Several years ago, when I was in college, I heard a speaker give a talk on how we could go about making godly choices as Christians. His outline was based on Paul’s letter to 1 Corinthians and it was such a help to me that I have returned to this simple outline time and time again. The only problem is that I never recorded who gave this talk! I have no idea who gave this, but I want to share it hear because I think it is so helpful in bringing clarity to the decision we make in our lives. These are my notes.
Many times, we have something of a grey, fuzzy area in our thinking. We are not sure how we are to act. Many times, we have never even thought through the results of our actions. In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul lays a foundation of teaching, from which we may glean six principles to help us discern whether or not our actions are sinful or not. We can turn those six principles, into six questions. So that when we begin to participate in any activity, we must ask ourselves these six questions, and be able to evaluate our behavior in those areas of life that seem more grey to us than black or white. Ultimately, in every decision we make there is a right and a wrong choice. It is our task to seek out the will of God for our lives in every decision we make, and every action we take.
1. Will this edify others or myself? (6:12)
Paul has just spoken about the misuse of the legal system and now begins countering the immoral sexual behavior of the Corinthians. He does not begin by addressing their actions, but their theology. For their theology is the foundation upon which their behavior is based. Here, in verse 12, Paul quotes one of their slogans and then counters it. The Corinthians liked to say, “all things are lawful for me.” In their view, the resurrection had already happened. It wasn’t physical, but spiritual. Thus, you could separate the material (body) from the immaterial (spiritual). This allowed them to sin the body, but remain pure in their spirit. Now, we should say that there is some truth in their statement. In fact, it is probably based in Paul’s own theology. Just taken to an extreme – it is not the whole truth. It is only for those who are ‘in Christ’ that ‘all things are lawful.’ Furthermore, this would only include the nonessentials: food, drink, days, circumcision, etc. The Corinthians had applied this to issues of ethics (particularly sexual behavior) and so has grossly misused the idea.
Paul qualifies the statement so sharply (here and in 10:23) that he actually negates it as a theological absolute. Paul first qualifies the slogan with ‘but not all things are helpful.’ The real question is not whether an activity is ‘lawful’, ‘right,’ or even ‘all right’ but whether or not it is good or beneficial. True Christian behavior is not about whether I have the right to do something, but whether my conduct is helpful to myself or those around me.
2. Will this enslave me? (6:12)
The second qualifier that Paul offers involves a word play that is hard to bring out in the English translation. Here is a free translation that may help: “I have freedom to do as I please in all things, but I will not lose my freedom [be mastered or enslaved] to anything or anyone.” Today, the implications of Paul’s principal are easy to see. So much activity in our society is addictive in nature: drinking alcohol, abuse of drugs, pornography, eating too much food, spending too much time with our hobbies, and many other things.
Believers are to be slaves of Christ. So, true Christian behavior will never lead one to be held in addiction to anything.
3. Will this encourage others? (8:13)
Paul has switched gears and is speaking about the controversy over meat sacrificed to idols. The Corinthian believed that every believer gained some special, Spirit-given knowledge upon conversion. This knowledge would then serve as the believer’s guide for behavior. Now, some Corinthians were eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Why? Because they knew that in reality there is only one God and therefore eating meat offered to them has no real detrimental value. The problem came in other believers who used to worship those idols to which the meat was sacrificed. Thus, for them to eat the meat was to participate in the worship of a false god. These “superior Christians” were then encouraging these weaker ones to go and eat. Paul will eventually show that this is the case and that to participate in such things is un-Christian (10:19-22); that is, not in keeping with one’s new life in Christ. His point here is to say that one should not act of freedom but love.
We should not be concerned with ourselves, but other people. No Christian should ever claim his or her “rights” to the detriment of others. On the flip side, no “offended” brother or sisters should try to force all others to conform to their own idiosyncrasies (matters of indifference, where there is no right or wrong answer). Our ethical behavior is not shaped by our freedom in Christ, but our concern for our brothers and sisters in Christ. In the end, love regulates our liberty.
4. Will this exalt the Lord? (10:31)
‘So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.’ Here Paul brings together all of chs. 8-10, especially 10:23-11:1. As Christians, we have died with Christ and raised with Him. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). This means that we have died to our old way of living and this sinful world. We have been made alive as a new creation in Christ to live a new life for the glory of God.
All of our actions should bring glory to Him. If it does not then we should seriously think about not doing it.
5. Will this evangelize the lost? (10:33)
Will the activity that I am about to do help or hinder someone from coming to the Lord? As believers, we have been made ambassadors to this world (cf. 2 Cor 5). In 2 Cor 5:17-20, Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”
As such, we must live a certain way. We are called to make disciples (cf. Matt 28). One of the ways that we can help to accomplish this is by living in such a way as to draw attention to God and His grace in our lives. If our words or actions will not help evangelize the lost – showing them Christ, we should not participate in them.
6. Will this help me imitate Christ? (11:1)
Paul wanted the Corinthians to imitate him in so far as he had imitated Christ. Imagine Christ who gave up all of the glory and honor of heaven that was rightfully His to come and suffer and die for His enemies – people like you and me. We should have this same mind in us: a spirit of humility and self-sacrifice.
Imagine Christ who lived every waking moment to please his heavenly father. All that he did was based on this desire. We should have this same mind in us: a spirit of servanthood. We should have a sense of something more important than our immediate circumstances, thinking more about God’s kingdom than our own. We could say much more, but the point is that we should live as imitators of Christ.