Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 13 (KJV)
Freedom to Edify
Devotional Reading: James 1:19–27
Background Scripture: 1 Corinthians 8; 10:23–11:1 1
23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.
24 Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.
25 Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake:
26 For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.
27 If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.
28 But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof:
29 Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?
30 For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?
31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
32 Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:
33 Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
All things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.—1 Corinthians 10:23b
God’s Law Is Love
Unit 3: Christ Frees, Law Enslaves
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. Identify the text quoted in 1 Corinthians 10:26.
2. Explain Paul’s understanding of the role of one’s conscience.
3. Make a plan to eliminate one personal practice that has a high chance causing a fellow Christian to stumble.
How to Say It
A. No Place for Selfies
By definition, a “selfie” is a photo that includes the person taking the picture. Selfies have become routine in modern life, but some claim that the first selfie was actually taken in the year 1839! That was the year when Robert Cornelius, an amateur chemist and photographer, took a picture of himself in the back of his family’s chandelier store. The word selfie was not used back then, not appearing in print until 2002. Gaining in popular usage, the word was chosen as “Word of the Year” by the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013.
Selfies flirt with the concept of self-centeredness since by nature they always include—and often focus on—the person taking the picture. And one does not need a smartphone camera to engage in self-centered behavior. That fact has been evident ever since the serpent successfully tempted Eve into thinking that eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would benefit her, putting her on the level of divinity (Genesis 3:5). Self-centered thinking and behavior inevitably result in sin (James 1:14–15).
When the apostle Paul describes characteristics of life in “the last days,” he includes among them the fact that people will be “lovers of their own selves” (2 Timothy 3:1–2). Self-centeredness in the Corinthian church had resulted in the abuse of Christian freedom to the detriment of many. That was just one of many problems that Paul had to address in his first letter to that church—self-centeredness may even have been the basis of those other problems.
B. Lesson Context: The City
The city of Corinth was one of the great centers of commerce in the Mediterranean world of the first century AD. It was located near a narrow strip of land (an isthmus) that connected two major land masses. The city had a harbor for the Saronic Gulf and Aegean Sea to the east (at Cenchrea; see Acts 18:18) and another harbor for the Gulf of Corinth and Adriatic Sea to the west (at Lechaion). Maritime traffic between Asia and Rome had a choice of routes: either the dangerous and longer route around the Peloponnesian Peninsula or the shortcut of a four-mile limestone trackway between Corinth’s two harbors. Merchants choosing the latter would pay to have their ships hauled in their entirety from one harbor to the other on this road.
Like many seaport cities, Corinth was quite worldly and eclectic in nature. Pagan temples and the idolatry they represented characterized the city (compare Acts 17:16 regarding Athens, some 50 miles to the east). The contents of 1 Corinthians indicate that many in the church there had struggled to overcome practices of their former pagan lifestyles (see 1 Corinthians 6:9–11).
C. Lesson Context: The Church
Having planted the church in Corinth on his second missionary journey (about AD 52; see Acts 18:1–17), Paul found it necessary to write to its members while he was in Ephesus on his third journey (AD 56; Acts 19:1–20:38; 1 Corinthians 16:8, 19). Paul was headed toward Corinth at the time (Acts 20:1–3), but Ephesus was several days away by sea travel, and the situation couldn’t wait for a personal visit. Reports had come to Paul regarding needed correctives and clarifications in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:11; 7:1; see also lesson 11).
In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul had introduced the difficult issue (for that time) of eating meat that had been offered on pagan altars to idols. Meat that was left over from a pagan sacrifice, initiated by a worshipper who had brought the sacrificial animal, was at the disposal of the officiating priests. What they couldn’t eat personally they would sell in the marketplace. Such meat would be less expensive than other meat because the pagan priests didn’t have any investment to recover. Some Christians wondered about the propriety of buying such meat. In doing so, were they were participating in pagan worship and thus compromising their witness for Christ?
In this regard, Paul emphasizes two points in 1 Corinthians 8. The first is the awareness that an idol is “nothing” (8:4); therefore those who are mature in knowledge on this point were free to eat such meat. Paul’s second point counterbalances the first: “But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak” (8:9). This stresses the importance of demonstrating concern for those having a weak conscience. Such a person might witness a fellow believer eating meat that had been offered to idols and thereby be drawn back into idolatry. Paul had more to say on this issue, and that is today’s text.
