1. III. Sexual Morality (5:1-7:40)
    1. 1. Against Immorality (5:1-6:20)
      1. E. Abusing Liberty (6:12-6:20)
        1. i. Be Wise (6:12-6:13)

Calvin (07/10/17)

“When vices stalk abroad with impunity, custom is regarded as law.” When Christian liberty is made an argument for every lingering sin, we see the problem: Everything becomes allowable. The same mindset that left them unconcerned about excesses in matters of food and luxury also left them unconcerned about issues of fornication such as Paul has been addressing. “It is a token of excessive licentiousness when persons do not, of their own accord, restrict themselves, and set bounds to themselves, amidst such manifold abundance.” With this in mind, Paul sets limits on Christian liberty and makes plain that it does not extend to include fornication by any means. The first clause should be taken as expressing the Corinthian viewpoint that ‘all things are lawful to me’. This is the go-to defense of the believer caught out in his sins. The first boundary set upon liberty is that of edification. Just because something is allowed does not make its every use right. If it won’t profit our brothers, we must reconsider. The subject of edification will be taken up at length later in the letter. (1Co 10:23-24 – All things are lawful, but not necessarily profitable. All things are lawful, but they don’t all edify. Don’t seek your own good, but that of your neighbor. Ro 14:13 – So don’t judge each other anymore, but be determined to put no stumbling block in a brother’s way.) We have, then, this inward liberty so far as we restrict its use so as to serve mutual edification. The second restriction set on liberty is that of bondage; becoming subservient to an appetite we can no longer control. How can we, who are declared lords of all things, allow ourselves to be made subject to those things?
Outward things are lawfully applied to the preservation of life, as swiftly as this life passes. (1Co 7:29 – The time has been shortened. So, from now on, those who have wives should be as though they had none.) “We must use this world so as not to abuse it.” Here is clear demonstration of the inappropriateness of contending for such outward things. “When a dispute, therefore, arises respecting corruptible things, a pious mind will not anxiously dwell upon these things; for liberty is one thing – the use of it is another.” (Ro 14:17 – The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking. It is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.) The boundaries are set. Now, they are applied specifically to the case of fornication. This is assuredly beyond bounds of Christian liberty. However prevalent this evil in their time [and ours] it remains prohibited. (Ac 15:20 – Abstain from things contaminated by idols, from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.) Fornication is here listed amongst ‘things indifferent’ not because it is an indifferent matter, but because society viewed it as such. So, Paul is saying, in this case, that there is a rather vast difference between foods and fornication. The belly, after all, was designed for foods. The body was not, however, designed for fornication, but for the Lord. “While God the Father has united us to his Son, what wickedness there would be in tearing away our body from that sacred connection, and giving it over to things unworthy of Christ!”

Matthew Henry (07/10/17)

While the passage appears to veer into discussions of ‘the distinction of meats’ it does serve as preface to the discussion of fornication which follows. This connection of food and sexual proclivities follows the pattern established by the Apostles in Jerusalem, as we read in Acts 15. The application here appears to be that the Corinthians had concluded that they were as much at liberty when it came to sex as they were when it came to food, particularly as civil law made no issue of such things. Thus, when it came to fornication, they were ready to defend themselves with the cry, “All things are lawful for me!” But, legality does not imply expedience, and the Christian ought be less concerned with what is permissible than with what is fitting. Consider your profession of faith, your character, your relations, your hope. Does this contemplated action comport? To serve ‘liberty’ too far is to come into bondage. “Even in lawful things, he would not be subject to the impositions of a usurped authority.” To be sure, “there is a liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, in which we must stand fast.” But, that liberty is never to be carried to the point of setting us under the power of any bodily appetite. All foods may very well be accounted legal to us. That is no excuse for gluttony or drunkenness. Civil law may permit of fornication, but this does not make it any less unbecoming for a Christian.
Food and belly have a natural, God-designed correlation. This is not so where fornication and body are concerned. Rather, the body is for the Lord. [Note the connection. The belly is for food. That’s what you put into it. The body is for the Lord. He is what you put into it.] It is for the Lord, ‘for the service and honor of God’. (Ro 6:19 – I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity to lawlessness, leading to further lawlessness, now present your members as slaves to righteousness, leading to sanctification.)

Adam Clarke (07/10/17)

It would seem that some in Corinth were arguing that the man addressed in 1Co 5:1 had not, in fact, violated any law, any more than had those who ate things offered to idols. Paul’s response is that fornication such as that is never expedient, or agreeable ‘to propriety, decency, order, and purity’. “It is contrary to the established usages of the best and most enlightened nations, and should not be tolerated in the church of Christ.” [I would have to maintain that the ‘established usages’ of the nations have no bearing on the matter whatsoever.] It may well be that Paul is laying out the arc of their argument in this. That is, civil law did not oppose eating offerings to idols, or attending their feasts; the Apostle himself insisted that these idols are ‘nothing in the world’, ergo it followed that they could do as they pleased in regard to these meals, and, if this was the case for foods, it was also the case for fornication. Paul’s response is that whatever the legal standing, ‘there is no necessity for them’. Further, the law of God and nature forbids some of the acts they were thus deeming legal and acceptable. Others, while not illegal, would ‘almost necessarily lead to bad moral consequences’. What Christian could obey his appetites with this in mind? “A man is brought under the power of anything which he cannot give up. He is a slave of that thing, whatever it may be, which he cannot relinquish; and then, to him, it is sin.”
Paul concedes that we have a propensity to food, and food has been adapted to our use, even allowing that which is offered to idols. “But God shall destroy both.” Death destroys both appetites and sensations. They ‘have no existence in the resurrection body’. The body, by contrast, is not made for uncleanness or indulgent sensuality. The body is made for Christ, and Christ was given as a sacrifice for body as well as soul. As such, we have intimate relationship to the Lord, though human beings. “Our bodies are made not only for His service, but to be His temples.”

Barnes' Notes (07/11/17)

