What does it mean “all things are lawful for me”?

Author: BibleAsk Team


The statement “all things are lawful for me” originates from the writings of the Apostle Paul in the New Testament and has been a subject of theological debate and interpretation throughout Christian history. This phrase, found in 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 1 Corinthians 10:23 (NKJV), carries profound implications for Christian ethics and conduct. Delving into its meaning necessitates a comprehensive examination of the cultural context, biblical teachings, and practical applications concerning the believer’s freedom and responsibility in Christ.

Contextual Analysis of “All Things Are Lawful for Me”:

    In 1 Corinthians 6:12 (NKJV), Paul writes, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 10:23 (NKJV), he states, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” These verses occur within the broader context of Paul addressing issues of Christian conduct, ethics, and freedom in the Corinthian church.

    The Principle of Christian Liberty:

      The assertion that “all things are lawful for me” underscores the principle of Christian liberty or freedom from the ceremonial and legalistic constraints of the Mosaic law. In the context of first-century Corinth, where Jewish and Gentile converts coexisted, questions arose regarding the application of Circumcision, observance of Jewish holy days, and participation in Jewish man-made traditions. Paul emphasizes that believers are no longer bound by the letter of the law but are governed by the spirit of Christ’s teachings.

      Discerning Between Freedom and License:

        While Paul affirms the believers’ freedom in Christ, he also warns against the misuse or abuse of this liberty. The phrase “all things are lawful for me” does not sanction reckless indulgence or moral licentiousness. Rather, it serves as a reminder that believers are no longer under the condemnation of the law but are called to live in accordance with the principles of love, righteousness, and holiness.

        Considering the Principle of Edification:

          In both instances where Paul asserts the freedom of believers, he qualifies it by emphasizing the importance of edification and mutual benefit within the Christian community. The phrase “but not all things edify” underscores the primacy of building up one another in faith, wisdom, and maturity. Actions that detract from the spiritual growth and well-being of fellow believers should be avoided, even if they are technically permissible.

          Avoiding Being a Stumbling Block:

            Central to Paul’s exhortation is the admonition to avoid being a stumbling block or causing others to stumble in their faith. In 1 Corinthians 8:9 (NKJV), he writes, “But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.” Believers are called to exercise discernment and sensitivity in their behavior, considering the impact of their actions on the spiritual welfare of others, especially those who may be more vulnerable or easily influenced.

            Balancing Personal Freedom and Social Responsibility:

              The tension between personal freedom and social responsibility lies at the heart of Paul’s teachings on Christian ethics. While believers are encouraged to embrace their liberty in Christ, they are also called to prioritize love, unity, and community harmony above individual preferences or rights. Romans 14:13 (NKJV) exhorts, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.”

              Application to Contemporary Christian Living:

                The principle of “all things are lawful for me” resonates with contemporary challenges facing the global Christian community. In a diverse and pluralistic society, believers encounter a wide range of cultural, social, and moral issues that demand discernment and wisdom. While some practices may be technically permissible, they may not necessarily be beneficial or conducive to spiritual growth.

                Jesus summarized all that is lawful for His followers to do, in His reply to the question asked by the lawyer (Matthew 22:36–40). The Lord stated that love to God and love to man are the major laws that should rule the life of the true Christian. The believer is at complete freedom to do anything he wishes that will not in any way conflict with these two guiding principles. And he should not engage in any activity that will deter the progress of God’s work and the proclamation of the good news.

                The Role of Christian Community and Accountability:

                  Navigating the complexities of Christian liberty requires the support and accountability of the faith community. By engaging in meaningful dialogue, prayerful discernment, and mutual encouragement, believers can uphold the principles of love, unity, and edification while exercising their freedom responsibly. Galatians 5:13 (NKJV) encapsulates this sentiment: “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

                  Conclusion:

                  In conclusion, the statement “all things are lawful for me” embodies the principle of Christian liberty, freedom from the bondage of legalism, and adherence to the spirit of Christ’s teachings. However, this freedom is tempered by the principles of love, edification, and social responsibility. Believers are called to exercise discernment, humility, and sensitivity in their conduct, avoiding actions that may cause others to stumble or detract from the collective witness of the Christian community. By upholding the biblical mandate to love God and love neighbor, believers can navigate the complexities of contemporary living with grace, wisdom, and integrity.

                  In His service,
                  BibleAsk Team

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