Vol. 2 - No. 3

March, 1983

Leon Odom

"Lawful But Not Expedient"

by Leon Odom

In 1 Corinthians 6:12-13, the apostle penned these words: “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord: and the Lord for the body.” If you will read on to the conclusion of this chapter, verse 20, you will see that the context has reference to using the body to the glory of God.

This section of the epistle must have been written in response to the philosophical nonsense of the Corinthian brethren that the principle which had earlier been taught them by Paul, that “all things are lawful but not expedient,” would include what the Holy Spirit has declared to be immoral. Because of the nature of the language employed, the text makes a most interesting study and observation, for not only that age, but our own as well.

Before delving further into the passage let me cite four other translations. “All (good) things are under my choice to be doing, but all things are - not profitable. All things are under my power of choice, but I will not be brought under the power of any of them” (Kenneth Wuest). “True, all things are allowed to me; but all things are not good for me. All things are allowed to me, but I will not allow anything to get control of me” (William Barclay). “Everything is permissible for me --allowable and lawful; but not all things are helpful -- good for me to do, expedient and profitable when considered with other things. Everything is lawful for me, but I will not become the slave of anything, or be brought under its power” (Amplified New Testament). “Everything is permissible for me -- but not everything is beneficial. Every-thing is permissible for me -- but I will not be mastered by anything” (New International Version).

As has already been suggested, it appears that the folk at Corinth had taken the principle of “things being lawful” applying them to things of an unlawful nature, and if put into practice, would so corrupt the body that God could not possibly be glorified therein.

The first thing that arrests our attention is the expression “All things are lawful.” Obviously, no student of the scriptures can take that expression in the absolute sense. Whatever God forbids is never permitted! When God the Almighty gives a command, no mortal is at liberty to set aside that mandate. As one man put it, “Wrong is wrong and is outside the domain of liberty; right is right and is also outside this domain.” Hence, Paul is not to be understood as saying that anything a man wants to do he is at liberty to do it, and that expediency must determine whether or not he does it. It was common when Paul wrote this epistle, even as it is in our own age, for people to confuse liberty and license. But when the language employed in this verse (vs. 12) is understood to be elliptical and must be understood in the light of verse 13, then it can be easily understood. With that in mind we may paraphrase the passage by saying, “All meats are authorized for me to eat; but all those meats may not be advantageous. All of these same meats may be lawful for me to consume; but I will not become the slave of any of them” (Odom's Translation). Hence the apostle is stating that “all these things” -- things of the context coupled with verse 13, are permissible but not necessarily profitable to my well-being. Such may be lawful but if it harmed one's physical body it would not be profitable. It would not help him at all.

While meats are made for the stomach, and the stomach for meats, man's happiness is not based upon his eating, since God will destroy both the stomach and meat (vs. 13). Therefore we conclude that the apostle has established one's right to eat meat and whether or not he does so might be determined by “expediency.” However, before one even considers the profit -- (or the expediency) of the thing engaged in, authorization must be established for the thing itself.

Now this was not the case in the matter that follows. In establishing authorization for the eating of meats, Paul takes up a matter in a different category. This new subject is a matter of expediency due to the fact that the practice itself is UNLAWFUL. Listen to it: “Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God has both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power” (vss. 13, 14).

The body was made to the glory of God and the fact is not only proved by the resurrection of the dead but the point is enhanced by the same. And even though the sensualists might argue that no harm is done to others by such immorality, they are wrong. They are wrong because “your bodies are members of Christ “ If one commits whoredoms, his body is “joined to a harlot.” Question: “Can I argue that no harm is done to others in such dastardly deeds involving the body?” The answer is a resounding “No!” If I belong to Christ as the result of my obedience to the gospel of His grace, and have been added to the glorious kingdom of God, then how could I be joined to the body of a harlot without, not only corrupting myself, but doing injury to Christ himself? Hence, the apostle admonishes the Corinthians to “Flee fornication” and “Glorify God in your body and spirit” (vss. 19, 20).

My friends, while I have tried to deal with the subject matter of this text, I would like to close by mentioning again the principle of “expedience.” Ah, the crimes which have been committed in the name of “expediency.” Every innovation brought into the church of the Lord that has caused a rupture in unity, has been brought in under the guise of expediency. Instrumental music, the sponsoring church arrangement of evangelization, human benevolent societies, to mention a few. We would not have you suppose that things cannot be done on the basis of expediency. I have established that from the text of our study. Instrumental music, sponsoring church concept, benevolent institutions, are NOT LAWFUL. How could they be expedient?

“And whatsoever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).