The opening clause is to be understood as a proverbial statement common amongst the Corinthians, a declaration that all, or at least many things, were lawful to the Christian since God made them all for our use. Paul moves to demonstrate that this view is entirely false and unfounded. He begins with matters indifferent, adiaphoristic behaviors; in this case meat and drink. He then connects this point back to the main issue of fornication. Here, too, the defense consisted in the lawfulness of the act. That view was common in Greece generally, and clearly held in Corinth particularly. Thus, it ‘was the vice to which the Corinthian Christians were particularly exposed’. Paul does not concede the possibility that fornication could in fact be construed as legal and proper. There is no way to defend such an act, and that is the point he is driving across to them. Even, then, were it admitted that all things are in fact lawful and permissible to the believer, this would still fail to advise them as acts the believer should indulge in. Whatever the legality, the believer ought not be under the power of ‘any improper indulgence’, nor be abandoned to the mastery of any habit. Fornication, whatever else may be said as to legality, was ‘positively wrong, and opposed to the very nature and essence of Christianity’, as he begins making clear in the next verse. Legality does not render an act automatically beneficial, but may in fact give permit to acts injurious to self or to others. This was the issue with meats and drinks. Yes, it was lawful to partake, but… If indulging the act would prove injurious, we ought to abandon the indulgence. “Anything that does evil – however small – and no good, should be abandoned at once.” Legality cannot justify becoming enslaved to appetites. This is ‘the rule of an independent mind’. This was Paul’s rule, and it would be well for us to be likewise governed. (1Co 9:27 – I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.) The rule requires ‘a high order of virtue’. The rule, having been established, can be applied to many things. Many believers, and even ministers, are enslaved to some habit or other which ‘destroys his usefulness and happiness’. It could be tobacco or wine. It could be indolence and self-indulgence. “The man that has not the courage and firmness enough to act on this rule should doubt his piety.”
We again encounter an apparent adage. These things were made for each other, so we may as well indulge. God created appetite. God created food. What’s the issue? The term used for meats covers all sorts of food. (Mt 3:4 – John had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt. His food was locusts and wild honey. Mt 6:25 – Don’t be anxious about what to eat or drink or wear. Life is more than food. The body is more than clothing. Mt 9:10 – Many tax-gatherers and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. Mt 10:10 – Take no bag for your journey, nor a spare tunic, sandals, or staff. The worker is worthy of his support. Mt 14:9 – Though he was grieved, the king commanded it given because of his oaths, and because of his dinner guests.) Paul’s point: Both are temporal, and will be destroyed. They don’t deserve the care given them. Our attention ought to be on better things. A man ought to be willing to abandon any such indulgence as tends to be injurious to mind and soul. The world in general lives to pamper its appetites. It is the sole purpose to their existence. But, it is folly. The temporal is pampered and the eternal ignored. Thanks be to God that He does in fact provide for our bodily needs and appetites. Eat, then, for strength to serve God. Whatever may be said of food and stomach, the body entire is designed for higher purposes: To be devoted to the Lord. Here begins an argument against licentiousness which will occupy the remainder of the chapter. This was, again, “THE sin to which they were particularly exposed.” (Rev 2:14-15 – I have a few things against you. You have in your midst some who hold to the teaching of Balaam. He taught Balak to put stumbling blocks before the sons of Israel: Eating things sacrificed to idols, committing acts of immorality. Thus you also have some who in the same way hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.) Paul provides both argument and guard against this prevalent sin. The immorality of such acts is established ‘on an immovable foundation’ by this first argument: The body is to be devoted to its Maker, consecrated to a pure and holy life. This devotion binds not just our rational and spiritual activities, but also our animal powers. The corollary, that the Lord is for the body, demonstrates that He plans and provides for it. He sustains. He is preparing your body for its ‘immortal purity and happiness in heaven’. How improper, then, to pollute it. This alludes to the resurrection, as the next verse will make plain. Given what God is doing in the body, ‘it ought not to be prostituted for purposes of licentiousness’.

Wycliffe (07/11/17)

The principle of liberty is given two limits: That of expediency, and that of self-control. The terms for lawful and power share a common root so that we are presented with a play on words here. “The indulgence in a habit which has one in its grip is not liberty but slavery.”
Be it accepted that meat and belly are made for one another, this does not hold in the case of fornication and the body. The body is designed to glorify the Lord, and needs Him for this to happen. This is beyond the idea of the physical tabernacle, and intimates the whole of the man.

Jamieson, Fausset & Brown (07/11/17)

Here, the assumptions is that the opening clause reflects comments Paul had himself made on some prior occasion. (1Co 10:23 – All things are lawful, but not necessarily profitable. All things are lawful, but they don’t all edify.) The statement had become an excuse for such things as eating sacrificial meats, and other acts generally accompanying such meals. (Ac 15:29 – Abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from strangled things, and from fornication. Keep free of these things and you will do well. 1Co 7:1 – Concerning the things you wrote to me about: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Jn 8:34-36 – Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave doesn’t remain in the house forever, but the son does. So, if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.) Things indifferent do fall within the sphere of Christian liberty, and it appears the Corinthians were trying to count fornication in that category. Paul sets himself out as an example apt for the Christian in general. Whatever others may do, he says, I do this. Again, the note of a play on words. “All things are in my power, but I will not be brought under the power of anything.” To commit fornication is to forfeit one’s power. To join the harlot is to be under her power. (1Co 6:15 – Don’t you know that your bodies are Christ’s members? Shall I take His member and make it the member of a harlot? No way! 1Co 7:4 – The wife does not have authority over her own body. The husband does. Likewise, the wife has authority over the husband’s body.) “The ‘power’ ought to be in the hands of the believer, not in the things which he uses, else his liberty is forfeited – he ceases to be his own master.” (Gal 5:13 – You were called to freedom. Don’t make that freedom an opportunity for the flesh. Rather, serve one another through love. 1Pe 2:16 – Act as free men. Don’t use your freedom as cover for evil. Use it as bondslaves of God. 2Pe 2:19[They come] promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption. For by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.) “Unlawful things ruin thousands; ‘lawful’ things (unlawfully used), ten thousands.”
(1Co 8:8 – Food won’t commend us to God. We are no worse for not eating, nor better if we do. Ro 14:14 – I am absolutely certain that in the Lord Jesus nothing is unclean in itself. But to him who thinks the thing unclean, to him it is. Ro 14:17 – The kingdom of God isn’t about eating and drinking. It’s about righteousness, peace, joy in the Holy Spirit. Mk 7:18 – Are you so lacking in understanding? Don’t you realize that what goes into the man from outside can’t defile him? Col 2:20-22 – If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why submit yourself to decrees such as “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” as if you lived in the world. These are but commandments and teachings of men. They may appear to have wisdom, with their self-made religion, their self-abasement, and their severe treatment of the body. But, these things are useless against fleshly indulgence.) What may be said of indifferent matters such as food will not apply to fornication. (1Co 10:23 – All things may be lawful, but that doesn’t render them profitable or edifying.) As to foods, both the food and its receptacle will be done away with at the resurrection. (1Co 15:44 – It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual one. If there is a natural body, then there is also a spiritual body. 1Co 15:52 – In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.) The Lord, your Redeemer, has ‘assumed and united Himself’ to your body. He who raised the Lord, will raise us as well. The body, then, is eternal. (1Co 6:18 – Every other sin is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.) Fornication, then, cannot be an indifferent matter. We have the beginnings of three threads to be developed in what follows. First, there is the issue of relation between the sexes, second the issue of meats offered to idols, and third the resurrection of the body. “A real essence underlies the superficial phenomena of the present organization of the body.”

New Thoughts (07/12/17-07/16/17)

Societal Influence (07/13/17)

We Christians are left to spend our sojourn in the midst of largely heathen societies.  It has arguably ever been thus.  The only variation seems to be one of scale.  Are we a missionary enclave of perhaps a few tens of people, or are we a nominally faithful nation set amongst entirely ungodly nations?  Those might serve as the two extremes between which we find ourselves.  But, the fact remains that the people of God, in terms of numbers, have always been and always shall be a minority, so long as the present order pertains.

This is important to recognize because wherever we fall within that spectrum, we fall prey to societal influences.  We may fool ourselves into thinking otherwise, but we only demonstrate our foolishness in doing so.  When our daughter was young, we took a bold stand as parents and decided we would have no television or radio in the house.  We would simply keep the world out so that she could be safe.  For a while there, we could delude ourselves into thinking this brilliant plan was working.  But, the fact is the world finds its way in.  Merely cutting off the more obvious avenues of entrance doesn’t solve the problem.  As with parenting, so with the Christian life more generally.

We have something of a blind spot, I think.  We look at the situation of these early churches, and see what a mess they were.  I think we tend to see Corinth as the bad boy of the early churches, but face it, Galatia wasn’t doing any much better, nor was Colossi or Thessalonica.  The reason we have so much of Paul’s writing is not because he was on campus somewhere publishing papers to make a name for himself.  It was because these young churches, planted as they were in the midst of pagan societies, and composed of what one could hope were ex-pagans, tended to fall prey to pagan ways.  But, if we add the Old Testament evidence to our case, it’s pretty obvious that a pagan past wasn’t necessary for God’s people to get severely off course.  Israel did a fine job of that in spite of their starting point.  They weren’t but a week out of Egypt and slavery and here they were at the foot of God’s own mountain dancing around idols made to an idol redolent of Egyptian practices.  Put them in their own land, and it wasn’t long before they were importing idolatrous practices of the most horrific sort from their neighbors.

