Summary: How to know what is right and wrong to do.
You have been invited to a party. There is drinking. Should you partake? Does it matter if other Christians are present? What about dancing? Is there some dancing that is okay and other kind that is not? Can one dance in a dance hall but not in a church? In a church but not at a night club? Our text helps to answer such questions.
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful.
We have read this saying before in 6:12: All things are lawful for me. It seems to be a Corinth Church slogan. It summarizes the defense of their behavior, why they feel free to engage in acts of sexual immorality and idolatry. Where did they get this notion of freedom? From Paul, who championed the Christians’ freedom in Christ in opposition to Judaizers who taught that believers must still observe the law to qualify for salvation.
Paul had to defend himself against charges of indulging in improper behavior. In his letter to the Galatians (his defense of Christian liberty) he speaks of men trying to oppose him. He speaks of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery (2:4). But Paul stood up to them, and he denounced the return to legalism that some were trying to force on Christians, particularly Gentiles.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (5:1).
The Corinthians got the message, or so they thought they did. They heard Paul correctly that Christ has set them free from slavery to the law as a means to earn salvation. They heard correctly that the laws which distinguished Jews from Gentiles no longer applied. But they were deaf to the moral application of the law which is summed up under the admonition to love one’s neighbor. After adamantly insisting on Christian freedom in his letter to the Galatians, he writes: For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (5:13, 14).
This is the point he is making here: “All things are lawful”…That is true, but not all things are helpful. Not all behavior is helpful to others. He reiterates this point: “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Paul has already applied this principle in his letter. Back in chapter 8, his first argument against eating in pagan temples is that such behavior could become a stumbling block to the weak. In chapter 9, he notes that he curbs his rights on account of his witness for the gospel.
So far so good. But it seems in the next verse that he gets off the subject.
25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.
Paul raises an issue that is an offshoot of the topic he had been discussing, viz., eating in pagan temples. That was the topic in chapter 8 and through chapter 10 until now. The question now considered has to do with meat sacrificed (or dedicated) to idols and is then sold in the marketplace. Not all of the meat of a sacrificial offering was burned up on the altar. Much of it was then given to the priests for their service and much was taken to the market. If we practiced animal sacrifice on Sunday morning, after the service we would sell the remaining meat to the local supermarket, which in turn sold it to its customers.
Here is the question. If it is wrong to eat food in pagan temples because the food is offered to idols, is it wrong, then, to eat food under any circumstance that has been part of idol worship? Is the food “nonkosher”?
Paul’s answer is, “It depends.” The food itself is not spiritually contaminated. No evil curse has been placed on the meat. The problem with eating the food at the temples was that one was participating in a religious ritual. It had nothing to do with the food itself. Thus, when you go shopping, you do not need to check labels for “Sacrificed Meat.” Likewise, when you neighbor invites you over for a meal, you don’t need to ask where he bought it or what he earlier did with it. In fact, it is best not to bring up the subject. Food is food; it all comes ultimately from the Lord who is Creator, and the best attitude is to give thanks for his provision.