I. Exercising Freedom
(1 Corinthians 10:23–30)
A. Self-Centered Behavior (v. 23)
23a. All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient:
The two statements in this half-verse are almost an exact repeat in the Greek of what Paul previously stated in 1 Corinthians 6:12a. The statement all things are lawful for me appears to have been something of a proverb among the Corinthian believers. Perhaps they created it to justify certain behaviors in light of their freedom in Christ.
In response, Paul points out something the Corinthians apparently had not considered: the issue of what is legally permissible should be considered alongside the issue of what is expedient. The word being translated occurs in contexts that address things that are advantageous (compare Acts 20:20; 2 Corinthians 8:10; 12:1).
23b. All things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.
The first of these two statements is almost identical to 1 Corinthians 6:12b. Again, Paul does not outright challenge the truthfulness of the statement. Instead, he sets alongside it another important consideration as he calls on the idea of edify (see also three uses in 1 Corinthians 14:4, 17).
As in 1 Corinthians 8, Christian freedom must not be exercised in a manner that considers only what is legally allowable (see the Lesson Context). There is a bigger issue at stake: the impact of one’s actions on others.
What Do You Think?
What is the first example that comes to mind of something you are free to do but do not do because it is not expedient?
Are you more motivated by your own edification or others’? What difference might you see in your behavior if you considered the opposite first?
Your Self-Imposed Limits?
“What’s your verse?” my friend snarled. “Where in the Bible does it say that it’s wrong for me to sleep next to my girlfriend as long as we’re celibate?”
My wife and I had asked our guests to sleep in different beds because they were unmarried. Our guest room is right next to the bedroom of our young children, who were learning what to believe about relationships and marriage. (In retrospect, I could have made my expectation clear in advance, but I did not anticipate that they intended to share a bed.)
In response, I didn’t quote any Scripture to him, though we had a two-hour conversation and prayed together. It seemed to end well, but he grew angry again and left for a hotel at 1:00 a.m.
Later as I pondered his question “What’s your verse?”, 1 Corinthians 10:23 came to mind. Our hearts can go to great lengths to justify our actions in terms of the freedoms we enjoy in Christ. But to consider what effect our actions could have on others requires spiritual maturity.
Here’s a quick self-check: When an opportunity arises to do something, go somewhere, etc., is your primary thought about what you desire for yourself or about how your choice may influence others? —N. G.
B. Others-Centered Behavior (v. 24)
24. Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.
You may notice that the word wealth is italicized in the King James Version. That means there’s no word in the Greek text being translated, but the translators needed to supply a word for smooth reading. Wealth in this context implies the spiritual enrichment of another person. The principle that Paul sets forth here is entirely consistent with his instruction to other churches (examples: Romans 15:2; Philippians 2:4).
What Do You Think?
What fears prevent you from considering others’ benefit before your own?
What examples of God’s care (from the Bible and your own experience) help you to overcome these fears?
C. Principles Illustrated (vv. 25–30)
25–26. Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience’ sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.
Paul continues to affirm Christian freedom regarding an issue of his day (see also Lesson Context). The word shambles carries for modern readers a negative image of a place that is rundown and in a state of disrepair. At one time, the word designated a place of slaughter or bloodshed, and it came to be used of places where animals were butchered and the meat sold. See the Lesson Context regarding how the meat being sold could be recognized as being associated with a pagan sacrifice.
As we read the two verses before us, we may be inclined to think in terms of the clean/unclean issue regarding food in Mark 7:19 and Acts 10:15 as setting aside the dietary restrictions of Leviticus 11 (compare Romans 14:14). But that’s not the point here. Rather, Paul is reaffirming the reality of a Christian’s freedom to buy and eat marketplace food, regardless of its association with paganism. Psalm 24:1 is quoted in support of this reality.
27. If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience’ sake.
Paul then sets forth a hypothetical scenario in which an unbeliever invites a Christian to a feast. Whether such a feast takes place “in the idol’s temple” (1 Corinthians 8:10) or elsewhere isn’t Paul’s stress at the moment. Rather, he is stressing that this could be considered an “open door” that presents an opportunity to share the gospel. This may be compared to the times when Jesus was invited to dine with those considered “sinners” (Luke 5:29–30). Again, one’s freedom in Christ allows eating whatever is set before him or her.
