What does “all things are lawful for me” mean in 1 Corinthians 6:12?
Many Bibles put this fraise in quotation marks because many scholars believe that this was a maxim or proverb the Corinthians were saying. It may have been a flip phrase from Paul’s point in other books, especially Romans, when he argues for Christian liberty.
This phrase and one like it that follows is found in the section about sexual immorality. Historically, the Corinthians lived in a city in which one of the main addictions or problems were cult prostitutes, the city being full of opportunities for sexual encounters.
This is why the apostle has to warn the Christians there that they must not engage in sexual immorality. If they were doing this with the prostitutes in the pagan temples, it wasn’t only the sex itself but also the idolatry that comes along with it. Sex was used by these prostitutes in these pagan temples as worship to gods of fertility.
Some Christians believed somewhat like the Gnostics, that the flesh and the spirit were separate. The flesh could not do anything to a person’s spirit. So it was okay to do whatever you wanted with your body, including eating too much food (1 Corinthians 6:13).
They were open to these addictions because they thought that the body or the flesh had nothing to do with their spirits that belonged to Christ. Paul was making the point that the whole person belongs to Christ. We are just as responsible for what we do to our bodies as what we feed our souls and spirits.
So Paul made two objections to phrases like, “all things are lawful for me” (1 Corinthians 6:12) and, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food” (1 Corinthians 6:13). The first objection he raises is that all things may be lawful, but they are not beneficial or helpful.
Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. We must practice Christian discipline and realized that our freedom in Christ is not for our benefit or for us to do whatever we want. There is a net, a fence that we must observe.
Just because it is lawful doesn’t mean it’s a good idea., We must consider not only ourselves but others with every action we take. We do not want to offend others or lead weaker brothers astray.
The second objection he raises to these phrases has to do with not being mastered by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12). It could happen that as we demonstrate our Christian liberty in doing things that are not against Christ’s laws, we become enslaved or addicted to them.
A great example of this is alcohol. The Bible does not say we can’t drink alcohol at all. But it is against God’s law to become an alcoholic or to get drunk. When we exercise our Christian liberty to drink here and there, it could be that we become addicted and enslaved to the alcohol we think won’t hurt us.
We must be careful in our Christian liberty to practice discipline. Without discipline, we will find ourselves falling into slavery to the things that the Bible warns us about but doesn’t forbid. We must be wise and shrewd in our thoughts and practices.
We have responsibility and discipline in the body of Christ. Christians must demonstrate these as they grow closer to God instead of testing the waters. Paul calls the Corinthians and us to demonstrate these virtues in holiness to God.