Studies in First Corinthians
Lesson 27: The Danger of Dependency
I Corinthians 10:23-33
The decade of the 1970’s was known as the time of the awakening of human rights – but from a negative standpoint: the “right” to an abortion on demand, the “right” to marry someone of the same sex, the “right” to divorce for no particular reason.
And the 1980’s has been characterized as the “me” generation. Books were written about “Winning by intimidation,” and “being faithful to yourself;” putting yourself first no matter what. And marriages and careers and other kinds of commitments have been abandoned on the basis of that kind of thinking.
But, thankfully, into that kind of thinking comes the word of God of I Corinthians chapter 10 (and other passages) and it is very different from all of that! The background of the passage is the importance of a Christian being willing to do whatever it takes, even to the sacrifice of things to which we have a right – for the salvation and/or growth of others.
In our last lesson, we saw how far reaching this can be – it even extends to the danger of getting involved with a liberal church or some other tool of Satan. The whole section deals with the question “what about “doubtful things?” – things that the scripture doesn’t specifically touch on. And as we have seen in the past few chapters, this question is one of the key issues in the Christian life. Now in looking at chapter 10 thus far we have seen the danger of disapproval in verses 1 through 13, and the danger of deception in verses 14 through 22. This third section of the chapter involves the danger of dependency as described in verses 23 through 33. And the first thing to notice about this danger is the principle of permissibility in verse 33.
All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful; all things are lawful for me, but all things do not edify.”
Now the phrase, “all things are lawful for me” could be very easily misunderstood – it has to be understood in its context. It can’t mean that there are no rules after salvation – human reason as well as the scripture tell us that there are some things that God does not condone. Idolatry in our last lesson, an unequal yoke with unbelievers, provoking your children to wrath, committing adultery, getting drunk, being a busybody, etc. etc, etc. By the same token, scripture also lists some things which Christians are commanded to do. Children obey your parents, Husbands love your wives, wives submit to your husbands, churches, do all things decently and in order, believers obey the government, and so forth.
The absence of law is known as “antinomianism” – history and experience have shown again and again that that leads to devastation. So obviously, the phrase “all things are lawful for me” does not mean that
Now the context of this whole passage is the changes that were made when Christ fulfilled the Old Testament law and made it of no effect. One of the most tumultuous results of that change was Christians having to learn where their freedoms lay; that fall between those things that are commanded for Christians and those things that are forbidden. Therefore, when he says “all things are lawful for me” he is referring to all those things that are in that gray area. Thus we are free from the laws and sacrifices of the Old Testament. And free to dress as we please, and free to eat whatever we want to and free to go where we want to go and do what we want to do (there are no longer any Sabbath restrictions, for example) but that freedom, wonderful as it was, is modified by the principle of “helpfulness” (or “expediency) Notice the phrase “all things are lawful for me but all things are not helpful.” Some things that are permissible for the believer are still not good for us.
Now this law of “helpfulness” (or expediency”) is defined by the last phrase of this verse – all things do not edify. The word “edify” is a translation of a Greek word that means literally “to bring things together” (like today’s phrase “to get it together.”) This shows the reality of the laws of God. The things that He denies are the things that tear down rather than build up. This is true of any of the sins listed above. Now the question that comes up at this point is, “how do we know what the “expedient” or “edifying” things are?”
Now we have been talking about “the principle of permissibility.” But there is another principle that modifies that one. How do we know what edifies and what doesn’t? This is where the principle of relationships comes into play. Look at verse 24:
“Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well being.”
The determining factor for personal edification is how it affects others! And this principle is repeated throughout the New Testament. Look at Matthew 22:35 – 40:
Then one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, testing Him, and saying, (36)Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law? (37) Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (38) This is the first and great commandment. (39) And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. (40) On these two commandment hang all the law and the prophets.
Romans 14:7 – for none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself.
Romans 15:2 – Let each of you please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.
I Corinthians 13:5 – (love) does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil
Galatians 6:2 Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Philippians 2:2 Fulfill my joy bybeing like minded having the same love, being of one accord of one mind . . .
Now that is a big order. It is completely contrary to our normal human tendencies. So how are we to put it into practice? Well, verses 25 through 28 Paul gives us a picture of personal practice that should help put it all in perspective:
First of all, verses 25 and 26 deal with private activities
Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake (26) For the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof (27)If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no questions for conscience’ sake.
Verse 25 basically says, “in the area of neutral things, do whatever you want to! Because, verse 26 says, “the Lord created everything for your pleasure, since you are His child (a quotation of Psalm 24:1) and verse 27 says that this even extends to public activities. But if you discover that someone has a problem with that, “the principle of edification” comes into play – and that is the next point:
Verses 25 through 27 dealt with “private activities.” But now verses 28 and 29 deal with the problem areas
But if anyone says to you, “this was offered to idols,” do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience sake. (29) Conscience I say, not your own, but that of the other. . .”
If you discover that someone has a problem with his conscience because of what you are doing, refrain from doing it for his sake. And notice from verse 28, He may be the one who brings it up! If he does, it indicates that he has a problem with it (no matter how he might word it.) Unbelievers and weak Christians have a very different opinion of what a Christian should be (realistic or not) And if you and I are not careful, a weak believer may be encouraged to violate his conscience because of something we do. Or the fact that they think that they have violated our conscience might hurt their conscience. And notice the point made in verses 29b and 30: why should the exercise of my liberty cause another man to violate his conscience?
. . . For is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks?
You can do one of two things in this kind of situation: either explain the truth of your liberty to him (if it fits the time frame and the situation) or, simply refrain from eating – and that shouldn’t be so much of a problem – you can always eat it some other time.
Now we have seen the principle of permissibility,” the priority of personal relationships, but now, in verses 31 through 33, we find the principle to follow in participation in such activities. How do we know what to do and what not to do without feeling like a hypocrite? The determining factor for the effect of our activities on others is the glorification of God – look at verse 31:
Therefore whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.”
Notice the widening circle of decisions here: First, “all things are permissible to us, but (2) they must be considered in the light of edification of others. In fact (3) edification of others is determined by the glorification of God.
With this principle, activities to various groups can be avoided – verse 32
Give no offense either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God.
And this principle is so effective that Paul gives his own testimony to its workability in verse 33
Just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved.”
Maybe as we have worked our way through this passage you have been thinking, “well, why is all this so important anyway?” Well, the last line of verse 33 brings it all back into focus: the salvation of others! And as we think about it from that standpoint, is there any right you have that is worth keeping someone from understanding the gospel and being saved? When we think about it from that perspective, even the way we “eat or drink” (verse 31) is important isn’t it?
The purpose of these studies is to draw you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know him, it is my prayer that they will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached at