Sermon: “Lawful Christian Liberty” (1 Corinthians 6:12-14)

by Aug 25, 2019Sermons0 comments

12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 1 Corinthians 6:12-14, ESV

Pastor Andrew and I went down to Creighton University, a mission field just 15 blocks from here, to work with the Intervarsity group. Our goal was to introduce Intervarsity to a lot of different students. We talked to a whole bunch of different people and it was a lot of fun because the upperclassmen just kind of run by you and do their own thing. They’re not interested in new things because they have their schedule set and all of that. We got to talk to a lot of freshmen. If you talk to freshmen, they all have this vibe of “I’m swimming in everything that’s new, I’m a deer in the headlights, sure tell me what’s going on I’d love to learn more about this.”

As I talked to them, I couldn’t help but to remember my own freshman year of college. I remember when I first went to college. When my parents moved me in and then just left, like I had any idea what I was supposed to be doing there. I felt that I was swimming, especially in this newfound freedom that I just didn’t know how to process. The year before my life has been very structured in terms of time. I had back-to-back classes during most of the day, plus I had activities before and after school and a part-time job.

I arrived at college and all I had was a couple of classes per day, so I had wide gaping holes in my schedule. How was I going to fill that? Additionally, I had no direct oversight or accountability. My parents, as with most children, they had given me more freedom as time had gone on. Now they weren’t there at all, they could call me, but they were about an hour and a half away. The only one with direct oversight over me was me.

That only that but I realized very quickly that I was surrounded by a lot of bad influences. There were all kinds of things that I could have done if I had wanted to. I learned about many things that were available my first weekend there. It was eye-opening. Even in the classroom I was inundated with all kinds of ideas that weren’t necessarily a shock but weren’t in accordance with what God teaches.

I had all of these things that I was swimming in. This freedom that I was swimming in, and it was exciting on one level. I remembered that time when I was a freshman in college with all of this newfound Freedom that I didn’t know what to do with which is helpful as we think about these particular versus in 1st Corinthians. Obviously, the Christian in Corinth are not on their freshman year going to college, but they have in a similar way gained a new freedom, a new sense of liberty in Christ. You can see it in a slogan that the Corinthian people were passing around in the church, “all things are lawful for me.”

Well that is true to some degree. What Paul wants to demonstrate in these three verses is that the liberty we have in Christ has limitations. In fact, if we think about the liberty and the freedom, we have in Christ there’s something of a paradox to it. Understand what the Bible teaches is that when we insist and demand upon pursuing freedom, for its own sake, when we insist upon the freedom to live our lives however we want to; that’s when we wind up enslaved to whatever we think we are free and trying to grasp ahold of.

Another side of this paradox is when we willingly and joyfully by faith enslave ourselves to Christ, we find real freedom. There’s the paradox. If you want to be free and do whatever you want you to become a slave but, if you willingly and joyfully enslave yourself to Jesus by faith you become free indeed.

Our big idea today is this, ”Christ and slaves us to himself in order to liberate us.

This is a passage about the Christian freedom that we have but it also asks a question about how do we best steward the liberty that God has given us? Paul gives us three tests that we are going to see

  1. The Test of Profitability
  2. The Test of Powerlessness
  3. The Test of Prohibition

The Test of Profitability

As we are looking at this passage it’s helpful to remember how much the Scriptures teach us about our liberty in Christ. In the Westminster Confession of Faith turn to chapter 20 and there’s a whole chapter about all that the Bible says about how we have freedom in Christ. We are free from the curse, we’re free from slavery to sin, we are free from the devil, free from the sting of death. We are also called into the presence of God, not as cowering and fearful slaves, but as God’s own children.

However, what is true about our liberty, the Corinthians seem to have twisted. So, Paul was talking about a mantra that was being passed around. In verse twelve, he says, “All things are lawful for me.” In this phrase it is hard to bring out the sense of the meaning of the word “lawful”, but the word at its core has this idea of authority to make a decision. 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, ESV

He goes on to say, “all things are lawful, but not all things build up let no one seek his own good but the good of his neighbor.” I can’t just seek what is good for me, I have to actually see what is good for you. I can’t just consider my own eternal well-being; I have to ask is my decision something that will benefit my neighbor? Remember that you all are our closest neighbors, outside of our family, our church family here. Will my actions benefit you eternally? First question is the test of profitability. Is going to be profitable, beneficial, helpful in the eternal perspective?

The Test of Powerlessness

13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 1 Corinthians 6:13-14, ESV

The second test Paul gives to us is the test of powerlessness. Does this decision render me powerless? He says in the second half of verse twelve, “all things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything.” It’s difficult to see in the English, but the words for lawful and enslaved in the original language are very closely related. Both have to do with the lawful authority to make a particular decision.

What Paul is saying when he’s saying all things are lawful for me, he is again saying I have the authority to make wise decisions in my life. All things are lawful for me in that sense, but here’s another test and other way of evaluating what to do. It’s whether or not I’m going to be enslaved by something. This has to do with the authority to make decisions. When talking about enslaved it means I no longer have authority over myself, but someone or something else would have authority over me.

Paul really isn’t giving us a limitation but rather just a logical wise conclusion. God means to enable us and lift us up out of our slavery to sin and subjection to the ways of this world that leads to death. He’s lifting us up to treat us as sons and daughters of the Most High, children of the king who live is free people and not as slaves. So then why would I ever enslave myself to something else? If Christ has set me free why would I make myself a slave of anything again?

Should I relinquish the power and the authority and the nobility that God has given me at the price of the blood of Jesus Christ by giving myself over to bad habits, to compulsions, to addictions, to slavery to sin? This isn’t a limitation; this is just common sense. If you have liberty, why would you want to turn right around and be enslaved again? Yet how often do we assert that I can do this, and you can’t tell me not to do this. I have the liberty and freedom in Christ to do this, not realizing we are using our freedom in order to enslave ourselves. So, two tests so far; the test of profitability and the test of powerlessness. Will this make me powerless and enslaved?

The Test of Prohibition

13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 1 Corinthians 6:13-14, ESV

Now we come to the third test in versus thirteen and fourteen, the test of prohibition. This is possibly the most confusing part of the passage that we are looking at today. Most people think this is probably the heart of the issue that Paul is trying to address. This test of prohibition asks, “Is this action prohibited by God?” What Paul says is not terribly simple. In the original language it’s kind of a sing song quality to it, “Food for the stomach and stomach for food.”

Paul is talking about the freedom to eat food and that makes this conversation has a broader context. In the Old Covenant Israel, if you read books like Leviticus, you see that there were extensive ceremonial laws that governed everything that the Old Covenant Jewish people had to do. They had to engage in ritual cleansings, both in terms of if they were defiled or if they are eating or anything like that. They had to engage in ritual sacrifices that had to go on forever because the one single once for all sacrifice of Christ had not been offered.

Another ritual thing they had to do had to do with food laws. They had very strict regulations about which food they could eat and which foods they could not eat. Those foods were forbidden from them as being unclean. There wasn’t that there was anything wrong with these unclean foods in themselves, but through all of the ceremonies and all of this ritual God was providing his people an external physical picture of the internal and spiritual holiness that he desired from them. The ceremonial laws gave us an external physical picture by the way they looked at strictly between clean and unclean. There is a physical external picture of the internal spiritual holiness that God wanted from his people.

14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:14-22, ESV

Jesus makes this very clear and Mark chapter seven when he specifically starts talking about foods and says there aren’t any foods that can actually defile. He says what comes out of a person is what defiles him in. Other words what comes from the inside out defiles you, “For out of the heart of man come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” All of these evil things come from within and they defile a person. There’s a contrast, Jesus is saying, like look all of these external things their picture for you but they don’t actually defile you.

What defiles you is this original sin, that we talked about last week, that you have inherited by the course of ordinary generation from Adam. It’s inside of you and that’s what defiles you, but what comes out of you defiles you again.

So, all of that to say Paul is addressing probably the freedom over the burden of the ceremonial law that the Gentile church at Corinth was right to celebrate. We don’t have to be burdened by these Old Covenant ceremony laws. We don’t have to have our diet regulated. We have freedom in Christ and God designed food for the stomach and fitted our stomachs to process food to give our bodies nourishment. Paul goes on to say then yes food is for the stomach yes, the stomach is for food, but in the short-term you will soon die.

If you don’t think that short-term, if you’re starting college this week and death seems like it’s a long way away, none of us are guaranteed even another moment of life. Death is coming somewhat soon we have to be ready for it and when death happens our bodies, including the flesh of our stomachs, are going to decay. Also, food rots. You can’t hold on to it. It doesn’t have everlasting qualities to it. Your body will rot, your stomach will rot, and your food will rot. That’s in the short-term.

In the longer term, no longer will your body need food. In the resurrection, in the new life this dependence that our body has on food will go away. The resurrected Christ Jesus did t food in his resurrected body, so we will be able to eat. We are also promised that we will feast with Christ, but we won’t need it in the same way that we do now. This arrangement between food and stomach and stomach and food is a temporary one.

The Paul goes on to say this the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord and the Lord for the body. Now this is where we think we understand what’s going on in this church. Apparently ,the people were saying, well foods for the stomach and the stomach for food; and in the same way the body is for sex and sex is for the body. Do whatever you want sexually, it’s fine, it’s as inconsequential as the food you eat.

Paul says that’s not true. Yes, your stomach is fit to receive food and yes food was fitted to be received by your stomach, but your body was not created for sexual immorality and sexual immorality was not for your body. Your body has another purpose, a deeper purpose. Your body was created and designed and fitted for the Lord and the Lord for the body. Don’t miss the fact, it’s kind of hard to pick up in the English, but there’s this thing song quality carries through verse thirteen, “food for the stomach and the stomach for food; the body for sex and sex in the body.”

He said no, “body for the Lord and Lord for the body.” That’s the real thing we need to be saying because the body is not just a physical body. When we talked about body we’re usually talking about our physical external bodies in distinction from our spiritual selves, but Paul is saying the wholeness of who you are, the totality of who you are body and soul. You are not half a person in which sometimes physically you can do whatever you want with that part who you are. You are a whole person and when you commit sexual immorality, Paul says you are violating yourself and violating the union that God created your body for namely with himself and with the Lord Jesus by faith.

Not only that but what you do has long term consequences and God raised the Lord and also raised us by his power. Your body is long-term intended to be for your Lord forever. Even though your body will decay you will be with the Lord forever. Don’t use it to commit sexual immorality, it is entirely out of step for what God created your body for.

Maybe you are thinking okay this is super boring. Why in the world would I carry about first century debates about what food to eat. This has no relevance to my life. Does it?


It’s actually fascinating how much our society cares about food and how little our society thinks about moral absolutes in regard to sexual activity. There’s an article written a couple years ago by a woman named Sarah Boesveld wrote an article entitled, “The New Religion: How the Emphasis on ‘Clean Eating’ has Created a Moral Hierarchy for Food”. Here’s the summary, she gives in the article, “While most of us have ditched religious dietary restrictions there’s a growing tendency in the broader culture to apply moral values to food choices.”

Now as far as I know she’s not a Christian I don’t know, but she’s citing in this article a lot of different scholars who are charting the rise of these food movements. What scholars are noticing is that at the same time that food movements are rising in popularity, at the same time there is a decline in religion. Which means that if you think about it, we have been created to seek out purity and righteousness, to seek out goodness. If we’re not going to find it from religion anymore, well we’re going to find it in food is the way that our culture is relating to this.

So she lists off the ideas of gluten-free food, not for disease purposes but as a trendy thing to do, locally sourced food, vegan food, non-processed food, grass fed food, heirloom food, artisanal food (I don’t know what that is), free range food, organic food. All of these things which if you go to certain people, they will tell you that if you want to be ethical you must eat this way. I had to waiter tell me that said it was unethical to eat meat, even as she was trying to sell me meat.

There’s an ethics about this that the world is insisting more and more, as they are insisting that there are fewer and fewer absolute morals in the area of sexual morality. Paul says that is the opposite of what’s true. It doesn’t matter in the least what you eat. You might want to do these things for the health benefits or whatever and that’s fine. However, understand the food for the stomach and the stomach for food is a temporary arrangement. You need to be concerned about shape of your whole person, your body and soul. The you that will be forever with the Lord.

Understand you were created to know Christ; you were created to be united to Christ by faith through the Holy Spirit forever and ever. That is what you were created for. The food you eat is in the long-term inconsequential, but God has prohibited somethings that will defile you long-term. Unless you seek the forgiveness offered through faith in Jesus Christ those defilements will condemn you to Hell forever.

The good news of the Gospel is not that you can save yourself by eating the right foods. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ died for you in your place so that you could be cleansed of the real things that defile you. The things that well up in your heart and soul from the sin that dwells in you, that you can’t get rid of on your own. For all those who turn from their sins and recognize I can’t fix this on my own, I need Jesus and look to Jesus and ask for his forgiveness and faith, God promise all your sins will be forgiven. Here are three practical applications.

    1. Use your liberty to profit yourself and others.I was listening to a conference lecture from one of my mentors who died this past year. His name was Warren Wiersbe and he just had the best definition for things. He says, “our liberty is not a weapon to fight, but it’s a tool to build with.” My liberty is not something I can use to keep you at bay so I can leave my life however I want. My liberty is something that God has given to me for the sake of building not only me up but you up. In the same way your liberty is for building and me up.
      There’s a great paradox. If you seek freedom to live as you please, whatever feels good in the moment, you will end up a slave. If you enslave yourself to Jesus by faith, you will find true freedom.

      Let me plead with you, if you don’t know Jesus enslave yourself to Christ. You will never know true freedom until you put yourself under his yoke, his control. As Jesus says that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. Enslave yourself to Christ so that you can know true freedom to live as the royal sons and daughters of God through Jesus Christ.

      The promise and calling are that God calls us out of our slavery to sin, death, and the devil to become slaves and servants of Jesus. So how are you stewarding that freedom to serve him and serve others? Use your liberty to profit yourself and others. This is why we nominate officers. One of the ways you can build up the body of Christ is by nominating officers or by stepping forward if you are nominated to go to the training. Also, leadership development training, this isn’t just for officers but for anyone who wants to get equipped serve others, to profit others more spiritually.

      What about the college ministry? We have training you can come to and learn about ways that you might show better gospel through hospitality to college students. We are working on ESL and making more progress toward that, but we’re still hoping and praying for that. Be praying that we can get the right people in place to have a ministry reaching out to international people around here.

      Children’s ministries, can you teach, can you serve in the nursery? How are you stewarding the liberty that Christ has given you to serve others there are a variety of ways? Ask yourself how you are using at liberty to serve others.

    2. Refuse to be enslaved by anything in the name of Christian liberty.There are a lot of things that enslave us. Substances certainly like alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs can enslave us. Even food, the Bible tells us to be fasting for the sake of praying. Certainly, we need food, but food is a temporary relationship. We were created, rather, for intimacy and unity with the Lord, which is why it is good and right to forsake food for a time in order to temporarily devote yourself to your long purpose eternal purpose. Don’t enslave yourself to anything.

      What about television? Can you do without television even for a day? Can you do without video games? I understand, especially if you’re in college, you might have access to video games on your dorm floor that you’ve never had before. Use all things wisely and in moderation. Is it profitable? Will you be enslaved to these things?

      What about sports, I’m preaching that to myself as the college football season starts? What about work? Are you unable to pull yourself away from work in order to spend time with your family and to serve your church? What about comfort and ease in avoidance of sacrifice? Do you claim that I just need this time to myself or are you ready and willing and eager to use your liberty to serve others?

    3. Finally do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil.

      The apostle Peter write this in 1 Peter 2:16, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” Freedom means to be a servant of God. To be free doesn’t well I’m free I can do whatever I want, that’s using it as a cover-up for evil. To be free means to live as a bondservant of Christ.Brothers and sisters the liberty we have in Christ is so precious. Jesus freed us from captivity to sin, death, and the Devil by his blood. It has a purpose and end goal in mind. That is uniting us to Christ, not by dividing us from him. Don’t give yourself over to the kinds of sins that will drive a wedge between you and the Lord.

      Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, that’s temporary. The body for the Lord and the Lord for the body. You were created for the Lord and the Lord gives himself to you when you discover that and live in that. That’s the truth that will set you free indeed.

Heavenly Father, we ask for freedom. It’s for freedom that Christ set us free. We would ask that we would live in it, not to use our freedom to justify our sin as a cover-up for evil. But freedom that wants more and more of Jesus. We pray that you would give him to us so that we might truly be free. It is in Christ’s name we pray. Amen.