“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. – 1 Corinthians 10:23
This verse is delivered by Paul in the context of discussing the eating of meat that has been sacrificed to idols. The Corinthians wanted to know if this was a problem for the follower of Christ who does not believe in, follow, nor derive wholeness from the idol.
For us and our post-christian culture the thought behind this question is still relevant and crucial. It could be phrased like this:
Can I participate in trick-or-treating?
Is it OK to go to that movie?
Can I wear that bikini at the beach?
And there are numerous other situations in which the question could be asked. We like black and white answers. A clear right and wrong. But, unfortunately Paul seems to paint with a lot of gray on his brush.
The answer is that we have a great amount of liberty in Christ. There is nothing inherently wrong with going to people’s doors and asking for candy. Or wearing a particular bathing suit.
Yet, there is a further, deeper consideration. As believers, we are all interconnected. This is the premise that what I do as part of the body can have real – even if unintended – consequences to other parts of the body. We need to live in awareness of this interconnection. Paul reiterates this idea in Romans 14:1 – 12.
So, is it OK to eat the meat sacrificed to idols? Well, yes it is. Christ is the fulfillment of the law. Yet the reality is – is eating the meat helpful in your context? Does it build up your identity in Christ? Considering the strength of faith of those around you, does it build up the identity in Christ of others?
These are the questions to ask.
Is it OK to wear a bikini? Well that depends. Are you wearing it to sustain your sense of self through the affirming looks and responses? That reason would be a way of developing wholeness apart from Christ. What about those you will be with? While you are not responsible for their thoughts and actions, you are responsible to be aware of your interconnectedness. If the faith of the women is weak, they may feel torn down through comparison. If the faith of the men is weak…well we’re all familiar with that refrain.
While the things we want to do may be lawful, there are times when we need to put the needs of others above our own desires.
Is it helpful?
Does it build up?
Followers of Christ should live by these questions.
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