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1 Corinthians 10:23–24

“ ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.”

Loving concern for the good of others, particularly believers, stands at the heart of the Christian ethic. Paul has been making this point repeatedly throughout 1 Corinthians 8:1–10:22. He has argued against the Corinthian believers’ taking part in the worship meals consumed in pagan temples based on the fact that it is unloving because it leads weaker brothers back into idolatry. (He also argues that to eat the pagan temple meals was to join the pagans in worshiping demons.) The Apostle, however, is not through with addressing issues of food associated with false worship. In 10:23–33, he must explain what to do with food that was sold in the marketplace after it had been sacrificed to idols. Here, again, love for other believers must determine the Christian response.

Paul repeats in verse 23 the phrase “all things are lawful” that we first saw in 6:12. Remember that these words formed a slogan that the Corinthians used to justify libertinism. In chapter 6, the phrase was spoken to justify a view of freedom from the Mosaic law that said believers may visit prostitutes. Based on today’s passage, it seems that the Corinthians also quoted the phrase to justify their eating meat that was sold in the marketplaces after it was offered in worship. This situation was different from eating sacrificial meals in the temple because the eating here was not done in a cultic or worship setting. Instead, this was meat that had been used in worship but had then been taken out of the temple and sold in the marketplace for everyday consumption. This fact must be kept in mind because it is part of what determines Paul’s response to this question, which differs from his instructions on eating in pagan temples.

As we will see, the Corinthians were formally correct that the gospel freed them to eat the meat sold in the marketplace. However, the way they applied this truth was not showing love to weaker Christians, whose consciences were being troubled by such eating (10:25–30). The Corinthians’ careless sloganeering forgot that while Christians are free, it is possible to exercise that freedom in an unhelpful way that tears others down (v. 23). Believers must instead seek not their own good but the good of their neighbors (v. 24). Of course, the Apostle cannot mean that we ignore our own good altogether. After all, if we neglect caring for ourselves, we may end up sick or otherwise unable to assist others. Paul is simply calling us to consider others’ welfare and not merely our own (see Phil. 2:4).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

John Calvin comments that Paul “does not expressly forbid individuals to consult their own advantage, but he requires that they should not be so devoted to their own interests, as not to be prepared to forego part of their right, as often as the welfare of their brethren requires this.” While we are not called to completely ignore our own needs, we are called as Christians to care for the needs of others. Let us pray for the wisdom to do both.

For Further Study
  • Deuteronomy 15:11
  • Proverbs 14:31
  • Matthew 7:12
  • Galatians 5:14

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From the May 2021 Issue
May 2021 Issue