As most believers know, Biblical scripture can be rewarding, fulfilling and eminently nourishing from a spiritual standpoint – but it also can be challenging to absorb and tough to understand.
That’s why we’re going to conduct what might be described as a “mini-Bible study” right here, right now.
I’ve recently re-read two very similar verses that, up to now, have been especially challenging to me. The first is found in 1Corinthians 6:12:
“All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful unto me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”
Contrary to my previous understanding, the word “lawful” refers to all things that are right to do in life, and for which there is no public condemnation. So, sin is not the issue in this verse.
There are two principles hidden under the surface of this verse which, if one thinks about it, are 100 percent true to life – of all the lawful, legitimate, non-censurable things available to us, some are not advantageous or profitable; and, all things that are lawful, legitimate, and right have the power to control us in terms of our behavior. This principle is seen in the last half of the verse.
The second verse, 1Corinthians 10:23, is slightly different, with another principle to ponder:
“All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful unto me, but all things edify not.”
Our third principle is: there are things among the lawful, the legitimate and the right that hold no promise of improving us in any way.
So what are these things to which Paul refers? Think of all that we do in life that we enjoy, that are not prohibited by God, but which in the long run, if we overindulge, turn out to be detrimental to our health and welfare. It’s perfectly okay for us to consume a variety of foods and beverages, but overindulgence in some foods can be devastating to the body.
This is the emphasis of Paul’s words in these verses – overindulgence, i.e., too much of what seems a good thing can be bad for us. Adam and Eve found that out in the garden. They did not imagine that the pursuit of increased knowledge, thought to be a good thing, could turn out to be a bad thing – not only for them, but for all of humankind thereafter. We’re paying for it today.
Finally, let me point out two things from our two verses – implications and exhortations. The verses imply that there are limits to Christian liberty; there is no such thing as absolute freedom in the Christian life to do as we please, even within doing what is permitted and right.
Paul exhorts us to be alert to the potential controlling power of the lawful, legitimate, right things we encounter in life. Don’t be complacent. Keep your defenses up and at the ready. And learn to be selective in activities and behavior.
Rev. O.L. Johnson, a retired LAPD lieutenant, is an associate pastor in his home church. Greater New Zion Baptist, 501 W. 80th St. in Los Angeles.
Pastor’s Corner is a religious column that looks at the relevancy of scripture in life today. The column will appear monthly in The Wave and on its website, www.wavepublication.com.