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All Things Lawful, But Not Profitable

1 Corinthians 10:23 (ESV) -- “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.

Christians love to argue and debate about doctrine and practice. We’ve done so for nearly two-thousand years. We debate about the extent of God’s sovereignty, the nature of evil, the end times, and many other doctrinal points. One of the other areas of debate is the subject of liberty. What can Christians do? What freedoms do Christians have? What limitations exist on that freedom?

These questions often arise around subjects like drinking alcohol, smoking, tattoos, cremation, serving in the military, birth control, invitro fertilization, and many others. We read in our passage today a helpful framework for working through issues of conscience. Paul writes, “’All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.”

Paul says that all things are lawful. What he means by that are issues that are not explicitly forbidden by Scripture. He is not saying things like homosexuality or murder are lawful. God’s moral law stands for eternity. He is referring to practices that are either obsolete with the coming of Christ (because they were a part of the ceremonial or civil law of Israel) or perhaps modern inventions and issues we may face. The question of invitro fertilization was not an option in biblical times. Should Christians participate? There are many factors to consider when weighing that question. But the text today should help us as we work through such questions. All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should. Just because I can, doesn’t mean I have to. 

This is a backdoor way of making a law. This is a judgment decision by everyone. These are matters of conscience that each believer must take before the Lord. Should you drink alcohol as a believer? The Bible certainly doesn’t forbid that. It celebrates the proper use of alcohol in many places. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is wise or proper for building up. So some may choose to responsibly drink alcohol and others may choose not to. Each Christian must work through his or her own conscience. The thing we must all be aware of and on guard for is making matters of conscience the dividing line for faithfulness. I’ve seen many Christians condemn other Christians as heretics and sinners for things that are a matter of conscience. Let’s heed Paul’s wisdom in this passage and seek to walk in faithfulness as God leads us.

Reflection & Journal:
- How should Christians approach issues of conscience?
- What are some areas where you’ve disagreed with other Christians you respect?
- What lessons from this passage can help you live more faithful to Christ and kind to your neighbors today?

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