“It’s called taulo,” my host said as he handed me a plate of noodle-like medallions. “From cow intestines.”
I took the plate, thanked him, and sat in the shade of a tree. The medallions were chewy and fibrous, not unlike the texture of a towel. But I ate them without offending my host in southeast Tanzania. I had a harder time with pots of okra slime in North Africa. Even today I gag at the memory of the taste and texture.
Let’s make sure, however, that we distinguish matters of conscience from matters of taste. The above two foods weren’t to my taste, but I ate them anyway to avoid insulting my hosts. What Paul is talking about, however, is what should not be allowed to bother our moral center in Christ. If we allow something to bother us that should not be consider immoral, then we risk losing a chance for a gospel-interaction with unbelievers.
There are plenty of culture-specific ideas “out there” that are foreign to both you and me. The question is, Which ones are bothersome to my conscience, but not to God? —N. G.
28–29a. But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that showed it, and for conscience’ sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof: Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other.
Paul briefly departs from his main line of thought to deal with a related issue: another person’s conscience. Suppose the host at a meal informed his Christian guest that the meat being served had been part of a pagan sacrificial offering. In that case, the believer is to refrain from eating. Given the host’s statement, to eat of this meat could be seen by the host as an acknowledgement of the idol by the Christian. Thus the host is potentially led astray (see especially 1 Corinthians 8:7).
The earliest manuscripts of the New Testament do not have the phrase for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof, which is from Psalm 24:1. But since there is no doubt that it is indeed quoted at 1 Corinthians 10:26, above, we are certain it is part of Paul’s thought.
What Do You Think?
In what circumstances do you defer to another person’s sense of conscience?
What parameters help you determine whether to defer to another or instead to defend your freedom to choose differently?
29b–30. For why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience? For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?
Sorting out the complexities of Paul’s statements is a matter of some debate among many students. One proposal is that Paul is now resuming his main line of thought after the parenthetical verse-and-a-half just considered. In so doing, the apostle restates his freedom to eat his own choice of food and not be paranoid about what others think. Thus there’s a certain tension between freedom and restraint. We saw this tension earlier in the first verse of this lesson (1 Corinthians 10:23). At the point of 10:29, where we are now, Paul seems to be leaning a bit more toward the freedom side of the two actions because of freedom’s evangelistic potential.
II. Exercising Responsibility
(1 Corinthians 10:31–33–11:1)
A. To Glorify God (v. 31)
31. Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
Our last section maintains the tension between freedom and restraint. But now a vital context is presented: that of doing all to the glory of God. Christians today are rarely, if ever, faced with the issue of eating meat offered to idols. But there are modern parallels. And no matter what difficult (and easy) choices we face, we must honor this imperative.
The privilege and duty of all creation to glorify God is a theme that permeates Scripture (examples: Psalm 19:1–6; Romans 11:36; 2 Corinthians 1:20; 4:15). This requirement transcends all times, places, and cultures. Sharing meals was one way the first-century believers brought glory to God (Acts 2:42; contrast 1 Corinthians 11:20–22), and it can be so today as well. Paradoxically, we are the freest when we think least of ourselves in our desire to please the one who is our Creator, Ruler, and Redeemer (1 Thessalonians 4:1; Hebrews 11:6). In so doing, we follow the example of Jesus who “pleased not himself” (Romans 15:3), but who humbled himself in an unparalleled way (Philippians 2:5–8, 11).
What Do You Think?
How can your mealtimes remind you to give glory to God in all situations?
How can other mundane tasks become reminders to glorify God?
B. To Help Others (vv. 32–33)
32a. Give none offense.
Here we see another vital imperative regarding conduct. In contrast to the positive imperative of the previous verse, this one is stated as a negative—what not to do.
