Online Bible Commentary
All Things are Lawful
1 Corinthians 6:12 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. 13 Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power. (NKJV)
The writer of 1 Corinthians is the apostle Paul. He wrote this letter to the church at Corinth, Greece during his third missionary journey during his two year and three-month ministry in Ephesus, Asia in A. D. 54-56. The church in Corinth was established by Paul during his second missionary journey when he ministered there for a year and a half during A. D. 51-52.
Earlier in this letter, Paul addressed a report from the Corinth church that has come to his attention. The report is that one of the Corinth believers had had sexual relations with his “father’s wife” (1 Cor 5:1b). This was not the man’s mother, but his step mother. The sin was one that “even pagans do not tolerate”, meaning that the act was one that would be illegal in Roman society (1 Cor. 5:1a). Paul was appalled at the tolerance of the church to this sexual sin.
In this passage, Paul continues to address the matter of sin, including sexual sin. He begins with what appears, on its surface, to be a startling statement. The statement is that “all things are lawful” for “me” (v. 12a). When Paul uses the term “me” he is referring to himself as a Christian which means the statement applies to all Christians.
When Paul writes “all things are lawful” the question arises as to the meaning of this statement. The word “lawful” refers to the Torah, the first five books of the Bible which were written by Moses and not to the Roman laws of the day.
The Jewish Law set down numerous laws, including the Ten Commandments. Obviously, it would not be lawful for Christians to break these laws. This is called sin and sin is not acceptable in the Christian lifestyle. Paul previously condemned many specific sins earlier in this chapter.
So, the words “all things” would understandably refer to all things not covered by the Law. These would be behaviors not specifically mentioned in the Bible. While all of these “things” are “lawful”, they may not be “helpful” (v. 12b).
Paul mentions here three examples of lawful behaviors that are not helpful. The first example is behavior of which we are “brought under the power” (v. 12c). This would refer to any addictive type of behavior. If we know that we are addictive to a behavior it would not be “helpful” for us to engage in such behavior. For example, it would not be helpful for an alcoholic to drink alcohol even though drinking alcohol is not a sin. Getting drunk is the sin and this is probably where the alcoholic would end up if he started drinking alcohol.
The second example of a lawful behavior that is not helpful has to do with anything we value over our relationship with Christ. Paul uses the example here of eating. He states “foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them” (v. 13a). He is essentially stating that Christians should eat to live instead of living to eat.
Rich Romans and epicurean Greeks of the time were well known for their fixation on eating. The Romans, in their lavish food displays and gorging themselves, and the Greek epicureans, known for their excessive refinement in food, both put an overemphasis on food. Paul states that food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food but both are temporary and will be destroyed. They should not be valued over our relationship with Christ which is permanent and eternal.
The third example of a lawful behavior that is not helpful is the behavior of sexual relations. Our bodies are designed for sexual relations and sexual relations are not only lawful but are encouraged by God in the sanctity of marriage between a husband and wife, a man and a woman.
However, when sexual relations turn into “sexual immorality” this lawful behavior becomes unhelpful. For example, if the married couple had sexual relations for vile or impure purposes this would be unhelpful. Our bodies belong to the Lord and are to be used by Him in His service and for His glory (v. 13b).
Our bodies are also important to God (v. 13c). This importance does not end at the time of death. God will raise our bodies from death (1 Thess. 4:16) as He did Jesus and will fashion our bodies into glorified bodies as He did the Lord (v. 14).
So, our bodies are owned by God and are important to Him. Therefore, we Christians should be good stewards of our bodies. We should not engage in any behavior, lawful or not, that harms our bodies.
Finally, our participation in any lawful behavior that may cause our fellow Christian to stumble also is not helpful. Paul added this principle later in this letter. (1 Cor. 8:13).
In summary, Christians must be careful in every behavior whether that behavior is a sin or even if it is not a sin. Our goal should be to glorify the Lord in all things.