Paul makes an amazing statement in 1 Corinthians 6:12 when he says, “‘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.”
Are all things really lawful for me as a Christian? Can I do whatever I want? Have I been given permission to sin? If you notice in the text, the statement is a quote. It is thought by most commentators that this was a saying in Corinth that Paul is addressing. In fact, some think that Paul may have said this in the attempt to help Christians understand that they are no longer under the Mosaic Law as a standard of conduct. Wherever the quote came from, Paul is correcting the improper application of the principle it contains.
If you remember, this church was known for being “fleshly” (1 Cor. 3:1-3). They were not living as “spiritual” people under the leadership of Jesus. Instead, their fleshly appetites were guiding their behavior. They may have even been using this quote as a covering for evil.
So what does this statement mean? Lenski makes a very helpful observation when he says, “In the first place, ‘all things’ cannot be understood in the absolute sense … What God forbids is never allowed; what God commands, no man is allowed to set aside. Wrong is wrong and is outside of the domain of liberty; right is right and is also outside of this domain.” Paul was addressing things not specifically identified as right or wrong in scripture.
Therefore, Paul is correcting what the readers had adopted as an excuse for all kinds of sinful behavior. Right is right and wrong is wrong, but those things not specifically mentioned in scripture should be governed by the rule of profitability and enslavement. As a believer, I should pursue conduct that is beneficial to me and others and I must not allow myself to do anything that would cause me to come under the influence of something that could end up controlling me instead of God.
Father, thank you for the liberating truth of the Gospel! I have been set free from sin and its penalty, but I have not been set free to sin. I should live as an obedient, loyal follower of you. My conduct should reflect what I know to be true of your will and character. This very helpful principle of doing only what is profitable and not doing anything that could control me, is very helpful. Help me to live freely, but under your leadership in all things.
Following Jesus with you,