We look at all this and our first reaction is, “Thank God we’ve learned not to do that!”  But, the truth is we haven’t.  The truth is that by thinking we’ve freed ourselves from the opportunities for society to influence the shape of our faith and worship, we lay ourselves open and defenseless against the assault.  In every society we will find there is some particular vice that seems almost to define the society.  For the folks in Corinth it would be fornication.  That’s why Paul is spending a fair amount of time on the issue of sexual sin.  This was, as Barnes says, ‘the vice to which the Corinthian Christians were particularly exposed’.   As such, it was also the vice to which they were particularly prone.

This is the thing that gets us:  Society declares that this sin is no issue whatsoever.  In fact, it’s common practice, and even a source of government income.  Consider Corinth.  Here was a mercantile society, a major seaport on an important trade route.  Here, too, was the temple of Aphrodite with their temple prostitutes.  Able-bodied seamen, and willing partners for hire:  It was a merchant’s dream!  Plenty of customers and plenty of custom.  Everybody wins.  The government, seeing no issue with what was, after all, a religious practice, found the revenue that this trade generated was to their benefit.  So, they acted to benefit the trade, bringing in new talent for the temple from far and wide.  Well, if the government approves it, and society approves it, why shouldn’t the church, right?  Wrong.

Now, look around our own time and place.  The clearest correlation is once again sexual in nature, this time dealing with orientation.  Of course, even here, it’s nothing new, really.  Corinth had that problem as well.  But, once more we find the church not only tolerating deviancy, but embracing it.  God created the deviant, after all, so how deviant can he be, really?  It must be OK, or God would never have allowed it.  It’s the same defense we’re hearing from Corinth.  “All things are lawful.”  Of course, if we accept that foolish line of defense, we have effectively declared the whole matter of holiness moot.  If everything is legal, then who cares what God says or wants?  Do as you please.  And that is, quite frankly, the religion of the majority right now.

Sadly, for all functional purposes, it would appear that Christians have memorized the first clause of this passage, “All things are lawful for me,” and completely ignored the rest.  The whole point of Paul bringing this statement in is that it was the go-to defense of the believer caught out in his sins, as Calvin noticed in his day.  It was true in Corinth.  It was true in Geneva.  It’s true in America today.  It’s true in our own house.  You tell me what I’m doing is wrong and ungodly, and my immediate reaction is, “Meh.  All things are lawful.”  You tell me I’m wandering into heretical territory, and I’ll trot out the very same defense.  Even if I’m telling myself I know what I’m doing is wrong, still there’s that voice inside say, Yes, it may be wrong.  But, it’s lawful, so it’s OK.  Even as we recognize the utter nonsense of such a line of reasoning, we go for it.  Why?  Because it leaves us free to do as we please.

The fact is that this letter, and in particular this portion of the letter, I think, requires careful reading and careful application.  Paul is quoting a lot of the patent nonsense that passed for wisdom in oh-so-wise Corinth, but not as approving of it, rather to demonstrate how ridiculous it was.  Such is the case with this ‘all things are lawful’ mantra.  Paul is too polite, I suppose, or too wise, to simply reject it as horse-pucky.  Instead, he provides an antidote, if you will.  We ought to hear an interjected, “even if this is so (and I’m not saying it is)”

How far off base this had taken them becomes plain in the line of the argument presented in these two verses.  How far off base that same thinking takes us should be equally evident as we consider it.  So, we start with a premise that one could easily imagine Paul supporting or even espousing:  “All things are lawful.”  Facing issues of legalism in the church, it’s a reasonable point to make.  The problem is, whenever you make it, you have to immediately turn around and provide the counterbalance.  Paul is doing that here, and if this is something they had picked up from him, rest assured he had done the same thing then.  The Corinthians were just practicing selective hearing, just as we tend to do.  So, they took that ‘all things are lawful’, and ran with it.  Hey!  If it’s all lawful, I’ll just do what I used to do and add church attendance to it.  Everything’s good, right?

Verse 13 shows how their application expanded.  As I noted previously, it’s a bit of a challenge to decide where Paul leaves of quoting their theory and begins applying his correction.  I’m still inclined to think the quoted theory contains the entirety of the first sentence.  “Food for the stomach, and the stomach for food; but God will do away with both of them.”  They’re disposable.  They’re material.  God’s interested in the spiritual.  Clearly, what we do here doesn’t matter.  Eat away!  Drink as you please.  Who cares?  It’s all going to burn anyway.

Now, I acknowledge the possibility that Paul’s correction begins with that notice of destruction.  In that case, the focus is more on the temporal, fleeting nature of the food issue as opposed to the eternality of the body.  But, I find that line of argumentation a bit weak.  After all, if the body is eternal, does it not stand to reason that the stomach, being part of the body, is as well?  And do we not see at least some evidence of food continuing in heaven? 

If I am right, though, and this whole notice of the passing nature of the body was part of the Corinthian argument, then the picture we have is an expansion of their sinful mindset.  If the argument sufficed to justify eating food sacrificed to idols, and if it sufficed to permit of joining in with the followers of Bacchus on occasion, it only makes sense to apply it to the practices over at Aphrodite’s place, too.  If the stomach’s going, so are these other organs.  It’s still only physical, and the physical will pass away, so who cares?  My spirit’s still fine.  If we take in the full scope of Paul’s letter here, we discover that they are wrong on every count.  The body is not merely physical, and the resurrection is not merely spiritual.  We’ll see that clarified in Chapter 15.

The issue of food and drink and continued participation down at the old temple is also not so cut and dried.  What has light to do with darkness?  The degree to which this philosophy had corrupted the church in Corinth would be hard to overstate.  The degree to which this philosophy corrupts our own behavior and belief would be just as hard to overstate.

I love the statement Calvin makes as he looks at these verses.  “When vices stalk abroad with impunity, custom is regarded as law.”  Look around!  What vice remains that is not only allowed to stalk abroad, but actively promoted?  We have abortion on demand, and as I read yesterday, tax-payer funded at that now, at least in Oregon.  We have dope for sale, and billboards advertising where to find it.  We have insistence that every sexual deviancy be not just tolerated, but actively supported.  It should be shocking, but I don’t know that it has the power to shock any more, and that in itself is shocking.  What are we to do?

Start with this:  Watch out!  Watch yourself, what you’re believing, what your actions and thoughts betray of your belief.  Keep your eyes on the pages of Scripture and on sound teaching.  Keep yourself constantly reminded of Truth, lest you become an unwitting celebrant of the lie.  Recognize the subtlety of your enemy, and stand firm against every attempt to shift the message, shift the focus, lesson the concern for sin and holiness.  We don’t need to dance down the road of legalism, but we do need to beware an excessive permissiveness.  We leave plentiful room for freedom of conscience, but not to the point of ‘anything goes’.  Heresy still requires countering.   Sin still requires condemning.  God still requires repentance. 

Liberty’s Boundary (07/14/17)

Let’s be blunt.  All things are not legal.  If this is not your position upon reading this, then you have not paid attention to what you are reading, nor have you set it amongst the clear message of Scripture from start to finish.  If, as some have supposed, this quote of Corinthian opinion reflects something said by Paul earlier, it reflects it in most corrupted fashion.  We can wander all the way back to Adam in the Garden and discover the falsity of this notion.  Almost all things were lawful for him, but not the fruit of that one tree.  We can proceed onward through every age of history and discover the same.  If all things are legal, why do we have the Decalogue?  If all things are legal, is it then permissible to worship Moloch after all?  Is it then acceptable to murder?  However loosely you’ve thought to set the bounds on ‘all things’, I guarantee that you’ve set them.

