do on Sunday or what we don't do. We are free to go fly a kite Sunday after church or go on a shopping spree or whatever we want to do. All things are lawful to us because the Scripture does not tell us to do or not to do all of those kinds of things. Buckle your seatbelts here–we are free to give as much money or as little money as we want to of our monthly paycheck. We are not obligated to give ten percent. If you want to be bound by the tithe, then you need to understand that if you study the subject of tithing in the Old Testament thoroughly, then what you really are obligating yourself to do is to give about 32 percent. I find that that really puts a different focus on tithing; but if you add up all the different tithes that were part of the Old Testament system, it comes out to about 32 percent and most of that was to be given directly to the priest.

The Principle of Expediency

Those are the things that we are free from. We are not bound by those obligations. We don't have to worry that God might do something to us if we don't act and live and speak and walk, etc. in just a certain, particular way. We are free. But that freedom is modified by a particular principle that we are calling the “principle of expediency”. Go back to verse 23:

I Corinthians 10

23All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.

You see, there are some things that for the Christian are perfectly permissible. God will not condemn us if we do those things, but for the believer they are still not good for us in certain situations. This principle of expediency is defined by the last phrase of this verse. Notice he says: “…but all things edify not.” All things are legal for me, but all things do not edify. The word “edify” there is a translation of a Greek word which literally means “to bring together”. I think that is a beautiful concept. All things do not “bring together”. We talk a lot these days about so-and-so having it “all together”, or I need to go somewhere and get quiet and “get my act together”. That is what the Scripture is talking about. All things do not bring it together. There are things that are perfectly acceptable for us as Christians to do, but those things may keep us from getting our act together spiritually. Those things keep us from being together as Christians.

I think that shows the reality of the laws of God. If we turn this over and look at it from the other standpoint, what this verse is telling us is that the things that God tells us not to do are the things that tear down rather than build up. The things that God holds back from us are the things that He knows would not be for our good in the first place. As we apply the principle of expediency to those things that we have to make our own decisions about, it is that same principle. There are things that are legal; there are things that are permissible, but they keep us from being together as fellow Christians, or they keep us from having our life together as we should.

Turn back to chapter 6 for another example of this same concept, in verse 12:

I Corinthians 6

12All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
13Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.
14And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power.
15Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid.

You see, he is talking about those same kinds of things. There are things that we can do that God won't strike us dead for, but they are not the things that build us up, that help us get it together. The question which comes up at this point is, how do we know what the things are that edify? How do we make those decisions about the things that are edifying and the things that are not?

Priority In Personal Relationships

That brings us to the next point in our passage. There is another principle that modifies the principle of permissibility. This is where the principle of the priority of personal relationships comes in. Notice verse 24:

I Corinthians 10

24Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth.

That is a powerful verse of Scripture! That is a verse that were it applied in all of our relationships, it would probably revolutionize the lives of most of us. If we were to conscientiously apply that verse in our marriages, think what it would do. If we were to conscientiously apply that verse to our business clients, think what it would do. You see, as I mentioned earlier, we live in an age when the opposite of this is the philosophy. As Christians even in our marriages many times we are much more concerned about what she is going to do for me or what he is supposed to be doing for me. The Scripture says, “Don't do that in your marriage. Don't sit around wondering why your wife doesn't take better care of you, or don't sit around wondering why your husband doesn't realize your value.” Those things may be true. He probably doesn't realize all that you are worth, and you probably don't take good enough care of him. But what the Scripture says is to let everyone seek the other's well-being.

If, in your marriage, you have begun to concentrate on what you can do for her or what you can do for him, you will discover that he soon begins to realize how valuable you are or that she begins to understand all that you go through. Whether that works in your marriage or not, it is the Word of God; and God doesn't tell us in this verse what you will get from it. In fact, if you go through it with that as your only motivation, it is probably not going to work. But if you will say to the Lord, “Lord, this is instruction from your Word, it is a principle of Your Word, and simply out of obedience to you, I am going to seek the good of my husband or my wife. I am going to seek the good of my clients or my patients or of my accounts, of my children, of my students.” Whatever those relationships in your life are, if you are willing to say, “Lord, I am going to honor You. In obedience to Your Word, I am going to seek the other's well-being.”, I think you will see a tremendous difference in the way your life goes.

How Our Actions Affect Others

Whether you see that difference or not, the principle of the Word is that you will have a greater impact for Jesus Christ whether you know it or not. You see, the determining factor for our personal actions as Christians is how it affects others. This is a good little verse to camp on, but I want to tell you it is repeated in many other places in the Scripture. For example, in Matthew, chapter 22, verses 35-40:

Matthew 22

35Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
36Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38This is the first and great commandment.
39And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Did you see that? “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Ephesians, chapter 5, says that no one ever yet hated his own flesh, but loveth and cherisheth it. If you run across someone who says, “I just hate myself!”, you know that person is a liar. The Word of God says that nobody hates themselves. We love ourselves; we take care of ourselves. Now, we don't go around saying, “I sure do love myself.”, but we take care of ourselves. We love ourselves. God says that you need to love your neighbor the same way you love yourself. In fact, the point of that statement in Ephesians, chapter 5, is “Husbands, love your wives as you love yourselves.” He says, “…love your wives as Christ loved the Church.” I think God would know that there would be some of us who were too thick to understand that theological concept, and so He says, in so many words, “Now for those of you who cannot understand what it is to love your wife as Christ loved the Church, just love her like you love yourself.” It is a principle of God's Word.

