All Things Are Permissible

I can't find my NIV. That shows how much I love that translation. I haven't used it in months.


I have decided to take a new approach when I do a word study type post. I will include all the geeky information below the text. That way if you want to see how I came to the conclusion I ended at, you can go down there and see my work. You can critique, analyze, and tell me where I failed to be accurate. I have come to the conclusion that I am a certifiable geek because of the amount of work I have put into this post and knowing the meaning of the verses in question. And I figured some of you might want to avoid my geekiness. I have spent way too much time on this today, but it is my day off of work.


One of the central themes in 1 Corinthians is the body of Christ concept. The church is a family. Individuals in a church are one. Actions of believers are not done in isolation; they effect one another. If we want to be a healthy church, then we need to stop being selfish and live our lives focused on the good of the body rather than our own enjoyment or gain.

There are two verses that I hear tossed around frequently among Christians. I think it is extremely important to keep the theme (being the body of Christ) of the letter these are from in mind when trying to get a proper understanding of these difficult passages.

1 Corinthians 6:12 - "'All things are lawful for me,' but not all things are beneficial. 'All things are lawful for me,' but I will not be dominated by anything."

1 Corinthiasn 10:23 - "'All things are lawful,' but not all things are beneficial. 'All things are lawful,' but not all things build up."

Lawful pertains to whether it is legal. Whatever word your translation uses, that seems to be the meaning of the word the author used. The word is a legal term associated with either the laws of the land or the laws of the faith. It is about legalilty, nothing else. In particular, the chapter 6 passage immediately follows the discussion of suing a brother in the courts and the chapter 10 passage deals with eating meat sacrificed to idols.

In the first passage, Paul state that it might be lawful to sue a brother in the courts but it isn't beneficial. Paul is trying to shift the focus in the mind of the Christians in Corinth from being hung up on what is lawful to being focused on what is beneficial. The struggle didn't only spring its head up in Corinth; it seems to be a constant struggle with believers today. We have a tendency to settle for minimal Christianity when we are called to complete discipleship. Our faith shouldn't be about what is acceptable by the letter of the law. We shouldn't be worried about what are the minimal requirements for salvation. Living out our faith should be about doing what is beneficial for the good of those around us. Just because something is legal in our nation or in Scripture doesn't mean it is acceptable for believers to participate in.

We have freedom, but we have to be careful to not abuse that freedom. The early church seemed to constantly be struggling with this issue. Paul also wrote about it to the church in Galatia: "For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' (Gal 5:13-14).

Paul is pointing out that despite something being legal, it is not okay to do. It is not beneficial for a Christian to sue another brother or sister in Christ despite the fact that the law allows it. It is not okay to divorce someone for anything except marital unfaithfulness despite the fact that the law allows it. The law allows many things that are not beneficial to the Chrstian: pornography, lying (except to the authorities or in contracts), drunkeness, materialism, and idol worship. Most things that are sins are not illegal. Paul is pointing out that just because something is legal, that doesn't make it an action that a Christian should be participating in. We should not be focused on the minimum standards but upon a life of complete surrender. We should not be worried about the legalities but upon what is beneficial to others.

In the second passage he is talking specifically about eating meat sacrificed to idols. This one goes even more into the central idea of doing things for the common good. Freedom isn't about having a license to do whatever we want. We need to be focused on doing things that are for the good of all. Eating meat was legal. It wouldn't hurt an individual's faith to eat meat sacrificed to idols. But that wasn't the concern. We aren't to be selfishly focused on ourselves growing closer to God. We are to be concerned about others. We decided to follow Christ. And that means to completely give our lives up to God and follow the example Jesus showed in sacrificing his life for others. We grow in Christ in order to help others to grow.

"So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1 Cor 10:31-33).

"Take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak" (1 Cor 8:9).

"But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall" (I Cor 8:12-14).

They had the freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols. It was legal. However, they were to do it in such a way that it didn't tear down the weaker consciences of those who felt it was wrong to eat meat sacrificed to idols. And if that wasn't possible, what would be the benefit to the good of the whole if they were to continue doing it?

Selfless living is a tough concept to grasp in a culture that worships the god of individualism. But when we take off the clothes of this world and put on the holy life of Christ, we are throwing away selfish living and choosing to live for others. The almost ironic thing is that when this is done, true happiness that could never be found through individualism springs forth in our life.

We need to stop being worried about our liberties and our own lives and begin to be focused on living in such a way that our lives are beneficial to those around us. The selfless life of Christ is a tough act to follow. Let's be imitators of Christ.


Verses that make me think the theme of 1 Corinthians is about being one body:

1 Corinthians 1:10 - "Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose."

1 Corinthians 3:9 - "We are God's servants, working together; you are God's field, God's building."

1 Corinthians 8:13 - "Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall."

1 Corinthians 12:12-14 - "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many."

1 Corinthians 12:26-27 - "If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all refjoice togeter with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it."

1 Corinthians 13 - It is well worth reading. Love is more important thant tongues, prophetic powers, knowledge, faith, and loving the poor.

1 Corinthians 14 - The Spiritual gift chapter. The focus is to be on spiritual gifts that build up the body.


Beneficial (NRSV). Also translated profitable (NASB), expedient (KJV), good for you or helpful (NLT), helpful (HCSB). All carry a similar meaning.

The original word (symphero) doesn't seem to have a consistent translation, but after study it does seem to have a similar meaning. It is translated (NRSV) good (7), beneficial (2), advantage (1), appropriate (1), collect (1), common good (1), gain (1), helpful (1).

Examples: (Little note: apparently the concordance considers "better for you" as "good" because it is under the "good" section. A little weird.)

Matthew 5:29 - "If your right eyes cause you to sin, tear it out and thorw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell."

Matthew 18:6 - "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.

John 11:50 - "You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed."

Hebrews 12:10 - "For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness."

1 Corinthians 12:7 - "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."

1 Corinthians 10:32-33 - "Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of may, so that they may be saved.

2 Corinthias 8:10-11 - "And in this matter I am giving my advice: It is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something - now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means."

Acts 19:19 - "A number of those who practiced magice collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins."

2 Corinthians 12:1 - "It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord."

Acts 20:20 - "I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house."


Lawful (NRSV). Also translated permissible (HCSB), lawful (NASB, KJV), allowed to do anything (NLT).

The original word (exesti) is the same word used in various places in the New Testament. It is translated (NRSV) lawful (25), may (2), permit (2), allow (1), legal (1).

Matt 12:2 - "Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do."

Mark 10:2 - "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"

John 5:10 - "It is not lawful for you to carry your mat."

Luke 14:3 - "Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath."

Acts 22:25 - "But when they had tied him up with thongs, Pausl said to the centurion who was standing by, 'Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who is condemned?"

2 Corinthians 12:3-4 - "And I know that such a person - whether in the body ofr out of the body I do not know; God knows - was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat."


Watch out for the potholes.