Vol. 6, No. 5
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A question comes about 1 Corinthians 6: 12: "All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be made subject to any." A similar statement is in 1 Corinthians 10:23: "All things are lawful, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful, but all things are not upbuilding."
The word "All" in the statement, "All things are lawful," would include a man living in "fornication" with "his father's wife" (1 Corinthians 5:1), but Paul's condemnation of such, "Expel the evil man from among you (1 Corinthians 5:13), shows that fornication is not in Paul's list of "All things" being lawful.
Similarly, Paul did not include '"having lawsuits" among "brothers" in his statements that "All things are lawful," for he also wrote that "lawsuits among yourselves" is "a complete defeat" (1 Corinthians 6:7, FHV; "an utter failure," NKJV). They are "lawful" but neither "helpful" nor "upbuilding" (1 Corinthians 6:12; 10:23).
The immediate context of "all things are lawful" (1 Corinthians 6:12) is in the next verse: "foods." So Paul was saying that though "all foods are lawful," some are not "helpful," and he would not allow himself to be "made subject to any" of that kind. A vegetarian makes himself subject to his own law about "foods": "a person who eats no meat, and sometimes no animal products (as milk, eggs, etc." (Webster).
Thus, there are two kinds of Christians: "One believes that he may eat anything, but another who is weak eats vegetables" (Romans 14:2).
"Let not the one who eats look down on the one who does not eat; and let not him who does not eat condemn the one who eats, for God has received him. Who are you to condemn the servant of another man? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for the Lord can make him stand" (Romans 14:3-4). "He who does not eat refrains for the Lord, and he thanks God" (Romans 14:6). "None of us lives to himself, and none dies to himself. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Whether, therefore, we live or die, we belong to the Lord" (Romans 14:7-8).
All things are lawful, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful, but all things are not upbuilding. Let no one seek his own good, but that of another. Eat whatever is sold in the market, questioning nothing for the sake of conscience, for "the earth is the Lord's, and its fullness." If an unbeliever invites you, and you wish to go, eat whatever is placed before you, questioning nothing for the sake of conscience. But if anyone says to you, "This is a temple sacrifice," do not eat, for the sake of the one who told you, and because of conscience. However, I do not speak of your own conscience, but of the other's. ...I please all men in everything, not seeking my own advantage, but that of the many, that they may be saved (1 Corinthians 10:23-29, 33).
Another area in which "all things are lawful" is in regard to days, whether holy or non-holy:
One person considers a certain day as more sacred than other days, while another person considers every day alike. Let each be fully persuaded in his own mind. He who regards a day highly does so for the Lord. ...Why do you condemn your brother? Why do you look down on your brother? All of us will stand or fall before God's judgment seat, for it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will acknowledge God." Each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore, let us no longer judge one another. Instead, judge this, that you do not place a stumbling block or an obstacle before your brother (Romans 14:5-6,10-13).