Romans, chapter 14, verse 7:

Romans 14

7For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.

Romans, chapter 15, verse 2:

Romans 15

2Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.

I Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 5:

I Corinthians 13

5[Love] Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

Galatians, chapter 6, verse 2:

Galatians 6

2Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

Philippians, chapter 2, verse 2:

Philippians 2

2Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

You see, it is a thread that runs all through the Scripture–the principle of the priority of personal relationships, and it is the opposite of what the world tells us today. It is not the art of winning by intimidation. Sure, you can win the battle by intimidation, but you will never win the war. It is possible to win a lot of battles and still lose the war. The Word of God says to let each esteem others better than himself. There are many other Scriptures besides these which I have listed which tell us that same thing. That is a big order; it is contrary to our normal, human tendencies. It is contrary to what we are bombarded with by society today.

An Illustration of Personal Practice

How in the world can we put that into effect? Going back to I Corinthians, chapter 10, in verses 25-28, Paul gives us a picture of personal practice which should help us put it all in perspective. First of all, verses 25 and 26 deal with private activities:

I Corinthians 10

25Whatsoever is sold in the shambles [meat market] , that eat, asking no question for conscience sake:
26For the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof.
27If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.

Remember the context. Paul had been using the illustration of meat offered to idols. That was the doubtful thing that he was using as an example; that was his example of the gray area. He established that there is nothing sinful about eating meat that had been offered to an idol. Let me remind you that the situation was that the idol-worshippers would go to the idol temple, and they would make an offering of some choice cut of meat to their idol. The idol couldn't eat that meat, so idol priests, being no dummies, would take that choice cut of meat and take it around the corner to the meat market and sell it in the meat market. The word was that you could get really good meat at the idol meat market, but an issue arose among Christians which I think was probably very similiar to the length of a Christian's hair and the length of a Christian's skirt, things like that, where people really got upset with each other about whether or not they should eat meat that was offered to an idol.

Paul takes that as an illustration and says, “There is nothing wrong with eating meat that has been offered to an idol because that idol is nothing but a stick of wood in the first place, nothing at all, so it is all right to eat meat offered to idols; but there are people who feel so strongly about this issue that you could very easily do damage to someone else's conscience if you eat that meat even though you know it is all right to eat it.” He covered that back in chapters 8 and 9, but he comes back to it now as an illustration. In verse 25 of chapter 10, what he says is, “In the area of neutral things, do whatever you want to. As far as your own life is concerned, as far as your own decision-making is concerned, in these areas that God has not spoken to specifically, you can do whatever you want to do. It is between you and the Lord.”

Whatever decision you make should be made with the Lord in mind, etc., but between you and the Lord, you can do whatever you want to do. Verse 26 says the Lord created everything for your pleasure, and since you are His child–He quotes Psalm 24, verse 1, there–you can do whatever you want to with these things that He has created for you. Verse 27 says that this extends even to public activities. If someone invites you to go to dinner, and you figure maybe they bought that meat at the idol meat market, but if you have decided that it is all right for you to eat that meat, then you don't need to ask them about that. It is between you and the Lord, and it is between them and the Lord, so you don't need to go around making an issue out of these things.

If you discover that someone has a problem with that meat that has been offered to idols or that short skirt or that long hair or whatever else it might be–you have settled the issue in your own mind about what you are going to do about it, but you discover that someone else has a problem with it–what do you do about that? Someone might say, “You go ahead and do what you want to do; it is between you and the Lord. We have already said that. It is all right. You do whatever you want to do, and if they don't understand it, that is tough. They will mature.” Look at verses 28 and 29. Here is the issue of the problem areas:

I Corinthians 10

28But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof:
29Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience?

I don't know how many times I have heard Christians say, “I know it is all right for me to take a social drink; there is nothing wrong with it whatsoever. I am going to do it, and I don't care who cares.” That is unscriptural. If you know that someone is bothered by something that you know is perfectly all right, you refrain from that not because it suddenly becomes wrong, but because it bothers the other person's conscience. He is going to go on and say that that will give you the opening perhaps to teach that other person and to share with that other person why you feel the way you do, and perhaps their eyes will be opened, too.

