v 23 – “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all thing edify.”
- All things are lawful – Some commentators have said that Paul’s use of the term “All things are lawful” to be a reference to what appears to be the Corinthian societal modus operandi, where they lived lives in epicurean indulgence – taking everything to themselves in pursuit of personal happiness. The American societal modus operandi seems to follow along with this directly. This may have also been a reference to something that they had written to him, that the people, while understanding that there are no dietary restrictions as per the command of Christ in Mark 7:19, and the latter revelation of this fact in the repeated visions to Peter in Joppa (Acts 10), perceived that all things are, as they are in reality, lawful. There exists no law as regards food for those who are in Christ Jesus.
- Not all things are profitable / edify – Paul tempers this true statement with a reminder that all things must be used properly if they are to be profitable to the Christian, and to edify (teach or provide instruction to) those around us. While we may live in Christian liberty to do as we please if we do so bringing God the full glory for all things that he deserves – in his salvation by which we can enjoy these things, in the creation of these things that we use to glorify him, and in the experience of the joy we feel while we rightly and justly experience the things he has given us to enjoy – we must also be mindful in our experience these things not only for our own regard, but also the regard of those around us who may not yet be at the knowledge that this kind of worship demands.
- Paul repeats this statement to reiterate the importance of the message.
v 24 – “Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.”
- Speaking of this balance of the exercise of our Christian liberty and the tempered view of this while directed at our younger brothers and sisters in the faith, Paul reminds the readers of his focus of the last two chapters – that while we may have an expansive list of things that we can partake in, it must be used carefully – not to please ourselves, but most importantly, that we must seek the good of our neighbors – those in our Christian community first, then in our sphere of influence in the world second.
v 25-26 – “Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake; For the earth is the Lord’s and all that it contains.”
- Eat anything 1 – Paul, now bringing this conversation to a theoretical dinner party so as to provide examples of his personal application of the truths he has explained in the last 2 chapters, seems to contradict what he had said above. While he had stated in numerous statements that he had intended to “never eat meat” if it means that he will not cause anyone to stumble in their faith, as many in both Corinth in particular, but also in the whole Roman ruled world, had grown up in this pagan society and had been so seared against eating meat sacrificed to idols, that they may never be able to, with a clear conscience, eat what had been sacrificed to idols.
- Eat anything 2 – For those that can accept it, whose conscience is clear in this matter, Paul provides the facts that back up the truth of this statement;
- For the earth… – God is the sovereign ruler and creator of the earth. All things belong to him – all the hills and the cattle on those hills. Man sacrificing anything to any demon or false deity or anything does not impart to it any power or authority or anything at all. As Jesus has said in Mark 7:19, eating anything does not make the person who ate it unclean, nor does it add any cleanness to the person itself. Only those things sacrificed to the true God have anything imparted to them, as the meat sacrificed to God is set apart for holy use, and therefore must be used in that holy manner – and eaten either in worship of God in the feast of the firstfruits, or by the priests of God as their given portion from God.
- Conscience – Our conscience is a God-given tool which allows us, even before we are converted, to determine that which glorifies God and that which does not. It is the promised package of God’s commands which are present in our hearts and minds which tell us that which is and is not in line with God’s laws and commands. As we grow, as heathen children, we learn to quell our desire to hold to that which God commands, stiffening our necks and pursuing our own desires – this is the essence of the original sin which remains in the hearts of all mankind. Eventually, and with enough repeated sin, our moral core eventually quiets down and stops responding to us. It goes dormant and we are left to the societal mores which align with that of the people around us, and we merely go with the flow – being careful not to pursue anything that those closest to us would abhor. When God chooses to save his elect, the Holy Spirit then reactivates this cold and dead conscience within us – pointing us back to the truth of God, revealing our distance from the God and king of our creation, from our original role of bringing him glory, and a pressing reminder that the just result of our sins against our creator is death. God places people into our lives who direct our thoughts back continually to the things of God. Eventually the buildup of this truth becomes so much that we cannot ignore it. We finally burst forth in praise of God, acknowledging our sin before him, repenting of our lives spent in self-adoration, self-adulation, and self-glorification. We refer to this last part as our “rebirth experience”, but this real work began months or years prior when God first alights upon our hearts and minds and re-ignites our conscience, regenerating us and driving us to the point of our external acknowledgement of our completed conversion.
- Without asking questions – Going back to the portion of this sentence I deliberately skipped so as to finish the explanation above – this part brings up an important distinction. Why is it that we should not ask? Should we not pursue right actions in all things? Our Spirit-fueled conscience is a fickle thing. Once our conscience realizes something, once it recognizes that something is a sin, it is a real sin for you to commit. Romans 14:23 makes this clear. Therefore, for the sake of your conscience, there is no problem where there is no conviction by the conscience upon us. We absolutely should review all things, and if our conscience is clear, then we should pursue that which we desire, so long as it does not violate any of God’s other commands. But, if our own conscience is violated, or the conscience of those around us, we should remove ourselves so as to give room for the direction of the Holy Spirit in these regards.
v 27 – “If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake.”
- I mean, duh. We just went over all of this.
v 28 – “But if anyone says to you, ‘This is meat sacrificed to idols,’ do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake;’”
- Says to you – Remember that there may be many reasons for them to tell you this information.
- They could be a fellow believer, attempting to warn you. For their sake, and the sake of their conscience, we should refrain.
- They could be a generic person just making a comment, but now that you know it has been sacrificed to idols, the facts are known to you, and you must then refrain.
- They could be trying to do a “gotcha” to you, because they assume that you are offended by this, and you should therefore refrain because it may damage your witness before this person.
v 29-30 – “I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?”
- Our conscience, for those who are mature in our faith and who understand these things, is clear. We can eat whatever is sacrificed to any old idol because the idol itself is nothing, our consumption of the meat does not impart to us anything because there is no power or truth in the demon that these animals were sacrificed to, and therefore the steak is just that – steak – which God has created for us to enjoy – to our bodily benefit and to our culinary joy. We, as the coming verses will explain, have no need to curtail any of these desires that do not violate God’s direct commands, but it is right to do so for the sake of others, should their conscience be at risk, for the ultimate goal of our partaking of these things – the glorification of our creator, redeemer, and king.