We all suffer at some point from an inherent antinomianism.  What is that?  That is the viewpoint that having been saved by grace, the Law no longer applies.  That is the mindset that considers what the Corinthians were saying here, “All things are lawful for me,” and finds itself in perfect agreement.  Yes!  Of course they are.  It is the mindset that will then turn to the words of Jesus, “If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (Jn 8:36), and takes it as confirmation.  See?  Jesus set me free, so I can do whatever.  But what was He talking about freeing you from?  Restrictions?  Limitations?  No.  He has a clearly stated premise.  “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (Jn 8:34).  That is what you were set free from, not set free to.  It is the clearest evidence of the insidious effects of our fallen nature that we turn it around with regularity.  We are the Corinthians.

If you have found yourself wondering why the Holy Spirit felt it so necessary to include this book in the Bible, that’s the reason.  We look at this group of believers and think they’re whacko.  We would never.  But, we do.  It takes but a moment’s honest reflection to find pretty much every aberrant behavior of theirs reflected in the life of the Church today.  Good thing we hold the antidote.  But, it will be better if we actually apply it.

Somewhere, several years back, quite probably when I was studying that passage from John, I noted the distinction between freedom and liberty.  Liberty has boundaries.  We might say that liberty is freedom within boundaries.  Freedom unbound, on the other hand, is anarchy.  It is the total absence of rules or even organizing principles.  Freedom is the urge of the sinful self.  I’ll have no god over me, thank you, and that includes you.  Liberty, on the other hand, recognizes the fences that have been set to demark its boundaries, and thanks God for them. 

Paul, as a few of our commenters lay it out for us, sets two boundaries on this liberty of ours.  I have two definitions here as to what those boundaries are.  The Wycliffe commentators identify them as expediency and self-control.  I can’t say I’m particularly happy with that first item.  A quick glance at the dictionary tells us that what is expedient is ‘convenient and practical, although possibly improper or immoral’.  Even if we stick with the idea of the expedient as advantageous or useful, I think we risk getting off course.  There is a reason, after all, that Paul prefers the term edifying.  What is edifying, again turning to the dictionary, instructs or improves someone morally or intellectually.  This is a matter Paul will be delving into in great detail later, but the simple point to be applied here as our boundary is this:  Does my taking this action improve me in God’s eyes?  More properly, given the later significance of edification in this letter, does it improve my brother?  Yes!  Let’s start there.

You see, if my concern is for my own improvement, I will once more twist liberty into licentiousness.  But, if my concern is rightly for my brother, if I am learning to account all others as being of greater concern than myself, then my evaluation of my actions is not as to how they gratify or improve my own condition, but rather, my evaluation considers what impact these actions may have on my fellow believer.  Do they improve him?  Do they cause him to stumble?  Oh!  May it never be!  “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble” (Lk 17:2).  Stumbling blocks will come, Jesus says, but don’t be the one laying them in the path of the righteous (Lk 17:1).  Rebuke the brother who sins, and forgive him if he repents (Lk 17:3).  Show him the boundary he has exceeded, so he can get back in bounds.  Edify him.

There is our duty to neighbor.  But, what about ourselves?  Aren’t we to work on our own sanctification?  Why, yes you are, and Paul’s got your boundary for the personal as well.  Here, Wycliffe’s authors choose self-control.  Calvin imparts the same limit, but in somewhat starker terms, following Paul’s lead.  The second boundary of liberty, he says, is that of bondage.  This is the dark shadow of our need for self-control.  If we have not self-control, we are in bondage.  We have become subservient to our appetites, and if subservient, then no longer in control.  That sets us out as calling Jesus a liar.  Have you considered that?  He says He set you free from sin’s bondage.  You, by setting yourself back under the controlling influence of your fleshly appetites first make those appetites a sin, and then set yourself back in chains to them.

Liberty Made Bondage (07/14/17)

This brings us to that bit of wordplay that Paul has included in verse 12.  All things are exestin, But egoo exousiastheesomai.  We might paraphrase as all things are within my power, but I will not be under the power of anything.  All things are lawful, but nothing shall become a law for me.  All things are allowed, but I allow nothing to control me.  Take your pick.  I think the power play works best.  Clarke writes, “A man is brought under the power of anything which he cannot give up.  He is a slave of that thing, whatever it may be, which he cannot relinquish; and then, to him, it is sin.”  That’s what’s going on when our habits, our predilections, gain the upper hand.

For a relatively benign example, I could go back to my long habit of smoking.  If I go back to those early days of the habit, I can recall avowing that I could quit whenever I want.  It’s a basic truism of that addiction, but certainly not only that one.  So long as we discover no particular need to do so, we are utterly convinced we can quit any time.  Smoking?  Drugs?  Pornography?  Overeating?  It covers the spectrum.  I could quit whenever I wanted to.  I just don’t want to.  Then comes the day when you do want to, and you discover the lie.  You can’t.  It’s not in you to do so, because that habit, however morally neutral it may have been, has become a sin.  It has you clapped in chains from which you are powerless to break free.  But, God!  Remember what Jesus said!  “Whom the Son sets free is free indeed!”  He breaks the chains, if you will but stop clapping new ones on yourself.

Sticking with that smoking issue, I’m not going to tell you how the minute I heard the call of Christ I set that vile habit aside and never considered it again.  No.  I’ve known those who did have such a testimony, but that was not mine.  Rather, I fought, however half-heartedly, for decades; alternately trying to put the habit away quietly and trying to excuse it.  Thanks be to God, I am at present free of both the habit and of any urge to return to it.  I am also free, for the most part, of the urge to rebuke any and everybody who still indulges.  I would have to confess that my thought-life may not be as free as my vocal life in that point.  I may, at some stage, have to consider which of those is more at odds with my Savior’s boundaries.  Is it in fact more loving to keep my own counsel on that, or is it more loving to speak the word of rebuke?  Is it, in fact, a thing indifferent, or is it a sin that needs dealing with?

This returns us to a more general consideration of this issue of liberty and bondage.  They seem mutually exclusive, don’t they?  And yet, we discover, as Matthew Henry points out, that it is possible to serve ‘liberty’ so slavishly as to make it bondage in its own right.  Now, let’s be clear.  Liberty pursued in this fashion is not in fact liberty as God provides it.  It is already a corruption.  In reality, this slavish insistence on personal liberty is nothing but evidence of the usurper’s influence.  It’s the same sinful temptation that overtook Eve in the Garden.  You should be as god yourself.  You don’t need Him telling you what to do!  Oh, we can cloak it in the dress of Christian liberty and tell ourselves we’re just obeying His instruction, but it’s patent nonsense and somewhere deep down, we know it.

The Wycliffe commenters offer us this thought.  “The indulgence in a habit which has one in its grip is not liberty but slavery.”  Let me stress that this encompasses any habit.  That can, and does, include certain spiritual habits, as we will see Paul addressing later in this letter.  That includes insistence on the ‘rights’ of ‘liberty’.  We are not free to worship God any which way we please.  We are not free to demand our right to worship our way even though it distracts and disrupts.  That is not liberty.  That is bondage.  That is allowing oneself to become a tool of the enemy even as we quite earnestly desire to honor God.  It’s self-blinding prideful indulgence, which is to say, sin.  We have blown right past both boundaries at once!  We have failed at self-control, and we are acting in a fashion utterly at odds with the boundary of edification.  We may suppose we are edifying ourselves.  After all, doesn’t Paul say that the one who speaks in tongues edifies himself?  Well, yes, he says exactly that (1Co 14:4), but not by way of recommending the practice in the setting of communal worship.  Rather, it is said by way of correction.  Your insistence on tongues in this disruptive, distracting fashion may edify your soul, but it is done in absolute disregard for your brother.  You may insist that’s not the case on your part.  You may insist that, but you are wrong.  It is a self-centered, self-serving addiction.  It is as sinful as any other addiction.  If it has mastered you, then to you it is a sin.  Rather than being offended at the suggestion, I would suggest you consider the horror of having taken what was given as a good and made it a tool of the flesh, a tool of the enemy.  I am not, to be absolutely clear, suggesting this was intentional.  I am saying it is the inevitable outcome.