The initial step is not to just bowl people over with what you have decided is all right for you; the initial step is to refrain from that, to back off from that for their sake. Notice verse 28 again. It may be the other person who brings it up. He may say to you, “This was offered to idols.”, but you don't need to ask him if it was offered to idols. You don't need to go around asking people, “Is my hair too long for you?”, or “Do you think my skirt is too short?” That is between you and the Lord. But if someone says to you, and this is not nearly the issue that it used to be, “I don't see how a Christian can wear hair as long as yours.”, then you know that person has a problem. You didn't ask him about it, but he let you know that he has a problem. Unbelievers and immature believers tend to have much higher standards than even the Word of God does. Did you know that? Unbelievers expect a great deal more of us in many cases than the Bible does, and what do we do about that? We, at least initially, at least to gain a hearing, accede to their standards. We refrain from eating the meat offered to idols or whatever it is that is bothering them for their sake.

Notice, then, in the last part of verse 30:

I Corinthians 10

30For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?

You can do one of two things in this kind of a situation. You can explain the truth about your liberty to him if you have the time and it fits the context of the situation; you have every right to do that. You may give him some great freedom from bondage that he has been thinking he had to live under. If you don't have the time right then, or if it doesn't fit the context, you don't stand there and preach him a sermon; you simply refrain from whatever it is that is bothering him. That shouldn't be so much of a problem because Paul repeats again, “The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof.” The Scripture isn't telling us that we need to begin to live a life of hypocrisy. This is talking about personal relationships, remember? You may have to refrain from whatever that is for a long time while you bring that person to an understanding. It doesn't necessarily mean that you never do it anywhere ever again; it means that as long as you are dealing with that person, you need to be careful about whatever that is that bothers him and ask the Lord to give you opportunities to bring him through that to the point that it can be brought together. Remember the principle of edification, the principle of getting it together spiritually?

The Principle of Participation

I want to mention another thing here. In verses 31-33, we find the principle of participation in such activities. How do we know what to do and what not to do without being a hypocrite? The determining factor for the effect of our activities on others is the glorification of God. It is a simple rule to follow. Look at verse 31:

I Corinthians 10

31Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

Verse 24 gave us one of the fundamental principles of the Scripture about doing things for the good of others–not focusing on ourselves, but on others. Verse 31 gives us another of the basic principles of Scripture. Right here in this short passage we have two of the most important principles in the Word of God. The first one: Concentrate on the other person's good. The second one: Concentrate on the glory of God. A lot of people quote that verse, but it is interesting to me that that verse does not say, “Whether therefore you preach or pray or go to the mission field, do all to the glory of God.” It says, “Whether you eat or drink…,” the simplest, most elemental parts of our lives and something that really doesn't take any talent. You don't have to practice to become an expert eater, do you? Drinking–that is just a natural function. In fact, I think that is why the Lord chose eating and drinking to be the basis of the Lord's Supper, because it is something we don't take pride in. We are born knowing how to eat and drink. We can't take any pride in how well we partake of the Lord's Supper. Elemental things, the most basic functions, should be done for the glory of God.

In the Light of God's Glory

When you are in one of those situations of a doubtful thing, ask yourself the question, even in your private practice, “Did I do this for the glory of God? If someone were to find out about having done this, would it glorify the Lord or would it detract from my testimony to them? Would it make the Lord look good or not? Would it please the Lord or would it not?”

If we can back off for a moment and look at the forest of this passage. Notice there is a widening circle of decisions here. First he said, “All things are permissible to us.” There is a whole area of things that God says to decide for yourself what you are going to do about those things, but they must be considered in the light of the edification of others. They must also be considered, then, in the light of the glorification of God. So all things are lawful for me, but I must choose those things that edify others, and I must be willing to give up my right to those things that are permissible to me in order for others to be edified. On an even broader scale, my decisions need to be activities that glorify God, that bring honor and glory to Jesus Christ.

With that principle in mind, Paul says, “I have been able to live a successful Christian life.” Look at verse 32:

I Corinthians 10

32Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:
33Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.

Paul is not bragging in verse 33. He is not saying, “Everyone loves me.” He is saying, “This is a principle that I have found to work in my life, and I have discovered that it is possible to not offend Jews or Greeks if I will constantly keep in mind pleasing them in all things. If I am willing to not cram my Christian liberty down the throat of the Jews, I am able to get along with the Jews. If I am willing to not make the Christians go along with the Sabbath rules that I grew up with, then I can get along with the Christians.” So he is giving personal testimony to the fact that these principles will work if you pursue them.

Look at the last line of verse 33:

I Corinthians 10

33…not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.

Maybe at this point you have been thinking, “Well, I see your point, but why is all this so important?” That last line of verse 33 brings it all back into focus–the salvation of others. That is why it is so important.

Conclusion

Let me ask you something: Is that thing that you feel free to do, but other Christians don't feel the same about, worth hindering that person's growth as a Christian? Much more importantly, is that thing that you feel the freedom to do as a Christian but most unsaved people think Christians wouldn't do a thing like that worth keeping them from understanding the Gospel? Paul says, “I am willing to do anything for the sake of someone getting saved.” That is the bottom line. That is the issue–how we are going to live our lives in such a way that we don't cause someone to misunderstand what the Gospel is all about.


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