Lawful or Awful?

All Things Are Lawful? 
Robert Wurtz II

“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Corinthians 6:12 NKJV)

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.”
(1 Corinthians 10:23 NKJV)

In our first passage, Paul is not suggesting that literally all things are lawful for him. He has already described behaviors that we might call mortal sins. What he is referring to are things that God has allowed for us to do legally, but we are at risk of abusing. In 1 Cor. 6:12 we have sexual relations and eating in view. Both of these stem from good and natural desires. However, Paul was determined not to be a slave to anything that is good in itself. Eating is good and food is for the body. However, there is more to life than eating. A person’s belly (stomach) can become their god if they are not careful (Phil. 3:19). The same holds true for seeking fulfillment in sexual relations. Things that are lawful are apt to become awful if we don’t keep them in check. 

Paul was warning about the negative effects of abusing that which in itself is good. He says plainly, I will not be brought under the power of any. In other words, he was not going to allow a good and natural desire to control him. Satan tried to use the need for food to get Jesus off track when he tested Him in the wilderness. Our Lord’s answer? Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that is proceeding from the mouth of God. Man should find fulfillment not in the exercise of his/her natural physical desires, but in doing God’s will. Jesus added to this when He stated, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.” (John 4:34b NKJV)

The common concern between both 1 Cor. 6:12 and 10:23 is that not all things are helpful. This is a Greek word that means “what is best for you.” We could translate the sentence, All things are lawful for me, but not all things are what’s best for me. In other words, it may be lawful to do but it is not in your best interest. You would be better off not doing _____. This is often difficult to persuade people of because they think in terms of immediate gratification. They simply can’t see how their behavior now is simply not what is best for them or the people they hope to influence. Being sensitive to God and having a willingness to listen to those who care most will help us discover whether something in our life is helpful or not.  

Paul then expands on this proverb, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful…” by shifting the focus from the negative to the positive. He states, “…all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” This is Paul’s main concern for Christians; does what you are doing edify you? Does what you are doing edify the Body of Christ? The word edify is the Greek oikodomio and it means to build. Usually the context involves a structures like the Temple, tombs, barns, cities, houses, or towers. Sometimes it involves building an entity like the Church. “…all things are lawful for me, but not all things build.” 

Taken together these passages offered the carnal Corinthians an opportunity to evaluate their priorities as Christians. If an athlete wants to be successful, he/she will not do things that impede their progress. For example, it may be legal to indulge in sweets and unhealthy foods, but an athlete will discipline themselves to do only what “builds them up.” They are unwilling to sacrifice their overall health by indulging in something that may compromise their performance. Moreover, if they intend to be a role model in their field they will not do things that give the impression that others can do it too. Likewise, as Christians, we have to be careful what we allow or do not allow into our lives. 

Some will say, “I have liberty and I can do ____ if I wish to.” This may be true. However, is it what is best for you? Does it build you or the Body of Christ? Paul answered this question best perhaps in Romans 14:22 when he simply asked, “Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.”
(Romans 14:22 NKJV)   

The Goodness and Severity of God

The Goodness and Severity of God
Robert Wurtz II

Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. (Romans 11:22 NKJV)

Paul turns our attention to the state of the unbelieving Jews of which He had elected to His purposes, but they refused to admit the need of confession of sin on their part and so set aside the baptism of John. They annulled God’s purposes of grace so far as they applied to them (A.T. Robertson on Luke 7:30). As a consequence of this, instead of continuing in God’s goodness they became objects of the severity of God. The severity of God is then defined as being “cut off” as one would cut a branch off of a tree. It ceases to enjoy the precious resources of its former source, immediately dies and begins the process of drying up. 

Our passage brings the two ways in which man experiences God into view: goodness and severity. Our Greek word for goodness could just as well be translated kindness. We have this rendering of Romans 2:4 from the ESV, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” The kindly quality of God, manifested in the various graces that He provides, is intended to cause everyone to change their mind and turn to Him from sin. Nevertheless, the people presume upon God’s goodness and as an immutable consequence are treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath when God will judge the human race. (see Romans 2:5)

If everyone on earth were moving in the goodness of God there would be no need for reminders such as Romans 2:4-5 and Romans 11:22. Nevertheless, the world and even many churches are loaded with people who are under the severity of God. That reality forces the hand of any loving Christian or minister to warn the people about their condition. The problem is that people want a God who is devoid of the severity quality and there is no such God. To present God without both His kindly and severity qualities is to misrepresent God and fashion an idol that fits our own desires. 

Moreover, this is why a growing number of theologies are designed to render God’s severity quality obsolete or impotent. People want to live without the threat of God’s severity looming over their heads. This is understandable. Right? I mean, who wants to live in fear all the time? In fact, this is why modern versions of Calvinism are becoming popular. They offer the promise of eternal security in spite of how sinful the person lives. In this way Calvinism is more like a soul-insurance policy that will cover me even if I backslide and renounce Christ. I don’t have to take seriously the religion of my fathers, but can scorn the standards of many generations under the soul’s shield of shelter. It becomes a modern rendition of Anne Hutchinson’s antinomian free grace theology that was condemned as heresy in the early 1600s. 

Paul tells us to consider the goodness and severity of God (emphasis on and). We do ourselves no favors by ignoring one or the other. Our Greek word for consider means to see and perceive. The KJV renders the word behold. God’s goodness (kindness) is a wonderful thing if we continue in it. If we do not then in time it will no longer apply to us — for we, as did the unbelieving Jews, will experience the severity of God. This is the simplicity of it. If we want to recreate God as a kindly God only, then we have put ourselves in danger of misunderstanding God and His expectations of us. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. (Romans 11:22 NKJV) 

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