To grasp the full meaning, we must consider the nature of the phrase give none offense. The Greek word being translated is rarely found in literature of the era. It occurs in the New Testament also in Acts 24:16 and Philippians 1:10 In all cases the foundational idea is that of neither causing offense (in terms of not causing to stumble) nor taking offense (meaning to have a clear conscience). A closely related word, spelled nearly the same, is found in John 11:9, 10; Romans 9:32; 14:21; 2 Corinthians 6:3; and 1 Peter 2:8. All these occurrences refer to stumbling in a spiritual sense. These passages as seen in their respective contexts indicate that the word offense is not to be understood as merely an insult or affront; Paul uses different words for that action.
32b–33. Neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
The imperative is all-inclusive, and the reason is clear: Paul wants to be able to have the widest hearing possible for the gospel. Given his desire that everyone—Jew and Gentile alike—be saved, Paul states later in this letter that “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Were he to focus on his own profit, he would be no better than the false prophets of the day. He was determined not to be a stumbling block (2 Corinthians 6:3). This is what he means by not seeking his own profit (Romans 14:1–7; 1 Corinthians 8:13).
Paul points to himself as an example of the kind of conduct he desired the Corinthians to imitate. This was not egotism on his part, simply an honest, straightforward assessment of the kind of man he was. Elsewhere he refers to himself as having served the Lord “with all humility of mind” (Acts 20:19). A cynic would characterize that self-assessment as Paul’s having developed a sense of humility he could be proud of. But Paul’s actions match his words (next verse).
C. To Follow Jesus (11:1)
1. Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
Paul never desired to build a following for himself, as he made clear at the beginning of this epistle (1 Corinthians 1:12–17). He was interested only in building disciples of Jesus—people who shared his passion for knowing Jesus and proclaiming His gospel of grace to others. He lived out the lifestyle he was encouraging his readers to follow: a life that glorified God in every way possible, including the need to edify others. To do that is to embrace the freedom that Jesus promised to all who choose to follow Him (John 8:36; Romans 8:21).
What Do You Think?
Who is the most Christlike role model in your life? What do you see in that person that reminds you of Jesus?
How can you follow his or her example even if that role model is not present with you?
A. “He Made Us Better”
A certain Christian publication featured a series of tributes to a Christian leader who had gone to be with the Lord. That this man’s life and ministry had an impact on countless numbers of people was clear from the words written about him. Among the tributes included was one statement that caught my attention: “He made us better.”
To make others better is part of what it means to edify others—the key word in our lesson title. Sadly, we are surrounded by influences that make us anything but better. The behavior on display in media of many kinds often features and even glorifies the worst in human conduct. These won’t make us better except possibly as cautionary tales. As followers of Jesus in a fallen world, we will not win every person with whom we share our faith in Jesus. But we can, as salt and light, seek to make the people we encounter better, or at least add some brightness to their lives, because we brought something of the spirit and character of Jesus into their lives.
Paul’s primary concern in our lesson text is making the edification of others a priority within the body of Christ. The example he gives of eating meat offered to idols is not an issue for most believers today. Modern equivalents might be those places and things that observers come to associate with us when they see us—places and things that work against holiness. Do we have Christian freedom to attend movies that are rated other than “G”? Yes, indeed. But how will doing so affect the openness to receive the gospel of those who see us at such movies?
This is, of course, an all-the-time challenge. It involves our lives out in the public arena, which must be lived with a sense of duty both to glorify God and as a witness to others (believers and unbelievers). It involves the kind of freedom that is anchored in personal holiness (1 Peter 1:15–16), without legalism or hypocrisy (Matthew 23:16–26). It involves foregoing our “rights,” as Paul did (1 Corinthians 8:9; 9:15, 18), for the good of others. Think of the person who introduced you to Christ. That person wasn’t perfect, and neither will you be. But that doesn’t mean the standard of Matthew 5:48 should be lowered! Resolve to be like the one above who “made us better” as if eternal destinies are at stake—because they are!
As we ponder these things in our hearts, may it be said of us as Paul said of himself near the close of his life, “I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10).
Father, thank You for the freedom in Jesus that liberates people from slavery to sin. In this world where freedom is often misunderstood and abused, help us to represent our freedom in Jesus in a way that honors You and edifies others. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
C. Thought to Remember To edify others is one way to glorify God.
Standard Publishing. KJV Standard Lesson Commentary® 2023-2024 (pp. 291-308). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.