Seek to edify.  Let me just say that this is something quite different from seeking to educate.  When we seek to educate we are as likely as not seeking to get everybody else to be like us.  We are trying to get our own way.  But, that’s not what we’re supposed to be doing.  We are supposed to be seeking God’s way.  Oh!  But, He taught me to do things this way.  He insists, and I must obey.  Really?  He insists that you follow a course of disruption?  I find that a bit hard to believe.  He does insist that you seek to edify your brother, build him up, help him grow in godliness, help him draw closer to his God.  He does not, by that insistence, grant that you force your brother into your own mold.  Your path may vary from his.  Your stage of development is almost assuredly distinct from his.  You may be a hand to his foot, a nose to his eye.  Don’t force him, then, to grasp and to smell just because that’s your part.  Neither let him force you to step and to look because it’s his.  That’s not the point.  The point is to grow in godliness – together, with a mutual regard for one another’s progress.

Now, if you want to see just how awful this abuse of liberty becomes, consider where it led the Corinthians.  We see the argument continued in verse 13“Food is for the stomach, and the stomach for food; and God will do away with both.”  They’re both going to pass, so do what you please.  That’s the thrust of the Corinthian argument.  It’s legal.  It’s temporal.  It doesn’t matter.  From this, measuring by Paul’s application and the main point that has been under discussion throughout the last few chapters, they had moved on to, the body is for sex and sex is for the body, and both are going to pass, so where’s the harm?  It’s legal.  It’s temporal.  It doesn’t matter.  Nothing, quite frankly, matters.  Sure, I’ve been sleeping around, but it wasn’t a matter of the heart.  It was just physical gratification.  My love is still for you.  Sure, I’ve been hanging out at the temple, but my heart wasn’t in it.  I wasn’t really worshiping there.  My heart’s still all Yours, Jesus.  Except, of course, it isn’t.  If it was, we wouldn’t be having this discussion, would we?

It puts me in mind of the issue we had with a brother who had a lifelong addiction to Freemasonry.  And yes, based on his behavior and reaction when addressed on the subject, that’s what it is – an addiction.  He had all the characteristic defenses of the addict.  I could quit.  I don’t want to.  I don’t need to.  Well, sure, they have an altar there, and they ask us to worship this Great Architect being, but my heart’s not in it.  It’s just empty ritual.  My heart belongs to Jesus.  Except, of course, when the time comes to quit, and to make that heart truly exclusive in its loves, what happens?  I can’t quit.  I won’t.  I’d rather fight than switch.

For the Corinthians, the primary addiction seems to have been that of fornication.  At the very least, it was up there on the list.  For this brother, it was Freemasonry.  For others, it’s particular spiritual practices.  For others, it’s liberty itself.  What is it that you need to consider?  What has mastery over you?  What do you insist on, no matter what anybody says, even those whom Jesus has determined as your shepherds?

I can think of numerous items I would have to put on such a list.  I can laugh it off as reflecting that I am a creature of habit, and that’s all.  But, is it?  I insist on the liberty to listen to such music as I care to listen to.  I must confess I have found occasions where I have been convicted on that point.  No.  Your liberty is wide, but not that wide.  That particular bit needs to go.  I insist on my right to relax and waste endless time in mindlessly reviewing the web, playing little games, what have you.  Ah, but do they have mastery?  More often than I care to admit, yes.  And that’s something more than a warning shot, isn’t it?  Don’t just watch out, Jeff.  That points already flown past.  No, don’t watch out, flee!  What about dining out?  It’s date night.  It should be sacrosanct.  Well, no, it actually shouldn’t be.  Date night is important.  But, date night shall not rule you.  Dining out and having that time to connect is good.  Dining out because it’s Friday and we must, even if we can barely speak to one another?  Not so much.  Dining out again Sunday because Friday was a bust, or because it’s hot, or just because?  That’s bordering on gluttony.  Watch out!  Don’t just tell yourself you could quit any time.  Check and make sure it’s true.

I have said it many times.  We are forever trying to make the Law manageable.  It was not meant to be manageable.  Liberty, quite frankly, is not meant to be manageable, not in our own power.  There is One Who can and should have power over you, because He is your Lord.  There can be only one.  If anything else, however good and holy it may appear to you, has power over you, understand that it is a sin.  It is not of God, even if you think it godly.  This issue of sexual sin may seem a no-brainer to us.  It should be, in all fairness.  But, it wasn’t for them.  It was such a part of who they were, what society said was normal.  Who wants to stick out?  Who wants to be the one telling everybody else they shouldn’t enjoy their legal recreations?  Didn’t Paul say, “When in Rome…”?  Again, there are boundaries on that.  I can assure you he didn’t take that as including things like joining in with the Romans at their orgies or their gorging on food to the point of requiring a vomitorium so they could go back for more.  What is it that seems benign to us but in fact has turned our liberty into bondage?  What is it that we insist on as our right even though we do it to the detriment of our brother?  Where have we sought to make the Law manageable, and thereby become all the more subjected to our sins?

I want to wrap up this part of the study with something the JFB says.  “Unlawful things ruin thousands; ‘lawful’ things (unlawfully used), ten thousands.”  Does this strike you as true?  Does it strike you as a pretty sound reason to reconsider your own actions, and insisting on your ‘rights’?  “You have no rights!”  That is the true condition of the true servant of the True God.  A servant does not insist on rights.  A servant serves at the behest of his master.  A servant does not demand to do things his own way.  He does as he is commanded.  Oh!  But, we are sons of God!  Yes, you are.  And He is still God.  He is still utterly and absolutely holy, and He still requires utter and absolute perfection in your own holiness.  He has lovingly opted to adopt you into His household.  But, you remain His servant, and He remains the unassailable King of all kings and Lord of all lords.  Love Him!  Indeed, cry out to your Abba Father in adoration.  But, don’t presume upon Him.  Don’t be so puffed up as to think you have good counsel that He won’t get anywhere else.   “If you love Me, you will keep My commands” (Jn 14:15).  Funny, but nowhere do I find God saying, “If you love Me, you will tell Me how to better achieve My purposes.”  Rather, I hear, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2).

Father, I must ask, for my eyes are too weak to see clearly.  Where have I set my will above Yours?  Where have I insisted on my way even to the detriment of my brother or sister?  Where have I done this as a shepherd in Your church?  Where have I done this as a shepherd in this house?  How have I been unloving?  I know:  Let me count the ways.  You know my days.  You know that in many – too many – ways I feel hemmed in and unable to address the things I see.  How am I to be loving, by granting freedom of conscience or by pointing out the pitfalls even if it necessarily leads to arguments and anger?  Am I right to lay it all back on You?  I know for certain that You can do a better job of sorting out these trials and challenges than I can.  But, what if You are calling me to be Your tool in this effort?  Shall I insist that You find another? I know I’d like to do just that, but I am Your servant.  Do Thou command me.  Do Thou instruct me and equip me to the task, and Oh!  Please, Dear Lord, if I must take up this particular challenge, do Thou walk with me every step of the way and keep me from screwing it up.  I know myself too well, and You know me even better.  If it is to be done, it shall have to be by Your means and Your power, even it is to be done through me.  Help!

