‘All Things are Lawful … but’

In chatters 1-4 of i Corinthians the apostle Paul rebukes the believer for their unspiritual attitude of rivalry in their preferences for popular leaders, resulting in division and disunity. In chapters 5-10 he rebukes them for their self-indulgence and failure to discipline their bodies and bring them under the control of the Holy Spirit.

Like all believers, they were ‘not under the law, but under grace’, Rom. 6. 14; they were ‘the Lord’s freemen’ 1 Cor. 7. 22; 9. 19, ‘all things were lawful’, 6. 12. But freedom to do what was lawful was not freedom to live for themselves. Christ in His death had set them free, but at the same time He had bought them, 6. 20; 7. 23, they were ‘not their own’, 6. 19. They were now ‘under law to Christ’, 9. 21-not by compulsion but by their own free choice. Like the freed Hebrew slaves of Old Testament times they could renounce their freedom and say, 1 love my master, my wife and my children, 1 will not go out free’, Exod. 21. 5.

In these chapters Paul outlines four freedoms with their uses and abuses.

It was Lawful to bring Personal Disputes between Believers to the Local Church

Some day ‘the saints will judge the world and angels’, writes Paul v., 2, 3, hence it is right and proper for assembly leaders to discuss and judge matters of dispute and friction that may arise between fellow believers, Matt. 18. 15-17. But no believer had a right to use the public law courts to get even with a brother who may have offended him. If the matter could not be forgiven and settled privately, it could be taken to the local assembly, but far better to suffer wrong than to bring the Lord’s name into public disgrace.

It was Lawful to use the Body for Lawful Purposes

Believers were free to marry if they so desired and enjoy the normal liberties within the marriage bond, 7. 2, 9. But for a stable Christian marriage physical desires of the body need to be kept under control, 7. 3-5. Natural love in itself is not sufficient to hold a marriage together; overriding and controlling the natural desires there must be a deeper sense of mutual respect, esteem, fidelity and responsibility.

The body with its passions can be a subtle and dangerous power for evil in the life of any believer. Some of the saints at Corinth had fallen under its influence and were indulging in open pre-marital and extramarital fornication, 5. 1, joining themselves to harlots and prostitutes, 6. 18. They had been washed, sanctified and justified through the work of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, 6. 11, but the old life was still there, and they were turning the natural desires of the body into an occasion for carnality and open sin, 2 Cor. 12. 21; 13. 2. Their minds and wills had become enslaved.

Four things are said about the body: It belongs to God, 6. 13, 20. It is a member of Christ, v. 13. It is the temple of the Holy Spirit, v. 19. It will be raised and changed in the resurrection, v. 14.

It was Lawful to eat almost Any Kind of Food

‘All things’ are of God 8. 6; ‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, 10. 26, hence any food may be eaten, 10. 25. But if some of the local believers felt that food offered to idols should not be eaten for the sake of the Christian witness, then others should refrain from eating rather than cause offence. Again, love overrides liberty.

Believers are members one of another hence none can live an isolated life: the things 1 do and say, the places of amusement I attend, the manner in which I dress, the way I behave in public and assembly life etc.-all of my actions must be lived in such a manner that they encourage and do not stumble fellow believers.

It was Lawful to enjoy Home Comforts

In chapter 9 Paul compares himself and his fellow workers with some false workers who opposed him, 3, 12. He points out that he and his fellow workers had every right to home comforts, v. 5, and to be supported by others, vv. 6-11, as were the priests and Levites of Old Testament times, v. 13.

But for the sake of the gospel he denied himself these privileges, vv. 15-18; he suffered all things, v.12; he made himself a servant to all, v. 19; he lived under the restriction of the Jewish law, v. 20; he was made all things unto all men, v. 22. Like an athlete in a race he disciplined his body and kept it under control lest he be disqualified at the end of the race, vv. 24-27. He pleased men in all things that they might be saved, 10. 33.

In chapter 10 Paul reminds the Corinthian believers of two things:

verses 1-15. The fathers in Old Testament times had been blessed by God just as they were; delivered from the bondage of Egypt, living under the leadership of Moses, led by the cloud, satisfied with manna and water during their wilderness journeys. But ‘with many of them God was not well pleased’, v. 5; they had, in fact, fallen into the same sins that were besetting their own church members-idolatry, lust, feasting, fornication, murmuring (against Moses and Aaron). For their sin thousands lost their lives and died in the wilderness when they could have been enjoying the blessings of the land of promise.

verses 16-22. The non-Christian Gentiles about them who ate of idol sacrifices were, in fact, fellowshipping with demons, vv. 20, 21. On the other hand when they (the believers) partook of the bread and cup at the Lord’s table they were, in a similar manner, identifying them selves with the blood and body of Christ v. 16, just as the Old Testament Hebrews had partaken of the sacrifices they offered on the altar.

It was, therefore, unlawful for the believers to partake of the Lord’s table and the table of demons at the same time, v. 21. The people of God cannot live a double life; they must have no fellowship with evil of any kind; they must eat and drink and do all things to the glory of God and give no offence to the Jews, Gentiles and fellow believers, vv. 30, 32,