(1 Corinthians 10:23-24)
A number of things come to mind as I read these two verses. First is the stark contrast between the old and the ne covenants, especially as they were interpreted and put into practice by both the Pharisees and Jesus Christ respectively.
The Pharisees strictly applied the letter of the law, but without love. Their approach was without compassion, mercy or judgement. On the contrary, Jesus kept the law also but both preached and showed by His actions how it should be interpreted from the basis of faith, mercy, compassion, justice and most importantly, love.
The second thing that occurred to me as I read this is how wrong it is when many so-called Christians deliberately misinterpret the freedom from law we have in Christ Jesus by faith, and promote licentiousness. Paul is quite explicit in these two verses that this is not the purpose or function of freedom from law.
Freedom from Law
One of the key messages in the new covenant is that through faith in what God the Father wrought in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can be set free from sin AND set free from the laws of Moses.
And it is important that we realise we are indeed set free from law because it is through the law that we know sin. Not that the law is sin, but that the law shows us what sin is and makes it even more sinful when a person breaks the law.
But no sinner will stand before God. Sin is the dividing wall of hostility that stands between man and God and God rejected man because man was so full of sin. You can see this if you read Romans chapter 1.
So in order to be able and prepared to step in and help man find a path to life, God had to deal with sin AND deal with the law which condemns man as a sinner. He did this when Christ became the perfect sacrifice for sin and when we take on Jesus Christ's death as our own through faith and by the process of water baptism.
It is after accepting Jesus' death as our own by faith that God says He will declare us set free from sin and set free from the law and then step in and help us find the path to life and perfection. It is only after we accept these things that He gives us the Holy Spirit and by our faith in the freedom we have in Christ, the Holy Spirit is enabled to do His work, which is to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ.
This is why freedom from law and sin are so important. While we continue to believe we are under law, we will continually think we are sinners and the Holy Spirit will not be able to do His job. Note the words of Paul that says,
14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – (2 Corinthians 3:14-18)
While the veil of the law remains over the mind of a believer they are separated from Christ and the Holy Spirit is unable to do the work of transformation in that person. But when we come to Christ and accept the freedom that exists in Him, the Holy Spirit is enabled to begin transforming us from one degree of glory to another until we are recreated into the image of the Lord.
Now the problem that some Christians suffer is that when the realise there is freedom from law, they wrongly believe they can do whatever they like. This is one of the tenets of the “Once saved Always saved” movement, and nothing could be further from the truth.
Under such a philosophy a person could potentially go out and rob, steal, lie, cheat and carry on in all kinds of evil and wickedness and believe they can do so with total impunity because they are set free from the law. Such thinking is wrong and completely misses the mark of why we are set free from law. It also fails to understand the responsibility we now have being set free from the law.
We have not been set free from law to do as we please but rather to do what is right. We may no longer be under the law, but we do not reject what the law says because the wisdom of God and the guidance for life in this world is found in the law.
Instead we now temper the harshness of the law with the power of love as taught by Jesus Christ. We take what the law says and fulfill it with mercy, compassion and love, just as Jesus did so that we follow His path and the way of life.
If we look at these two verses in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 we see how we are to interpret our position as regards freedom from law and love. Look at what it says.
23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. – (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)
Because we are set free from law and we have been removed or separated from the law through faith in taking on the death of Jesus Christ in our baptism, we are truly in the place where we too can say, “All things are lawful.”
Where there is no law, then naturally everything is lawful, even the things the law was set up to condemn. Once the law is gone, or we are taken away from the law, then everything is lawful.
BUT…and it is a BIG but, just because everything is now lawful for those in Christ, it does not mean we can or should do whatever we like. Consider for a moment if you were to engage in drunkennes, adultery, gambling, drug taking and so on. Are these things good for you? Are these things good for others? Would doing such things advance the word of God and show the goodness of the life we now have in Jesus Christ?
The answer to all of these questions is … Absolutely NOT!
And that is why Paul adds in verse 23 that although all things are lawful, not all things are helpful. All of the things I mentioned above will help neither ourselves, nor other's nor the work and the ways of the Lord. In fact they will all be detrimental and destructive.
Paul also continues in verse 23 to say that even though all things are lawful, not all things “build up.” To wilfully do what is contrary to the wisdom in the law is not up building either to yourself or others and it certainly does not show the church or the Lord in an up building light.
Now that we are set free from the law we need to focus all our efforts on learning and doing what is right in the sight of God. And in all that we say and do we must speak and behave with the attitude of God's love. This is what we are called to. To become like Christ as the Holy Spirit transforms us as new creations into the image of Jesus Christ. We are to be like Him and that means living in the same love, compassion and mercy as He showed during His time on earth. This is what we are to aspire to and by the Holy Spirit working in us, it will be achieved.
Finally in verse 24 Paul shows us how we are to live in this life now we are set free from the law. We have not been set free from law to please ourselves and do whatever we want. We are set free from the law not to seek our own good, but to seek the good of our neighbours. This is the essence of the love of God; to love your neighbour as yourself and to put the needs of others before your own.
This is the love of God and is seen in the sacrifice Jesus made for us when He died so that we may have the chance at life. Let us also be prepared to seek to provide for the needs of others in their growth in Christ as we walk in the ways of the Lord.
In the end it is not about keeping rigid laws as the Pharisees did, and were shown to be hypocrites in their attempt. It is really all about finding the path of God's love and walking in His ways, which are to seek the betterment of others as we hold true to the faith we have in Jesus Christ.
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