A Place for Works? (07/15/17)

What I have collected under this head, I must admit, appears a bit of a hodgepodge this morning.  But, the particular point that first caught my attention in the matter of where works fall into this discussion is something Barnes wrote.  “The man that has not the courage and firmness enough to act on this rule should doubt his piety.”  I have to tell you, this statement really doesn’t sit that well with me, and I have to ask myself whether it’s the statement that is at issue, or my flesh reacting to a truth it would prefer not to look at.  Frankly, I think it’s more to do with the flesh overreacting to a simple it has amplified for a sense of its own guilt.  Let me attempt an assessment.

My reaction to that statement largely consists of a sense of it promoting works as necessary for salvation, or at least that is the defense I find myself throwing up against its implications.  What?  You think you can find courage and firmness enough in yourself to manhandle your sins into submission?  I think not, sir!  Why, if I could do this in my own strength, then I have no need for Jesus, and that I shall never accept.  Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?  Why, that’s some fine Calvinist understanding you’ve laid out there, self.  Except it isn’t, nor does Barnes’ statement make the argument I hear myself countering.  What he says is not that the one who thinks himself pious must have the courage and firmness to subdue these sins.  He says that one should have the courage and firmness to act.  That’s a much different statement.

We should.  If we have just abandoned ourselves to our sins and given up even trying, then my friend, I have to concur with Barnes.  We are suspect, as believers go.  This reading of his point, I should take careful note, is right in line with what Paul is saying.  The problem with Corinth was not that there were sinners in the Church.  Good luck finding one without any.  No, the problem with Corinth was that sin was being accepted and ignored.  Remember why we’ve arrived at this verse.  It’s because of the issue Paul began addressing back in 1Co 5:1“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife.”  Whether that someone was in leadership, as some surmise, or whether he was simply a member really makes no difference.  The leadership accepted this situation in their church and did nothing about it; said nothing about it.  They had not the courage or the firmness to act.

All that’s happened with Barnes’ point is that he has taken this principle of communal governance and rendered it personal.  After all, it stands to reason that if we are not taking a stand against the sin in our own life we’re hardly going to be in position to take a stand against the sin in the lives of those we shepherd.  It’s not a demand for victory, but it is a demand for effort.  Here, I shall continue to insist that it is wasted effort except it is given in conjunction with a clear recognition of where the Lord Himself is at work, for it is indeed He who works in us to render us both willing and able. 

We, like the Pharisees before us, will tend to aim our efforts at those most visible, outwardly evident sins.  Why is that?  I would say it is because our tendency is to be more concerned with being caught in our sins than with being rid of them.  God, on the other hand, tends to be working on the inward condition that led to such outwardly evident behaviors.  We can hear that in the teaching of Jesus, can’t we?  “Not what enters into the mouth defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man” (Mt 15:11).  Washing the outside of the tomb won’t render the corpse within any more pleasant to encounter.  On the outside, they may appear more beautiful, but the interior remains entirely unclean (Mt 23:27).  So, God starts on the inside, because if we get that inward character taken care of, the outward actions will naturally follow.  It is that inward character which, to return to Barnes’ phrasing, demonstrates courage and firmness to act.  It is not because we are such worthy men.  It is because we have the Holy Spirit of the Living God abiding within, working within, and we cannot but demonstrate the fruit of His presence.

So, where are works in all this?  They are evidence.  We might suggest they are a confirming sign, rather like baptism (a work, after all) serves as a confirming sign of the inward change.  We are not saved by it, but by it we proclaim that we are saved.  Works do not sanctify us, but by them we proclaim our sanctification.  So, where to begin?  Many insist that this must begin in the home.  The reasoning goes that if we do not demonstrate holiness in the home, we can’t hope to do so elsewhere.  I rather tend to believe that’s got it entirely backwards.  Home is the hardest place.  After all, in the home there are necessarily going to be dynamics of relationship that require us to act in ways that we cannot readily harmonize with our sense of the gospel.

The righteous application of discipline to your child is probably the single, hardest, most heart-wrenching work you will ever do, and you will almost certainly fail at it on some level.  No, not almost certainly.  Let’s be plain here.  You will fail at it on some level and to some degree.  The variation is not between outright successful parenting and abject failure at parenting (although it likely feels like that, particularly on the negative end of the scale).  The variation is in the degree of failure, the extent.

The relationship of husband and wife is just as challenging.  You simultaneously know each other all too well and yet discover you barely know each other at all.  If you are blessed to share an absolutely harmonious understanding of faith and of Christ, well, I should have to suspect you are the first to achieve that.  If you never find cause (or at least the urge) to correct one another, then I need not say God bless you, for He clearly has done so above and beyond the ordinary degree.  It is most painfully difficult to apply godly principles of correction and relation to those with whom we are most in love and most at home.  It is much easier to see how discipline applies to those outside the home.  It is, I don’t say easy, but much easier, to insist on the course of upright character, say, in the workplace or the marketplace.  These are settings where we may indeed spend a goodly portion of our day, but they are also settings from which we know we can walk away without too much difficulty.  There are other markets we can shop at.  There are other employers we can work for.  There are not, regardless of civil laws to the contrary, other spouses to which we can rightly shift our vows.  There are certainly not other children we can swap out with our own.  Don’t believe for a second that this doesn’t impact your courage and firmness when it comes to standing on godly principles!  It may impact me more than you, or vice versa, but it assuredly has an impact.

Where to begin, then, if not in the house?  I’m not, I should assure you, suggesting that you and I ought not to begin there.  I do, however, suggest that we shall find our progress is more readily made elsewhere, which progress shall indeed prove to be of benefit to that in-the-house effort.  With that in mind, I would suggest that whatever it is that you might term your daily grind is truly the first round of good works which God has put in place in order for you to do them.  That might seem like the last place to look.  It might seem like the one place where you really can’t freely share the Gospel.  Well, again, let’s sharpen our terminology so that we can sharpen our perception of the possibilities.

It is almost certainly true that in the workplace you are seriously restricted when it comes to proselytizing.  Even if you are not legally restricted, I can find strong argument to suggest that your own efforts at piety may restrict your actions.  I am equally certain I could find many to argue with me on that point.  But, let me make my case.  You are party to a business transaction, a mercantile arrangement, when it comes to your employment.  You have agreed to perform a day’s work for a day’s wage.  The terms vary.  Some of us do this on an hourly basis, where it’s easy enough to measure out what a day’s work is.  Others of us are salaried, and the length of any given day may vary somewhat.  But, the principle still applies.  Your employer engages you to perform some relatively specific tasks in support of the company.  You agree to do so in return for being paid, perhaps having some health benefits or what have you.  The terms don’t matter.  The basic agreement is the point.  You have agreed that for this period of time, you are acting on behalf of the company.  Proselytizing cannot be accounted as in any way satisfying that agreement.  In plain point of fact, if it is done, so to speak, on company time, it cannot but be an act of theft.

Does this preclude you from proclaiming the Gospel to your coworkers?  No, but it does suggest some care as to your approach.  In most workplaces, there are periods of downtime.  I’m not talking about lulls in the activity because you’re waiting for some process to finish.  I’m talking about things like a lunch hour, perhaps scheduled breaks in some cases, and there are certainly periods of the day that are after hours.  Lunch is probably the easiest case.  Yes, I understand that in many vocations even there you are precluded from frank discussions of religion, but that is not, by and large, the case.  If there is a limit on your discussion, it is likely a limit set there by your own comfort level and willingness.  It may just be there because you have the Holy Spirit guiding you.  That feels counter-intuitive, and I’m quite sure the more evangelistic amongst us are inclined to denounce any such idea.  But, I will insist that God’s ways are not ours.  He is, I think, as likely to move us to guard our tongue as to wag it, even on behalf of the Gospel.

