“‘All things are lawful’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful’, but not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of others.”
In my late grandmother’s vernacular, this part of our Epistle would have been translated as, “Just because you can, doesn’t necessarily mean you oughta.”
It’s the eternal paradox between law and love.
The church in Corinth was quite a mixed bag of folks, and they, by all accounts, lived in a fairly pluralistic society. Most of the Corinthian Christians were probably Gentiles. It was probably pretty common for Christians and non-Christians to rub elbows. Although some were rich, most were not. To snitch from Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma a little bit, it might also have been safe to say that “Everything’s up to date in Corinth City, they’ve gone about as fer as they kin go,” in terms of the social pleasures available to folks there.
There was a lot a person in Corinth could do–and the church in Corinth was diverse, factious, and possibly bordered a little on the wild side a little too often. One of those places where the Corinthians couldn’t agree in the church was about food offered to idols. Some thought it was perfectly okay to eat food that had been sacrificed to pagan idols, whereas others thought it was sinful and dangerous. In subsequent verses, Paul lays out some guidelines, but the bottom line is that he suggests that when you have a choice, do what builds up. Do what benefits the other rather than lord it over the other.
In short, choose love over law.
Love makes us do crazy things, like let someone else in the house have the last piece of cheesecake even though it is our favorite. Love lets the person behind us have the better parking space ahead in the parking lot. Love lets that person cut in line in front of us in the checkout, even though they were a total jerk. Love reminds us that we don’t know the battles someone else is fighting, and perhaps their grumpy or rude behavior is actually a mask for something we might actually empathize with, and feel compassion for that other person.
When is the last time you chose love over law, and what did you discover as a result?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. You can also share her journey on her blog, Chapologist.