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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 10:23 Not all things are beneficial

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, March 22, 2023

23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.

This verse begins a new section in many editions of the Bible. Paul has covered the issues of going to feasts dedicated to idols with a clear and simple “no, a Christian cannot.” But there is still the matter of meat sold in the local market that had been slaughtered and dedicated to an idol. Should it be eaten if it might lead a weaker brother into a sin?

To answer this, Paul brings up a slogan that the Corinthians seem to have been using: “All things are lawful.” He quoted the same saying earlier in the letter (see 6:12). A Christian who knows that Christ fulfilled the law might well say, “all things are now lawful for me.” But Paul counters this: All things are not beneficial or helpful. All things do not build up.

Paul likes to use the term “build up” (oikodomeo, οἰκοδομέω). He uses it as a synonym for “benefitting” someone; not only the speaker or writer, but especially to benefit another person. “Build each other up,” he says (1 Thessalonians 5:11); and also: “Let us make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (up-building)” (Romans 14:19). In other words, something might be lawful for me to do, but it doesn’t help the faith or the life of another person. If something a man wants to do doesn’t help his own faith or the faith of anyone else, and may actually hurt the faith of another man, then that thing isn’t wise. It’s harmful. And when I use my liberty to hurt someone, haven’t I sinned against that person? I certainly have.

Rather than hurt others, I should “defend the cause of the weak and fatherless, maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed, rescue the weak and needy, and deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3-4; Proverbs 31:9).

In our lives of sanctification, we want to live for God and not to insist on our own rights and privileges. Just as keeping the Sabbath day holy means “to devote it to holy words, holy works and a holy life” (Large Catechism), so also the whole life of the Christian should not abandon this aim, as if acting and speaking about holy things on Sunday means that we can fling wide the double-doors to the horizon of unholy living and unholy words on all the other days of the week. Just as the Sabbath day “becomes holy or unholy on your account, according to the way you spend the day in doing holy or unholy things,” so also the whole Christian life is a life of pleasing God with a repentant heart, and by avoiding the sinful desire or inclination to dive headlong into sin or embracing every temptation that happens along,

If rejecting one’s rights for the sake of others seems like a burden, then let us regard this as a cross we bear. The crosses of our lives serve the purpose of testing us, and then to make us clear about our own spiritual condition. Peter says: “Dear friend, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:11-12). “A Christian,” Professor Hoenecke said, “can never let his light shine better than in the cross. Thus the cross is a means of furthering sanctification.” So if it gives glory to God for me to give up a right I think I have for the sake of another man’s soul, then I should rejoice. “Those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” And we can pray without shame, “Remember your word to your servant, for you have been my hope. My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life” (Psalm 119:49-50).

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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