But, what happens if we, for example, invite a coworker over to the house?  What if we have actively befriended this coworker, and established something beyond a working relationship with them?  I’m not talking dates or anything like that, in fact would probably advocate against such an idea.  But, to engage in basic friendships that go beyond the office?  How better to establish some bone fides from which to express your faith?  I frankly find the ‘cold call’ approach to evangelism off-putting.  Maybe it’s just me, but I suspect the lion’s share of the unbelieving find such an approach to be an instant disconnect.  You introduce yourself with the immediate, “let me tell you about Jesus,” and you are just as immediately written off as an annoyance.  But, if you’ve got a relationship; if they’ve been around you enough to get a sense of your character, even your character at its worst (and hopefully, how you’ve dealt with such failures of character), now you’ve got a platform.

Here, I will emphasize something else that’s painfully important, and too often ignored.  Nobody wants to be addressed from a platform.  Nobody wants to be your project.  If you approach your friend with a mindset of “I’m gonna get this guy saved,” or if your behavior makes it appear that your only interest in this friendship is that of the evangelistic effort, don’t expect to make headway.  Now, it is also quite obvious that God’s ways are not mine, either.  He can, and no doubt will, work in ways absolutely contrary to what I am saying.  That’s assuredly His prerogative, and He knows with perfect knowledge when those methods will work better and when they won’t.  We don’t, then, attempt to make all of this some hard and fast rule for evangelism, nor do we make it an excuse for completely avoiding evangelism.  We do, however, seek to be wise in the wisdom that God provides us, and to seek and heed His direction in the effort.  Remember:  He arranged this good work for you to do.  You may misapprehend the nature of the work, so seek guidance there.  You may require some practice before you can properly do the work, so seek instruction there.  But, in all of that, for all your failings and insecurities, God has planned and planned perfectly. 

Do you know, I’m beginning to find these seemingly disconnected points I gathered are in fact quite thoroughly connected.  Thank You, Lord.  Here is the last point I had to make, and I see that it quite applies to what I was just considering.  We tend to feel the weight of things, don’t we?  We feel the weight of events.  We feel the burden of necessity.  We certainly feel the dull weight of our failures.   But, here’s the thing, and particularly as applies to those works the Lord has set us to doing:  That weight is not some burden God has set upon us.  No, no!  “My yoke is easy and My load is light” (Mt 11:30).  If we are burdened, it is because we have insisted on picking up things that were never ours to carry.  We have responsibility for our actions, for example, but where the Gospel is concerned, we clearly cannot take responsibility for the outcome.  I think that burden of outcome is another case of societal influence on our religious thought.

If, for example, we do in fact approach a coworker with evangelistic intent, and do so in our most comely way, what happens if nothing comes of it?  Do we feel the weight of rejection because this friend or coworker just doesn’t want to hear it?  Do we feel like maybe God let us down?  There’s a weight too heavy to bear!  What if it’s your own dear child, whom you have done your best to raise in the fear and admonition of the Lord?  Oh, sure, you can look back now and see any number of ways you failed them.  Feel the weight increasing?  You may look upon their present lifestyle and determine that you have been an abject failure as a parent.  Oh, the terrible weight of this burden!  Because I blew it, they are on the road to perdition, and their life is forfeit.  But, don’t you see?  You’ve made yourself responsible for outcome.  First, and I admit this hurts particularly badly when applied to your own children, you don’t know.  You don’t know if that child is among the elect.  You can’t demand it.  You can’t determine it.  That’s God’s call.  If, much though it hurts you, He has determined that this one is not His, no amount of effort on your behalf was going to change the outcome anyway.  Here’s the good news, though:  If He has accounted this one among His elect, however badly you blew it, they will be saved anyway.  This is not, I stress once again, a call to laxity.  This is not an excuse for doing nothing.  Back to point one:  “The man that has not the courage and firmness enough to act on this rule should doubt his piety.”  This is true of the inward, personal sin.  It is true of the sin we see in those we love.  It is true, therefore, of every person with whom we have any sort of relationship. 

Isn’t that something?  Three seemingly disparate points, and in plain point of fact, they deliver a clear (at least to me), cohesive message about the place of works in our life of sanctification. 

Father, again I say thank You.  If there is wisdom in what I have written today, it is not from me, but because You have determined to teach me Your ways.  If there is not wisdom in what I have written today, then may You work swiftly and surely to purge the nonsense from my thinking.  But, it does seem to me that the message that has come through the morning’s efforts are in fact in keeping with the message that comes through Your Word.  May I, to the degree that is true, take these things to heart and put them into practice.  May I come to that place where I am truly and consistently concerned with doing what it is You want to see done.  May I be strong enough to correct what needs correcting, both in myself and in those for whom You have set me as caretaker. May I care enough to suffer offense on Your behalf, if indeed You have called me to that.  May I also – which seems so far from my ability – learn to do all this with a clearly demonstrated, loving disposition.  This, I know I cannot do apart from Your commanding presence.  This I dare not attempt apart from Your direction and power to subdue my own fleshly tendencies.  If it must be, then so be it.  If You find cause to bring about necessary corrections by other means, I am, I must admit, more than willing that it should be so.  But, let me not discover that I have been tolerating sin for lack of courage, lack of firmness, lack of proper concern for Your priorities.

The Christian’s Perspective (07/16/17)

Well.  I’ve spent sufficient time chasing around these two verses.  Where does it leave us?  I have already noted, I believe, the play on words that is Paul’s response to the first supposition.  As the JFB offers, “All things are in my power, but I will not be brought under the power of anything.”  And, that is exactly where the passage leaves us.  But, what constitutes anything, and how shall I determine if I am under its power?  I’ll take those in that order.

Anything, I should think, allows but one exception, and that is Christ.  I shall indeed be mastered by Him.  I have confessed that very thing by becoming His disciple.  But, I shall not, by this excuse, be mastered by my own preferences or my own ideas of what constitutes spirituality.  I will not be mastered by voices in my head, because the voices in my head are utterly untrustworthy, and the one who thinks their own internal dialogue more trustworthy has already been mastered by them.  Wake up!  No.  There is a reason that God in His utterly perfect wisdom took up the task of recording His true instruction for His children.  There is a reason that we had Apostles at the founding, laying a foundation for us which was not and is not subject to alteration or expansion.  There is a reason why this claim of direct, Holy Spirit communication of doctrine is restrictive and restricted to them.  God’s not a fool.  His people are not to be fooled.  We love to make our claims of God told me, or, if we are more careful, I feel the Lord is saying.  But, even Jesus doesn’t play that game, does He?  No, He turns to that which is authoritative, that which He authored.  “It is written.”

Understand the power of that.  “It is written.”  This does not render it immune to distortion, obviously.  After all, the Devil, though he quotes Scripture with greater accuracy than you or me, distorts it to suit his purposes.  But, what “It is written” does do is to lay the claim open to verification.  You can’t check the “I heard” claim.  You most assuredly can check the “It is written” claim.  That’s the point.  There’s your standard.  You quite frankly don’t need to go heading up to heaven to bring down God’s decision, and you don’t need to pay any great attention to the ones who say they’ve done it for you.  God already did it.  It’s called Scripture.  God already selected His authors to deliver His revelation of His doctrine for His people.  What these others are doing is anybody’s guess, but it’s probably not something beneficial.

