It isn’t unusual when my wife Linda and I are talking about something for her to jump topics in midstream and leave me hanging on, wondering who or what we are talking about now. I sort of believe that it is a feminine thing that she can be on one topic and switch to something entirely different without the slightest hint that we are now headed in a different direction. But, when I am reading the writings of the Apostle Paul, I sometimes get that same feeling, so maybe it isn’t just a female thing but just active minds that can do such.
In I Corinthians 6 Paul was discussing the problem of members of the congregation taking one another to court over some differences rather than solving them inside the congregation. He pointed out that they would judge the saints and angels so surely we can solve trivial matters inside the congregation rather than having to spread our difference before the world. Right in the middle of that discussion, he launched into the discussion of how the unrighteous would not inherit the kingdom and list several ways one can be unrighteous. He pointed out that some of them had been involved in such ungodly living but they had been washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord and by the Spirit of our God. Immediately after that point, he switched again and gives us this verse: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything.”
The ESV that I’m reading from puts the phrase, “all things are lawful for me” in quotation marks each time it is found in the book indicating they believe that it is a quotation from the Corinthians. The “but” that Paul adds is his response to their saying. Later in I Corinthians 10:23 he does the same thing again with the quote from them. “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up.” In the Book of I Corinthians, more than any other of Paul’s writings you find times when the translators believe he is quoting from things that the Corinthians said and then he gives his answer to it. It is a great study to use newer translations such as the ESV or the updated NIV to see the text that they have with quotes around them indicating they believe they were quotes from the people in Corinth. In most of them it is largely agreed by Bible scholars that they are correct in the thought. But there are several other times that aren’t in quotes that many believe were also being quoted because they don’t seem to fit the things that are normally said by Paul. But I want to focus on this one for this article.
What did they have in mind with the statement “all things are lawful?” When you look at the different context in which it was used it seems to have been applied either to eating different foods, in particular those that had been offered to idols or that were taken of in the idols temple as a part of some gathering that Christians might have attended or to freedom to conduct oneself sexually in whatever way that they desired. Here in chapter six he tied the quotation about all things being lawful to the quote “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.” Notice that Paul’s response to the second quote was, “And God will destroy both one and the other.” The fact that he immediately turns to talk about sex and especially sexual relations with a prostitute indicates that what they were trying to justify with the quotes was immoral sexual behavior. Think about the fact that just before this in his list of things that are unrighteous and will keep one from inheriting the kingdom of God were sexual immorality, adultery and men who practice homosexuality. He sees them reacting to his point by declaring that all things are lawful and the food for the stomach and the stomach for food. Obviously their thinking was to apply that to sexual organs are meant for sex and so how it is done or with whom doesn’t matter.
Notice how he reacts to the quotes that were obviously accepted sayings among them that they felt were powerful truths. He didn’t turn to attack the sayings, but added a “but” each time he quoted it. Even if all things are lawful that doesn’t mean that it is all helpful and even if it is lawful it doesn’t make sense to become dominated by the things of the world. His deeper answer on the sexual applications was, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” The very thought that our body and life is all about what we eat and having sex with someone is to miss the real point of life itself. God didn’t make the body simply for some pleasure. Instead the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit that dwells in us and we are no longer our own, but are bought with a price so we should glorify God in our body that is his. He pointed out that when a man was joined sexually with a woman or for that man another man, he becomes one flesh with them. For a Christian to take the body that belongs to Christ and is the temple of the Holy Spirit and join it with a prostitute makes no sense. It should never happen.
What is amazing is that in the same church there were other members who went in a completely opposite direction and extreme. Remember the chapter breaks were added hundreds of years later and if you continue reading Paul’s thought is continuing in 7:1 when he said they were saying, “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” So some members thought sex and the body were meant for each other and however or with whomever it was done didn’t matter while others were saying once you become a Christian there should be no more sex at all, not even between a man and his wife. So Paul answers that side by saying that sexual relations in the marriage actually helped people not to get into immoral relationships. Instead a wife needed to know her body belonged to her husband and a husband needed to know his body belonged to his wife and that it would be a form of fraud for them to withhold themselves sexually from each other. Abstaining from sex should only be done by mutual consent for a short time with full intent of coming back together as husband and wife.
Think of how many things in life we tend to justify based on some saying that has been passed down from one generation to another, often without much examination. Every notion should be held up to the word of God itself to see if it fits with the teaching of the Lord or should it be rejected as from the devil himself? Being an old saying doesn’t necessarily mean it is a truthful saying.