So, yes:  Anything means anything, for all practical purposes.  Nothing will master me, God willing.  That turns us to the second part of my question.  How shall I determine that this is so?  I’m going to take it by stages based on how we might respond to requests that we stop our particular anything.  Let’s start with this one.  “I can’t help it.  It’s who I am.”  This is either the worst-case bit of mastery, or evidence that you haven’t even begun to make an attempt at liberty yet, more likely both.  How about this.  “I must do it.”  This may come with the Acts 5:29 defense:  “We must obey God rather than man.”  After all, that sounds so much holier, doesn’t it?  And who can gainsay you?  Why, even if it contradicts Scripture, if God told you to do it, it must be right, at least for you, yes?  No.  See the previous paragraph.  You’ve been mastered.

We can consider the next variation on the theme.  “You must.”  This tends to reflect personal preference on the part of the speaker, and as it is phrased in this rather demanding fashion, we can see the earlier stages of being mastered.  Why else is your personal perspective any demand on the one who is servant to another?  He’s not your servant.  On what basis, then, will you tell him how to serve?  Obviously, there are situations where Christian love requires us to apply a “you must” to the actions of a brother.  Those situations are the ones where there is clear and undeniable sin in the brother’s life, and Christian discipline requires us to apply correction.  Given the questions we are considering here, though, we are presently looking at the “you must” given in response to hearing a “you must not,” or at least a “please don’t.”  It’s not, then, the disciplinary corrective that’s under consideration here, but the reaction to it.  I might allow it to stretch so far as to cover the advice given on matters of indifference.  If you are insisting that all MUST concur with your view on some secondary issue or another, rest assured, you are in fact being mastered by the thing.

How about this one.  “Can I?”  This is no longer the response to discipline, but rather the seed thought that brought you to that point.  “Is it OK if I do this?”  Is it permissible?  That seems pretty benign, doesn’t it?  Isn’t it a good thing to be asking the Spirit to sign off on my choices before I act?  Well, yes and no.  I’m going to side with some of our commenters here, and suggest that this is actually the early signs of being mastered.  It’s the wrong question.  This is what lies behind Paul’s response here.  The question isn’t whether it’s legally permissible.  The question is whether it’s beneficial to holiness.  Is it profitable?

Now, there’s a term that can get us way off course.  Is Paul saying the ends justify the means?  Is Paul declaring as a capitalist?  No.  For one thing, the profit he has in view is not the sort which is likely to make your accountant happy.  We are discussing matters of faith and sanctification, not matters of economics and finance.  Let me throw one extra condition on this which becomes more and more necessary in our current age.  Don’t append a ‘for me’ to this.  Paul doesn’t.  Don’t add to the Scripture.  If you’re like me, that’s probably the first thing that happens.  Ah!  The question is whether it profits me.  OK.  I can work with that.  No.  Don’t.  It’s the wrong perspective.  Even when we get to the amplification of this in chapter 10, we have that problem.  “All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (1Co 10:23b).  But, note how chapter 10 proceeds from that note of edification, because this is most instructive.  “Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor” (1Co 10:24).

I don’t want to spend too much time on that chapter, as I’ll get there in due course, but we need to hear that redirection of our energies even while we’re back here at the general rule of chapter 6.  Here we are at a central tenet not only of this epistle, but of New Covenant theology more generally.  Yes, we work out our sanctification, but how?  Yes, we concern ourselves with our own character and development, but why?  I tell you it is not because of the benefit to ourselves, though that is indeed a result of these activities.  Rather, the Christian’s perspective is more properly turned outward rather than inward.  The question is not, “can I?”  The question is, “Is it profitable and edifying?”  The question is not, “Is it edifying for me?”  The question is, “Is it edifying to my brother?”  The question is not, “Is it profitable for me?”  The question is, “Is it profitable for the kingdom of God?”  After all, we are each of us set here as stewards of His kingdom.  That’s particularly the case for those who serve as pastors, elders, and shepherds of the flock.  But, it is true of all.  It is to be the mindset of all. 

Are my choices and actions profitable for the kingdom of the God I claim to serve?  If they are not, we need to assess the situation very carefully.  If they are not serving Him, how am I not being mastered by these things?  If I have no concern for the impact my choices have upon those around me, I am a narcissist, not a Christian.  I serve a different god.  We cannot sign up at the Temple of Me, and still expect warm welcome in the throne room of God.  If we are Christians, and I do not doubt that we are.  Who else would have read this far?  If we are Christians, we ought, as Matthew Henry points out, be less concerned with what is permissible and concern ourselves instead with what is fitting.  Be guided by this.  “You were called to freedom.  Don’t make that freedom an opportunity for the flesh.  Rather, serve one another through love” (Gal 5:13).  If you are not, then you have no grounds for critiquing your brother in his efforts.  If you are critiquing your brother in his efforts, I dare say, you are not serving one another through love.  Rather, you are covered by what comes a mere two verses later.  “If you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another” (Gal 5:15).

Memo to Self (07/16/17)

I’m coming to a close for this study.  But, before I do, I need to revisit the prayer that was on my mind back when I came through the first time, because in many ways, the situation hasn’t changed, and in the ways that it has, I need all the cautions and advisories that have come up this time.  I’ll set it this way.  I need to be very careful of tossing out the good along with the bad.  I need to be very cautious about rejecting what are indeed legitimate, spiritually healthful exercises in Christian discipline – not of the corrective sort, in this case, but the gymnastic sort.  I do, however, need to retain a keen eye for the heretical for it is all around.  It’s not that I am some super defender of the foundation, or called to be one.  But, I am called to defend the faith, to stand fast on what is Good and Lovely and True, and accept no substitute.  I am called to shepherd those given into my charge, lovingly, but truly.  This is no small thing.  This is no possible thing, quite frankly, apart from God’s constant and urgent intervention in my thought and practice.

I am at a place, admittedly, where the practices of the hyper-spiritual cause a reaction in me.  It’s like the laws of physics.  For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  The more hyper-spiritual my closest companion becomes, the less inclined I find myself to be terribly spiritual at all.  That is absolutely an overreaction, and not healthy.  At the same time, considering the course of this letter, there are very clearly boundaries more restrictive than those of freedom of conscience which I must heed both for myself and for those for whom I care.  There is, in everything, a “thus far, and no farther.”  That is a place to tread carefully – very carefully.  It is also a place to look critically at my own path and see if perhaps I have reacted by rushing across the opposite boundary.  I’ll just repeat an earlier prayer, here, and perhaps add to it a bit thereafter.

Father, I pray You would help me to be more mindful of this.  I have watched the wife You gave me practice this very presence of mind and found it more frustrating than pleasing.  Forgive me.  What am I thinking?  She is modeling exactly the mindset You call us all to have.  May I learn rather than belittle.  May I come to that same place of seeking You out in all things, rather than assuming I’ve got it without You.  I’ve got nothing but frustration without You.  How can it be that I convince myself this is preferable to the joy of walking humbly together with You?  How can I so swiftly go from walking conscious of Your eyes ever upon me, to acting as if You weren’t there?  Help me, Holy Lord.  Remind me, Holy Spirit.  Keep me mindful of what it is You would have done with the moments of my day.  So much is the process of habit, and even now, I feel habit calling.  But, You have not called us to habit, but to obedience.  How, then, shall I live this day with You?  May it be an improvement over the last as You work within and upon Me for Your good pleasure.

Father, I pray as well that you keep my eyes keen and my heart tender.  Teach me, O, Lord, how to listen for Your direction without falling into the foolish echo chamber of my own thoughts.  Teach me how not to attribute my own opinions to Your inspiration, but rather let Your Word shape my opinions.  Teach me, Lord, how to apply loving discipline in these very challenging situations, how to impart Your truth into a field of lies in such a way as renders Your truth both accurately and clearly, and in such a way as draws Your children to recognize that truth rather than react to rebuke.  This art is beyond me.  It is not beyond You.  Those I love are not beyond You.  Help, I pray, whether through me or around me, Lord.  Your sheep need You.